Galiuro Mountains and Redfield Canyon Wilderness: the Place Time Forgot, Arizona

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14040A, Backpack


  • Hike among dramatic and isolated Sky Islands
  • Enjoy intimate, lush streamside habitats
  • Pass intriguing pioneer cabins and mines


  • Great camaraderie and adventure
  • All meals and cooking equipment
  • Permits and expert guidance on trails 


DatesApr 27–May 3, 2014
Difficulty4 (out of 5)
StaffBarry Morenz

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Few people venture into this isolated and beautiful place that time has forgotten. It seems the pioneers suddenly vanished, leaving all their belongings behind. Our hike will span two special wilderness areas; Redfield Canyon and Galiuro Mountain Wilderness. The Nature Conservancy maintains a large preserve here called Muleshoe Ranch and the biologically important and sensitive San Pedro River riparian area cuts through the valley immediately to the west of the Galiuros. In the northern reaches of the Galiuros is the spectacular Aravaipa Wilderness Area. There is a huge variety of plants and animals because there are so many different life zones in the mountains, valleys, riparian areas, and deserts where we will be hiking. We should see many wildflowers as it will be spring while we are there. If we are lucky we might see a jaguar; over the last few years, a few have been spotted roaming in southern Arizona’s mountains.

The Galiuros rise to over 7,500’ from the 3,000’ valleys surrounding them. Giant saguaro cactus forests form the Sonoran Desert apron around these mountains, while huge Arizona cypress trees stud the lush valleys and towering Douglas firs drape the high country. We will visit all these life zones and more. The Galiuros are unusual in that they have two parallel ridges with a moderate size valley, Rattlesnake Canyon, dividing them. The Galiuros are one of dozens of sky island mountain ranges that are part of the basin and range province of the western U.S. and Sierra Madres in Northern Mexico.

About 18 to 35 million years ago, active volcanoes formed the red rhyolite cliffs that we will see along our journey and shaped many of the sky islands around the Galiuros. These volcanoes also helped create mineral-rich deposits in the Galiuros and surrounding mountains, leading many prospectors to develop mines in these mountains. Some of their cabins, machinery, and water diversion systems are still present, and we will pass some of them along our route. One of the most famous shootouts in Arizona occurred at the Powers Brothers cabin. A sheriff’s deputy was shot and killed there in 1918, almost 100 years ago, leading to the biggest manhunt in Arizona history. One brother was killed, but Tom survived and spent 42 years in the Arizona State Prison. Ranching and raising cattle drove economic development in Arizona and there are still many ranches in the area today.


The evening before the trip, we will meet in Tucson for a trip briefing.

Day 1: Today we will do a car shuttle, leaving vehicles at our starting and ending points. The drive itself is beautiful and interesting as we drive through the Sonoran Desert and high chaparral. We will pass some historic areas and active ranches on the way to the trailhead. Some of the roads are rugged dirt roads so high-clearance vehicles will be needed. We will backpack into Redfield Canyon on our first day and camp near the flowing waters of this marvelous riparian area.

Day 2: We will continue our journey up Redfield Canyon in the shade of velvet ash, Arizona sycamore, and Arizona cypress trees. There are no trails here but we will make our way up Redfield off-trail, enjoying the red rhyolite cliffs along the way. The water is intermittent as we hike up Redfield. We may hike up some side canyons, depending on our progress, and we will pass a Pioneer cabin or two as well.

Day 3: Leaving Redfield, we will make our way up to Cedar Flat and over a small pass into the heart of the Galiuros. We will pass Long Tom and Powers mines and camp in the area where the famous shootout took place. Hiking will be slow in places; it is brushy and the way can be confusing as there are a number of small canyons in the area.

Day 4: Today we will come to a good trail that will make the hiking easier. We will descend to Rattlesnake Canyon, visit Holdout Spring, and eventually get to Powers Garden along Rattlesnake Canyon, where we will camp for two nights.

Day 5: A long dayhike on trails will take us down lower Rattlesnake to Sycamore and Horse canyons and will make for a splendid loop hike. We will hike initially in lush riparian habitat, but then climb almost 2,000’ to enjoy some sweeping views of the Sonoran Desert and Sky Islands.

Day 6: We will hike up a good trail to the ridge below Kennedy Peak, where we will dry camp for the night. The area is very green and we will have some lovely views of Rattlesnake Canyon below us. We may hike to the top of Kennedy for a sunset. Kennedy, at 7,549 feet, is the highest peak in the Galiuros.

Day 7: Arising before dawn, we will hike to the top of Kennedy to enjoy the sunrise. We will return to our packs and hike down a steep, but lovely, trail to the Deer Creek Trailhead in about three hours. We will then pick up the vehicles that we left at our starting point and make our way back to Tucson by early evening.

Note: The exact itinerary for the trip may vary from what is described above, depending on the weather, water availability, permit availability, and the strength and preferences of the group.



Getting There

There are many flights to Tucson daily. Plan to arrive the day before the trip and then depart the day after the trip. You might want to come a few days before or stay a few days after to enjoy the many attractions of Tucson during the lovely Sonoran Desert spring. High-clearance vehicles will be needed to get to the trailheads. Further details on getting to the trailhead and other arrangements will be provided after you have signed up for the trip and once the departure date is closer.

Accommodations and Food

Our first trip meal will be lunch on day one and the last meal will be breakfast on the last day. Trip meals will include some meat, but vegetarians can be accommodated. Trip participants help with meal preparation and clean up. We try to bring enough food so everyone is satisfied, but we also want to keep our packs as light as possible. We try to make the food appetizing yet fairly simple to make. From past feedback, we know that everyone will likely be more than satisfied.

Trip Difficulty

Our mileage for the week is about 35 to 40 with packs. Our elevation change will be as much as 2,000 feet in a day. Our average daily distance is about seven miles, but half of it is off-trail and sometimes difficult. We will also do several miles of optional day hiking without packs during the week. The hiking varies from arduous, steep, and rocky off-trail hiking to easy, flat hiking on good trails. Although our daily mileage is not great and our elevation change is moderate, this is a challenging trip. All backpack trips are physically demanding and this trip is no exception. 

Equipment and Clothing

We bring all the pots, stoves, and food. We will distribute about 12 lbs. of group food and gear at the beginning of the trip for each participant to carry. Group water will be purified with Micropur chlorine tablets or boiling. We will distribute Micropur tablets to participants for purification of personal drinking water. Everyone will need to bring enough water containers to carry six quarts of water as we will need to dry camp once or twice. We will work with everyone to pack light. The trip will be safer and easier if everyone keeps his or her pack weight to the minimum.

A specific equipment list will be provided after you have signed up for the trip.


  • Brusca, Richard C. and Wendy Moore, A Natural History of the Santa Catalina Mountains, Arizona with an Introduction to the Madrean Sky Islands, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Press, 2013. Although this book’s focus is the Catalinas, the Galiuros are just across the San Pedro River and most of what the authors describe apply to the Galiuros, too.

  • Phillips, Steven J., and Patricia Wentworth Comus, Natural History of the Sonoran Desert, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Press, 1999. One of the best books describing the natural wonder of the Sonoran Desert.

  • Power, Tom, Shoot-Out at Dawn: An Arizona Tragedy, Phoenix Press, 1969. Available used, this is the story of the shoot-out at the Powers Mine, which we will visit, as told by the brother who survived and spent 42 years in an Arizona prison.

  • Wilbur-Cruce, Eva Antonia, A Beautiful, Cruel Country, University of Arizona Press, 1987. Set near Arivaca about 100 miles SW of the Galiuros, this autobiographical account provides a moving portrait of ranch life in our country’s last frontier, Arizona.


As the Southwest is enduring over 10 years of drought, the Federal Government recently announced that Arizona (and other western states) will receive 10% less water from the Colorado River because the water levels in lakes Powell and Mead are at historic lows. Water is a major, if not the major, issue in Arizona and the West. The other issue is energy, despite an abundance of sunshine; Arizona still receives much of its power from coal-fired plants instead of renewables. Arizona does have a major nuclear plant, which is controversial as well, but Arizona should be leading the nation in conversion to solar energy. These and other conservation topics will be considered on our trip.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.

While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under permits from the Bureau of Land Management and the Coronado National Forest.



Barry Morenz has lived in Tucson for over 30 years and loves to travel in the nearby mountains and canyons, as well as throughout the American West. He has led Sierra Club trips for many years, and travels regularly to the Caribbean where he enjoys the varied cultures, Mayan history and magnificent coral reefs of the region. A lifelong student, Barry enjoys studying the natural and cultural history of the areas he visits, and experiencing with others the wild and historically significant places of the world. The camaraderie of sharing adventure travel with other Sierra Club trip members is especially rewarding, as it provides a way to educate people about the need to protect these fragile corners of our planet and leave an environmentally sound legacy for generations to come.


Mark Holcomb has lived in Tucson for 20 years. He loves hiking in the Southwest especially the Grand Canyon. He is a long-time runner with many marathons under his belt and is an accomplished scuba diver and avid snow skier. Mark has led or assisted on several adventurous Sierra Club backpack trips in the Southwest and Rocky Mountains. Mark takes great pleasure in introducing others to wild and pristine places and enlisting their help in preserving them. Mark has boundless energy and is always eager to explore new trails and routes.

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