DF got a call from a friend of ours offering permits for Araviapa Canyon’s west entrance. The four of us, our two non-nudist friends and we two, will now be leaving the following weekend… It didn’t take much deliberation. After all…”Paradise!”
We hadn’t been out backpacking in over a year and not visited the Aravaipa paradise since 2017.
We have had fabulous trips in this canyon before. Here are previous stories from both the eastern and western entrances where Araviapa Canyon is referred to as paradise:
Today, the weather is a perfect. Mid-80F’s for highs and roughly a 60F low. There have been rains the previous several days, so the water is a little higher. The extra run off obscures the usual crystal clarity, but it will probably clear up by the time we leave.
There is no hurry. DF and I are waiting at the trailhead, stretching and enjoying the silence of the desert, when our cohorts pull up around the bend.
We’re off to a late start when we exchange parking and hiking permits. We are hiking with a dear friend and her husband, who we still don’t know very well, hoping to change the relationship.
At first, I seceded from the group to get a better feel for the conditions. I noticed that there was only one other car in the parking lot besides ours. There are supposed to be thirty permitted and we know that four of those are missing. The ranger’s truck was at the home/station on the way here. I decide to leave my kilt on and DF is bound into a summer dress.
After some downward desert walking, I take note of our surroundings when we reach the streambed. Last time here, we got a chill when we lost track of the distance and the little sign which marks the way out. We don’t want that scare again.
There is some new signage and it looks like it would be difficult to miss.
Our friend Rebecca is excited by the stream in the desert. She is snapping lots of photos even before we get to the awe inspiring scenery. I smile, confident that she will enjoy this immensely.
The conditions are different than the past. We had a severe drought of over a year long. This spring fed stream actually dried up for the first time in known history. After that, we have had an extremely wet monsoon. There have been three major floods here fairly recently. It is now overgrown and beaten. There is debris everywhere, often high in the trees.
This being a usual consistent year round flow, the sand and gravel has had years to settle and create a sort of road just under the water, which has been easy to slosh through. Today, we soon find that the easy walk in the moist park surrounded by arched tree branches is often filled to an inconsistent depth, with bare river rock and little rapids. These are not like something like needing a kayak, but not a walk in the park either.
The banks offer little salvation. The overgrowth and debris make the former easy trails a bushwhacking affair.
Our progress is slow. I hike up my kilt, tucking it into the belt of my pack and keep it dry. This enhances my sense of nudity, the air, sun and sprinkling of splashed droplets. I can always quickly let it loose, if covering is needed.
DF and Rebecca bring up the rear and my new hiking partner and I scout our way through the morass of obstacles. Most of the brush is leaning downstream from flooding running over it. These are pointing at us, as we make our way upstream. Dead broken trees are common.
After an hour, or so, a cliff face mass is seen in the distance, framed by the two lesser cliffs on each side of this now a thinner canyon. The grand show that is Araviapa is beginning.
We begin to be engulfed by the taller steep canyon walls.
Fairly soon, we meet a pair of day hikers. They are the couple that belong to the Mercedes that we saw in the parking lot. I drop the front flap of my kilt and we stop to talk. They have been having a difficult time coping with the disturbed conditions. Their observations inform me that this place will be all ours now.
We are at another rest, when we have three couples come up behind us. They are obviously backpackers here to spend two nights, like us. At this deeper point in the canyon, I am less careful about my coverings.
When we pass again, this time they at rest, I don’t cover and again quip a greeting. I now know that they are not concerned with nudity.
Having been this way once before years ago, I am surprised how much of it I remember. Subtle and not so subtle landmarks jar my memories.
The day regularly has a déjà vu character to it. Still some memorable sights have lost continuity and of course everything has changed from the floods.
There is a constant reminder that the previously easy stroll through the water in the canyon is gone away and is replaced by challenges.
I find that our first camping spot on a sand bar under a tree has been washed out. It is down to river rock. I take a photo, just to compare it with the last trip here. The trip damaged by colder rainy days.
I know that there is a major camping area ahead around a bend. We had explored to that point before the rain came back on the previous trip. At a hurried pace, that time, we had made that distance in approximately 20 minutes.
We are tired and more than ready to camp at 4pm, but we find the other place is still illusive. There is however, a sandy spot on the way. We take it at 5pm, as the tall sharp canyon walls begin to get dark. It is a remarkable spot.
We drop our packs, feeling the lightness the new body appendage gone, it is as if gravity has dropped. DF and I pull off any clothing along with our soaking wet shoes and socks. Completely bare and feeling delightfully a part of this natural gift, we delay our chores and just explore the immediate surroundings with all of our senses.
The powdery sand is a luxurious comfort to our worn out feet. We have been walking in thin soles over round river rock all through the day. I am sure that our ankles and the soles of our feet will be even more sore when we crawl out of bed in the morning.
We pitch our tents, filter more water and set up our small cooking stoves.
There is a large boulder next to the stream, plenty of room for four to sit on it. It has bowls, where centuries before, large round stones popped out of the conglomerate’s petrified mud. They are still filled with water from the recent rains. The stream rushes below and the view of the colorful canyon walls is spectacular as we eat, talk, and imbibe the place in awe.
The shadows creep up the canyon walls as the sun falls deeper toward a distant setting point.
That point, being not visible to us, gives a sense that we are in a world all of its own. Shangri-La, left alone in peace.
Dusk is darker here with a hugely bright first evening’s planet above the massive cliffs. More stars appear, until the moonless sky is awash in glitter. The Milky Way stretches across the canyon, wall to wall, looking much more like long clouds than a mass of heavenly bodies.
I lie back in my perch on the boulder and stare into space…a shooting star. Everyone, in chorus exclaims, “Ooh!”
Part II, the continuing story, starting the next day into the wondrous wilderness, will be published in a few days.