Canyonlands: Tales from Narrow Places

Pick Axe Canyon, 35- minutes from strip malls and Starbucks

Posted in Southern & Central Arizona by canyoneering on December 10, 2014

Chris moves through the short narrows of Pick Axe Canyon.

Pick Axe Canyon, 3AII
Tonto National Forest – Superstition Wilderness
11/25/14

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After nine years of living in the Valley of the Sun I am still amazed at just how close this metropolitan sprawl sits on the edge of truly rugged wilderness. A recent Wednesday in the middle of a week off for the Thanksgiving holiday, provided a visceral reminder of how it’s just 35 minutes to get from strip malls and Starbucks to rugged canyons and soaring mesas.

After Chris puts in a half day of work we rendezvouse at a gas station on the edge of the sprawl and drive deeper into the desert. It is a new canyon for both Chris and I, known as Pick Axe Canyon that features a 240- foot rappel and a packraft along Canyon Lake to complete the loop. The short adventure begins on a well defined trail that must have been created well before canyoneers began visiting this nondescript drainage; perhaps for mining. We quickly reach the drainage and hike to its edge. A bend of Canyon Lake, can be seen in the distance as it slithers through the canyon walls glowing in the late November light. An 80- foot free hanger gets us in proper. The drainage takes the shape of more of a gully coming off of the mesa above, than a canyon cutting through the desert. I comment that we should call this gullyneering as opposed to canyoneering. Never-the-less, the travel is scenic and the brush not all that thick as we make our way closer to Canyon Lake. Just before the big rappel, the drainage even tightens into some narrows of sort. With just two of the us the 240-rappel is negotiated quickly and we are inflating our rafts as a power boat speeds by.

Chris pack rafting on Canyon Lake.

Chris pack rafting on Canyon Lake.

The paddle could not be anymore pleasant in the late afternoon light and all too quickly we are deflating out boats and stowing them back into our packs. Chris and I power walk up the road to get the heart rate going and in no time we are back at our vehicle. As we sip on our craft beers I bask in the good fortune to live in a city that is this close to this. Of course these wild places don’t exist this close to urban centers and stay that way by accident. It is the hard work of our fellow man that have protected these places for myself and future generations.

– David

Check out a project I worked on for the Arizona Republic about wilderness in Arizona on this 50 year anniversary of the signing of the Wilderness Act by President Lyndon Johnson by clicking here.

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One Response

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  1. Steve S. said, on December 11, 2014 at 12:45 pm

    Very exciting David – especially the 240 foot drop! Thanks for the show.


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