Madera Canyon

View from our campsite in Madera Canyon.

April 7 – 15, 2020.

We spent a week at Las Cienegas and had gone down almost every road, wash, trail, and cow path within walking distance from two different camping spots. We could have found another campsite and explored even more but we were ready to move on. But besides just the normal restlessness I knew we were going to have to do something soon about our water situation. We can’t carry quite enough water for two weeks and didn’t want to go back to town to buy more and break our two-week quarantine. There was a water spigot in Las Cienegas but we didn’t know if it was potable and there was no one to ask. There was a small town nearby and we did cruise by their Dollar Store looking for an outdoor water dispenser but didn’t feel comfortable, being strangers and potential disease carriers, to inquire about water inside.

Our next spot to explore and camp at was an area called Madera Canyon in the Coronado National Forest. A little research online told me that there was a campground there that had water spigots at each site. The campground was closed but I thought maybe the water might still be available.

Madera Canyon is just a slow hour’s drive on unpaved roads west over a mountain from Las Cienegas. I knew from my iOverlander app that in addition to the campground there were 10 numbered dispersed campsites on Proctor Road at the canyon. Ten is not very many and I was a tad worried about finding a spot but I figured we could always return to Las Cienegas. We turned down Proctor Road, site 1 – taken, site 2 – taken, site 3 – taken. A few of the sites looked big enough to fit at least two rigs comfortably, perhaps, we thought, we can share if we can’t find anything. We passed 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 – taken. Finally, we passed site 9 – taken. Then rounding a corner we found the last number. Site 10 sat right on the road. It wasn’t ideal but it also wasn’t taken. While Greg was getting the van level I walked around the small camping area. Wedged in between two stones in the fire pit was a note. I didn’t pick it up but could read the words “Will be right back.” If someone really wanted to save the spot they would have left something more substantial than a note, I thought. I chose to ignore it. Greg eventually saw the note too but we decided that “right back” had passed in the amount of time it took us to get settled. No one ever showed.

The next day we went on our usual sunrise walk. I won’t waste any words on how lovely and magical it was since we have pictures. Towards the end of the walk that day we located the campground and tried the spigots. Pure clear spring water came pouring out. Hooray!

The only problem now was getting the water to the van. The long winding uphill road leading from the main highway to the campground was blocked by closed signs. And since the camp hosts were still in residence it probably would have not been cool to move the signs and just drive the van into the campground. Luckily we have a folding hand truck in the van. I bought this hand truck way back when to haul water for our sailboat but then we ended up breaking the boat and never used it. Since then it has been tucked away in Greg’s parent’s crawl space. That was until this fall when during one of our return trips to their house when we were having van troubles I decided we could use it to cart the kayak around. Then just a few weeks prior to our visit to Madera Canyon I considered abandoning it (since we haven’t used it for the kayak) when I needed to make room for a new telescoping ladder. Luckily I was able to find space for both the ladder and the hand truck because now after 4 years of owning the darned thing we were finally going to use it.

We decided to execute our caper at sunrise. We woke as we usually did, secured the bed in the open position, threw on our clothes, and drove to a parking area right across from the road that led to the campground. Greg toted an empty Jerry can and the collapsed hand truck passed the closed sign and up the road. In the time it took me to make the bed he was back with a full jerry can of water. Woo Hoo!

When we finally left Madera Canyon and broke our quarantine we bought another jerry can from Walmart. Somehow I have managed to make more room in the van for an additional 6 gallons of water without having to get rid of anything – because who knows, once the world gets back in order we could find ourselves on an ocean and finally use the snorkeling gear we’ve been carrying around in the desert these last 3 1/2 years.

* Click on pics to enlarge and view in a slide show.

The Trails

Madera Canyon is a web of trails starting low running along the Madera Creek and ascending up in most directions into the Santa Rita Mountains and the Mt Wrightson Wilderness of the Coronado National Forest. There are 5 parking areas with picnic facilities along the main road that runs through the canyon’s valley. At each spot, there are kiosks with a map and information about local wildlife along with paper hiking trail maps and birding guides published by the Friends of Madera Canyon. The hiking guide lists all the trails, indicating what parking area they start from, the length of each trail, and the cumulative elevation gain of each trail, as well as grading each trail, A through E (E being easiest and A being hardest) depending on the difficulty. We hiked 6 different trails during our stay.

Actually, the canyon didn’t really turn out to be the best place to social distance. At just under a half hours drive from Green Valley, AZ, we saw people every day who came to hike, bird, and I’m sure just get out of the house for a while. But people were generally very courteous and conscientious, either moving 6 feet off the trail when they saw us coming or thanking us when we did the same.

Map of Madera Canyon hiking trails.
On our first day at Madera Canyon, we walked from our campsite to Madera Creek. This is the easiest of all the trails and doesn’t even receive a rating on the Friends of Madera Canyon Trail Guide.
Right away we started seeing deer everywhere.
I was determined to get some good close-ups of deer and it ended up not being very hard.
This guy seemed to have no fear at all. Apparently he hadn’t heard about social distancing.
Day two we decided to head to Dutch John Springs. This trail was graded D, was 3 miles round trip, and only had an elevation gain of 1000 feet. Maybe it was because we walked to the trail from our campsite or maybe it was mis-graded but this trail killed us. When we found this sign we noticed that there was no spring. we continued up the narrow rocky trail until we did indeed find water.
For our third hike to Bog Springs, we decided to start driving to the trailhead in the morning instead of walking from our camp spot. When we reached the end of the trail we found this sign and a concrete tub with spring water running through it. This trail was 3.4 miles, graded D, and had a 1200 foot elevation gain.
It rained on our campsite and snowed on the mountain the day before our hike to the Carrie Nation Mine.
Most of the trails had signs along the route. The Carrie Nation Mine trail did not. We were pretty sure we took the right route when we saw this old mining equipment near the end of the trail. This trail was 3 miles round trip, graded C, and had an elevation gain of 1200 feet. We thought it was easier than the Dutch John Springs trail although we lost the trail for a little bit and had to walk along the edge of a stream.
On our next hike, we decided to take it easy so we did the Nature Trail, 1.8 miles one way, graded E with an elevation gain of 600 feet.
From the Nature Trail, we could see Old Baldy. At 8780 feet, this is the hiking challenge that many people come here for.
Our final trail was the Josephine Saddle Loop. It was 6.2 miles long, graded C, and had a 1700 elevation gain. At the apex of the trail, we found this sign commemorating 3 boy scouts who lost their lives here in November of 1958 during a freak blizzard. We went up the longer less steep side of the loop first by way of the Super Tail and descended by the shorter steeper Old Baldy Trail. Everyone else seemed to be doing it opposite – we crossed paths with lots of people on our way down.
One of the many views from one of the many trails.

The Birds

Madera Canyon is a popular birding area. We saw lots of birders and quite a few birds too.

Mexican Jay.
Mexican Jay.
Acorn Woodpecker. Woodpeckers are now my favorite kind of birds.
The Acorn Woodpeckers seemed to enjoy pecking the phone poles.
The woodpeckers also like to peck at these bat boxes.
On our first day after we saw all the deer on the trail, we ran into wild turkeys. We had seen some females a little earlier and they could care less about us, but these males didn’t want to let us pass. Eventually, they strutted off into the woods.
Wild Turkey.
Elegant Trogon. Many hikers asked us if we had seen the Trogon.
You can hear the Elegant Trogon from far away. It sounds a bit like a barking seal.
House Wren.
Yellow-eyed Junco.
Gilded Flicker.
Painted Redstart.
Painted Redstart. These guys are small, quick, and busy. You really have to stalk them to get a picture.

The Flowers

And, of course, I found some beautiful wildflowers.

Texan Crescent Butterfly with Spreading Fleabane.
Greater Periwinkle.
New Mexico Thistle.
View of the top of New Mexico Thistle before it has bloomed.
Silvery Lupine.
Chiricahua Mountain Mock Vervain.
Santa Catalina Indian Paintbrush.

The Campsite

On our return to the van after our first day’s walk in the canyon, we noticed that site 2 had been vacated. Greg let me out and I saved the spot while he got the van. We ended up spending the next 7 days there – the longest time we have probably ever camped anywhere besides our friends, Julie and Jason’s, lot.

We set our tent up to save our site. Besides having to leave our site for our water caper – many of the trails we wanted to hike were too far away for us to walk to and then walk the trail so we got into a habit of getting up every morning and driving to a trailhead.
We could see the monolith Baboquivari from the campsite! Remember Baboquivari from our posts about Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge?
View of the other side of our large campsite.
Turkeys came to visit us at our campsite.
And cows came to visit us too. The calves were quite rambunctious. I have never seen calves run around and play before. It was adorable except for the fresh cow patties.
New Mexico Thistle at sunset.
Ballena Blanca at Sunset.

Have you been able to get out of the house lately? Do you have anywhere near you with good hiking trails? Have you been on any unusual capers recently? Have you ever found a use for something you have had tucked away for years? Do you have a favorite bird? Leave us a comment!

10 thoughts on “Madera Canyon

  1. Thanks again for sharing your wonderful life. I truly enjoy all your pictures but especially the wildlife and the flowers. Your pictures of the birds were awesome! More please but first stay safe!
    Love & hugs.

  2. Beautiful places, animals and birds! And the photographer captured their beauty! Your quarantine is surely more exciting than most!

    1. Thanks Brenda. I am learning more about my camera all the time and how best to capture all this amazing beauty out here.

  3. Hello Duwan and Greg, we moved from the house and into an apartment in Asheville this week. Very ready to be here ! 90% of the national and state parks are closed and barricaded here. Some of the Blue Ridge Parkway is walkable . Your walks and hikes seem really relaxing with some quite decent exercise thrown into it all ! Some of the birds were fantastic – so colorful.
    Hope you guys are taking care and be safe, Vikki and Paul

    1. Thanks!

      I hope the move went well. Asheville is so amazing. When we moved from Greenville to Atlanta many people asked why we weren’t moving to Asheville instead. Both places have lots to offer!

      You guys take care too! I hope the world gets back to normal soon and you can enjoy your new city.

  4. You guys find the most amazing places. And, that last campsite is not too shabby either. With this virus, everyone seems to stay at their spots longer than usual. Well, you guys do and we did as well. Good that people give each other space on the hikes. It’s same here on the sidewalks, where one or the other party crosses the street when an encounter is about to happen.

    The quest for water… Not so easy these days. I would have asked the camp hosts (from 6 feet away), whether we could have driven in to get some water. We were once met by a roped off campground where we hoped to get drinking water, but nobody was there to ask (and we didn’t have jugs or a hand truck), so we moved on to another potential an hour away. Just as we did, a sheriff drove by at this very remote location! We were happy to not have removed the barricades.

    Not sure what your goal is with these two-week “quarantines” as each time you go to the grocery store, it resets anyway. We try to go out (shopping) as little as possible as well, but feel like we have to go once a week as we don’t want my in-laws to go out. Masks are now mandatory in stores in MA.

    1. We are trying to quarantine (although not very successfully yet) for two weeks because you can have the virus for two weeks before you have symptoms. If we quarantine for two weeks we know that when we go shopping that we don’t have the virus and won’t potentially infect anyone else. Also, a two-week quarantine minimizes how ofter we go into stores – which, of course, keeps us safer, but also means we have to clean our hands less. Since washing our hands would mean using too much water we clean our hands with a baby wipe and rubbing alcohol after every time we leave a store. We are running low on rubbing alcohol. I guess we are just being extra cautious – especially since each time we shop we are in a different city. We don’t want to be the cause of spreading anything.

      I guess we could have asked the camp hosts about the water – but I guess we were using the “it’s better to asks for forgiveness than permission” approach.

      Madera Canyon was great as far as people being conscious of social distancing. We are staying in the National Forest in Prescot right now and it is a bit of a different attitude. Still, we manage to generally stay away from people and find amazing places to camp.

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