A Big Adventure in the Little Rincons

On January 11, 2018, 16 students from Bisbee High School embarked on an adventure into the Little Rincon Mountains. This was the third of five expeditions this semester, allowing this group to be seasoned and prepared explorers. Our goal was to hike the canyons and study the flora, fauna, and geology of the area. This area provided off-trail exploration opportunities, forcing students to pull their focus in and be more attentive to their experience physically, mentally, and emotionally. This hike was consuming of energy and time, and rewarding through experience and natural beauty.

As we drove into Happy Valley, we were shadowed and sandwiched between the massive Rincon Mountains and the Little Rincon Mountains. This enforced a remote feeling that would only increase as the trip continued. When we arrived and unloaded from the van, we were greeted by Ash Creek’s rich riparian forests. The fall weather caused the cottonwood and sycamore trees to litter their reddish colored leaves all over, layering colors in a way you don’t often see in the desert.

We hiked Ash Creek through thick oak trees, over large boulders, and under cattle wire, eventually encountering the mouth of the canyon. This gorge led into the mountains, and its intimidating nature is exactly what had brought us here. Our first encounter with a large pool of water held us to our first lesson. The pool was trapped in a low basin, with high walls on each side. The only way through was to climb the steep walls, both with their own unique obstacles. We discussed risk management, and how to properly gauge that risk per obstacle. Using this discussion, the youth were encouraged to pick their path, choosing higher risk, or higher probability. This method brought everyone over the obstacle safely.

Canyons provide a unique environment, often harboring ecological conditions that support different biotic communities than what propagates outside the canyon. Here in this high desert biome, we were greeted by a lone saguaro growing on a cliffside. We stopped, and gathered to create the “outdoor classroom.” Together we discussed the saguaro’s unique desert adaptations, its physical qualities, and the keystone role it has in the Sonoran Desert. In this discussion, students learned about the saguaro’s symbiotic relationship with nesting birds, which prompted a debate about other symbiotic relationships and the accuracy of their relationship label. The youth truly took it upon themselves to critically think about different species relationships to each other. This is not something people often ponder.

Our adventure eventually brought us to a massive cliff wall. To pass this we could either used rope, traditional anchors, harnesses and other climbing gear, or we could take a dense, steep, and very rough scramble path around. Considering the lack of gear, we were left with one option, and it was a difficult one. Finally, after some struggle we managed to break out on top, gaining a new perspective about our surroundings. Canyons can become very consuming, limited, and isolating. Being on top gave us fresh air, and more area to adventure in. We picked a distant peak and made our way to its summit. After more bush battles and rock scrambles, we found ourselves overlooking hundreds of miles, with full views of the Rincon Mountains, and the perfect lunch spot. There we sat and relished in the beauty that was before us.