Trekking Through the Aravaipa Canyon, Arizona

Aravaipa Canyon is extremely narrow—at many points, probably no more than a quarter of a mile from rim to rim—which means that to explore the canyon you often hike right through the stream bed. Traverse the entire twelve-mile length of the canyon and you’ll cross the creek at least forty times, sometimes in water that’s knee deep.

Aravaipa Creek is a rarity in the desert—a spring-fed creek that flows year-round—and through millennia the water has cut a deep gash into the Galiuro Mountains. The canyon begins with heavy slabs of dark-red shale at the bottom, rises into rust-colored schist, and then rises further into cliffs of orange-and-peach limestone. Eons of the planet’s story are visible in a glance, whole epochs etched in the span of a thousand vertical feet.

The canyon slopes are pure Sonora Desert: tall, multi-armed saguaros, writhing agave, prickly pear, and patches of gray bursage and brittlebush. It’s a world of heat and thorn and rock. A whole other universe exists just below. Along the creek grow thickets of willow skirted with horsetail reed and cattails. Colonnades of cottonwoods arch above the streambed, where cool green algae cloaks the rocks in the water.

The oasis is home to all kinds of critters, including mallard ducks and green-winged teals and flocks of northern pintails with their long, brown faces. You may scare up a great blue heron, which will flap its wide wings and retreat upstream until you surprise it again, and then again. There are whitetail deer and packs of javelina, fierce-looking with their porcupine-like hairs.

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