Arizona » Arrastra Mountain Wilderness

Peoples Canyon

April, 2004 | 7 Comments
The Santa Maria

The Santa Maria

I had read some articles on Peoples (Peeples) Canyon and read the write up in Exploring Arizona’s Wild Areas and was intrigued. Arizona Highways described the area as ‘one of the wonders of public land in Arizona’. Riparian areas in the desert are always beautiful places to visit and see the stark contrast between the wet and the dry. So I decided to take a Spring trip to this area. Five nights up through the canyon from the South and then looping back with a play-it-as-it-goes route coming back.

Getting there was an interesting adventure in itself. The main route described in most write ups have you coming from Hwy 93 but I coming from the West so I decided to try a closer entry from the South. I exited Highway 60 at Wenden and headed toward Alamo Lake on Alamo Dam Road and then onto Palmeria Road. Then the route gets kind of hazy. It was more by feel than anything else. You could kind of see where you wanted to go… just needed to find a road to get there. So after a couple of false starts I ended up parking it on an old 4WD road leading into an abandoned mining area about two miles from the Santa Maria. From here is was just down to the Santa Maria then up to Peoples Canyon.

South Peoples Spring

South Peoples Spring

The weather was perfect spring weather. Warm but not hot. The Santa Maria was a wide sandy wash hiking up to Peoples Canyon. Pretty much dry until just before the junction. Camped the first night at the junction with Peoples Canyon and the Santa Maria. Had a spot of rain in the evening, but nothing special.

The next day it was up the canyon. Rough at first, then slowly turning brushy. Slow going for the most part. Camped just below South Peoples Spring before it got really brushy. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to continue up the canyon due to the thickening brush.

Camped in the twisty bits

Camped in the twisty bits

The next morning was clear and nice. South Peoples spring was quite thick with brush. I think it took about an hour to make one quarter mile through the undergrowth. But the canyon was very pretty. Narrow, rugged red rocks all about. Above the spring, the elevation gained quickly through a nice section of slick rock. And just beyond that, the canyon opened up making travel much easier.

Water was pretty much flowing the whole way from the Santa Maria junction to South Peoples spring. But above it became more desert like, with water showing itself more infrequently.

That night was spent along the twisty canyon route.

Up Canyon

Up Canyon

The next morning there were signs of weather passing through and it started to cloud up more. I hiked through the canyon to Sycamore Spring which was quite nice. Here there was a corral and plenty of cow sign and remnants of a road built years before. About 2pm the clouds produced some light rain for a couple of hours. There is something special about being in the desert during a rain. The smell is fabulous.

I hiked up along the old jeep trails to the earthen dam on the map. The terrain was very open now and not canyon like. But desert lush. It seemed there were lots of variety of plants here and the rain made everything brighter.

Camp at Sycamore Spring

Camp at Sycamore Spring

I should of stayed here an extra night. I liked the area. The canyon below the spring was interesting and I could have explored up the old road a ways. But as it was, I decided to head on toward my next destination over the ridge and back toward the Santa Maria. The morning dawned cool and clear and I figured with the rain, water would be easy to find along the way. I planned to explore some of the canyons and generally check out the area.

Unfortunately, the terrain got less interesting as I descended from the ridge. And drier as well. Decided to try for Burro Spring, the nearest spring on the map, for my next nights camp.  I never did find the spring… or more likely it was mis-marked on the map or was completely dry. Either way I needed to find some water for camp that night. I hopped over a small ridge figuring a narrow canyon was more likely to have some water than the large dry wash I had been hiking on. And this turned out to be true. At this point I regretted having left the Sycamore Spring area. This area wasn’t nearly as pretty.

Rain in the desert

Rain in the desert

The next day I hiked out back toward the car. When I got back down to the Santa Maria, it had flooded but was now drying out. There had been quite a bit of water. Not deep but probably a couple inches for the full width – over 50 yards wide or so. That would have been interesting to see… it going from a completely dry wash to having several inches of water across that whole width.

It had been a good trip though a bit strenuous going up through the brushy areas.  And the rain wasn’t bad at all.

Read some more about Peoples Canyon in this article.

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7 Comments on “Peoples Canyon”

  1. avatar says:

    your trip is one iv allways wanted to take. peoples (peeples) canyon is the canyon of the gods!!

  2. tony says:

    I am mostly wondering about access to the arrastras. What do you reccomend for best access to peeples canyon? or any other good access points..

    • steepTrails says:

      Well, from my understanding, the main access to peeples canyon was from an old road across from the turnoff to Bagdad on 93. But I never tried this route as it stated it crossed private land to get to the canyon and I wanted to avoid that. The access I tried, as I wrote, was from the South. I found the roads up on the plateau to be fairly easy high-clearance roads. To get to where I eventually parked the truck, I just picked what looked like it went to where I wanted to go – many old mining roads up there – and headed in that direction (nothing is marked). As soon as the road headed down toward the Santa Maria, the road got rough and 4wd was handy. At this point you are way out there… and don’t want to get stuck. Eventually parked it in an old mining area about two miles from the Santa Maria. For general access to the wilderness, there aren’t that many access points that are close. But I found the road to Arroweed Spring to be fairly easy going. It’s in the northern area of the wilderness off of 17 mile road and leads about 3 miles into the wilderness. 17 mile road is a well maintained gravel road and I found the spur to Arroweed spring to be sandy in sections, but not requiring 4wd. Finding the road required paying attention to the map, because it wasn’t marked. Once there the hiking is all wilderness hiking and the road end is somewhat non-descript so attention is needed if you’re doing a loop trip and want to find your car again.

  3. avatar says:

    has anyone climbed artillery peak? (s.w. corner of the wilderness) im planing to try. looks steep.

    • Anonymous says:

      iv climbed artillery peak!! it was “very” steep. 1300 ft. VIRTICAL (from neaREST TRUCK STOP)

  4. Rich says:

    You are one tough hiker. It looks like Matterhorn.

  5. Anonymous says:

    PSA from the granddaughter of Tina & Erik Barnes who own the Santa Maria Ranch and the 40 acre parcel that is Peeple’s Canyon. While this is indeed a gorgeous hike, there seems to be some confusion about what is and is not private property. Entering through state grazing leases and the wilderness area from Hwy 93, you don’t actually hit “private property” until you near the canyon itself. Tina & Erik have been generous enough to give permission to enter to most of the people who inquire about hiking to the canyon, because they too believe it is a special place and should be shared with those who will pass through it respectfully. They do ask [after you've received their permission] that you not camp in the canyon itself and not go with a group of more than 7 or 8 people. Thank you for your understanding.