Return to Spooky Canyon and Getting Rock-Blocked in 2014
By Matt Marine
After a four year hiatus, Mike and I decided to hike Spooky Canyon this October and I was super excited about doing it again. The area had received some nice rain the past week and we thought it would make hiking the narrow canyon even more interesting.
Although Spooky Canyon is not this canyon's official name, I can understand how it got its nickname. I imagine it came from the spiders, snakes and other critters routinely found inside the canyon's narrow confines. I know people who have encountered rattlesnakes within the narrow section with no way around the venomous snakes. I have also seen pictures of the canyon walls covered in spiders. If critters give you the creeps or you don’t like confined places, this is not the trail for you.
Actually, there is no official trail down this canyon, it is all bushwhacking. The hike is approximately five miles long roundtrip, without much elevation gain or loss. If you don’t mind getting wet, it’s a fairly easy hike. It usually takes us about five hours to complete.
The wash starts out wide and shallow, then after about a mile it begins to narrow down. In the last half mile or so, the canyon's width closes to only a few feet across in some places. The canyon walls are about 50 feet tall giving it an almost unreal sensation of being squished between two large walls.
I have hiked this four times, all in the spring (April / May). A few times the water was flowing nice, others barely flowing at all. You would not want to be caught in this canyon during heavy rain, monsoon or flash flood. I do not recommend hiking this during the summer rainy season
One of the more interesting aspects of the canyon is the spider holes found in its narrow sections. These are fist-sized holes that are full of daddy-longlegs spiders. Hundreds. Thousands of them. There are so many legs sticking out of the holes it looks like someone stuffed an old wig inside the hole. A fun thing to do is give one of these holes a gentle blow and watch them stream out. It’s sorta creepy too.
We've also seen huge water bugs in the pools there. As you can see some of them get big enough to take down a full-sized human (if you're good at Photoshop). All kidding aside, these are pretty big bugs. We had someone hiking with us that did not tell us she had a phobia about water bugs until she saw her first one. Initially, she freaked out a little, but then sucked it up and conquered her fear (at least for the day).
On this trip, we could see the San Pedro River running as we drove through Mammoth. I’d never seen it so high and when we went to our usual wash crossing, it appeared too difficult to cross. We did see a few Jeeps just coming out the other side of the wash, but it appeared they had started at some other point. Not willing to risk it, as Mike and I were alone in my Jeep, we opted for the bridge crossing.
Hiking the Canyon
After another hour of driving we parked the Jeep in a narrow canyon next to the road and proceeded to hike down into Spooky Canyon. After seeing the amount of water in the San Pedro, I was expecting lots of water here too. The start of the canyon is usually dry except for a 15 foot waterfall near where we park.
When we got down to the canyon, I took a peek at the waterfall. It was almost dry. Strange. I didn’t expect that. We continued down the canyon anyway. Parts of the wash were damp and many of the potholes had water in them, but the wash continued to be dry.
It took us almost an hour to get to the dam. Until the 1990s, there used to be a pump house and cabin here. I don’t know whether it succumbed to terrible storms or it was torn down. My guess is that it was the later. Although these interesting and historical buildings are now missing, there was at least there was some water near the dam and the area is drop-dead beautiful. Gidget went for a short swim, sort of on purpose, sort of by mistake. She ran through a big puddle and it was much deeper than she expected and splashed in over her head. Gidget tends to be more brawn than brains, so she did the same thing at least three more times. To her credit, Cammie did it once too.
The canyon narrows a little after the dam and we followed a small stream of water down the canyon. Gidget loved the water and would usually head right down the middle of the stream, wading or swimming, whatever she needed to do.
Then the canyon widened once more and it went dry again. Gidget took the opportunity to chase and catch large grasshoppers. She didn’t kill them, but would walk around with them in her mouth for a while until they squirmed out. Silly puppy.
We continued walking until the canyon began to narrow again and the walls rose up in front of us. But something seemed wrong. There was very little water and the canyon’s bottom was mostly sand. Something was different. There had been a lot more rocks the times I'd visited before. But I knew one rock we couldn't miss.
We rounded a corner and there was a boulder that had previously been wedged between the narrow canyon walls. It was a large 10-15 foot diameter boulder about seven feet above the canyon floor that you used to be able to walk under. Now, it rested directly on the floor. At the time, I believed (mistakenly) that it had fallen to the canyon floor. But after looking at the before and after pictures when I got home, I now believe the canyon had filled in with sand and debris after recent flash floods.
We looked for a way around. On the right side, we could climb around the boulder and squeeze through a narrow gap between it and the canyon wall. But it was a 15-20 foot drop to the canyon floor on the other side. I think it may have been possible to get down, though I am not sure we could have climbed back up without ropes. And it was impossible with the dogs.
Under the boulder was a very small hole that allowed water to flow through. It was about 18 inches in diameter. If we squeezed through the hole, legs first, we could have dropped down to an angled log about four feet below the hole. We may have then been able to slide down the log or drop another 3-4 feet to the canyon floor, then crawl out from beneath the boulder to the other side.
Again, no way with the dogs. Besides, I’m not sure I wanted to be under this 20 ton boulder while sliding down a log that looked as though it may be supporting it. I’m sure having it collapse on me would have ruined my day and Mike would have had a tough time getting the keys out of my squished pocket.
With much remorse, we turned around and headed back up the canyon. Mike thought we may be able to get up on the top of the canyon and walk around the obstruction. We hiked a few hundred yards and found a spot that although steep, we could walk along the edge to the top of the canyon.
I went first. Cammie followed me along the ledge. Gidget didn’t. She decided to go straight up the vertical wall. She made it about ¼ of the way, then fell over backwards. Good thing Mike was there to catch her. She tried it again and did the same thing. After that, we decided it wasn’t going to happen that day and made our way back to the Jeep.
We spent four hours hiking in the canyon and Gidget was so tired that she lay down under the Jeep in the shade and I had to pick her up to get her into the back seat. Then she passed out with her head on Cammie all the way home.
Even though we didn’t make it all the way through Spooky Canyon, it was a great time. We are going to try again next spring, this time without the dogs. And we’re bringing ropes. The boulder just makes getting through and enjoying the canyon that much more enticing. Pictures from the trip are below.
Click here to view pictures from our previous trips.
Full-Sized Pictures From the Trip
Tired pups on the way home
Gidget shaking dry after taking a dip in the canyon water
Gidget splashing water at me
Reflections in the canyon
Water flowing off the dam near the old pump house and spring
Gidget taking a dip, Cammie trying to stay dry
Mike, posing next to a fallen tree in the canyon
A reflection of Mike
The canyon filled in to the bottom of the boulder that used to be seven feet above the canyon bottom
Cammie staying dry as she jumped over Gidget, who loved all the water
Cammie keeping an eye out for trouble
Picture from around 1990. This might be a picture of the pump house behind a friend from college, but it may be Bluebird Mine. The canyon walls behind the house make me believe it was the pump house instead of at the Bluebird Mine
1980s photo of a friend's dad when we visited the dam and pump house
Have you been on this adventure? What did you think? Comments and updates welcome by clicking here.
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