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Only a lucky few can hike into Arizona's Aravaipa Canyon.

Only a lucky few can hike into Arizona's Aravaipa Canyon

Spring and autumn offer some of the best days for hiking and camping in southeastern Arizona's Aravaipa Canyon, an 11-mile-long gorge about 75 miles northeast of Tucson and 120 miles southeast of Phoenix. But only 50 hikers a day are allowed in the canyon, so it's important to plan as far ahead as possible for a visit. Once home to Indians and a route for cavalry, the canyon--plus side canyons with emerald pools, waterfalls, and wildlife--was designated a wilderness by Congress in 1984, one of the first on Bureau of Land Management land. Entering from either east or west, hikers follow Aravaipa Creek as it twists and turns, filling the canyon--its walls as high as 1,000 feet--with a mellow hypnotic sound. Alongside the creek grow some of Arizona's richest riparian communities, luring birds and other wildlife from miles around. By mid-April the cottonwoods, sycamores, and box elders should be back in their leafy summer glory. Hiking isn't difficult in terms of grade, but slippery rocks and much crossing of the creek make the stroll soggy and challenging. Camp where you choose. Higher benches are safer sites in the event that unexpected rains unleash a flash flood. Bring your own drinking water, at least a gallon a day per person. Expect highs to reach about 80 [degrees] in April; about 108 [degrees] in May. Nights will be in the 30s to 40s in April, 40s to 50s in May. Mid-June through August, only the most heat-resistant hikers attempt this trip. Twenty hikers a day are admitted from the east entrance. There, canyon walls are less sheer and high, but vegetation is denser. Another 30 a day may start from the west, which has more impressive cliffs but more difficult (upriver) walking. To hike the entire length, you could meet friends in the middle and trade car keys. Hikers unable to secure permits in advance can try for a cancellation. The BLM issues tentative permits six months in advance, but hikers lose their dates if they fail to confirm two to four weeks ahead. When you get a permit (up to 10 hikers; $1.50 per person per day), you'll be sent a canyon map and hiking and camping guidelines. No dogs are allowed. Get permits and more details from the Safford District Office, BLM, 425 E. Fourth St., Safford, Ariz. 85546. To reach the west entrance, drive 11 miles south of Winkelman on State 77, then 12 miles east on unpaved Aravaipa Canyon Road. To reach the east entrance, take State 70 northwest 15 miles from Safford, then Klondyke Road 55 miles west.

PHOTO : Jungle boots, with holes that allow water taken in to squirt back out, are ideal for

PHOTO : sloshing along canyon trail; tall boots also keep feet free of sand. Creek seldom runs

PHOTO : above midcalf. Water can be 70 [degrees] this month, as warm as bathwater in summer
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Date:Apr 1, 1990
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