Arizona » Arrastra Mountain Wilderness

The Big Sandy

April, 2008 | 6 Comments

Burro crossings

Arrasta Mountain Wilderness is essentially the big blank space on maps of Western Arizona to the west of Highway 93. Big mountains, some deep canyons, lots of sand, little water and no trails. Lets go.

I have been driving past this area for years on my way through Arizona to other hiking locations. It’s about the perfect distance from home for my first car camp along the way. I’ve driven to Alamo Lake, along Signal road and 17 mile road and have always wanted to check the area out with a backpack. I knew the area was dry so I waited for a wet year to try it out, figuring this would make the trip less challenging finding water. I was right… sort of.

Creek Camp

The Big Sandy is the main river here. It cuts through the western edge of the wilderness and drains into the reservoir, Alamo Lake. The Santa Maria cuts through the southern edge of the wilderness and it too drains into Lake Alamo. Water draining off of the Poachie Mountain  range pretty much flows  into these two rivers.

The trip was five nights in early April starting off from the road end at Arrowweed Spring. I followed a faint old 4wd road that leads to the Cattail Spring canyon and from there down that canyon. The Cattail spring had plenty of water, but was small and that water quickly receded back into the ground past the spring. That was the standard here with these sandy washes. If you found water, it was forced up by hard rock below. Otherwise there may be water, but you would have to dig to find it. Which is what the burros seem to do… I came across several ‘burro holes’ and saw one actually pushing the sand out of a hole with its nose to get to some water.

The GovernmentWash

The Government Wash

I saw about a half dozen wild burros on the trip… very curious animals. It didn’t seem like they’d seen many people. I surprised a couple of them and they moved off to what they thought to be a safe distance and then turned and looked back at me. They seemed wary, but not scared. If I didn’t come toward them, they’d stay and watch me.

I camped in this canyon  just above the Government Wash at a spot that had a small amount of water that came to the surface. The next day it was down to the Big Sandy. There was plenty of water in the Big Sandy… though only about two to three inches deep. The Big Sandy here is this wide sandy wash that probably goes completely dry most of the year. But with the winter and early spring runoff it was quite nice. Camped among the scrub willow and cottonwood.

Weather throughout this trip was perfect spring weather. Warm, clear days and nights. Slight breeze in the afternoon. Had one evening with slight overcast and small threat of sprinkles, but nothing came of it.

The Big Sandy

The Big Sandy

Unfortunately, some ATVs had come down through the Big Sandy wash sometime before I arrived. Leaving their tracks through the wash and along some of the shore of the river. This is of course way out of bounds. The Big Sandy here isn’t the wilderness boundary but well into the wilderness.  Apparently the rest of Arizona isn’t big enough for them.

The Big Sandy

The Big Sandy

From the confluence with the Government Wash, I hiked down the Big Sandy to a place shown on the map as Blue Rock. Lake Alamo can extend up this far, but at this time the lakes edge was miles down stream. This area was nice, kind of marshy in spots, but it had some deep pools here and there. Lots of cattle activity among the reeds though I never saw any of them.

Camp along the Big Sandy

Camp along the Big Sandy

It was an easy hike the next day to Chino Spring, the closest, most likely place for water. I was a little wary of relying on the map for springs. A few years previous I had hiked through Peoples Canyon and back by a place called Burro Spring. It was either mis-marked on the map or completely dry, because I never found it. But I wasn’t worried too much, the days hikes were short and backtracking to a known water source was easy. Chino spring was lovely. It was a little lower than the map indicated, but the canyon necked down to a place where the water bubbled up and I got a nice camp with a trickling creek.

Saw some javelina here. I’m sure there is great wildlife viewing, but I didn’t see much more though I saw plenty of tracks here. This is probably a good water source in dry times too.

Chino Spring

Chino Spring

I day hiked up some of the finger canyons from here, scoping out the area and looking for other areas to explore the next day or days. The area was interesting, but completely dry. I actually picked a burro hole that I thought might contain water – North/South canyon that necked down – and dug down a ways. After about two feet I found damp sand, but no usable water.

The next night I dry camped. Up and over a small pass into Government Wash, up that wash a ways to camp. Next day I hiked out.

Apart from the ATV tracks, I didn’t see anyone, any boot prints, any fire rings, or any garbage to speak of. I guessed that not many people venture out here.

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6 Comments on “The Big Sandy”

  1. katie says:

    so…what did you find out? I backpacked down to Peeples Canyon, beautiful area. Did you find the big sign by the PO’d owner? If you have seen it, you know what I am referring to. I would like to see COWS gone from that area!

    • steepTrails says:

      I did hike Peoples Canyon a couple of years ago, but no, I never did see the sign… But when I did that hike I came up from the Santa Maria, hiking up the canyon to where it hits the old road at Sycamore Spring. Then looping back via Burro Spring canyon. I had read about problems with the land owner before… sounds like he’s still a problem.

  2. tony says:

    myself and 5 others just came back from a trip out here and it was very nice. we tried to climb artillery peak but had a few people who couldnt do it in the group, ah well.. next time.

    Getting to Alamo lake from Wenden and on Alamo Lake Road is no problem and does not even require high clearance. U can then drive in as far as u’d like on the multitude of ATV trails that bring you to the Big Sandy wash just north of Alamo Lake. This is the easiest way to access from the south. Palmerita Ranch Road is an option as well.

    we started our hike from a spur road (brown’s crossing i believe) north of alamo lake side (south) and hiked to the confluence of the Santa Maria and Big Sandy. We then followed the Big Sandy north from here to the base of artillery peak. We found a good deal of water closer to the confluence with the Santa Maria and near the wilderness boundary however the further north up the Big Sandy we went the more dry it became. I am guessing as you go even further like toward the confluence with Government Wash there may be more water up there as this post seems to indicate.

    There is alot of ATV’s and Motorcyles that ride straight up past the wilderness boundary along the big sandy. If you look on the map it is a perfect connector to loop up to seventeen mile road or back to the lake etc.. Either way this is COMPLETELY ILLEGAL!! I wrote down license plates and vehicle descriptions of those I saw riding in here while we were there and have reported them to the Bureau of Land Management Kingman Office. I encourage others to do the same… It turns out a picture of the vehicle is good to have as well..

    Wilderness is a place for primitive recreation and solitude, seeing people on ATVs in here was very discouraging. Please be active and report these offenses.

    we spent two nights along the Big Sandy and found that this is a perfect area to camp in during the winter months. If you need topography maps of the area you can call or stop into the Bureau of Land Management state office in downtown Phoenix on central ave. and they will give you customized topo maps for $10 each!!! Call to inquire.

    I am looking forward to coming back to this wonderful place, perhaps next time to people’s canyon.

    • steepTrails says:

      Very nice. My trip was following what I think was a wet winter so plenty of water in early April (at least in the Big Sandy) … there were also some big tanks over near Blue Rock – across from Artillery Peak and noted on the topo – which I would think would be pretty reliable all year.

      Yes, disappointing about the ATVers… it’s not like there is a lack of places in this area where they can legally ride – I guess they figure they won’t get caught.

  3. desertcanary101 says:

    Alamo lake area is my favorite desert. I went to grade school there in the 50′s near browns crossing and lived in a bus at the Black Diamond mining camp. I have loved it my whole life and go often. I wanted to comment because my wife and I climbed Artillery peak on October 29 2014.
    Be prepared. It was a seven hour round trip and very rough. The rock slides leading to the top can be dangerous and then there are a few hundred feet of free climbing. The view is as expected. Beautiful!

  4. PJ says:

    I own a large piece of land along the Big Sandy River south of the Signal Ghost Town. My land borders BLM/Wilderness land. It is my beautiful hidden oasis. The few people who hike or pass along the Big Sandy River often don’t realize that sometimes they are passing through pockets of private land – especially at the north end of the Arrasta Mountain Wilderness.

    It is good to see that most people who visit the valley are respectful of the land – whether private or BLM. However, there are those who don’t seem to care that someone might own the land that they are spinning their ATV tires on. They are typically wanna-be rednecks from the city who think they are entitled to do what they want. They only respect the law when it suits them. How would they like it if I drove across their front lawn and camped in their back yard? What if I tossed my empty beer cans into their swimming pool?

    I like the hikers and travelers who respect nature and the land. Some of you may have crossed my land on your journey along the Big Sandy River. You are welcome to do so if you respect the land and leave no tracks or garbage. Enjoy the Big Sandy River – let’s keep it a hidden Arizona oasis.