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When it comes to pithy adjectives and phrases that best describe the Galiuro Wilderness, “easy access” won’t be on the short list. Hikers must drive for miles along a dirt access road, then contend with intensely rugged terrain, overgrown trails, and sparse water. But, as the saying goes, every rose has its thorns, and once you get past the Galiuro’s prickly approach, you’re rewarded with immense space and utter quiet.
The trails through this 118-square-mile wilderness coil across sunbaked mesas, down into deep canyons, and along razorback ridges, presenting somewhat of a challenge to even the most seasoned backpacker. But expend the effort, then wander into a place like Rattlesnake Canyon at twilight or glimpse a golden eagle sipping from a spring, and you realize the sweet rewards.
For a weekend-size tour, start at the Deer Creek trailhead and link together the Tortilla, Power Garden, Corral Canyon, and East Divide Trails. You’ll cross savannas, drop into forested canyons, and climb pine- and oak-clad mountainsides before reaching a ridgeline graced with enchanting rock spires. Along the Power Garden Trail, you’ll find mining equipment left by gold-fevered prospectors from another age. Further up the trail, you’ll come to the Power Cabin, site of a World War I-era shootout between the draft-dodging Power brothers and a posse of lawmen.
The climb from Rattlesnake Canyon to the summit of 7,549-foot Kennedy Peak is a doozy, so take your time and savor the spectacular view of the tumultuous Galiuro topography below. While you’re sitting there, most assuredly one adjective will pop into your thoughts: “solitary.”
EXPEDITION PLANNER: Galiuro Wilderness, AZ
DRIVE TIME: The wilderness is located in southeast Arizona, about 185 miles (41/2 hours) southeast of Phoenix and 145 miles (3 hours) northeast of Tucson. A high-clearance vehicle is recommended, but a sedan can make the drive to the Deer Creek trailhead.
THE WAY: From Phoenix, follow US 70 about 72 miles east from Globe to Klondyke Road on the right (a sign marks the turnoff). Proceed about 25 miles to a T, where you turn left onto the Bonita-Klondyke Road. After 4 miles, turn right onto FR 253 (Deer Creek Ranch Road) and follow it 8.5 miles to the Deer Creek trailhead.
TRAILS/MILEAGE: The wilderness contains 100 miles of trail. Hike into the heart of the Galiuro on the 25-mile Tortilla-Power Garden-Corral Canyon-East Divide loop. Trails receive little maintenance and become overgrown. Bring a compass and route-finding skills. Also, carry plenty of water; the only two reliable sources are Power Garden in Rattlesnake Canyon and Holdout Spring on the Rattlesnake Canyon Trail.
ELEVATION: Trails start at 4,000 feet and rise as high as 7,549-foot Kennedy Peak. Rangers advise that the intensely rugged Galiuro has been known to cut short many hikers’ itineraries.
DON’T MISS: Rattlesnake Canyon, where a line shack, old miner relics, and the Power Cabin still stand.
CROWD CONTROL: The chances of not seeing anyone at all rise the farther you hike from Deer Creek and High Creek trailheads.
MAPS: USGS 7.5-minute quads Bassett Peak and Kennedy Peak (800-435-7627; www.usgs.gov) will guide you along the featured loop. Also, Safford Ranger District sells a useful map (see address below; $4).
PIT STOP: For a post-hike Mexican feast, try Guayo’s On The Trail (520-425-9969) on AZ 88 just off US 60 near Globe.
WALK SOFTLY: The Galiuro Mountains are home to the highest concentration of mountain lions in the state, and black bears are common, too. Hang your food.
MORE INFORMATION: Safford Ranger District, Coronado National Forest, P.O. Box 709, Safford, AZ 85548-0709; (520) 428-4150.