Hiking Espíritu Canyon Demands Full Concentration.
By Kevin Franklin
LIKE A BEACHED yacht, the wheeless truck sits on four concrete blocks next to the cow pond. The bedliner, which appears to have put up a good fight, remains. The sight astounds me. I'm in the middle of Redington Pass, the nook between the Catalina and Rincon Mountains. The nearest hoodlum should be 20 miles away in Tucson, and yet the stripped truck says otherwise.
I head deeper into the wilderness and, I hope, farther from this human nonsense. Across the National Forest boundary, just past the 12-mile marker, Redington Pass Road makes an abrupt turn to the north. I stay straight and follow an old jeep track.
An Arizona Game and Fish Department sign reminds me I'm on private land, and, while access is granted, it can be revoked at any time. I putter along the dirt road for about three miles, stopping occasionally to pick up cans and junk people throw out. I often wish I could teleport this stuff back to its owner, to see the expression on the culprit's face when his discarded cookie box materializes in between his bed sheets, complete with black widow resident.
But thoughts of ill will evaporate as the northeastern flank of Mica Mountain comes into view. Giant columns of granite rise out of the surrounding pine trees, creating a stone forest in their own right. Vast rolling vistas open up to reveal the San Pedro Valley and the Galiuro Mountains in the distance. At about three miles this jeep track dives into Espíritu Canyon, my destination for the day.
The road up to this point is passable by virtually any high-clearance vehicle. Once it starts descending into the canyon, however, the jeep trail becomes more of a challenge. The track is little more than a truck-width in some places and the drop of several hundred feet into the boulder-strewn valley below encourages moderation.
I make it to the canyon bottom without incident, though in retrospect I saved only a mile's worth of walking and very little time over simply hiking to the bottom. Parking at the canyon edge might be easier on your vehicle--just keep in mind you'll have a grueling last mile on your return.
According to the Rincon Mountains Trail and Recreation Map put out by Rainbow Expeditions, there's a trail running up this canyon. This is not the case. No semblance of a trail begins until far into the National Forest, three miles up canyon. There are, however, several legions of cat-claw acacia in loose formation guarding all approaches. Walking along the canyon bottom is your best bet.
There are three principal types of terrain in Espíritu Canyon: loose cobbles, steep rock walls and virtually impenetrable vegetation. The canyon demands constant, undivided attention. Let that waver and you'll be propelled into a pool of shin-deep mud, lacerated by plants or cast off a cliff. As luck would have it, I only had to contend with the first two.
But the canyon rewards those who respectfully brave its barriers. My final animal tally for the day came to eight deer (both Coues' and mule), nine garter snakes in various pools chasing 30 million tadpoles, three cows, one flaming-red cardinal and two cowboys. Numerous tracks indicate this place teems with wildlife when the sun goes down.
Spotting much wildlife midday is unusual, especially while crashing through underbrush and splashing through watering holes. Maybe they were the welcoming committee of Spirit Canyon, inviting me to come back for Sunday service during regular hours. I just may drop by some evening--it sure beats the garbage and thievery spreading up from the valley below.
Take Tanque Verde Road east until it turns into Redington Pass Road. Follow that for a little more than 12 miles until you pass the National Forest Boundary and Redington Road turns sharply to the north. Stay straight and you'll bump into Espíritu Canyon.
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