April 2, 2011

Early Spring in Fish Creek Box Canyon, Superstition Wilderness

With the sunshine coming down and temperatures rising, we decided to take a trip down to the Superstititon Mountains to see how the wildflowers are doing. We decided to camp at Tortilla Flat Campground and then hike into one of our all-time favorite places of the Sonoran Desert, Fish Creek Canyon.

Fish Creek is a perennial stream that is lined with a lush riparian forest of sycamores, ash, cottonwoods, and Arizona walnut. The contrast of the bright green against the yellow-orange cliffs is an amazing sight. You can access it by taking the Apache Trail (AZ-88) out of Apache Junction. A few miles past Tortilla Flat, where the road turns gravel and it winds down the narrow winding slopes into the canyon, you will cross the Fish Creek bridge. You can park here to begin your exploration, but parking is definitely limited, so try coming on a weekday. Go upstream for the best adventures.

Arizona Walnut

While I had explored up the box canyon three times before, this was our friend Kathleen's first visit. So, Hilina and I found a little little sandy pool among giant boulders to play in, while Linda and Kathleen went up the rough and rugged canyon.

Sophie blending in amongst the shadows and boulders

While we were there, Hilina asked what I considered to be an outstanding question for a three year old. She asked "Why are there saguaros up that slope, but not down here". Wow, quite the observation! I proceeded to explain how these trees can only live where the ground is wet and it is way to dry up on that slope. But, that really was the opposite answer to her question. I wasn't sure I could adequately explain why the cactus were not down by the water. Anyways, I think Hilina has the ecological observational skills in her blood like her parents.

As you head up Fish Creek Box Canyon, the walls rise up 500 feet on both sides and the emerald green of riparian trees glow against the darkened walls in the shadows.

It is a real challenge getting up stream after the first bend. Hundreds of large boulders choke the canyon floor. Conditions change from year to year depending on the flash floods and rock fall from the canyon walls. Some stretches are relatively wide and easy to maneuver and others are so blocked by rock it is almost impossible to continue. After 3/4ths of a mile or so, you will reach a point where you simply can not get any further.

And, as Hilina explained, just feet away from the flowing waters and lush riparian vegetation is arid rock containing saguaros and other cactus.

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