Last July, we had made plans to hike into a remote area of Happy Valley, “When the weather cools down.” Our friend Bruce told me of several fun things back in there and to expect some mild Canyoneering. We’ll follow his lead.
DF, Bruce and myself, were the ones gathered on Sunday Morning. We loaded ourselves into my SUV.
Back in October, hurricanes in Mexico’s Pacific waters had left us with some hard weather in Southern Arizona, including flooding and golf ball sized hail. When we arrived along the road into Happy Valley, we were pleasantly surprised to find water flowing over the road from the runoff of the mountains. The story begins.
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I keep threatening to splash through these gullies, as we soak up the ambiance of tall trees and grassy hillsides. Blooms are coming out like springtime. Some hilltops in the distance look as if they were sprinkled with a thick layer of mustard.
There is also a change in the colors of some of the trees. Golden hews explode out of the more usual green canopy.
We come up a familiar hill and show Bruce where we discovered the waterfall. I pull over, as it looks different. There, high above, water is flowing down those granite edifices! DF and I are excited. We haven’t considered that it would still be flowing. We will come back this afternoon, after our adventure. We’ve been waiting a year to see this.
On to the Original Objective:
I have looked at google satellite images, and topo maps. There is what looks to be a simple downstream ravine for us to explore. We are about to be very surprised.
We drive through streams and pass by a familiar dead tree, which is now just a huge hollow log. I reminisce of the day back in the early 1970’s, when my girl and I climbed the massive cottonwood and I carved our initials.
Having just passed through a fence’s gate we decide to give our journey a break. The air is pleasant in the shadows and sunbeams, as we stretch. We photograph each other.
Coming from the desert, we feel quite a change in this forest of tall trees and water in creeks.
The windows are down. DF and I are of course not dressed as the passing refreshing breeze floats over us. We are moving at a slow pace on the thin dirt road, as it winds through the riparian forest. To my side, I see a turkey and then stop. Not twenty feet away in the shadows of the thicket, I see another and then more. They are slowly moving away from us, probably little perturbed. I count 12 as DF tries to quickly get her camera at ready and shoot across my lap through the window.
We make our way to a rancher’s gate, park and have some early lunch under shady trees
Bruce, who has explored the area for years, tells us about a narrows, canyoneering, pools of water, and swimming holes. There is potential to take an eleven mile loop. He tells us of ruins, cliff faces of rainbow marble and endangered indigenous plants that can only be found in the side-canyons along the way.
After lunch, we make our way to the wash bed and climb under the barbed wire fence that keeps the cattle on the other side. There is devastation here. Cow paddies are abundant. There is little sand, only the multitudes of various errant rocks.
We pass a water tank with an old windmill sitting above it. The wash is wide, there are puddles of water here and there. Cattle are disturbed by our intrusion. They don’t know what to think of us. We hear the sounds of heavy hooves and occasionally, there is a blaring noise coming from a hiding spot behind the dense trees. It sounds like a prehistoric dinosaur bellowing.
In time, we get past the destruction of ranching.
The canyon walls become steeper and taller. The channel narrows.
There is overgrowth, which begins to get thicker and thicker.
Here, the scents of a collection of cattle begins to be replaced by the aroma of sycamore trees.
There will be nostril treats popping out here and there, throughout the day.
We become alert when passing through a place where a skunk has a sprayed. On our return, hours later, we will find ourselves using the distinctive bouquet as a guiding landmark.
The foliage gets very thick often. It is enough obstruction to be of concern for a pair of naked people.
I’ve volunteered to carry the pack and water. DF is enjoying her ensemble of toe shoes and a camera. Bruce, although previously has enjoyed nude hiking, is still dressed. It are often thickets of low dead branches, crisscross willow shoots and plenty of other varieties of plants to bushwhack through.
He is moving at a quicker rate, as we carefully ply our way through in our skin.
We have to be very cognizant of our route through this tangle, but generally, we manage to avoid the obstacles, Ducking quite often, we generally find a twisting route through and a distinct lack of a trail.
I have to take care with the branches that spring back like whips, as I pass through, pushing them away. A couple of times I get a switch on my behind.
Because of the canyon walls, the route is easy to find. There is no place to get lost.
The challenge is the immediate back and forth between the foliage and the boulders.
There is a layer of bedrock that must be dealt with as well and this creates ponding waterholes, which must be often climbed around.
So, it goes. Bruce ending up with a sizable lead, DF behind me, either moving slowly, or stopped taking photos of the fascinating canyon. There are many compelling sights along the way. I’m in the middle, torn between the two. I end up with photos of DF from the front and she has a large collection of my back end.
We discover burrs from Hell!
There are two species of plants that have dried up and gone to seed. Things attaching to ones socks are common in the desert, but these are a different breed. The needles are hard like a goathead, yet plentiful like a jumping cholla. They are sharp. Usually, I can brush away attachments, but these grab on to my fingers like needles. I grab sticks to wipe them away, but they tend to just stubbornly roll into another position in my clothing, my shoes and socks. One type grows tall, so some gather in the sarong that I’m using to protect my shoulders from the sun. I’ve never encountered anything like these. I don’t know their proper name, but we come up with a few, spontaneously.
The bedrock layer runs up the canyon walls as well as underfoot. It is generally a black metamorphic stuff. Even though it is in a canyon, it isn’t as slippery as more usual water worn granite. This is helpful. The ponded water is generally caused by these features and we often have to climb on the walls to pass on through.
The entire surface is a zone of care and mindfulness. River rock can suddenly roll out from under foot, landing a hip or knee onto an uneven surface and possible injury. We take every step with caution and care. We step on the bigger flatter stones that will likely be more solid. The best is a smooth conveyance of smaller rocks, but the various meanders of the streambed have us going up and down.
Climbing, stretching, and balancing, we are using quite a number of body parts. This is nothing like walking a trail. It is a workout and sometimes a challenge, but fun. When Bruce had mentioned the word “canyoneering”, he was discussing obstacles further downstream. This is apparently the easy part.
There are two invasive species in here. One is the bufflegrass that is blocking many streams in Arizona. It plumes out, covering the trail and makes a nice place for rattlesnakes to lounge and be surprised. We have had to turn back a few times through the years, choosing to not risk this danger.
The other one is a couple of desert brooms.
They bloom in a fairy dusting way. The floating seed covers the ground like snow. In some places they do this in December, piling and bringing a white Christmas to the desert.
Bruce leaves us behind, keeping at his own pace. Every so often, we find him sitting quietly in a blissful meditation, looking out at some natural wonder, listening to silence, or the occasional sounds of nature. He tells me that he is having a wonderfully relaxed afternoon. I’m pleased to hear that we are not frustrating his pace.
He tells us that the swimming hole is not far. It should be around the bend, “soon.” We eventually realize that if we were going at his pace, it would be. It is taking a while.
I’ll post the other half of this story in a few days.