Looking for a Loop in the Galiuro Wilderness

We did one overnight trip during our student years to the remote Galiuro Wilderness. My vague memories of that 1975 trip include a bone-jarring ride on a dirt road to a shady canyon, brushy switchbacks to a ridge, long ridge hike to a peak, and fire-cooked burgers back down in a piney canyon camp. Our trailing friends marched into camp hours later, lights glowing, whistling the Colonel Boogie March. The next day a hike past mining equipment, green grass and fruit trees at Powers Garden; climbing a ridge; and back to the cars by evening.

Forty years later, we wanted to reenact that hike. Two trips later, we still weren’t sure we did.

January 2015

On Powers Road, an unmarked turnoff from Aravaipa Road, we saw “Road closed, no turn-around.” Neighboring ranchers had closed access over a feud with Arizona Game and Fish (which negotiates public access). No we couldn’t go, even if we hiked in. We backtracked to Deer Creek Road, and a Forest Service trailhead with kiosk, new signs, and a hand-drawn map of the old trails system-wistful thinking after fires, floods and neglect. But thanks to fire and perhaps fire crew work, no brush slowed our way up a 5700-ft ridge.

We took the Sycamore Canyon trail down a canyon to a rushing stream, a large ugly tank and the only hikers we saw on the trip. After winding, climbing, then sliding down Horse Canyon, the trail mellowed below big pines to meet Rattlesnake Canyon’s dry creek bed. We checked out the opposite ridge on a trail choked with cat claw, then on down canyon to rundown buildings and pasture of Powers Garden. We camped in a cluster of ponderosa under a luminous sky.

After a cold morning we hiked up Rattlesnake in high grass beneath 100-year-old ponderosa, large Arizona cypress, and oak. The creek ran rusty and soapy. Around the bend an old rock crusher, cabin, and mine works remained. We left the canyon on old road to Powers Cabin, which firefighters had saved from the Oak Fire; also steam engine and other mine equipment remained. Trail beyond was sketchy, although maps showed it continuing out Redfield Canyon. We returned to Rattlesnake, hiked up to Holdout Spring, and nestled our tent among oak trees.  Creek crossings blown out by post fire erosion interrupted the otherwise mellow trail.

The next day we day hiked to the ridge on good trail but found no signs of a side trail shown on map looping back to Redfield. We turned south on East Divide Trail on an unburned fir and pine ridge with views of Rincons near Tucson, and crept across a snowslide to a saddle and down to High Creek trail junction. I thought we came up that way in 1975. Did we hike to Bassett Peak or closer Sunset Peak before dropping down canyon to camp? We got to a saddle below Sunset, but found no route up and turned back-16 miles round trip and no better informed.

Next morning’s candidate route for the 1975 loop was back down Rattlesnake Canyon and out Corral Creek. The creek ran intermittently and clear but fire was evident from black trees, brush and washed out crossings. Past Corral Spring waterfall-a lovely spot for lunch and a dip-steep switchbacks ascended moonscape ridges and then to early camp at Kennedy Saddle, an unburned oasis of oak and pine. Kennedy Peak was also moonscape. A little jar held sheets of paper signed by 2001, 2002, 2004, 2012 and 2014 day hikers. That night we viewed lights at Bonita School below and Mt. Graham observatory behind us at 10,000 feet. 

Next morning we wound down a drainage among blackened trees and stumps, took a heavily used trail to Deer Creek administrative site (corrals and locked bathroom) and hiked road back to our vehicle. I still wanted to find the High Creek trailhead. From Bonita, an unsigned road led straight back towards the mountains. At a locked gate, the road turned north, crossed a creek, and doubled back past a sign announcing an American Recovery Act project. A friendly Game and Fish official told us the ranch closed the main route and the Forest Service built a bypass.

We were out of time and food. A second visit would be required.

High Creek Return March 3-6, 2016

After our last attempt to figure out the 1975 trip, we were still uncertain-and saddened at deterioration of the legacy trail system after fire, summer rain and a wet snowy winter.

The circuitous trip on gravel/dirt roads to High Creek seemed to take forever. When creek road got rough we parked and hiked a mile to a sign warning “caution: entering burned area;” apparently the Forest Service disclaimer for deadfall ahead.

High Creek was unburned but we had to clamber over, around or through many oak limbs felled by a wet heavy snow. The creek dropped off in falls and pour-offs. The trail made four steep switchbacks to East Divide junction and the “Bassett Peak 8.6” sign. We camped in the saddle; while filtering water from a nearby spring, we saw that sunset had turned the horizon to fire.

The next day we would explore whether feasible to hike to Bassett Peak and still get down to Holdout Spring and camp in a day. We started our hike at 7. East Divide Trail had recent brushing-except one nasty oak section. Red sandstone figures towered above the trail running up and down ridges, until finally a saddle and sign: Ash Creek, left; 1.6 miles to Bassett Peak. The trail continued around the peak but we followed the flagged route up. I complained bitterly as we scratched and slid; at one point I clawed straight up around snow turned to ice prints by previous hikers. After a six-hour hike and rock scramble to the top, we were disappointed to find a smashed jar and no register-hopes of finding our 1975 signatures dashed!

After the hike back, we passed Sunset Peak glowing in sunset hues. Even with a light, I stumbled on the uphill slog over a ridge in total darkness, then crept down an “endless” half mile of steep rocky trail to the junction. Into camp just before 8 p.m., we would not go on to Holdout Spring!

The next day’s initial gentle contour reminded me how well made the old horse trails were. In the canyon was slower going; trees, weakened by fire, had fallen after a wet winter and creek crossings much more eroded. It took all morning to go 6.1 miles. We found new deadfall also on the road down canyon. Corral Canyon was much worse two years post-fire: blown out crossings, obliterated trail, deadfall, high grasses and weeds slowed us to 1 mph. By 6 p.m. we still had not reached the spring and lost the trail. We camped in an oak flat. I then found the trail heading up a side canyon on the other side of a wall of sediment.

In the morning, we waded grassy trails past brush and flowers carpeting the former moonscape ridges. Did the Forest Service seed the area? Uncompacted, rarely-used trails might also provide a “seed bed” for vegetation. In this wilderness, MORE use would improve trail conditions.
We got to Kennedy Peak at 11 and had lunch a ways down the ridge. Only 5.4 miles hiked thanks to slow going in burn. Descent into Douglas Canyon was fair wherever pines survived. We climbed a ridge, back into the fire zone, to a saddle where map showed junction with Paddy’s River Trail (but no sign of it) and back around to Bassett-Rattlesnake junction. David pointed out bright colors below-a circle of people with florescent packs, maybe an Outward Bound group? We passed our first night camp and slid down a steep section to better trail in High Creek-other than weeds and deadfall-at one point I fell headlong into downed oak branches. The last stretch seemed to last forever; we reached our vehicle at 7 p.m.

The 1975 Galiuros “overnight” ridge run and loop took 3.5 days in 2016. David doubts we made it all the way to Bassett Peak in 1975 but we’ll never know for sure. We were younger, and trails better and free of trees, weeds and sliding rocks.

The Forest Service spent $3.8 million on the Oak Fire, which was managed to “minimize impacts to sensitive areas and values at risk while maximizing benefits to resources.”  http://library.eri.nau.edu/gsdl/collect/erilibra/index/assoc/D2015022.dir/doc.pdf This meant little direct fire suppression but removing potentially hazardous trees on High Creek and trails near Deer Creek as well as protecting historic buildings and mining equipment at Powers Garden and Mine. (An interesting 2015 post on the Coronado National Forest website acclaimed a $20,000 matching grant from non-profit organizations for post-fire trail repair in Galiuros, Chiricahuas and Cochise Stronghold https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/coronado/news-events/?cid=FSEPRD476428   Glad to see Forest Service addressing trail repair, but sad at the disproportionate political priority on fire management with no funding to the local unit for restoring public infrastructure after a fire. We’d like to see more of those funds and crews used to fix up fire-damaged trails! One fire crew could probably rebuild the Galiuro legacy trails in a few months.

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Sign notes landowners closed access to Powers Road into Galiuro Wilderness in 2015.
Large ugly tank beside rushing creek in Sycamore Canyon.
Passing Sunset Peak enroute to Bassett Peak.
Author makes cautious descent into Horse Canyon on slidy, washed out trail.
Driving into the Galiuros.
Historic mining equipment along Rattlesnake.
Intact old sign indicates formerly extensive Galiuros trail system.
Log cabin on hill near Powers Mine was site of shootout between Powers family and sheriff’s posse in 1918
View of Rincon Mountains from East Divide Trail in Galiuros.
Crossing large downed ponderosa pine logs in Rattlesnake Canyon.
Sign marks junction where High Creek Trail meets East Divide Trail in Galiuros.
Sign at High Creek trailhead warning of burned area dangers after Oak Fire of 2014.
Galiuros Wilderness Map  Sketched map at Deer Creek Trailhead and on Forest Service website shows formerly extensive Galiuros trail system now being lost to erosion, fire damage and lack of maintenance.
David eats lunch on Bassett Peak.
David discovers “moonscape” on ridge above Corral Canyon in wake of Oak Fire of 2014 although root systems are re-sprouting.
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