Hiking Cottonwood Creek…….in Arizona

Anyone who has been following or visiting this blog for at least two years will know that I spent a few years hiking in both Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons of the Wasatch Mountains…just east of Salt Lake City, Utah…so it’s a bit of a departure from that norm for me to be hiking in Cottonwood Creek…in Arizona.  But, alas, here we are anyway.  I had researched hiking in or near Hell’s Canyon Wilderness Area and found a related post for hiking nearby Cottonwood Creek, something that was more feasible, given my lack of a four-wheel-drive vehicle that is needed to gain access to most of the wilderness area.

Cottonwood Creek hiking companion

In the above photo you can see the shadow of the only person I saw for the entire five hours on the trail….

Cottonwood Creek Morning

And in these next two photos you can see what a great majority of the trail looked like…it wasn’t a trail…it was literally the creek-bed…mostly wide open with easy passage, but at other places it was so congested with cacti and trees that I was forced out and up onto the bank where I occasionally found game/burro trails that ran parallel to the creek and still headed in the direction I wanted to go.

Cottonwood Creek creek-bed trail

This was the first of my three “firsts” of this particular hike.  I had previously never seen a petroglyph while out hiking.  I was hoping that the center image wasn’t some type of foreboding message telling all passers-by to turn around and go back the way they came….

Cottonwood Creek Petroglyphs

I’m guessing that these are raccoon prints….

Raccoon foot and handprints

…and pretty confident that these below are coyote prints, given that there were no human footprints aside from my own since the last rain, so they wouldn’t be from a domestic dog.

Coyote tracks

…and below, you can probably discern the form of a wild burro near the upper center portion of the image.

Concealed Burro in desert vegetation

I was surprised to find so much yellow/green lichen out in the desert on this trip.  It was mostly on the red rock, the old sand-stone that likely retained water better than the other basaltic rock.  I also found some of the more typical flat gray lichen on some granite-appearing rocks, but that was not so unusual.

Desert Lichen

I found several examples of cacti growing out of the side of rocks or rock cliffs along the creek-bed, but this set was the most interesting.

Barrel cacti intent on living

And here is a handful or cluster of the Fremont Cottonwood trees that give the creek its name.  After the first group of a couple dozen near the start of the hike (not shown yet), there was only another handful scattered along the way, this one being a significant grouping, even with its sparce offering.

Cottonwood cluster in the creek-bed

The following two images are of my second “first” for the hike…while I have caught a few night-time glimpses of Great Horned owls flying over my backyard, I had never seen one when I have been out hiking…and further, had never seen one, period, that was perched somewhere that would allow a closer look…or photograph.

Great Horned Owl

This second image might actually be of a another bird…it was coming toward me (not toward “me,” but in my direction) within seconds of my having seen the other one going off in the opposite direction.

Great Horned Owl second

It was shortly after taking this next image that I climbed out of the creek-bed and up onto the ridge to the left.  The desert was easier to walk through and I still had the creek on my right the whole time, so it was easy to know “where I was” in the vastness of the landscape when it was time to head back.  I probably went another couple of hundred yards before finding a large enough Saguaro that provided enough shade so I could sit/stand for a while, re-hydrate, and make some photos before starting the return trip down the creek.

Desert Butte near the headwaters of Cottonwood Creek

Facing southeast in the below photo, it was only about 9:30, so the sun was still shining aslant into the cacti spines, giving them their morning glow.

Sonora Desert panorama

It wasn’t at this exact spot, below, but probably about a third of the way back to the truck, I heard the sound of a body crashing through the brush to the right of the stream, turned to look really quickly, and saw the rear-end of a brown something disappearing over the ridge.  When I turned to look back into the creek-bed, I saw a small Javelina exiting the bed and going into the brush on the left side of the stream.  I had thought the first body making it into the brush could have been a burro, as I had seen and heard one earlier, but after seeing the very distinctive pig body running the other direction, I would guess that the first body making it into the brush was also a Javelina.  At any rate, this was my third “first” of the hike…I had never seen Javelinas while out hiking.  It would have been sweet to have actually captured an image of one of them, but they were gone too quickly, so if you’re interested, you can click on the highlighted name above to be taken to the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s page on the animal.

White cliffs of Cottonwood Creek

I don’t think this was the same burro that I had seen earlier, as this one was much darker…but it sounded exactly like the other one with the snorting noise that it was making as either an alarm or as a signal of its irritation with me.

Wild Burro in Cottonwood Creek

And lastly, this is the mass of Cottonwood trees at the beginning of the trail…but this is the view on the return, so they are not half in and half out of the sun, and therefore easier to appreciate.

Gateway to Cottonwood Creek

So…it wasn’t like hiking in the Cottonwood Canyons of the Wasatch Mountains in Utah, but it was still a good hike and a nice way to spend five hours on a Sunday morning.


26 responses

  1. That was a great hike. I’m very happy to see the desert is still beautiful!

    October 15, 2015 at 8:54 pm

    • It still is, Terry. 🙂

      October 18, 2015 at 8:41 am

    • A very green desert that is relaxing and enjoyable where you can be alone and take your time.

      June 20, 2018 at 9:18 am

      • That’s what it is, Paul…thank you.

        June 22, 2018 at 1:58 pm

  2. I would have enjoyed that hike . . . and I learned what a Javelina is. Nice post.

    October 15, 2015 at 9:49 pm

    • Thank you, Emilio….I’m sure you would have enjoyed it, too.

      October 18, 2015 at 8:42 am

  3. it’s beautiful out there!

    October 16, 2015 at 12:14 am

    • Yes, it is, TR….

      October 18, 2015 at 8:42 am

  4. 3 very cool firsts! I was hiking around Quartzsite about 6 years ago and found a javelina spine in some underbrush. It took me a bit of research to determine what it was. They can be quite nasty. A wonderful hike for sure!

    October 16, 2015 at 4:04 am

    • I’ve heard they can be nasty, as well, Laura…maybe it’s a good thing that they felt startled and not threatened when I came around the bend in the creek…..

      October 18, 2015 at 8:44 am

  5. Wonderful hike, and some great captures.

    October 16, 2015 at 6:49 am

    • Thank you, Lemony. 🙂

      October 18, 2015 at 8:44 am

  6. What a marvelous post with so many firsts! I’m glad to see you finding such treasures on your desert hikes.

    October 16, 2015 at 1:56 pm

    • Thank you, Gunta…having the camera in hand helps with the treasure-finding. 😉

      October 18, 2015 at 8:45 am

  7. Seeing that owl would have made it all worthwhile for me, but you got some great shots of it too. It must have been a great day!

    October 16, 2015 at 4:18 pm

    • I was quite pleased with the owl, Allen…seeing it and capturing the images. And yes, it was a very good day out there.

      October 18, 2015 at 8:46 am

  8. Thank you for this wonderful hike! I especially love seeing all the creatures, especially that owl! For years I have heard the great horned owls hooting at night here but I still have yet to see one! What a treat!

    October 22, 2015 at 6:40 pm

    • You’re welcome, Susan…I’m glad you enjoyed it. This was the first time that I had actually seen one of the owls stationary, so it was very nice. Maybe you’ll get to see yours soon, too. 🙂

      October 29, 2015 at 7:26 am

  9. settleandchase

    Such fascinating landscapes you wander through!

    October 31, 2015 at 5:23 pm

    • It is rather compelling, Cath. I’m glad you enjoyed passing through it with me. 🙂

      November 3, 2015 at 6:37 am

  10. Liana

    Gotta channel my good friend (a Cherokee medicine woman) who would point out to you in no uncertain terms: you got Owl medicine

    this is a very big deal. very.

    and a great post, too

    November 2, 2015 at 11:23 am

    • Well, I certainly thank you for that, Liana….Owl Medicine…very nice. 🙂

      November 3, 2015 at 6:36 am

  11. Wilderness walking with Scott of the desert……you are very fortunate, and this is such a real experience to follow your exposition……the desire to discover the new…..to be an explorer……must be a powerful draw.

    November 12, 2015 at 1:43 am

    • It is wonderful to be out there, John…while this desert doesn’t touch me spiritually (yet?), like “my” mountains did, I do find it ever fascinating…and yes, I do so enjoy the experience of being out there in that newness of the desert…and enjoy, very much, bringing it back for you and our other blog friends.

      December 9, 2015 at 7:46 pm

  12. Sorry I’ve been away for so long – had to comment on this really wonderful hike. So much to see in the desert!

    November 14, 2015 at 7:45 pm

    • You’ve been away, but you’ve been nearby, as well, Lynn….up the road a bit, seeing some familiar things and other things that were new to my desert-dwelling self. I’m glad you enjoyed the hike. 🙂

      December 9, 2015 at 7:48 pm

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