Arizona » Sycamore Canyon Wilderness

Sycamore Canyon Wilderness

April, 2010 | No Comments

Located in central Arizona, Southwest of Flagstaff, Sycamore Canyon wilderness looked interesting when I read the write up in Exploring Arizona’s Wild Areas. It was described as similar to Oak Creek Canyon, without the crowds… hmm.

Sycamore Creek

Sycamore Canyon

The last couple of Spring trips to Arizona had been to the Mazatzal and I was looking to try a new area to explore. This area seemed to have the right amount of remote-ness and interesting terrain that I usually head for. Looking at the topos, I decided on starting at the remote Sycamore Trail trailhead to the west of the wilderness. So remote in fact, that when I passed some locals leaving their camp, they asked straight away ‘Are you lost?’.

The plan, as it was, was to follow the trail a ways, then diverge down one of the drainages that lead to Sycamore creek. From there, head upstream and back out to the trail and back. Five nights total.

Getting down to Sycamore wasn’t too challenging, but did have a couple false starts and a few twists and turns to get down to the creek. Once there… it became quite obvious that the plan will change. The water level was high. A wet winter and recent snow runoff left the creek level quite high, cold and nearly edge to edge in places. I really had no desire to struggle along what edge there was through thick brush and scrub. Done that.

Sycamore Basin

Sycamore Basin

The red rocks were quite pretty and rugged. The canyon wasn’t that deep here, maybe a couple hundred feet, but desert canyons with running water are special beautiful places. I spent two nights at my first camp exploring a short ways both up and down stream. The first night I was treated to a midnight rain – why set the fly, the clouds should clear out after dark. And a freeze the next morning.

Since I couldn’t travel easily up the creek, I decided to retrace my route and continue up Sycamore Trail and come back down to Sycamore creek several miles up stream.

Cow country. Yes, like most wildernesses in Arizona, you’ll find plenty of cow sign. I didn’t actually see any of those rare animals, but did see lots of cow debris under the most desirable shade trees, and some corrals and fencing.

The Red Rocks

The Red Rocks

I hiked down again to Sycamore Creek at Cedar Creek with a nice campsite at the junction. Which as it turns out is across the creek from the Dogie trail. Pretty spot, but the canyon is not very deep here. This made it easier to hike out to the rim above and wander about on the mesa above with nice views looking down to the Sycamore.

Spent the next day hiking out to Taylor cabin. What a great spot that is. A stone ranching cabin and corral¬† in a spectacular area. You could see why they picked that location – the canyon starts to get deep, lots of sycamore and cottonwoods plus the creek. It was still too early in the season to get the full effect. The sycamores and cottonwoods had yet to fully leaf up, but you could tell how nice late spring and summer afternoons would be. The cabin, built in the 30s is small but well built… a good place to get out of the rain, or spend a cold night by the fire, but I would probably camp out under the grove of trees. It was interesting reading the journal left by previous visitors, in fact it looked like I just missed the last camper by a night. He went on to describe the rain that we had two nights previous and his adventure trying to make it down the creek through deep and cold water. He turned back and decided to hit the trail.

Taylor Cabin

Taylor Cabin

The water level was dropping fast. It must have dropped a foot in the four nights I spent by the creek. I understand that this creek goes dry in spots during the summer which is hard to envision when it’s as hard to cross as it was.¬† For all the water in the Sycamore creek, the rest of the wilderness seemed quite dry. The other washes were for the most part completely dry. So the next day I decided to hike up Cedar creek to the springs noted on the map at Sand Seeps.

Evening in the canyon

Evening in the canyon

Cedar Creek was typical rock walking up a dry creek bed. The terrain started to get quite interesting as I neared the seeps. Rugged. The Sand Seeps are aptly named – water dripping out of the rock wall below a basin above the creek bed. The creek narrowed down here with deep pools of standing water making swimming the only option. Or circumnavigate through thick groves of glorious catclaw acacia. I chose to camp.

Indian Ruins

Indian Ruins

For some reason I was sure that there were some Indian ruins about. Probably because of the location of this spring and the terrain. So I spent a couple hours in the basin above looking in the recesses and rim of the cliff walls. And there are. Tucked into a small overhang there was a rock built shelter… old, with moss growing on the fallen stones of the shelter. Well built but it didn’t look like a permanent type structure or one that was used for a long time. But what great views… and a place that collected winter rain water for drinking. If the builders intent was protection from enemies, then this had it… one way in and one way out, well hidden, but with plenty opportunity to see someone coming.

Hiking out was uneventful, apart from the flat tire at the trailhead (a nail).

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