Find A Trail. Start Your Search Here:

Tuesday, January 28, 2020


SPRING VALLEY TRAIL: Hells Canyon Wilderness Area
A stock tank on Spring Valley Trail
When the itch to “Get the hell out of Dodge” hits Arizona city-dwelling hikers, sometimes all it takes to scratch it is a free afternoon and a short drive. 

A rustic gate frames views of distant Tonto NF peaks
Spanning 9,951 acres of back country a few miles northwest of Lake Pleasant approximately 25 miles north of Phoenix, Hells Canyon Wilderness Area offers a quick way to escape into an untamed swath of desert that’s more paradise than purgatory.
Small in comparison to other Arizona wilderness areas like Mazatzal (252,500 acres) and Superstition (160,200 acres)  Hells Canyon, which straddles Maricopa and Yavapai counties, was established in 1990 and is managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
A hiker takes in the views from a ledge above Garfias Wash
Of the several sketchy routes that wander through the area, the most popular and easiest to follow is the Spring Valley Trail. Except for a few BLM posts at the trailhead, the route is refreshingly devoid of signage which complements the hike’s remote atmosphere.  Navigating the trail involves only two crux moves: finding the trailhead and climbing down into Garfias Wash. For the later, the problem is easily solved by paying attention at the parking area.
From the dirt turnouts near a cattle guard on the access road, locate the small trail sign on the west berm. Then, look across the creek bed and spot the white trail register and a huge rock cairn that mark the official trailhead. Next, hike a few yards down the road, turn onto a wide dirt two-track and follow it a short way to a worn sign where you’ll turn right and use a series of cairns to work your way across the usually dry corridor of Castle Creek. From the register, head right and uphill along a well-defined path. At the top of the rise, go left where two big cairns mark the unsigned junction of the Spring Valley and Hermit trails. Beyond this point it’s clear sailing.
Spring Valley Trail is in Hells Canyon Wilderness Area
The trail dips and climbs through rocky terrain in the foothills of the Hieroglyphic Mountains passing by brilliant ocher mounds of volcanic tuff (compacted ash) embedded with rock fragments and other pyroclastic particles welded in a haphazard concrete-like structures. The trail’s west side is dominated by a sheer ridge line that rises to 2,904 feet. Below its crumbling slopes, acres of giant saguaros tower above sunny fields that are productive environs for spring wildflowers. 
Finding the trailhead isn't too difficult if you pay attention
Just past the one-mile point, the trail crosses an earthen dam that contains a stock tank frequented by native wildlife and the feral burros that live in the area.   
A rock cairn marks the way across Castle Creek
Although you may or may not catch a glimpse of the burros, their footprints and droppings around the tank and throughout the hike belie their presence. If you encounter them, it’s smart to keep your distance because they’ve been known to kick. Also, as with all wild animals, never approach, harass or feed them.  As the trail moves toward its highest point, be sure to pause and take in the ever-widening views of Castle Creek Wilderness and the Bradshaw Mountains in Prescott National Forest to the north and the New River Mountains in Tonto National Forest to the east and the glinting waters of Lake Pleasant.
The trail seems to end at the nose of the ridge overlooking Garfias Wash, but there are several options to extend the trek. You can opt to follow a faint trail heading right and an even more sketchy path that spins off the obvious trail and switchbacks steeply down to the wash or continue on a narrow cairned path that swerves north tracing the ridge line. Either way, the area’s rough nooks, washes and interesting geology hold many scenic surprises to explore.
The area's sunny slopes burst with wildflowers in spring
Lake Pleasant stands out on the southeast horizon
When done poking around, head back the way you came making note of distant dust plumes being kicked up by vehicles driving north toward Castle Hot Springs resort. The recently resurrected private spa secluded at the base of 3,260-foot Governors Peak is a luxury oasis built around natural hot springs that have attracted tourists since 1896.
The trail traces the slopes below Peak 2904
Huge saguaros thrive in the rugged backcountry
The trail has a remote, feral atmosphere.
A tiny sign on Castle Hot Springs Road directs hikers
Volcanic tuff features line the route
Hiker walks a ridge above Garfias Wash
Castle Hot Springs resort is hidden in the hills to the north
It’s not visible from the trail, but the posh, palm-shaded refuge that’s located just north of the wilderness boundary offers an alternative way to escape from Dodge for those who prefer clean sheets, Green Garden Gazpacho and craft cocktails over wilderness staples of tents, trail mix and electrolyte drinks.
LENGTH: 5 miles out-and-back
RATING:  moderate
ELEVATION: 1,800 – 1,920 feet
Castle Creek Trailhead
From Interstate 17 in Phoenix, take the State Route 74 exit 223 (Carefree Highway) and go 11.4 miles west (toward Wickenburg) to Castle Hot Springs Road which is signed for Lake Pleasant Regional Park. Follow Castle Hot Springs Road 5.4 miles to the stop sign at the park’s north entrance. Turn left and drive 5.4 miles to a cattle guard past milepost 25 and park in any of the dirt turnouts along the road. Castle Hot Springs Road is graded dirt suitable for carefully-driven sedans. Part of the road crosses Castle Creek which may be impassable after storms.

No comments: