Red Rocks and Mud – Whitford Canyon

Last Wednesday (after the Tuesday rainstorm) Botany Bob led a group of us on a pretty hike at Whitford Canyon.  Half the adventure was the trip to the trailhead which is on Forest Road 650 (the back-door road to Montana Mountain).  Did I mention that we had a rainstorm last Tuesday?  The 5-mile-or-so muddy road into the trailhead was pretty much solid red slick mud from end to end, but we all made it in without getting stuck (all except Dennis who has 2-wheel drive, so he did a quick U-turn and found another hike for his passengers south out of Picketpost trailhead).  Put me in mind of the old western ballad which goes “Detour, there’s a muddy road ahead. Detour, paid no mind to what it said.”

The Whitford Canyon hike is a short “in and out” segment of Passage 18 of the Arizona Trail (  Our round trip was about 5 miles.

Whitford Map

As you can see in the map above the hike is basically flat, following a well marked trail in the bottom of the canyon.

Canyon photography is always challenging because of the mix of deep shadow and bright sunlit areas, so my photos in this posting will not do justice to the scenery that we walked through.

For a short distance from the trailhead (a wide spot in the road!) the route takes you over rolling landscape towards the canyon.

Here the hillsides were thick with some of the healthiest saguaro you’d ever see.


It was along this first part of the trail that we saw the remains of a half-consumed serpent on our path.  It wasn’t a rattler, but I don’t know the species.  This remaining tail segment was 8 or 10 inches long.



After a short while you approach the canyon and start seeing the red rock walls.  Here the saguaro thin out and you see more mesquite, prickly pear, and cottonwood.



Last month the cottonwoods still held a lot of gold leaves which are very striking in the stark canyon environment.  But the now bare branches have a different kind of beauty, especially when silhouetted against the rock and sky.

One old specimen, now dead and weather-worn, captured my imagination and I took several shots from different angles.  Somehow it speaks to my soul about things like perseverance and always reaching upward.  If you look close, notice the sliver of silver moon at the top edge of the first photo.









After about a mile in the canyon, the trail breaks out into open country again, surrounded by rolling hills to the south.

126-1It is always remarkable how the vegetation changes so abruptly.  Inside the canyon, near the watercourse (even though it is dry) there is lush green vegetation but in the scene above, just a half mile out of the canyon where water and soil are scarce a completely different set of plants flourishes.

We explored a bit in this open “brush” country, and ate our lunch near this old structure.  The prevailing story is that it was once a jail, but I’m not so sure about that.  The windows are large enough for easy exit, and the wood frame show no evidence that they might once have been barred or otherwise obstructed.




After our lunch we retraced our route back up-canyon to the cars.




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3 Responses to Red Rocks and Mud – Whitford Canyon

  1. Deb says:

    The last picture through the window is great!


  2. Norman Lowrance says:

    I always enjoy your post. Thank you for sharing.


  3. Bruce says:

    Great pics. Love the one with the Saguaro up close cutting across the top left corner. Really enhances the depth in the pic.


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