The scheduled hike for this Wednesday was either a “challenger” trip up the Flatiron, or an intermediate trip to Siphon Draw. Probably would have done Siphon Draw, but frankly that one isn’t on my “top 5” list. But Monday afternoon I got an email and visit from George asking me if I wanted to try “a new one”. He planned to hike “about 10 miles over flat terrain” through a “gorgeous canyon” below Four Peaks north of the Salt River.
Sign me up!
The trek he planned was the lower 5 miles of Cottonwood Creek (10 miles round trip). This creek starts high to the east below Browns Peak, and is the major drainage of the entire western flank of Four Peaks.
To reach the creek we drove north on the BeeLine highway to Forest Road 143. After a few miles on 143, hang a right on Forest Road 401 until it terminates in a valley at an old cattle station called “Cottonwood Camp”. You can identify this parking spot by the corral, and a huge old stone water tank.
Lots of parking room here, and the camp lies right next to the creek, so makes a great trail head.
Although it’s still about 10-12 miles away, Four Peaks dominates the eastern horizon. It still has a fair amount of snow remaining from last weeks storms.
We will head south out of here, downstream toward the Salt River.
There was a fairly generous flow of water, but in this stretch the streambed is flat and broad, so stream crossings were “feet dry” for the most part, jumping from rock to sandbar to rock, etc.
The first couple of miles were in a wide shallow valley, good cow country which explains the abandoned cattle camp where we parked.
Gradually the valley narrowed however, and we could see the first of the canyon walls ahead.
Just before this narrowing (see above) there are the ruins of a stone structure, probably an old line shack for the ranching operations in the area.
The main attraction of this hike is the next 2 miles or so, where the creek has carved a twisty narrow slot canyon through dark red and brown sandstone.
Here the creek bed often consumes the entire width of the canyon, and “dry feet” becomes something of a challenge!
Even deep in the canyon there are the ubiquitous ATV tracks!
After about 2.5 miles, the canyon opens up again, and the creeks meanders its’ way down to join the Salt River (AKA: Saguaro Lake).
The remainder of the hike consists of retracing our steps back upstream to the old ranch site.
I think this hike is a worthy route to be on the club list, not soon after any significant rain event, nor if rain is in the forecast. The narrow slot canyon would be deadly if significant rain fell on the flanks of Four Peaks. George and I saw just one ATV all day, but I suspect it would be much busier on a Friday, so recommend this as “Wednesday only”.
Thanks, George, for a great hike. Even with boulder hopping and damp socks, it was the easiest ten miles I’ve hiked in a long time.