Recently I had the opportunity to see, by raft, the country I've been tramping overland for the last couple of decades. Just getting to the put-in of our trip was a logistical conundrum and an exercise in patience. We needed a shuttle driver who was comfortable in the fringe area of Copper Canyon, Chihuahua, and the driver might have to spend two, maybe three nights on the road before getting home. Then he would have to pick us up in 10 or 11 or 12 days; and who knew for sure. This trip is best attempted when the water has a good flow, but unbeknownst to us, a tropical hurricane (Norbert) was heading for the sierras preparing to drop 3 days of solid rain in the drainages that fed our rivers. We recently had some decent enough flows from summer monsoons after a prolonged dry spell to even attempt this project. As it turned out, it rained all night and part of the second day as we headed deeper into Chihuahua from the take-out point near Sahuaripa, Sonora. The side canyons in the cordillera of the sierras were roaring with brown water--not a good sign. The next day we contemplated a delay, but a promising sucker hole of robin egg blue sky beckoned us further as we polished off breakfast of strong coffee, papaya and granola bars. We left the highway on a broad sinuous dirt road for the last 100 kilometers, a four hour drive to a rickety logging bridge halfway between Yepachic and Madera. (Photo gallery from trip)
On August 7, 2014 ten million gallons of a mining wastewater solution broke through containment at the Buenavista copper mine just outside of Cananea, Sonora. The sulfuric acid solution was released into the Rio Bacanuchi, a tributary of Rio Sonora, one of the largest watersheds in Sonora.
Rio Sonora is a key water source for many communities including Arizpe, Sinoquipe, Banámichi, Aconchi, Baviácora, Mazocahui, and Ures, along with substantial agriculture along its lower reaches. Rio Sonora headwaters are near the spill area just south of the US border. It then flows south over 200 km before turning west towards Hermosillo, which until recently used a reservoir on the Rio Sonora as its primary municipal water source. The Indepencia Pipeline connecting to the Rio Yaqui started delivering water to Hermosillo and its 800,000 people last year, freeing the city of its reliance on water from the Rio Sonora.
The contamination has colored the river a burnt orange and killed livestock, fish, and likely innumerable other aquatic animals. Grupo Mexico owns the Buenavista copper mine, which contains one of the larger known veins of copper on Earth. Effective cleanup of such a spill is not feasible. Likely many of the contaminants will be flushed by monsoon rains and flooding to downstream reservoirs, where it will remain in water and sediment.
Devil’s Canyon is located in Pinal County Arizona a few miles east of Superior in the Globe Ranger District of the Tonto National Forest. The area is extremely rugged with deep canyons, rocky ridges, and uplands dominated by large boulders and towering spires. Pyroclastic welded tuft is the most common substrate throughout the area and creates beautiful cliffs, arches, and towers.
Devil’s Canyon is located in Pinal County Arizona approximately 6 km east of the town of Superior in the Globe Ranger District of the Tonto National Forest. The area is generally rugged with deep canyons and is defined by its complex rock formations. Portions of Devil’s Canyon have stretches of large and dense riparian growth that support a high diversity of breeding birds and other wildlife.
The Dolores Mine is a large gold and silver mine in the upper Rio Aros/Yaqui watershed just across the Sonoran border in Chihuahua. These photo are taken by Roger Featherstone from a small plane. Learn more about the Dolores Mine.
This cactus has a very limited distribution and is an Endangered Species. It survives in a narrow elevational zone from the upper Sonoran Desert into the Chapparal (sometimes Madrean Evergreen Woodland) that occurs in its range. Its range covers areas east of Superior, AZ in Gila and Pinal counties.
Here is a selection of photos of individual Echinocereus triglochidiatus var. arizonicus (Arizona Hedgehog) cactus, all taken in the wild.
This canyon and surrounding country are an incredible mix of chaparral, Sonoran Desert, and madrean influenced vegetation enhanced by stunning rock formations and rare perennial creeks.