Friday, April 5, 2013

The Secret of Secret Canyon

Secret Canyon Sentry

Recently I posted some images on Facebook from a backpacking trip to Secret Canyon. Where's Secret Canyon? I was asked by more than a few locals. Having lived in Northern Arizona now for almost thirty years I have asked myself that same question on more than one occasion.  I kept hearing about Secret Canyon, but nothing specific in terms of where it was. I remember looking for it about ten years ago. I'm sure I never found it, at least definitively. I do remember some large pools surrounded by red cliffs, but that could easily have been anywhere.  Funny when you're hiking in a high desert climate, the hotter it gets, the hike begins to loose it's appeal and large cool pools of water begin to look pretty inviting. About three years ago I took up the search once again.  This time I brought a map. Such that it was. It was downloaded from the Red Rock Ranger District web page, and lacked any mileage or scale. There were plenty of canyons on the map. Long Canyon, Loy Canyon, Fay Canyon, Boynton Canyon. They're all on there. And they're all really cool and different. Some even have ancient ruins. Secret Canyon doesn't, but does have a  creek flowing in it,  mostly in the spring.  Until now I've never hiked Secret Canyon in the spring, but could tell you that there were some large pools of water in late autumn. Probably left over from our monsoon season.  So where's Secret Canyon?  The trail head used to be at the end of an old Jeep trail. The one that goes to all the arches (Vaultee, and Devil's Bridge). This year it was different. The forest service errected a new gate, and paved the first little rough part. I used to drive right to the trail head on the 4wd road.  Now we had to drive around the corner and park at the Long Canyon trail head.  This little change put about three extra miles on the trip. Normally I'd shrug. This time I had a nice 50lb pack. About a year ago we made it to the head of the canyon and hiked only a little ways up it.

We decided to make a loop out of it and another canyon, but didn't really explore Secret Canyon it for all it's potential.  We did, however, scope out some possible camping spots. We knew we'd be back.  We didn't know how much water would be there. Turns out, a  lot. The spring run off was in full force, and deep in the canyon we even found some pockets of snow. The map makes the cayon look like about ten dotted lines. The trail description says it goes for three miles and ends at a pool of water. Well I can tell you, it keeps going. In theory it continues to the top of Secret Mountain, but after hiking up it for three and a half hours it showed no sign of ending at some secret pool of water. After 25 (yes we counted) pool of water crossings we still hadn't found the end. I guess we'll just have to try again next year. The vistas are fantastic starting early on. You're surrounded by red rock, spires and of course the canyon.  We chose to bed down in a plateau area surrounded by desert scrub with views of the valley. Yucca, mesquite and juniper left us mostly exposed, but early spring is a bit chilly in the shade, so a litttle extra sun was welcomed. A little warmer, and we would have had to camp up the canyon which was much more shaded by large ponderosa pines, sycamore and maple.  The mesquite was in bloom and the sweet aroma of the little white flowers was starting to attract honey bees. Spring run off was trickling down the cliffs and into the creek.  The trail begins high,  follows the creek, and zig zags back and forth up and down.

The more impassable areas by-pass higher in the canyon on available terraces. Walking along the creek gives you the feeling of being in Zion.  High orange stained walls and deep under cut channels mimmick the back country canyons of Utah. Deep in the channel you can find a fairly large waterfall. If you were to follow the creek you would have to climb out one of the drainages to circumvent it. Its a little too large to be climbing through. Farther up the canyon the tall ponderosa pines contrast against the blue sky, and the red and orange cliffs. If you're observant you can see a natural arch high on the canyon wall. So where's Secret Canyon?  Just ask the helicopter pilots. For an extra few bucks they'll fly you along the length of the canyon in just a few minutes. Pay no attention to the hikers blatently exposing themselves to you from the canyon floor. They worked thier butts off to get there for a bit of solitude. So where's Secret Canyon? I could tell you, but then it wouldn't be a secret. Why would I deny anybody the joy of discovery?

Desert Camp

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