Sunday, October 22, 2006

Dry Canyon: low levels of water and enjoyment

There are so many wonderful places in the world to visit. And so little time to visit them all. That's why it's nice to know there is one place you can cross off your list: Dry Canyon in the Whetstone Mountains near Benson, AZ. Sabkha and I took a little Sunday afternoon jaunt out there today. We bypassed Kartchner Caverns State Park and French Joe Canyon, both right off AZ-90. I've been to French Joe a few times with Physical Geology field trips. It's a nice canyon with mature trees and often has flowing water. It must be the highlight of the eastern Whetstones. Pass French Joe and keep going about 3 miles. You'll see the impressive Paleozoic limestone cliffs to the west, and you can think of Rich Thompson, who found his dinosaur (Sonorasaurus) right on the other side of the crest. The main prominent cliff-rimmed quasi-butte is called "The Cape". Pass all this by and take a right on the next gravelly road that heads up toward Dry Canyon. At first the view is disappointing. Prepare yourself for more of the same. The hills are low and desert-covered. Nasty pokey vegetation promulgates across the land. Sure, it looks soft and fluffy from a few miles away -- but up close it's all catclaw and shindaggers and rattlesnake fangs.

The road did offer some entertainment. Overall I'd rate it a "Class 3", with much of it drivable in a passenger car (Class 2), but some washed-out sections where most cars would turn back unless you're the type to beat up on your vehicle because you hate it, or because it's a rental. One wash in particular caused me to scrape my rear bumper coming and going ('04 Subaru Forester). Also there are some pokey rocks. High- or medium-clearance recommended. Up the road a ways, perhaps 3-4 miles up from AZ-90, a view opens up to the right of limestone cliffs, with the beds dipping 25-30 degrees to the west. Sab and I went for a short stroll in the desert, which was rather hot and unpleasant. My climbing partner Mike has mentioned a limestone climbing area called "The Dry" that I think must be farther up the canyon to the right (Dry Canyon proper). We hopped back in the car and drove through Rain Pass and up 83. All the scenery we could see when we weren't blinded by the almost-setting sun was washed out by its blasting rays. Still, it was nice to get out of town. And to cross one more place off the list. No need to return to Dry Canyon.

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