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Grand Canyon of the Sonoran Desert: Aravaipa Canyon

Our First Time Backpacking Among the Saguaros
My 40th Birthday Foray into Arizona and New Mexico
Tuesday – Wednesday, February 11-12, 2020

Today was the part of the trip that I was looking forward to the most since I first started making these plans last year. I have wanted to hike through the perennial waters of Aravaipa Canyon, sometimes referred to as the Grand Canyon of the Sonoran Desert, for a long time and this experience was one of the main reasons I had planned this birthday trip into southeast Arizona in the first place. Back in November I secured an overnight permit for my 40th birthday when they first became available for the date, and chose to start from the more popular West Trailhead since I knew we would most likely be driving Diane’s Edge for the better fuel mileage and comfort on this road trip. For those not familiar, anyone who hikes into the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness requires a permit from the BLM in order to help preserve the wilderness experience of the area. A total of 50 people are allowed per day, from which 20 may enter from the East Trailhead and 30 may enter from the West Trailhead. This can be a popular hike during the busy season, but the middle of February is probably the lowest use season because of the colder water temperatures of the creek. This sounded like the perfect time of the year for us to hike among the saguaros into Aravaipa Canyon!

During our drive to the trailhead from Globe, I pulled over for this view of the clearing storm clouds in the Mescal Mountains.

Clearing Morning Storm

When we arrived in Globe on Monday night it was raining pretty hard and continued to rain on and off throughout the rest of the night. A big cold front was moving through the area and when we woke up on Tuesday morning it was a bit cooler out than I would have liked for this hike, and the weather forecast was predicting even more rain for the rest of the day. The weather was not looking good for our first backpacking trip of the year, and while I really didn’t want to, I considered cancelling the hike since we would be walking through the creek most of the day and I was unsure how cold the water was going to be. While considering my options and trying to make up my mind on what we should do, I thought that we should at least drive over to the trailhead to check things out before making the final decision. I figured that even if we ended up cancelling the overnight trip, we could get a short day-hike in and it wouldn’t be a total loss. I’m really glad we drove over to the trailhead this morning, because when we arrived the temperature out was actually pretty nice and the weather didn’t seem as threatening as the forecast had predicted for the area. We decided to continue on with the overnight plans and if the water in the creek was too cold or the weather turned, we could always turn around and skip spending the night in the canyon.

The scenery along the Aravaipa Creek Road was very nice, even though there were a couple deep puddles from the recent rain we had to drive through, not to mention that I had to get out and move one large rock from the middle of the road so we could drive past it.

Driving Scenery

Welcome to the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness Trailhead.

Aravaipa Canyon Sign

The view from the Brandenburg Ranger Station was looking good.

Saguaro View

This large saguaro was located right next to the campsite near the Ranger Station.

Campsite Saguaro

When we reached the West Trailhead at the end of the road we found no other vehicles parked there and no one else had signed the log since February 8th, which didn’t surprise us since it was the middle of the week during the low-use season with an unfavorable weather forecast. We figured that we would be hiking alone in the canyon today, which was fine with us- we looked forward to the solitude!

Since we would be hiking in the creek most of the day and the water was supposed to be cold this time of the year, we brought old hiking boots that we didn’t care about and neoprene socks to hike in. Although we probably would have been OK without the neoprene socks, they really helped keep our feet warm and comfortable the entire time and I would highly recommend them in the colder seasons. I’m also glad I used old hiking boots instead of my typical Chacos, because the gravel in the bed of the creek would not have been fun in sandals.

Shortly after leaving the trailhead we found ourselves walking against the current in Aravaipa Creek under a canopy of trees.


Into The Canyon

Into The Narrows

Looking Back

While I was unable to get a photo of it, we did briefly see our first coati climbing some rocks along the creek. The only other wildlife we would see in the canyon were a couple of deer near our campsite at the mouth of Horse Camp Canyon later in the day.

Through The Canyon

There were a couple of places where the canyon walls narrowed in closer to the creek.

Through The Narrows

Short Narrows

Creek & Clouds

The first main side canyon we passed was Cave Canyon. There was a good view up the wash.

Cave Canyon Wash

I’m glad the weather forecast didn’t pan out like it was supposed to, but I was also happy for all the nice clouds in the sky.

Aravaipa Canyon Clouds

Rugged Wall

Flowing Creek

Down The Canyon

I think this would be an amazing canyon to hike when the fall colors are at their peak!


Hiking up the Grand Canyon of the Sonoran Desert.

Grand Canyon of the Sonoran Desert

Rocky Creek

I loved seeing the saguaros clinging to the south-facing canyon walls.

Cactus Rock

Creek View

Canyon View

Canyon Saguaros

Here’s Diane to add some scale to the canyon.

Hiking Ahead

Along The Creek

Following The Creek

Aravaipa Canyon

Diane Along Aravaipa Creek

Shortly before reaching Horse Canyon Canyon we found a good trail outside of the creek that was lined on both sides with bright green vegetation.

Green Trail

We setup camp at a nice site near the creek and right across from the mouth of Horse Camp Canyon. It was a great place to spend the evening and night!

Aravaipa Canyon Camp

I had originally hoped that we could set up our base-camp near the mouth of Horse Camp Canyon and then continue further up Aravaipa Canyon for a few more miles, but by the time we reached camp we just didn’t have the time to go any further. Mainly because of our later start in the morning with the uncertainty of the weather, but also because of the route-finding, hiking against the current of the creek, and stopping to take a lot of photos along the way. The short days this time of the year didn’t help, either. I guess that means we will have to return again in the future and next time we can hike in from the East Trailhead.

After camp was setup and we rested for a little bit, we crossed the creek and hiked up Horse Camp Canyon where we found this little waterfall.

Little Waterfall

We climbed above the waterfall and continued exploring the canyon a little further.

Exploring Horse Camp Canyon

Going Up

A short distance later we found these nice pools and stopped here. The rock around them was very slippery, so we had to be careful since the temperature out was dropping and it was too cold for a swim.

Swimming Holes

Following the little creek back down the canyon.


Even though we had avoided rain all day so far, while we were in Horse Camp Canyon the sky filled with clouds and we thought it might start raining again.

Horse Camp Canyon Water

After crossing the creek for the final time of the day we sat down and finally emptied the gravel that had accumulated in our boots throughout the day. There was a lot in there! Like I said before, I’m glad we wore the old boots instead of Chacos. Then we returned to camp for dinner before sunset. After we finished dinner it actually started drizzling out and the sun came out a bit, so I looked around hoping for a rainbow, but one never materialized.

The cloud-cover thinned and let a little light through shortly before sunset while we were at camp.

Evening Near Camp

I went for a short hike back to Virgus Canyon from camp at sunset.

Cloud Light

The last light of the day touching the canyon rim.

Last Touch of Light

While I was filtering water from the creek after sunset, I took one last photo in the fading twilight.

Aravaipa Twilight

At the end of the day I was very glad we hadn’t cancelled our plans like I was considering earlier in the morning since the temperature in the canyon was warmer than expected and so was the water temperature. We had the canyon all to ourselves and it was such a beautiful place. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend my 40th birthday!

Soon after we got into our sleeping bags for the night and were trying to get to sleep we started to hear rain falling onto the tent. The rain showers would continue on and off throughout the rest of the night, but it never came down too hard. The rain stopped before sunrise and by the time I got out of the tent in the morning most of the clouds were gone, leaving a clear sky behind.

I went by myself on one more hike to the pools in Horse Camp Canyon.

Horse Camp Canyon Creek

Horse Camp Canyon Pools


Upper Pothole

Back Down The Canyon

Horse Camp Canyon Reflection

Horse Camp Canyon Reflection

Hiking back down Horse Camp Canyon to our campsite. When I returned we took down the tent and packed up our gear to hike back out to the trailhead.

Back To Aravaipa

Morning Creek

Hiking in the creek with the current was much easier as we made our way back.

Deep Crossing

Canyon Shadows

Following The Creek Back

Walking In Water

Aravaipa Canyon Sunstar

After leaving the creek we climbed up the last section of trail back to the trailhead which was lined with many sharp pointy things that we had to be careful not to touch…

Pointy Trail

We returned to our vehicle at the trailhead and it was time to move on. It was now Wednesday, which meant that we were at the halfway point of our trip and it was time for us to leave Arizona behind and make our way into New Mexico for the second half of the trip. Our next destination was Silver City, located near the Continental Divide at the foot of the Mogollon Mountains. To get there we headed further south through Tucson, with a stop at the In-N-Out Burger in Oro Valley, and then west into New Mexico. Of course, we ended up watching one of the best sunsets of the trip as we were driving into town, but I didn’t stop to take any photos.

>> Aravaipa Canyon Photo Gallery


  1. Dianne
    Dianne February 28, 2020

    Beautiful scenery. I love the water reflection pics. Diane is pretty! She’s a good match
    for you. So nice to have someone to hike with who helps you “live the dream.”

  2. kyotesue
    kyotesue February 29, 2020

    I am so thrilled to see such beautiful photos from such a great hike. The reflections were the very best! You are beyond good at exposing that complex light and dark with the shadows and brilliance. Just beyond incredible. Thank you for sharing your great art. and your great hikes. and your honey, a sweetheart obviously.

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