..........................................................Arizona Jones Outdoors: Hiking, Backpacking, Mountain Biking, and more!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Willow Valley Loop Hike, Arizona

This hike is a rugged hike into a deep entrenched canyon with a stream and some deep pools you must swim. 
This hike is in a tributary and is at the headwaters of West Clear Creek.  Much of this is in a designated wilderness area.  The hike is mostly an off trail scramble and boulder hop down through the canyon bottom along a stream bed.  There is some fighting through brush and some thorn bushes involved that you should avoid if possible.  This is a long day and pretty rugged but the payoff of scenery is well worth it. 

This hike should only be done in warm weather since you will get wet and you should use dry bags to keep your stuff dry.  You should never enter this canyon if the weather forecast is for rain because flash floods could happen and be a great danger.  If you are not in decent shape don't try this because it is a long strenuous day and there is no way out but to do the whole loop once you pass the fist few swimming holes.  It is a one way loop hike that takes between 7 to 9 hours depending on how fast you can go.  There is a stretch of about 3 miles od dirt road that must be hiked or you can do a car shuttle or stash a mountain bike like I did at the Maxwell Trailhead.  I recommend you first do a day hike into Maxwell Trail to get an understanding of where the trail out is, because if you miss it at the end of your day you will be stuck in the canyon overnight and not know if the way out is upstream or down stream.  So for safety scout it out in advance to know the exit point of the canyon. 


Park you car at Maxwell Tank and walk east from the road past or around Maxwell Tank.  I went around the right side of the tank.

 You will have to get over a barbed wire fence and find your way down into the drainage or wash on the other side. Once in the bottom of the wash or drainage, turn right and head down the small canyon.  I found there to be lots of Locust plants with sharp thorns as well as some wild rose.  So this part scratched me up a little, but if you are careful you can probably get through without much damage.  Near the bottom of this side canyon you will encounter a series of dry falls or drops.  I was able to find ways to climb down or around each of them without too much difficulty.  After this you will reach the bottom of the main canyon of Willow Valley.  It takes around 45 minutes to get to this point.  I found the bottom of the canyon to be dry and boulder filled at this location.  You turn right or downstream and begin to boulder hop or climb what I thing was south.  After just a short distance you will come upon the first of a series of deep pools that you have to get through. 

 You might be able to find a way around some of them but the easiest way is just to swim through them (they are too deep to wade). 

  At least one of them there is no other way but to swim.  And on one of them I found no easy entrance other than to jump off a small drop into the water.  Once you do this there is no going back. 

 After this there are no more deep wades, so if you've used a flotation device to keep your pack dry, you can put it away.  I personally just used dry bags inside my pack.  I also bring a water filter so I don't have to carry a full days worth of heavy water.  Downstream from here there is a stretch where the canyon bottom is full of large boulders and rocks. 

 So you boulder hop and route find your way down the canyon.  After a while of this boulder hopping you will start to see pools of water again but nothing you have to swim.
  There are some sections where there are willow thickets you have to fight through.  The easiest way appears to be to stay in the water at these locations.  After a good distance of this the canyon begins to open up and you start to see running water.  

And soon the canyon bottom becomes more open and flat and filled with grass and brush.  You will find a few locations where you will have to wade across the stream and sometimes the grass makes seeing where your footing is supposed to go difficult.  After a while you will find there are some short sections with paths or trails up out of the drainage in some forested areas. 

 The farther you go you will find some actual sections of decent trail through the pines on benches along the canyons edge.  Finally you'll reach the confluence with Clover Creek, which comes in from the left.  This is a vey important land mark because you exit point is around a half mile down stream from here.  From this junction down you are now in West Clear Creek and in this area you will find some nice large still pools and some places where people have camped.

  You could always just come down Maxwell Trail and just go a little ways up stream and camp.  And then return back up Maxwell Trail.  And just take it easy and enjoy this remote wilderness at your leisure.  If you stay overnight be reminded that there may be bears in this part of the canyon, but I have never seen any. 

From the Clover Creek confluence stay on the right side of the stream going downstream because you exit is on the right and you don't want to miss it.  There are more big still pools and great scenery as you go. 

After about a half a mile, just before a prominent side canyon enters from the right and the main canyon bends left, you should see some cairns and a well used trail which heads up the slope on the right (north). This is your way out, called Maxwell Trail #37.  From here you will start climbing and it becomes steep with some switchbacks in places.  It is a pretty good climb that takes you up to the rim of the canyon.  At the top you find a West Clear Creek Wilderness Boundary sign and a trail register and parking area. If you have spotted a car here or a mountain bike like I did, the hike part of the adventure is over.  If you did not do the car shuttle or stash a mountain bike you now start the walk along the forest service roads back to your car at Maxwell tank.  It is about 1.5 miles down the road to the junction where you turned of to go to Maxwell Tank.  Turn right at that junction and walk the remaining 1.4 miles back to Maxwell Tank and your car. 

 
To get to the trail head at Maxwell Tank  You turn west off Lake Mary Road between mile markers 297 & 298.  This is a few miles northwest of the Highway 87 intersection at Clint's Well or Happy Jack.  I believe there is a sign for West Clear Creek.  It is Forest Road (FR) #81. Follow FR #81 for 3.1 miles then turn left onto FR #81E. After driving 3.8 miles stay left (continuing on 81E) at the junction with FR #693. After another 0.5 miles you'll arrive at the junction with Maxwell Trail Road. To spot a car, stay right at this junction and follow it 1.5 miles (ignoring any faint side roads) to the signed trailhead. To reach the trailhead, turn left towards Maxwell Tank. After 0.9 miles a road will come in from the right (stay left), you will reach Maxwell Tank after another 0.4 miles.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

West Clear Creek Wilderness. . . . again!

It is the time of year again when it gets hot in Arizona and the relief of a swim bekons.  For one of my favorite places Clear creek there is a short window to go before the monsoon season brings danger.  This is "prime time" until about the first week of July.  So I decided to re-post this.

I started this blog with a small piece about a backpack trip into West Clear Creek Wilderness in Arizona. But that is just a small part of what there is to see in this remarkable place. West Clear Creek Wilderness Area is a deep entrenched canyon with a year round stream flowing through it. This canyon runs east to west from near Happy Jack up on the Mogollon Rim down to near Camp Verde. It is very remote and wild with deep pools of water and red sandstone cliffs. The traveling in this canyon is rugged and difficult with few trails and much of the time you are in the water wading or swimming and the rest of the time boulder hopping. Travel in this canyon should be done with care because there is no easy way to get help. The monsoon season should be avoided due to flash flood danger and the winter it is too cold to swim. The Canyon is more than thirty miles long and some sources say as much as forty.
The canyon has four parts divided by upper, bottom half of the upper, middle and lower.
Upper: The upper part of West Clear Creek is a wide canyon, and very beautiful. There are not the significant narrow parts, but the upper part has large Coconino Sandstone cliffs with a nice forest of large trees.
The pools are often large but not as deep as in the middle section and you can navigate with just getting your feet wet in most cases. Expect to do a little wading in this part of the canyon, but no real swimming is required. There are several access points to the upper section.
You can access from the north side of the canyon at both Maxwell Trail and Tramway Trail that are the ends of FR 81E that forks near the end. These trails switch back down into the canyon from the rim and are steep but are well maintained Forest Service trails. You can also enter from the south at FR 142E which is a little steeper and more rugged trail. There are some pictographs on the north side of the canyon just downstream from the Maxwell trail that are interesting to visit.
This upper part of the canyon is a great day hike destination to get a feel for what this place is like. The travel in this upper section is much easier than the the middle section of the canyon
The bottom half of the upper canyon: This part is accessed by two trails from the south side of the canyon. One is the Calloway Trail at the end of FR 142B and the other is an unnamed trail at the end of FR 142A. the Calloway Trail is a steep switch back decent from the rim down into the canyon but the trail is maintained and well built. The trail at the end of FR 142A is more of a scramble in places and pretty steep. This bottom half of the upper canyon is more difficult to travel. In the canyon between these two entrances are some places you will have to swim to get past. In one place there are two large deep pools right under some power lines that cross over the canyon. These pools have steep white cliffs on both sides.
This is a great place to go for a day hike and swim on a hot day to get a feel for what West Clear Creek is all about.

If you go farther down stream toward FR 142 A there is a place that was hard to get past with another large pool where I just jumped into the water instead of trying to climb around it. Some people make a long loop by going down Calloway trail at FR 142B and then go down the canyon and come out at FR 142A. this could be an overnight trip or a very very long day.
The middle: this part of the canyon is from FR 142A down to where trail #17 comes down off the rim. To my knowledge there are no access point in this whole section (unless you rock climb). For me this is what West Clear Creek is all about. Remote solitude, with deep still pools reflecting canyon walls. This part of the canyon the travel is rugged and difficult and will test even the most fit outdoor enthusiast.

To travel into this part of the canyon it is pretty much an overnight affair. It took me three long days to get from FR 142A down to Bull Pen Ranch. And in this middle section you are going to get wet. There are many places where you have to swim to get past the large pools where sandstone cliffs come directly out of the water on both sides.

So to do this you must have all your stuff in dry bags and float your pack. From the trail at FR 142A you head down stream and right away you encounter a deep slot with large white cliffs on both sides with the water going from cliff to cliff. This is called The White Box. You must swim this to get further and its a good swim of 40 yards or more. When I did it there were large tree trunks stuck between the cliffs 15 to 20 feet above the water. This tells you of the danger of flash floods in this canyon.
After you negotiate the White Box the canyon opens up again and travel is boulder hopping along the creek. The next major landmark in the middle section is a hanging spring. This is one of the most beautiful spots in the canyon. A spring coming out of the south wall of the canyon drops water like a shower right into the middle of the stream. Often this spring is covered with yellow columbine flowers to add to the effect. There are some good camping sites that can be found near this spring.
Farther down stream the canyon narrows again and this time the cliffs are red and there is a series of tight slots with big pools of water you must swim. This is called the Red Box.
The Red box has more pools than the White Box and is a longer section but none of it's pools are as big or as long as the one big one in the White Box.
This red Box section has beautiful red cliffs and pool after pool of still water. There are pretty much no safe camp sites in this area where you can get up above the creek in case of floods
So camp before this section if you get to it late in the day or you will have to rush through one of the best parts of the canyon in order to set up a safe camp while there is still day light. After the Red Box again the canyon opens up and you are back to boulder hopping and fighting through brush. By now you will be a pro at this type of travel. Then again the canyon closes back in for some more swimming. You will find hopping from boulder to boulder with wet feet and a water logged pack (heavy) will wear you out. and you will sleep well each night from sheer exhaustion.
The next major feature or landmark is the water fall. This is my favorite spot in the whole canyon. It has a big pool at the base of the falls to swim in and it is a great place to stay the night. We camped here on our second night coming down the canyon from FR 142A.
To get past this obstacle (waterfall) you need to climb up and around on the south side. This place has some flat rock benches or ledges up above the creek that are good campsites. I have come in from the rim on trail #17 and stayed here overnight several times now. Often staying two nights just to enjoy this spot and explore and swim for the day without the weight of a pack. Oh and did I tell you this creek is full of trout and many of the pools in the middle section are rarely fished. After a day of fun and rest at the falls I then head back out. Once you are at the falls you can get out in one day. Down stream from the falls there are at least two or three more swims and then the canyon opens back up the rest of the way down to Bull Pen Ranch.
The Lower: This part of the canyon is a wide canyon with a well traveled trail (Trail #17) coming up from Bull Pen Ranch. This is the most visited part of the canyon and also the hottest and most uninteresting in my view. In many cases the trail takes you away from the creek and it only crosses four or five times in five miles.
Items that I feel are essential for completing a backpack of the middle section:
Walking stick - for keeping balance during the frequent stream crossings over slippery rocks
Air mattress or pool float toy - for ferrying your pack through the many deep pools that require swimming. Dry bags - to keep your sleeping bag and other things dry. Very sturdy shoes - don't think some water sandals will cut it. If you bring a tent a free standing type is a must because often you will camp on flat rock.
Some use a wet suit because the water is cool. I never have. I usually go when it's hot so the cold water feels good. Oh yea, you need to be able to swim. And bring some endurance and a high tolerance for pain.
Camp sites are just here and there through this backpack trip, in some places there just aren't any. The two areas with very few spots to pitch a tent are: directly below the entrance point at FR 142A and the section below the first stretch of red sandstone narrows. don't start looking for a camp sight as it gets dark, give yourself time. Oh, and try to camp up away from the creek. A flash flood in this canyon can raise the water level 15 to 20 feet.
To find trail heads I recommend the National Forest Service map of the Coconino National Forest. This map has has served me well.
Here is some more on this great canyon if this was not enough for you.
http://azjonesoutdoor.blogspot.com/2011/08/return-to-west-clear-creek.html

Monday, May 14, 2012

Fossil Creek, Part Two

I can't get enough of this place.  Fossil Creek is just so beautiful and the water is so perfect that you just want to keep going back.  So yesterday I had a day off so I took my child and her friend back for another great day in paradise. 
Since I could not get enough I thought maybe you might not of had enough yet as well.  So i took a few more pictures to share of this amazing place. 
This one is at the falls that I posted the other day but from above.  As you can see you can climb around to the top of the falls and many people jump into the deep pool from the cliff 30 or so feet above the water.  The fall is at least 20 feet in height, so I'm guessing the cliff is at least 30 feet or more. 
The stream has great waterfalls but also nice lazy and deep pools to relax in.  There is also some "white water" or rapids type areas.  I guess some people have gone down this river in kayaks, and even gone down the falls. 
Anyway I feel pretty blessed to have this fantastic place within driving distance, so I can take a day trip over there and enjoy the water. 
Oh The Water. . Ooohhh The Water. . And It Stoned Me To My Soul
Here is the link to the other Fossil Creek Post in case you missed it  
http://azjonesoutdoor.blogspot.com/2011/06/fossil-creek-arizona.html
And here are a few maps that might be of value. 


Anyway if you want to go here DON'T. . . . because I want it ALL to myself!  Like that could ever happen. Anyway for more information contact:
Mogollon Rim Ranger District, 8738 Ranger Road, Happy Jack AZ 86024, (928) 477-2255 FAX 527-8282
or
Verde Ranger District, 928-567-4121 or
Red Rock Ranger District, P.O. Box 20249, Sedona AZ 86341, (928) 282-4119

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Return To Coyote Buttes, The South Section

Earlier I posted on a great place to see some wonderful sandstone formations called Coyote Buttes, that has a place called The Wave.  This area is a great place to take photos of unusual and colorful rock formations like the ones you see on my blog. 
In fact several of the photos in the sidebars are from this area.  The Wave has unique color and texture and consistency in the rock that makes it very photogenic.  Along with the type of erosion that has left smooth curved shapes.  This attracts photographers from all over the world.     
The Wave is in the part of the Coyote Buttes that is designated as the North section, but there is also some interesting stuff to see in the south section as well.  The South Section is a bit tougher to get to because the roads are sandy and require four wheel drive.  In fact even with four wheel drive there were parts that had deep sand that made me wonder if I was going to get stuck.  I highly advise you to go in a group with two four wheel drive vehicels if you can.  I also recommend you have a tire pump so you can deflate your tires some in the sand and then re-inflate when you get back to the road.  A shovel and winch are always nice as well. If you are not familure with off road travel and reading maps, this one is not for you.  
   When I went to this area it was many years ago and I backpacked in and stayed over night with my wife.  Sad to say they no longer alow overnight camping in this area.  Anyway we drove our car as far as a place called Paw Hole and then walked north in towards what is known as the Cottonwood Teepee area.  We did not follow a trail or anything, I just used a topo map and headed toward the Cottonwood Teepee area 
     We decided to park at Paw hole because the road beyond that was pure sand, and even up to there there were areas where we crossed some very deep sand and I felt I had taken enough risks already.  Many people continue on past Paw Hole and drive to a parking and access spot they call Cottonwood Cove.  This would make the Cottonwood Teepees just a short walk to get to.
      We first set out from Paw Hole here we were treated with seeing some beautiful rock formations with precice linear designs and textures in all sorts of strange shapes and sizes.
Most of these were tan, gold or redish brown in color, and some had unusual linear textures of darker colored rock running through them.  This is just a short walk north of the Paw Hole Parking Area.
There were some very unusual Teepees with some real crazy texture way up the ridge north of here that we saw on our way back.
We traveled north from Paw Hole on a flat sandy area just east of the ridge on the way out and we traveled along the top of the ridge or as close as we could on the way back. Walking north we crossed a large area of more sand that with full packs was quite draining, after several miles we came to another area of exposed rock and more unusual formations. 
This area was near what on the map was called Cottonwood Springs, and I latter found out it was called the Cottonwood Teepee area. Walking around in this area was amazing.
  This area has some crazy behive and teepee shaped rocks in quite an asortment of colors, sizes, and shapes, along with some balanced rocks and some just plain bizare shaped rocks, that will spark your imagination. 
Everywhere you look you see something unusual in the geology here. Strange twisted shapes in a variety of colors and patterns.
  And along with that there is a peacefulness that comes with this remote and secluded area.  This are for me was more interesting more deversified and just a larger area than the Paw Hole area, but of course it's a bit more difficult to get to.  Just a longer drive in some deep sand. 
As you can see there is some strange shapes and unusual color in the rocks at this place, we had it all to ourselves when I was there.
Being able to stay overnight out in this remote destination was quite a treat. At night there was no visible human made light sources and with the dry air the star viewing was amazing.
Here is a hiking map that might be of use if you are going to Go out there and explore.  remember there really are no trails, so you just have to use a map and keep track of where you have gone and how to get back.
The Lone Tree is an undeveloped access point that provides entry to Coyote Buttes South. There is limited parking available. It is not signed. Please park in existing disturbed areas only.
     From Page, AZ, drive west on Highway 89 for 34 miles (55 kilometers). Drive past the BLM Contact Station and the road to the White House trailhead. Turn left onto House Rock Valley Road. This road is compacted dirt. Drive 16.0 miles (25.75 kilometers) down this road. Turn left (east) on a narrow dirt track and drive 0.25 miles (0.4 kilometers) and park near a lone tree next to a small reservoir.
     From Kanab, UT, drive east on Highway 89 for 38 miles (61 kilometers). Turn right onto House Rock Valley Road. This road is compacted dirt. Drive 16.0 miles (25.75 kilometers) down this road. Turn left (east) on a narrow dirt track and drive 0.25 miles (0.4 kilometers) and park near a lone tree next to a small reservoir.

For permits and more information here is the link to the BLM site that has all you need including how to obtain permits.
http://www.blm.gov/az/st/en/arolrsmain/paria/coyote_buttes.html

Here is the Link to the post on the Coyote Buttes North Section and The Wave. http://azjonesoutdoor.blogspot.com/2010/07/coyote-buttes-north-section.html