West Clear Creek Wilderness

Photo: looking into a canyon with green grass and patches of water at the bottom

The West Clear Creek Wilderness is an area of 13,600 acres located on the Red Rock and Mogollon Rim Districts of the Coconino National Forest. From its western end near the Bull Pen area at 3700 feet in elevation, it extends eastward for 20 miles up a canyon of steep cliffs and rugged terrain to the Mogollon Rim area of the Colorado Plateau. There the canyon splits into Clover Creek and Willow Valley which form the headwaters of the West Clear Creek drainage at approximately 6800 feet.

The image above was taken overlooking the canyon just west of Hwy 87. The lat/long is 34.562859 -111.388930. Click image for full-size view. This little slice of heaven is on the eastern end of West Clear Creek Wilderness.

Climate and Weather

Because of the difference in elevation between the eastern and western ends of the Wilderness, the climate can be variable over the length of a day, and varies greatly over the year. Summers will find the lower end hotter, but the upper stretches remain pleasantly cool. In Winter, while snow may cover the higher areas, the downstream sections can be comfortably warm. In Spring, the water temperature will be quite cold. If your hiking route requires swimming some of the many pools found within the canyon, you should take appropriate measures to protect against hypothermia. The canyon is subject to flash flooding at any time of the year. The danger is more prevalent during the summer and winter months but any time the weather pattern indicates rain, always be sure to allow yourself enough time to exit the canyon before this becomes a problem.

Geology

The three major layers within the canyon are the Supai Formation, the Coconino Sandstone, and volcanic deposits. The Lower Supai was laid down in the Pennsylvanian Period of the Paleozoic Era. During this time, Arizona was mostly under a shallow sea and the deposits are primarily red sandstones and shales with some lime intrusions. With the shift to the Permian Period about 280 million years ago, the Upper Supai deposits alternated between a marine and terrestrial environment. The bedding was mostly of sandstone with some shales and limestones. The Hermit Shale generally overlaid the Supai Formation but has eroded away in places.

Likewise, the Coconino Sandstone, which is an eolian deposit and from wind blown sand dunes, overlays the Hermit Shale. On the lower end of the canyon, this too has eroded away. Above the Coconino Sandstone, the Toroweap Formation and Kaibab Limestone were deposited at the end of the Permian Period. Erosion has eliminated these layers throughout most of the canyon, but they may be seen at the upper end. The top layer along most of the canyon consists of a variety of volcanic deposits; lava, cinder, and ash from the Quaternary Period of the Cenozoic Era.

Vegetation

The difference in elevation between the eastern and western parts of the Wilderness allows for a wide variety of plants. The steepness of the walls emphasizes this difference where the canyon runs east to west. Because the north side receives more sunlight than the south side, you can view two different climatic zones at the same elevation. Within the cooler zone are ponderosa pine and douglas fir, along with many other plants inhabiting that zone.

The canyon bottom with its perennial stream exhibits a riparian habitat. The dominant trees found here are cottonwood, sycamore, and alder. You will also find some ash, willow, walnut and wild grape along the riparian zone. Another plant to watch for, as you hike, is poison ivy. Poison ivy prefers a shady, moist habitat and can grow quite large, almost tree-like, when growing conditions are favorable.

On the slopes, there is a transition zone which is dominated by pinion and juniper, and at the lower elevations is a mid-desert ecosystem. Bordering the riparian band are mesquite and hackberry, along with plants of this ecotype. These give way to a more arid zone of catclaw, scrub oak, prickly pear, and a variety of other shrubs, forbs, and grasses.

Wildlife

Because of the remoteness of the West Clear Creek Wilderness, and the perennial water in the canyon bottom, a wide variety of wildlife inhabits the area. larger animals such as elk and deer can be found in the upper sections and bear and lion may roam throughout. Where particular parts of the canyon offer food and habitat a variety of smaller animals can also be found. These include javelina, coyote, fox, ringtail, rabbits, squirrels, and everybody's favorite "perfumer", the skunk. Birds, such as Bald Eagles, Black Hawks, owls, and numerous smaller species may also be viewed. Fish species include the German Brown and Rainbow trout, smallmouth bass, and suckers.

A variety of reptiles and insects also inhabit the Wilderness. Some of them can merely be a nuisance to you, while others could cause a potential injury. A repellent will help to ward off the mosquitoes and gnats, but you will want to keep in mind that scorpions and centipedes hide under rocks and other objects and may come out at night to hunt. Rattlesnakes, and only the poisonous reptiles in the Wilderness, creates the greatest danger as an animal induced injury. While it is rare to receive a bite, the possibility should not be ignored.

Cultural Resources

Hundreds of years ago, the Sinagua Indians lived in the central Arizona area. Evidence of their dwellings and tools from their daily life may still be found in the West Clear Creek drainage. If you encounter a ruin or artifact, please DO NOT disturb the area. This allows others to also feel and enjoy the sense of ancient history that can be imparted. If you examine a particular artifact, replace it where you found it. A lot of its value is derived from its specific location, in relation to other objects and the surrounding environment.

Access and Trails

There are four areas offering general access into the Wilderness area. Two of them are reached by going east from Camp Verde on Highway 260 to FR 618, and then turning north. It is then two miles to FR 215, the road to Bull Pen, and two miles more to FR 214, the road to Cedar Flat. From the Bull Pen area, the West Clear Creek Trail #17 heads up the creek about six miles and then follows a side canyon north, climbing up to Cedar Flat where it ends at FR 214A. This road is accessed from FR 214. Also from Bull Pen, climbing up almost to Cedar Flat, is the Blodgett Basin Trail #31. This trail does not enter the Wilderness or provide access to the creek but it offers a good view of the surrounding country and ends at FR 214, and allows a loop hike with Trail #17.

The other two areas allow access to the upper end of West Clear Creek. Turn north onto FR 144 from Highway 260 at mile post 249. Take FR 144 to FR 149 and turn left to FR 142. Go left on FR 142 to FR 142B. Take FR 142B to the start of the Calloway Trail #33.

The fourth access area is on the north side of upper West Clear Creek. About seven miles north of Clints Well, on the Mormon Lake Road, is the junction to FR 81. Turn west on this road and go three miles to FR 81E. Follow FR 81E south about four miles until the road splits. The east fork leads to the Maxwell Trail #37 and the west for to the Tramway Trail #32. Both trails are steep, but maintained, and they offer a good route for a loop hike to experience a portion of the beauty of West Clear Creek.

Please remember, Forest roads leading to the Wilderness areas are gravel or dirt, and may be impassable during periods of rain or snow. With the exception of Trail #17, there are no maintained trails in the bottom of West Clear Creek. Hiking the length of the canyon requires you to wade and swim numerous pools. A floatation device such as an air mattress will make your journey easier. The water will be cold except for summer and early autumn so guard against hypothermia when necessary. Always purify your drinking water and take precautions against injury. Rescue access is extremely difficult in much of the canyon due to its topography. Allow enough time to enjoy your hike (6 to 7 days, or more, when traversing the whole canyon). Don't attempt overnight hikes alone and always let others know your route and time schedule.

Depending on the nature of the activity planned on the National Forest, a special use permit may be required. Usually groups of 12 or less, that are just hiking or camping in the wilderness, are not required to apply for a permit. The wilderness environment allows the visitor to experience an area primitive in nature, where man's presence is mostly unnoticed. In most wilderness ecosystems, larger groups may have a detrimental impact on the environment, and can affect the wilderness experience of other forest visitors. Please keep your group small to avoid this type of impact, and help us protect the integrity of these special areas.

No Trace Camping

To help preserve the primeval character of the land, please leave the areas you visit as natural appearing as possible. Keep your group size small, and maintain control of any pets or stock that you bring into the Wilderness area. Try to camp some distance away from trails and water, or other high use areas, to help disperse the impact on the areas. Don't wash items in, or near, water sources. Fill a pot, or other container with water and wash in that, then dispose of it at least 200 feet away from any springs or streams. Toilets, likewise, should be well away from any water sources and popular camping spots. For personal use, dig a small hole four to six inches deep and bury all toilet paper along with the waste. When camping with a group, consider using a common latrine. Don't make the hole larger than necessary and cover feces with a thin layer of dirt after each use.

Remember to pack out ALL litter and garbage (including gum wrappers and cigarette buts). Please do not bury these items or leave any "biodegradable" garbage behind. Animals will dig up buried trash and food items that have been left behind. Use a backpack stove for cooking. If you must have a fire, dig a hole away from burnable grass and brush and set any sod aside. Do not use rocks for a fire ring, or build fires under any outcroppings that will get smoke stained. Use only firewood that is dead and down and please don't leave any fire unattended for a period of time. When breaking camp, make sure the fire is out cold before you cover the ashes with dirt and replace any sod removed earlier.

 

For more information contact:

  • Mogollon Rim Ranger District, 8738 Ranger Road, Happy Jack AZ 86024, (928) 477-2255
  • Red Rock Ranger District, P.O. Box 20249, Sedona AZ 86341, (928) 203-2900

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