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.
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.
Madera Canyon is a popular birding area. We saw lots of birders and quite a few birds too.
And, of course, I found some beautiful wildflowers.
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.
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!