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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

home : features : ah, wilderness! December 17, 2014


10/15/2009 5:05:00 PM
West Clear Creek Canyon: Rugged, desolated beauty
On its lower reach, West Clear Creek Canyon is wide, wet and inviting. But just 4 to 5 miles up it becomes an extremely narrow canyon, passable only by floating ponds and scaling cliffs.
On its lower reach, West Clear Creek Canyon is wide, wet and inviting. But just 4 to 5 miles up it becomes an extremely narrow canyon, passable only by floating ponds and scaling cliffs.
West Clear Creek cuts its way through layers of Coconino Sandstone, the Supai Formation and volcanic deposits, from its source near the top of the Mogollon Rim to its narrow exit at the old Bull Pen Ranch
West Clear Creek cuts its way through layers of Coconino Sandstone, the Supai Formation and volcanic deposits, from its source near the top of the Mogollon Rim to its narrow exit at the old Bull Pen Ranch

Steve Ayers
Staff Reporter


CAMP VERDE - Up to 2000 feet deep, with steep walls and a narrow creek bed, the canyon carved by West Clear Creek has proven to be a formidable obstacle ever since the first American adventurers decided to use it as a pathway to the land east of the Verde River.

In the spring of 1864, a rancher, Indian fighter and entrepreneur named King Woolsey led a group of about 100 men on a retaliatory expedition to the Verde Valley after Indians stole cattle from his Agua Fria ranch.

After crossing the Verde River just above its confluence with West Clear Creek, Woolsey decided to follow the canyon to the top of the Mogollon Rim and on to the Tonto Basin, where he believed the culprits had gone.

He didn't make it very far. In fact he was forced to retreat to the Verde before going south and taking a less direct route up Fossil Creek. He never found his Indians or his cattle.

If you were to enter the canyon from the bottom at the Bull Pen Ranch, you would soon understand what Woolsey faced.

On its lower reach, West Clear Creek Canyon is wide, wet and inviting. But just 4 to 5 miles up the canyon you will begin experiencing what Woolsey and his crew experienced.

Much like the upper canyon of Wet Beaver Creek, the trail disappears and anyone wanting to proceed further will need a compliment of inflatable rafts and ropes, along with an understanding of what they are getting themselves into.

Described by some as one of the most beautiful and remote streams in the American Southwest, West Clear Creek will not disappoint anyone wanting to feel as though they have left the world behind.

The canyon is more than 30 miles long and formed by two drainages, Willow Valley and Clover Creek, which join together in the upper reaches.

Access is limited. The Bull Pen Trail, which is the only maintained trail in the lower end, goes up the canyon about 7.5 miles, exiting on the north side at Blodgett Basin.

There are also several remote access points in the middle of the canyon. However, they are not maintained, somewhat hazardous and difficult to locate.

One of the best ways to experience the canyon's isolation is to hike into the wilderness area from the top, by way of either the Maxwell Trail or the Tramway Trail. Both trails are accessible from Forest Road 81 and 81E, which come off of the Lake Mary Road about 7.5 miles south of the Happy Jack Ranger Station.

They are very short (about three-quarters of a mile) and steep (700-800 feet).

The Tramway Trail was used to maintain an aerial tramway built by the Verde District Sportsman Club in 1942 to stock fish into Clear Creek. It was used until the mid 1960s.

Trail maps are available from the Prescott, Tonto and Coconino National Forest. There is also detailed information on the individual trails available on the Internet and through several good trail guides.

Related Stories:
• Fossil Springs home to many, visited by few
• Wet Beaver Creek: An isolated paradise
• Munds Mountain: High visibility, hidden treasures
• Red Rock Secret Canyon: A secret worth knowing
• Sycamore Canyon: The 'Little Grand Canyon'


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