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Tue, Oct. 15

Column: Taking a trip to the Galiuro Wilderness
'Hiking Arizona'

What does drought sound like? “Crunch, crunch” over the pine needles hiking in Grapevine Canyon, site of the Goodwin Fire. I wanted to return “to the black” and see if any water flowed there. It’s my New Year’s tradition: hiking.


I was surprised to see water flowing in Grapevine Canyon but reasoned that the lack of vegetation, due to the fire, meant no transpiration. Hence, water was left on the surface to flow freely. There wasn’t much, but it was there. Second, since it’s January, it’s chilly. I wouldn’t call it cold, but much of the surface water in the side canyon leading up to the saddle between Big and Little Bug Mesas was frozen solid, though it was late morning. This reminded me of another hike I made in January in southeast Arizona, in the Galiuro Wilderness.


The Galiuros is a small, range of mountains between the Pinalenos and Catalinas. Their obscurity, off the beaten path, remains an attraction. I first hiked there in the mid ‘70s. I led a couple of teen groups on overnight backpacking trips there and more recently hiked in the area back in 2009. I wanted to return to the summit of Kennedy Peak and thought I could “remember” the way so I did not download the waypoints I gathered there on my last hike. Since then, some things have changed, like a wildfire not to mention that my memory is not as good as I thought it was. Nevertheless, I reasoned that, “surely I would find my way.”

Perhaps the previous hikes got jumbled in my mind, so that I could not distinguish the desired route with the many other possibilities I found. Hiking beyond 50 calls for making a few adjustments. Sure enough, I missed a trail junction and confused the gate I saw with the one I missed a quarter mile to the south. A quarter mile can make a big difference in the wilderness. I eventually scanned the terrain and knew I was supposed to be on the other side of a small canyon. Getting lost is not the end of the world, at least it shouldn’t be and as long as you don’t panic, it won’t be.

Wilderness navigation across the Southwest can be challenging, especially in remote areas such as the Galiuros, Mazatzals, and Superstitions. Hiking through these areas often involves serious route finding skills, since the trails are not frequently maintained, may receive relatively light use and may become obscure from natural disturbances like fires or floods. Consequently, you are bound to lose your way eventually as the trail you started on fades away and finally disappears. How do you respond when it finally dawns on you that you are lost? Are you confident in your ability to read the land like you read a book – with understanding? Can you read a topographic map? Are you familiar with some of the electronic tools (GPS units) now available? If not, you could be putting yourself in harm’s way.

The only thing worse than a lack of confidence, is over confidence and that’s how I got lost in the Galiuros. My response to being lost required some corrective action like bushwhacking and rock scrambling, which brought me to some unexpected delights before I reached the trailhead: several walls of sculpted ice hidden in secluded canyons. Beautiful! Do you notice beauty, even when lost?

Next – desert hiking, starting with Claudia’s question, “Why?”

Ted Johnson is a columnist for The Daily Courier. Reach him by email at

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