Roaming the Rincons: Turkey Creek to Deer Creek

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the Rincon’s lately wandering around the foothills and valleys of the Rincon Mountain Wilderness.  The Rincons are located just east of Tucson and most of the range lies within the Sahuaro National Monument.  The Rincon Mountain Wilderness surrounds Sahuaro on three sides.  The terrain ranges from rolling scrub desert to shear walled riparian canyons, and despite its proximity to Tucson access to much of the Wilderness is limited.  The lack of reliable water sources further limits use of the Wilderness, so if you don’t want to compete with the crowds on Mount Lemmon, the Ricons are a great alternative.

On the east side of the mountains, there are two trails that lead up into the Monument (Miller Creek Trail and Turkey Creek Trail).  I’d heard good reports on the area and decided to check it out.  I headed out after work and reached the mouth of the Turkey Creek canyon at sunset.  My original plan was to follow the creek up into the canyon and spend a couple of days exploring, but much to my surprise the place was packed.  Deer season had started the day before and the hunters were out in force.  So I decided to camp at the trail head (N32 10.6 W110 28.9) and head north the next day to Deer Creek and Fox Mountain.  The last mile and a half of “road” to the trail head is not for the faint of heart, sedan driver.  It follows a narrow ridge with steep drop offs on either side and is severely washed out in sections, so don’t try this unless you have a high clearance vehicle.

At 5:00 AM the next morning, the hunters began to arrive at the trail head.  I had planned to make an early start, but this was ridiculous.  I wasn’t getting back to sleep at this point, so I had a leisurely breakfast, took my time breaking camp, and set off just before 7:00.  The weather was perfect for a hike with the temps climbing to the 70’s in the afternoon and a light cloud cover to filter the sun.

Rincon Mountain

Turkey Creek Trail runs along a ridge line up into the Monument and is very easy to follow.  The trail gets steep for the last couple of miles but in this section of the Wilderness it is easy going with beautiful views into the valleys on either side.

Turkey Creek Trail

View from Turkey Creek Trail

Turkey Creek Valley

After a mile or so, I left the trail and headed north across the valleys and ridges.  Other than the occasional game trail, I spent the day bushwacking, but this is pretty open country so it was easy going.  I cut across Mesquite and Bear Canyons and dropped into Deer Creek Canyon.  North of Deer Creek the terrain becomes steeper as it climbs to Fox Mountain at the northeast corner of the Rincons.  It is definitely passable but would be a challenge.  There are several springs marked on the 7.5′ topographic maps, but I didn’t find any water in either Mesquite or Bear Canyons.  There is water at Lower Spring (N32 12.31 W110 28.48) in Deer Canyon, but it was obviously contaminated by the cattle that roam the valley and definitely needs to be treated prior to drinking.  I suspect that the springs further up the canyons are flowing, but I was carrying plenty of water so I didn’t take the time to check.

Deer Creek

Lower Spring in Deer Creek Canyon

Overall, this was a very pleasant walk.  Cutting across the valleys made it a bit challenging, but if you plan your route right you won’t face more than 200-300 feet in elevation change at each valley.  Valley hopping would be brutal in heat of the summer, but is very comfortable this time of year.  The valleys are home to a wide variety of wildlife and are a good destination for wildlife watching and hunting.  I saw a couple of deer and lots of tracks for smaller animals.  Just find a water hole and settle down in the rocks at dusk or dawn if you are interested in animal watching.  One word of caution, this is rattlesnake country and I did have a close encounter with an Arizona Black Rattlesnake.  He was curled up near a small pool in Deer Creek and hidden by the rocks as we approached.  Saja naturally jumped in the pool for a quick drink and cool down and I stopped to watch her.  As I looked around, I saw the snake curled up not three feet from where I was standing.  Black rattlers are very passive in my experience and it takes a good bit of prodding and bothering to get them to move.  I often encounter them near these small pools where I believe they are warming themselves and waiting for small prey to come along for a drink.  Had it been a diamondback or one of the more aggressive species, then this encounter would have ended poorly.  As always, keep your eyes out for the rattlers and watch where you put your hands!

This sneaky bugger was waiting for lunch. I was standing in the dirt at the bottom right when I saw him.

Arizona Black Rattlesnake

I had planned to spend another night in the area, but in the end I hiked back to the car and called it a day.  Saja and I covered about seven miles in all, and, as I said, it was an easy and relaxing day.  This is a bit far for a day trip from Tucson, but there are plenty of car accessible camping sites at the mouth of Turkey Creek so I would highly recommend the area for families and those looking for an easy backcountry experience.  It is a favorite area for the hunters so you may want to come during the off season.  You should not expect to find water; plan accordingly.  The next time I come out, I will hike up Turkey Creek itself to explore its densely forested riparian zone.

© 2010, The Desert Dog Journal. All rights reserved.

Filed Under: ArizonaFeaturedHikingRincon MountainsSoutheastTrail ReportsTucson Trails


About the Author: Tucson, AZ Realtor & Investor. My true passions however are hiking and whisky (although generally not at the same time). If you have a question about any of these just drop me a line!

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