Exploring White Canyon

On March 20, 2018, 13 students from Miami High School embarked on an adventure into White Canyon, west of Kearny, Arizona. This was the third expedition of their semester, meaning these students were more than prepared for the hot hike they were about to begin. This area is a landscape of mountains and canyons shaped by massive volumes of seasonal flooding into the Gila River. Together our goal was to hike through this area to explore natural springs, the flora and fauna, and have a fun time out in the desert.

Our trip began when our vehicle hit the dirt of Battle Axe Road. The sun’s radiation felt heavy on our shoulders as we began walking through an arroyo toward White Canyon. This area sits a few miles east of the Gila River, which allows the flora and fauna to have rich hydrological support. Our hope was that this support would mean greater activity from the local residents — coyotes, raptors, rabbits, lizard, snakes, and more. We kept our eyes open, wandering around prickly pear and cholla cactus, and under palo verde and mesquite trees. We popped into a dried cow pond that was covered with dozens of tall, broad leafed plants. Some were 8 feet tall with huge stalks. We gathered around to observe the plants, curious as to what they might be. I smelled, tasted with my tongue, crushed, and compared the plant to everything I had observed in the past, but could not identify what it might be. We noticed that the cattle were not eating it, a sign that it was not good to swallow. Only later did I discover that it was desert tree tobacco, a highly toxic plant traditionally used for medicinal and ceremonial purposes.

We left the tobacco, dropping deeper into the canyon and found ourselves relaxing under cottonwood trees. I am sure these trees are a friendly gathering place for the neighborhood, a safe spot for all to hide from the sun. For us, they were only an offering of short rest. I promised the students water, and they were thirsty to find it. In the desert, every millimeter of the body craves moisture, from the skin on our fingers to deepest depths of our stomach. So off again we were, but this time geological distractions slowed our pace. The surrounding cliffs and mountains stood tall like giant pyramids. Forcing our necks crooked in awkward angles for much too long, but pain that was well worth it. We found ourselves in a narrow off canyon, where water had successfully cut to granite bedrock. Here the foliage was thick, green, and as if it were not a desert landscape. Pools of water greeted us, and our movements became playful as we jumped from one dry patch to another. We found a pipe that tapped a spring of warm water, and we greedily plunged our heads, hats, and cloths.

It was in this spot, under the cottonwood trees, next to running spring water and in cool breezes that we ate lunch, closed our eyes, and napped deservingly. When we came to, we hiked a bit more, then returned to the vehicle. Desert jaunts are wonderful, especially when there is shade and water. Although we saw no large wildlife, and only birds and lizards, we all left satisfied and refreshed. The heat took it out of us, but the experience put it right back in. It is always a grand adventure with Miami High School.

Thanks to Resolution Copper for their support of this outing!