By Celeste Andresen/The Nature Conservancy
Every year in the spring and fall, Jim and I remove our heavily creased topographic maps of the Galiuro Mountains from their waterproof case to plan a week long backpacking adventure. Each map, with its quadrangle name written on the upper right corner in Jim’s crisp architectural printing, is unfolded and ceremoniously laid on the kitchen table. Resting our elbows on the table, our heads supported on hands, we press our faces close to see each sinuous curve of the topo lines, our fingers pausing at the little blue squiggles that indicate a spring. In the desiccated canyons of the Galiuros, these are precious and few.
The Galiuro Mountain Wilderness in the Coronado National Forest is a remote mountain range not often visited because of the scant water sources. Back in the 1970s, Jim purchased a piece of land that sits adjacent to the forest boundary on the west side. Intrigued by the inaccessibility and challenges, he began immediately to explore the deep canyons and austere mountains. He became acquainted with Chuck Duncan, USFS, Safford District, who possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of the Galiuros, having worked in and around the area for decades. Chuck has generously shared his wisdom with us to locate perennial springs, as well as waterholes whose existence is much less certain from one year to the next.
Our most recent journey included an 85-mile dusty dirt drive to Jackson Cabin, situated in the bottom of Redfield Canyon. The route included hiking up Redfield Canyon, climbing thousands of feet to the East Divide Trail, summiting Bassett Peak at over 7,600 feet, then dropping down the side of Bassett Peak to loop back to Jackson Cabin. We connected the squiggle-dots, filling water bladders and bottles to capacity at every water source, using a water filter for those bug-filled waterholes that wore a skin of algae.
We splashed in cold streams of riparian corridors, napped in the shade of ferns near springs, and climbed steep trails in the late spring sun. Wildflowers and native grasses filled mountain pastures. The wind blew the voices of long-gone miners through abandoned mining shacks. Trails led to cliff edges, which dropped abruptly to the Sonoran desert thousands of feet below. Nights we shared alcoves with bats, protected from the spring winds. One morning we followed fresh bear scat, the piles still steaming on the cold ground. Later that day a Peregrine falcon soared along a grey rock face, calling to his mate perched on an aerie ledge above our camp. Mornings brought the pastel hues of a new dawn, and good, strong coffee. Always, we carried packs heavy with the precious water we collected.
We’ve unfolded our topo maps for our autumn trip, and we know where to find the information that isn’t printed on a topo. Chuck’s experience is as indispensable as any gear for our amazing, memorable trips into the Galiuro Wilderness. Our National Forests are treasures, as are the stewards of those lands.
Celeste has been working for The Nature Conservancy since 2009, when she was hired as caretaker for the 7B Ranch property on the Lower San Pedro River. She is passionate about the Lower San Pedro River, and issues concerning the river and surrounding area. To the east of the San Pedro River and the 7B Ranch, the Galiuro Mountains provide a rugged, awe-inspiring backdrop, beckoning Celeste and her husband Jim to explore on foot, several times a year.