Friday, January 29, 2016

Aravaipa: The Adventure Continues...

It was dusk when the road ended at the trail head, and I could barely see the large canyon walls looming just beyond where we parked. The sight was breathtaking—even against the near dark sky, and I couldn’t wait for our hike to begin the following day. Eric’s parents were hoping to get back through the stream crossings before darkness fully set in, so with hearty goodbyes and “see you in a few days at the west end,” they left us standing in the road with our packs and dinner for that evening. 

The trailhead consisted of a gravel parking area, an outhouse, a large map of the canyon, and a podium for signing in. Because there was no picnic table, we set our dinner – fajita fixings that Eric’s mom had lovingly prepared for us—on the podium and proceeded to stuff our mouths as quickly as possible. We were racing the sun and didn’t have time for niceties. 

This is unarguably the worst picture I think I have ever seen of myself. But in the interests of losing any sense of vanity still lingering in my delusional brain ... I decided to post it. Eric, on the other hand, looks just fine.

When finished, we began looking for a place to pitch the tents for the night. I had my eye on a flat grassy area near the outhouse, but this idea didn’t seem to cross the minds of my more hearty male companions. And because I didn’t want to be the bossy female, I kept quiet as they walked toward the canyon. No matter where they looked, however, there didn’t seem to be a suitable place to lay down for the night. Every area was filled with weeds and large rocks. It started to lightly rain and darkness was setting in. Finally I said something.

“You know, there’s a really nice flat grassy spot near the parking area…”

My more hearty companions looked at each other, shrugged, and then started heading back to where we had eaten our dinner. We found the grassy spot and began setting up our tents as the rainfall became stronger. Eric and I worked feverishly to get our tent up before everything in our packs became completely soaked. Why we didn’t put our packs in the outhouse while setting up the tent, I’ll never know. The idea didn’t even cross our minds.

Dave, who had a one-person tent, was on his own… at least until Eric and I could get our tent up. And although it wasn’t perfect, we did manage it fairly quickly before throwing our packs under the rain fly. When we turned our attentions to helping Dave, his tent was still spread out flat on the ground. He was going from one side to the next, adjusting and then readjusting his poles. The problem was that the elastic bands inside his poles had long since lost their elasticity. It had been twenty years since he had used the tent, he explained.

So I stood there, dressed in the manly rain gear I had borrowed from Dave, and asked the last question I’m sure Dave wanted to hear at that moment.

“You didn’t try putting the tent together before the trip?”

Now, to Dave’s credit, he didn’t lash out at me in any way. He only bowed his head and said, "that would have been the smart thing to do."

Between the three of us, we managed to jerry-rig Dave’s tent together in the pouring rain. And just as we finished, the rain let up. Hopefully for the night, I thought.

But that was wishful thinking.


To tell the truth, I was a little nervous about how I would sleep in a tent on the ground. As much as I don’t feel like the fifty-plus years that I am, it had been over twenty years since I had gone camping. But thanks to this trip, I now know exactly how I will sleep in a tent on the ground: not a wink. The blowup pad that I was sleeping on wasn’t bad, but it also wasn’t full size, and my legs were resting on the hard ground, lower than the rest of my body. So when I slept on my back it put a painful strain on my lower back. If I turned on my right side, my hip screamed out in pain. When I turned on my left side my shoulder ached. I spent all night going from back to right to left, not finding a comfortable resting spot anywhere.

Now I clearly understand why old people have RVs.

It rained consistently all night. But the sound of the majestic thunder in the distant horizon and the melodic rain patters hitting the tent did nothing to help me sleep. And I think Eric and Dave were having the same problem. I heard Dave get up and walk around a number of times during the night. He’s a diabetic and I found out later, was having blood sugar issues. Eric was shifting around in his sleeping bag probably as much as I was due to a deflating air mat.  

Somewhere in the deep recesses of the evening it finally stopped raining and I decided to take a walk to the outhouse. As I pulled myself out of the tent, I looked up into the night sky and a zillion stars screamed out at me through a break in the clouds. It was breathtaking.

“Eric are you awake? You’ve got to come out and see this!”

Eric popped his head out the tent door and looked up. “Oh nice!” he said. We idled into silence, enjoying the view of the night sky. Then I heard him rummaging around in his pack.
“Hey will you do me a favor?” He turned on his headlamp and pulled out his camera. He wanted to get a picture of the stars, with me in the forefront looking up. How he proposed to do this was for me to shine my headlamp in my face until he told me to shut it off. Then he would do some fancy shutter work and it would be this amazing shot. We tried it several times, but unfortunately all he was able to get was this.

To see all those stars in the heavens like that was magical. It’s hard to believe that stars are that numerous every night and we just can’t see them.

Unfortunately, the break in the rain was only a break. It was like God parted the curtains for just a short span so that we could see His magnificence, and then the curtains closed and it started to rain again. It didn’t let up until mid morning.

But morning did come. And as I lay awake waiting for the rain to stop, I heard the oddest thing. A car drove by. Since I thought we were camping at the end of a remote road, this made no sense. About an hour later, Eric stirred.

“I had a dream that my mom is worried,” he said, yawning and stretching his long arms out of his sleeping bag. 

Now, while this may seem strange coming out of a 45-year-old man, it made perfect sense to me. We decided that it was a sign and that proceeding with the two-day hike through the canyon after it had rained all night would be foolish.

“But we’re stranded. Our phones have no signal. We don’t have a way out,” Eric said, 

I sat up and looked around. “We’re not stranded. We’ll just backpack down the road until someone comes by and gives us a ride. It’ll work out.” 

The rain had stopped, so I pulled myself out of the tent and started putting my boots on. Just then, a pickup truck—probably the same truck I had heard earlier—came into view, heading towards us. I waved and it stopped. Out came a rough-looking woman and two muddy hounds.

“You need a lift?”

I laughed and told her we sure did, but we needed to pack up. Did she mind waiting?

Not at all, she said. She had that easy disposition that comes from working hard on the land. The kind that’s not held to time clocks and schedules. Rescuing stranded backpackers was all in a day’s work. She stood there talking to us about last night’s rain as we dressed and packed up our tents. There had been so much rain, she said, that she had to let her horses out of the barn for fear of flooding. That’s why she had been out that way by the trailhead. She was looking for her horses. 

As she talked, her dogs were tearing in and out of the bushes at breakneck speed, getting muddier and wetter by the second. 

It took us nearly an hour to get our things together, but it didn’t seem to bother her at all. We hefted our packs into the back of her truck and piled into the cab of her pickup with the dogs piling in after us. They romped from lap to lap, muddy water flying everywhere. Our driver didn’t seem to notice and we were so glad for the ride that all we could do was laugh. 

 A muddy hound uses my lap as his perch while we head away from the canyon.

And where was she taking us? Back to the great metropolis of Klondyke... 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Araviapa: The Great Adventure

I've been remiss in posting the rest of this story, so I'm making this portion a bit longer. So instead of a ten-part story, this is probably only going to be a five- or six-part story. Many thanks to Eric and Dave for providing the pictures.

Part IV: The Journey Begins

Throughout the week before our adventure I had been checking the weather. The last thing I wanted was to get caught in a stream-filled canyon if it rained and flash floods ensued. The weather for our expedition looked pretty good when I checked it the week before our departure date. In fact, it looked perfect. But as time passed, the forecast changed and the chance of rain became more and more likely.

On the morning of, Eric called me to make sure I was still okay with going. He said that although the chance of rain had increased to 50 percent, the precipitation expected was less than an inch. So even if it rained, he didn’t think it would be enough to cause any danger.

“What do you think?” he asked. “Should we still go?”

“What do you think?” I answered back.

“No,” he said, “What do you think?”

It was apparently up to me. 

Living in Tucson for more than eleven years, I’m pretty familiar with how crazy the storms can get in the summer. A little rain in the forecast can easily turn into a torrential downpour. And although the monsoon had been officially over for nearly a month, we were still getting monsoon-like storms on and off through September.

I countered these thoughts with the fact that this was our reserved weekend to go to Aravaipa. Because it is a wilderness area, only a certain number of people are allowed in the canyon at one time. Dave had reserved this slot for us over two months ago. If we didn’t go, we wouldn’t get another chance for probably another year.

“Oh, let’s just go for it,” I said. “If we don’t we’ll probably regret it.”

And that was that. Let the adventure begin.


When I arrived at Eric’s house the morning of, Eric looked eager to get on the road, and also a little annoyed. I soon understood why.

“We’re taking my Jeep,” he said. “It’s the only vehicle with 4-wheel drive.”

Eric’s Jeep isn’t exactly large, but there was room for the packs in the back. And although the four-hour drive would be a little cramped with three of us in the backseat and his parents up front, I wasn’t very concerned. But then he lowered the bombshell.

“The dogs are coming too.”

“The dogs?”


Eric’s dogs aren’t huge, but they aren’t exactly small, either. And one of them is a rambunctious puppy they had recently found abandoned at an Indian reservation. I was a little confused about where the dogs would sit since our packs filled up the back. But I didn’t ask.  

“It’s too long of a trip to leave them at home and we don’t have anyone to watch them,” Eric said. “And since we can’t trust this one to stay in the backyard,” he said pointing to Lexie, the larger of the two terriers who had proven to be a highly skilled escape artist, “they have to come.”

When we picked up Dave and explained to him about the dogs, all he said was, “Oh. Really?”  

So in we squeezed. Our gear was stacked high in the very back. I sat in the middle of the back seat between Dave and Eric. The puppy, Shay, started on my lap. Eric’s dad was driving, and his mom was in the passenger seat with the escape artist on her lap.

Lexie settled down immediately for a nap the minute the Jeep started rolling, but the puppy was a different story. She took turns prancing over our laps and attacking the back of our ears with her tongue. Dave and I did most of the puppy holding as poor 6-foot-4 Eric was sitting with his knees in his face for the duration of the trip.

Throughout the ride, I was keeping an eye on the sky. The sun was shining down on us quite nicely, but dark storm clouds loomed in the eastern horizon. And that seemed to be exactly where we were heading.

After nearly three hours of driving we turned onto a dirt road that headed straight towards the looming darkness. Our speed slowed to about forty miles per hour and the puppy found a spot laying above us on the narrow ledge of the back seat just behind our heads. Despite the long journey and the cramped conveyance, everyone was in good spirits. As he drove, Eric’s dad was pointing out areas of interest on both sides of the road, and Dave had his camera poised to catch hawks resting on fence posts or the sun peeking over mountains shrouded by dark clouds. 

The unspoken question on my mind was, what if it’s pouring down rain when they drop us off?


“Oh, oh oh! Dad! Stop stop stop!” Eric cried out suddenly. 

Reacting as any normal person would, Eric’s dad slammed on the brakes. 

“No no no!” Eric cried again. But it was too late. The puppy fell from above us and landed in our laps along with a large pile of throw-up that she had just deposited above us. Apparently Eric saw her gagging and was trying to get his dad to stop the vehicle so that he could get her out of the Jeep before any damage was done. Except that he was too late and the force of the sudden stop … well you know the rest.

And so, covered in puppy puke, Dave, Eric, and I exited the vehicle and did our best to wipe ourselves and our seat down. We walked Shay around to help settle her stomach, gave her some water, then clambered back into the pungent-smelling Jeep with a wary eye on the puppy. After about ten minutes we repeated the above scenario, only this time we managed to stop and get the dog out before she threw up again. This was mainly due to the fact that I clamped her mouth shut while Eric frantically struggled with the latch and got the door open. Fortunately we only had to repeat this scenario about five times before we reached our destination.

It was hard to imagine anyone living this far away from civilization, much less there being a town along this long dirt road, but the name Klondyke kept coming up in conversation. Once we reached the town of Klondyke, they said, we would know the trailhead was near. Klondyke turned out to be a collection of three or four buildings that included an abandoned gas station and store, a one-room school house, and a few rundown houses. We were greeted by a sign that said: Entering Klondyke Country, Pop. 5. Just before this sign was a yellow caution sign that read “Congested Area, 15 mph.”

As we drew closer to the trailhead the high desert landscape transformed into dense green vegetation and large willow trees. The reason for needing a four-wheel drive also became evident as the smooth dirt road dissolved into a rather crude collection of deep crevasses and significant stream crossings. The road was now muddy and filled with puddles as we drove under the storm clouds. But it wasn’t raining. Whatever rain had occurred earlier was done for the day. Or so we hoped.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Adventures at Aravaipa with Dave and Eric

Part III: The Final Deets

When the night before our adventure came, I trucked everything over to Eric’s house so that he could help me pack it into my backpack. Once the pack look nicely stuffed, he held out a bag of couscous.

“What’s that for?”

“I think you have room.” 

He was right. It was the least I could do since he and Dave were carrying most everything else. This became clear once Dave arrived with a pack twice the size of mine and he and Eric started their own packing process. In addition to what I was carrying, they divvied up two tents, a camp stove, food, and I’m not sure what else. My compact little pack was looking quite svelte in comparison. But when I hefted it onto my shoulders, pulled in the straps, and nearly toppled over, I no longer felt guilty. They are men, after all. They can handle the extra weight. Clearly I was at my limit. Silently I wondered if I was really up to this.

Aravaipa Canyon is about twelve miles long. It’s easy to reach from the western end and extremely remote and difficult to reach from the eastern end. Dave and Eric had been to the western end many times since it is only about an hour away from where they live. The eastern end is a different story. There are no direct roads that go from west to east, and the trip to the east end is more than 200 miles away by road. That’s a four-hour drive with the last hour being on dirt. It’s also the prettiest portion of the canyon, and Dave and Eric were eager to see it. 

So their plan was to have Eric’s parents drive us to the trailhead at the east end and drop us off. We would spend the first night at the trail head, then take the next two days backpacking through to the west end where Eric’s parents would pick us up. This was an extremely generous offer made by Eric’s parents, and I felt a little guilty about it. But they seemed keen on the adventure, so who was I to feel guilty?