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Part III – Hoping We Don’t Need to be Lifted out by Helicopter

By Matt Marine, with Todd and Kenlynn Rijken, and Angel and Mike Lineberger

Stopped by Crawdad Falls

The five of us looked up at the towering walls in front of us. A thin line of water spilled over moss-covered rocks into a deep, circular pool at our feet. The pool was 10-15 feet deep and clear enough you could see debris at the bottom. One piece looked like a large spider or crab waiting for an unsuspecting swimmer to test the water. We also noticed more crawfish resting on rocks and swimming about.

It was a strikingly beautiful scene. This is not the typical Arizona that people see. It looked more like a hidden waterfall among the rainforests in South America. Or one of those elaborate hot tub spas with a private waterfall hotels built for exclusive guests. If the water hadn’t been so cold, I would have loved to swim and relax in this little piece of paradise for a while, just enjoying the quiet solitude.

That would have to wait for the warmer summer months. What we needed now was to find a way out of the canyon, hopefully not by helicopter. Mike, Angel, Todd, Kenlynn and I had been hiking in Parker Creek Canyon for almost five hours. We’d fought our way through a mile of swamps, reeds, bees and numbingly cold water only to be stopped by a 35 foot waterfall we’d named Crawdad Falls. No way were we going back the way we came in.

We had two choices: we could either continue downstream and climb out through Lower Parker Creek Canyon or try to find an alternate way out. The safer and more dependable way was the first option, but that meant at least another hour in the canyon, then a two mile hike along the 4WD road back to the Jeeps. The second option wasn’t much better. We’d have to find a way out of the canyon and reach the section of the 4WD road that parallels it. I didn’t know if that was possible until we got close to the Lower Canyon’s exit point which made the second option almost useless. But, if we could find a quick way out, it would save us almost two miles of hiking and probably an hour or two in our wet boots.

Exit Rockslide on the Left - Maybe

We decided to make a go for the second option. I took off in the lead, trying to make good time in case we couldn’t find a quick exit. We got back to the original canyon and made a left to keep heading downstream. Within a short distance we found another bee hive. The early warm weather really got these guys out early. They weren’t there on our trip a month ago. We managed to skirt by the killer bees safely and came to a large eroded section of the canyon. It seemed promising. It looked at my GPS. We were only 165 feet, horizontally, from the 4WD road I’d been on before. It doesn’t sound like much, but when you have to climb about 200 feet in that distance, it’s not that easy.

The slope was steep. Very steep. It was covered in dense vegetation, cactus and loose rocks. But I was determined to get out of the canyon as soon as possible and began climbing. I told the others to wait until I thought we had a good chance at making it out. No use in everyone making the climb only to find it was impassible 20 feet from the top.

It was difficult going. I had to push my way through thick vegetation and cactus while watching my footing. The slope was covered in loose soil that at one moment would be fairly stable, while the next step I would find myself down to my knees as the soil slid out beneath my feet.

I climbed about half way up, stopped to rest and looked up the slope. I thought I could see the top of the canyon wall and mentally traced a path down to me. It was sketchy. Very sketchy, but I thought it was worth the risk. I called down to the group waiting at the bottom that they should start climbing.

I began the final push to the top. I pressed my way through another dense bramble of thorny brush and shook my head. The brush had been hiding a large rockslide of bowling ball sized loose rocks. Although the slide had cleared out most of the thorny vegetation that had been such a pain to climb through before, it also made my footing even more precarious.

I took two steps forward and sent a bunch of rocks rolling down the hill. I was also back to just about where I started from. It was living the cliché of taking two steps forward, one step back. It was also exhausting and dangerous.

I called to out for everyone to spread out and give each other space so they didn’t send rocks crashing into one another. We would climb 20-30 feet, stop for a rest, then start again. Many times Angel's homemade broomstick trekking pole would be passed down the group to help them overcome whatever obstacle they encountered.

"Note to self: Pick up a broom stick handle on the way home for the next adventure!"
- Kenlynn

After a few minutes more of this, I could see the crest of the canyon and felt victory was within my grasp. I scrambled the remaining thirty feet up in one furious blast. As I came up from the edge of the canyon, my eyes widened at the sight before me. It was just about the last thing I expected.

Emerging from the Canyon like the Creature from the Black Lagoon

We hadn’t seen anyone all day. Not a vehicle. Not a hiker. Not anyone. It was as if we’d been transported back in time or to a place where civilization ceased to exist. Now, as I emerged from the canyon, I stared wide-eyed at a large tent trailer and Ford 4WD truck sitting in a clearing some 30 feet away.  

Under the tent trailer’s awning was a small portable picnic table at which sat an older couple relaxing in the shade. They slowly swiveled their heads in my direction as I scrambled out of the canyon. Their eyes grew as wide as mine. I can imagine what they were thinking. Out there by themselves, at the edge of this seemingly bottomless and unclimbable canyon and here emerges this tired, wet and dirty guy with a shit-eating grin on his face (I was so happy to get out of the canyon) like the Creature from the Black Lagoon emerging from the water about to eat them (I was also very hungry).

“Did …. did … you just climb out of the canyon?” the older gentleman asked me in amazement.

“I did,” I said between deep breaths of air, “but I wouldn’t recommend it.”

They didn’t answer me at first. I think they were still unsure if I was real or not. So I took the time to call down into the canyon, “I made it. Keep coming! You’re half way there!”

The couple’s eyes seemed to widen even more at the thought that there were more stupid people like myself climbing out of the canyon. They caught their composure and asked, “Where did you hike from?”

“We put in about a mile upstream,” I said, “but again, I wouldn’t recommend it.”

“Did you know there’s a big waterfall over there?” the older gentleman said, pointing his finger toward a section of canyon a few hundred yards in the distance.

I nodded. Yep, been there, been stopped by that.

One by one, those following me made it to the top of the canyon. The look of amazement in the older couple’s eyes must have matched the look of relief and smiles on all our faces.

"It was exciting to be deep down in the canyon, where you are humbled so quickly by the vast desolation, by the possibility of what could go wrong, by nature’s unpredictable behavior…and it was such a sense of accomplishment when we reached the top of the canyon!"
- Kenlynn

We had made it! I was so thankful no one had gotten injured during our journey. A lot could have gone wrong, but we all kept our heads and sense of humor and it had paid off. What an adventure we’d had. Now, all we had to do was hike the mile back to the Jeeps. But this section would be fast and easy.

"Climbing out of the canyon up a very steep hill, knowing that one misplaced step could lead to a disastrous rock slide down to the water, was quite the end to an adventurous day!"
- Kenlynn

As we walked along the road, we talked about the adventure, how lucky we were, how beautiful it was and how glad we were to be safe. Time went by quickly and soon we were walking along the purple flower covered hills leading down to the Jeeps. I looked over at the canyon that opened up below us. It all seemed so peaceful and serene, it’s secrets well hidden.

I silently gave it my thanks, grateful we got to experience all of the beauty and adventure it had to offer.

And thankful that none of us were being lifted out by a helicopter.   

Click here for Part I

Click here for Part II

Click here for Lower Parker Creek Canyon Adventure

Click here for Upper Parker Creek Canyon Adventure

Click here for Tale of Two Canyons feature story

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Additional and Full-Sized Pictures From the Trip


Looking into Upper Parker Canyon from our starting point


Todd looking back toward the Jeeps


A tired, but happy crew


On our way back to the Jeeps

Photos of the Canyon From Above


Lower Parker Creek Canyon


Lower Parker Creek Canyon


Lower Parker Creek Canyon


Lower Parker Creek Canyon


Lower Parker Creek Canyon

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