Big Casa Blanca Canyon

The trail through Big Casa Blanca Canyon seems to only be labelled as a segment of the Arizona Trail and doesn't have its own name.  Like Gardner Canyon, the head of the canyon was badly burned by the Florida Fire, but the middle and lower stretches mostly escaped unburned.  The lower half of the trail has a very slight grade that follows the path of a former water line that delivered water to mining operations miles to the northwest in the early 1900's.  The trailhead is along Gardner Canyon Road which can get rough but is probably passable up to this point in a passenger car.


January 15, 2010
I hiked this as a loop starting at the Arizona Trail trailhead on Gardner Canyon road.  From the trailhead I went upstream off-trail until meeting the road again, then took the Gardner Canyon Trail up to the junction with the Walker Basin Trail, and followed that until it met the Arizona Trail which winds up back at the trailhead.  If I were to do it again I would just hike up the road from the trailhead rather than do the 1.5 mile or so off-trail portion, which I did in order to shorten the hike length a bit and do some exploring.


Looking up Gardner Canyon from the burned slopes of mostly Emory Oak.  Mt Wrightson is the prominent peak with Baldy Saddle to the right and Josephine Peak in the distance on the left.  A pocket of Apache Pine survived the fire at left along the creek.

 
From the Gardner Canyon trailhead the trail passes through a very pleasant open forest of oak and pine.  The first photo is of some Apache Pine sapplings exhibiting the characteristic pom-pom appearance of long needles for this species.  The second photo is of lichen crusted Silverleaf Oak trunks and a spindly Arizona White Oak. 

 
The trail climbs up along a left branch of Gardner Creek which is where these photos look from.  The first looks northeast back across Gardner Canyon and Cave Creek Canyon which is across the lower ridge in the middle.  Rincon Peak is in the distance at right.  The second looks up the steep rough slopes to the summit ridge, with Mt Wrightson barely poking up into view on the left.


After the trail junction the Walker Basin Trail drops into Big Casa Blanca Canyon and contours around the head of the canyon as seen here.  Mt Wrightson is on the right and Josephine Peak is on the left with the right fork of the canyon coming down inbetween.

 
An oddly shaped Arizona White Oak among the pines.  The second looks up the mostly burned right fork which starts along the cliffs of Mt Wrightson above.


Looking across the left fork of Big Casa Blanca Canyon which comes down the east face of Josephine Peak.  The forest varies here from being near completely burned at the upper right to almost unburned in the bottom left.  Small Apache Pine cover the sunny slope in the foreground with Arizona Pine on the opposite shady slope, with some hybrids likely mixed in, possibly including the yellower trees in the middle.


Looking back down to the middle portion of the canyon which has little burn damage.  The grassy plains of Sonoita lie beyond, ringed by the Mustang Hills on the left, the Huachuca Mountains on the right, and a small bit of the Canelo Hills visible on the far right.  At center in the distance are the Mule Mountains.


Another look up from farther down the trail at Mt Wrightson and Josephine Peak with its small surviving patch of pine near the top.


View across the canyon to a small side valley with a spot of burn at the top.  The vegetation seems a bit more widely varied in this area than usual for this elevation and similar exposures, which could be due to the mix of geology here. 


A view back up canyon from farther down where the left and right forks can be seen more clearly and the forest starts feeling more verdant.

 
Near Bear Springs, where the water transportation system used to begin, the trail passes through a forest of almost entirely Arizona White Oak.  The tree in the first photo exhibits the extremes of trunk bark characteristics commonly found in this species, the somewhat brownish thin flaky bark split into narrow strips at top, as well as the thick blocky and starkly white bark at bottom.

 
Cliffs at the lower end of the middle canyon before the creek passes along the rolling hills of the lower canyon.  There are some interesting pockets of what look to be tall Silverleaf Oaks squeezed against the lower cliffs in the second photo.


These Emory Oak leaves show the thin downy covering that briefly covers young leaves before they become entirely glossy.  This fuzz comes right off with the touch of a finger.


Looking through the end of the canyon where the creek hooks to the right around the ridge.  At this point the trail bends left to leave the canyon and cross into the head of Adobe Canyon.  A few bare Arizona Sycamore shine brightly in the creek bed below.

 
Some Mearns Sumac along the trail with glossy green leaves which is a trait typical of many sumacs as well as a distinctive touch of red.


The low ridge separating Big Casa Blanca from Adobe Canyon which is at least partially if not almost entirely covered in Mexican Blue Oak.  The trail contours near the elevation intersection of Arizona White and Mexican Blue Oak which are closely related and hybridize in this area.  At left are the Whetstone Mountains and to the right the Mustang Hills.

 
View of the typically gnarly structure, thick fissured white bark, and oblong flat bluish green leaves of one of the Mexican Blue Oaks.


Looking down Adobe Canyon as the sun drops lower.  The Huachucas are at left and the Canelo Hills are from center to right with other ranges in Mexico in the distance.  The hills are mostly covered in Arizona White, Mexican Blue, and Emory Oaks as well as Alligator Juniper and some Mexican Pinyon, with perhaps some One-Seed Juniper on the lower stretch. 




This is the GPS file for this hike that can be opened in Google Earth, though at the time most of the satelite images contained clouds so I instead plotted it on the topo. You may have to explicitly specify the gpx extension when saving, bigcasablanca.gpx.  The dotted line running above the blue GPS trace on the upper right is the dirt road that I would recommend hiking instead of crossing off-trail since it's pretty brushy back there.