I’m Mitch Stevens, founder and lead guide for Southwest Discoveries, a hiking and adventure company based in Tucson. Born and raised in New York City, I came to discover the great outdoors and fell in love with Arizona’s special places. This is part one of a three part series about hiking in Phoenix. (Click here for Part 2 and here for Part 3)
Although some people don’t consider the Southwest as being more than desert, Arizona is a state of almost incalculable variety, wide-ranging climate and awesome beauty, rivaling any other place. Canyons, rivers, deserts, mountains, National parks, National monuments and so on and so on.
Where to start? Consider Phoenix for instance. Hiking in Phoenix comprises some of the best hiking in the southwest. Not far from the Valley of the Sun are magnificent canyons and picturesque mountains. We will showcase three incredible Phoenix hiking adventures we highly recommend. These hikes are all within an hour’s drive of Phoenix. First is Devil’s Canyon.
We rappelled down into the heart of this still wild canyon. Devil’s Canyon is also known as Gaan (Spirit) Canyon because the Apache people, who have occupied this place for over 500 years, consider it sacred. As we descended 60 feet into Arizona’s largest plunge pool, it is easy to see why. Just to the left of us stood a spring-fed waterfall, spilling its precious cargo into the gorgeous pool below. The view from atop a few moments earlier was breathtaking, inspiring awe.
The canyon was resplendently green and dazzling in the late afternoon sun. Sheer cliffs appeared timeless, revealing precipitous vertical boundaries made up of hundreds of rhyolite hoodoos. Palo Verde trees, saguaros, barrel cactus and other quintessential Sonoran Desert vegetation flourished in the reddish brown rock flanking the canyon. Like an ancient temple, this ageless wonder is a reminder of man’s essential fragility in the face of awesome force.
Check out this cyber journey of a trek through Devil’s Canyon:
Devils Canyon can be explored via a splendid five-mile roundtrip hike, for those who prefer not to partake in a thrilling, but technical canyoneering adventure.
Before we reached the Seven Sacred Pools which comprises the technical portion of the canyon, the scene was more sylvan and soothing. The riparian forest canopy was so dense that sunlight rarely touched the ground. Canyon Tree Frogs hopped about, blue gills raced through cool dark pools, and there was a rich assortment of birds including red-tail hawks, canyon wrens and ravens.
Set amidst the blazing desert, the inviting paradise of Devils Canyon is second to none. However, a foreign-owned mining company called Resolution Copper, who operate a mine at Oak Flat in the vicinity of the canyon, wants to expand their operations. Gaan Canyon and environs are threatened by a proposed land swap which would allow Resolution to extract ore from 7,000 feet below the surface, destroying the water table and the rich biodiversity
that exists within its realm. The mine’s operation would also cut-off access for hikers, climbers, canyoneers, birdwatchers, and all who treasure this area. The local nonprofit organizations (Queen Creek Coalition and Friends of Queen Creek) have been organized to help preserve the area, but the mine continues to garner support from Arizona legislators, including the governor.
The site planned for mining is precious for its beauty as well as its history. The name of Apache Leap, a precipitous cliff adjacent to Devil’s Canyon, comes from an event which took place back in the nineteenth century, when
Apache families threw themselves off the cliffs to avoid capture by U.S. troops.
It is absurd that Devil’s Canyon and environs can be destroyed so that a company could extract copper, which in any case is unlikely to be in short supply. Instead of destroying it, we should make the canyon and Oak Flat a National Monument.
How to help: Please send a letter to the President about why you oppose the land swap and why you believe Oak Flat and Devil’s Canyon should be protected. The president can use his authority, due to the Antiquities Act, to protect places of great beauty or historical significance. We also encourage you to contact Raul Griljalva (https://grijalva.house.gov/contact-raul) who opposes the land swap and tell him how much you appreciate his dedication to supporting conservation in the southwest, and for upholding a Presidential Order that goes back to 1955.
For more information about this issue, Arizona Highways recently published an excellent article in their June 2016 issue, The Battle for Oak Flat, representing the San Carlos Apache point of view of this area’s wealth of spiritual, cultural and environmental significance. It is a worthwhile read.
Let’s do our part to preserve the amazing Devils Canyon, an ecological jewel in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert!