The Narrows, Box Canyon & Dinosaur Wash

This is one of Wickenburg’s most idyllic and pleasant spots and makes for an easy little hike on the Hassayampa River . A word about the ‘river’ to begin with: The Hassayampa River, whose banks Wickenburg straddles, is roughly 100 miles long. Its waters run underground for all but about 14 miles of its course when the riverbed runs over bedrock sediments which keep the waters from draining through sandy sediments into an underwater flow.

One of these stretches lies just south of town which is why, when you cross the bridge, or are at some elevated position which allows you to survey the town, you can see a narrow strip of lush green forest of densely packed foliage between the BNSF railroad tracks hugging the western flank of a hill and highway 60. That is where you’ll find the Hassayampa River Preserve.

A second stretch of the river where the water flows above ground year-round, and where you’ll simultaneously encounter one of but two sets of narrows, lies a few miles upriver from town. This narrows forces the river into a stretch of ruler-straight course between sheer volcanic cliff walls on both sides; a veritable corridor, no more than about 20-25 feet wide. Lush riparian growth on both banks above and below the narrows attracts avifauna galore, and makes for excessively pleasant scenery of course. You might scare up some cattle along the way, or some gamble’s quail that flap away noisily. If you hike upriver along the sandy banks beside the river you’ll get to a large floodplain where rushing and raging waters will spread sideways as they are stopped by the narrows. Soon after that, you’ll encounter a fence across and have thus reached the boundary to private land, so turn around and hike downriver, through the narrows and on.

Hassayampa River: flowing ruler-straight through the Narrows

The steep and rocky side of the soaring volcanic ridge on the south side of the river is studded with rich Sonora Desert vegetation, including Palo Verde, mesquite and several types of cacti. About half a mile downriver from where the sandy road leads down to the river you’ll come to Box Canyon on the north side of the river. Your indicator will be a shelf of massive ancient tamarisk that form a shady grove on a sandy bench, ideal for a picnic.

right outside Box Canyon

The box is short and narrow and ends at a chute where a (normally dry) wash pours water into the box whence it flows to the river proper.

inside Box Canyonat the dead end of  the box by the chute

If you’d like a longer hike, keep on walking downriver – watch for lizards, frogs, fish and other little water creatures – and round the tip of the imposing ridge on your left, through the gap the river has carved itself through the eons between the Black Hills on your right and the long ridge on your left. The river will now widen, and just as the waters disappear again, keep looking out on your left for a larger wash; there will (unfortunately) be ATV tracks. This is Dinosaur Wash – name unexplained – and it makes for a stunningly beautiful and scenic hike between two parallel ridges through a saguaro forest marching up the ridge on your left. As you set out, look up to your left to the northeast corner of the ridge near the top and you’ll see the Mistake Mine entrance gaping in the rock. Being worked as a manganese mine, it also yielded a secondary metal, ramsdellite (manganese oxide), shiny, silver black metallic crystals that delight gem collectors.

along Dinosaur Washan abandoned moineshaft along the hike - stay out! if you go in, you'll have bats flying at your face

The trail mostly follows the wash, but will take you over rocky outcropping to circumnavigate dry falls in narrow gulches that are a bit of a scramble to negotiate directly; impossible for horses, hence the trail around. You’ll feel you are in a desert botanical garden; well, you are, except it’s all natural and not contrived. Enjoy the beauty and tranquility of this remote spot, so close to town and yet you feel you’re all alone.

After some two miles you’ll see a distinctive ruddy-topped mountain peak. Also look to your right for some strangely-eroded outcroppings that look like, well, bears playing piggy-back – or so (not going to mention here the unofficial name of this formation).

what does this interesting formation look like to you?

As you gain a bit of elevation the wash bends to the right a bit so that this ruddy top now seems to be dead ahead of you. Slightly further on after a good three miles up the wash you will encounter a pack/jeep trail. Here you can either turn around and go back the way you came or turn left onto the pack trail. It swerves a bit then follows the top of that ridge between you and the river to your north and gives you sensational and breathtaking vistas all around. You can see distinctive Vulture Peak off on the horizon, see the town, but also the other way across the Hassayampa far into the Hassayampa River Canyon wilderness and the Wickenburg Mountains.

grand panoramic view to the Hassayampa River Canyon Wilderness and the Wickenburg Mountainsand towards town. Vulture Peak is peeking over the ridge line at roughly 10 o'clock in the middle ground to the left.

The trail will take you to the very front of the ridge and you’ll look down into the Narrows, the Gap and Box Canyon, then wind round the top and go back down to the riverbed past the Mistake Mine. Careful on the last few serpentines of trail before you reach the river: the last few yards are steep and there are many loose rocks, so mind your step. This is the only precarious part; the rest of the whole loop is very easy to hike.

Parking and then just seeing Box Canyon and the Narrows takes no stamina or fitness, but the Dinosaur Wash hike is only for ‘hikers’, and if you decide to add this loop to the short river excursion, make sure you bring plenty of water, a snack or two (salty to replace electrolytes lost with sweat). Wear sturdy shoes with good soles and a cap. You’ll find shady spots, but most of it is in the sun.

To get to Box Canyon follow US 93 north out of Wickenburg as far as milepost 195. Turn right onto Scenic Loop Road . This road is unpaved but graded and can usually be easily negotiated by a sedan (except after a couple of violent rainstorm that wash it out). It is maintained and makes for a smooth drive most of the time. Go roughly seven miles; the road will lead down around the backside of the Black Hills and as it more or less levels out, you’ll see the distinctive ridge to your right. There’s a BLM “No dumping” sign. Park there and walk down the sandy and gouged jeep track to the river. Turn upriver (left) for the Narrows, and downriver (right) for Box Canyon , the Gap and Dinosaur Wash.