View Full Version : Wakefield Canyon, Spring and Cabin (Arizona)

12-13-2012, 03:45 PM
Wakefield Canyon, Arizona

I recently went to a place in southern Arizona called Wakefield Canyon. I had heard about a cabin in the foothills of the Whetstone Mountains a few times over the years, one with gardens and a grove of apple trees. Sort of an oasis in the desert. But since no one could give me any specific details, I put the information in the back of my mind for later retrieval (for those who know me, thatís a risky venture). Then, in the last month, two different sources told me about this mythical place. They did not have much more specific information other than itís ďover thereĒ pointing to the northern side of the Whetstone Mountains, but I took it as a sign.

I first went to my ďnormalĒ sources, Google Earth and Geocaching.com. I began looking at geocaches in the area (many geocaches can lead you to interesting places). The first thing that caught my eye was a geocache at a spring and a cabin. I clicked on it and Ö it was the cabin at Apache Springs I had visited the weekend before. Darn, should have looked at the geocaching site before we went out there. Back to searching for the other cabin. No luck. Nothing with a cabin in it. But, there was a series of geocaches made for four-wheeling in the area that seemed interesting, so I started looking through them, thinking I may do this series for fun by itself.

Then, by shear luck, I found pay dirt! One of the geocaches showed a picture of a cabin in the area that looked promising. It wasnít part of the geocache series and did not have any information on where it was other than ďalong the wayĒ on a different way out. A few hours on Google Earth and some emails to fellow geocachers and I had coordinates to the cabin! The following is our adventure to the site:

Five vehicles: four Jeeps and a 2003 Tacoma (my old truck that was bought by a friend) met at the Sonoita and I-10 exit at around 8 am. After some introductions, we climbed aboard our 21st Century ponies and headed out. About 5 miles east of Highway 83, we pulled off I-10 and went through a gate at a dirt road. We aired down, though I didnít expect too rough of a trail.

The first few miles are high-clearance 2WD/easy 4WD that take you through really nice small canyons, ridge lines and valleys. Surprisingly, we came to a flowing water crossing. After such a long drought, we had no idea where the water was coming from.

A few hundred yards later, we passed a large dirt cattle tank that the water was flowing out of Ė mystery solved. After passing the Pantano Electric Substation, we headed down into another small canyon. At the bottom of the canyon was a large washout, one in which you couldnít see what was at the bottom very well over the hood due to the steepness of this portion of the trail. I put my trust in my Jeep and went through it. My sister looked out the passengerís side window and yelled, ďKeep left, keep left!Ē I held my line, but never saw what concerned her.

I called back on the radio to see if my friend in my old Tacoma wanted some help, as he might have some problems with his longer wheelbase. Too late, he had misjudged the obstacle and went way right, falling into what my sister had seen: A three to four foot deep washout. He was at a fairly bad angle, with one rear wheel high in the air. He tried to back out, but all it did was send that wheel higher in the air, threatening to roll him over. Now, the long wheel base was helping him out. A 2dr Jeep would have rolled if in the same position. Not wanting to test the rooftop crumple zones on the Tacoma, we hooked up a strap to one of the Jeeps behind him and one easy tug later, he was out.


Damage inventory: small dents in the bumper, slightly pushed in on one side and after some Exacto knife cutting of the plastic piece to cut it away from the tire, we were ready to go again. Hopefully, no more of that kind of excitement for the rest of the trip. We did have to stack some rocks in the washout for him to make it through, this time along the line I took.

Quickly, we turned off the main road onto a seldom used two track. This area is historic rand land and we saw lots of past and present reminders of that, with lots of windmills and tanks and corrals.

We zigzagged our way through a bunch of turnoffs and trails until we came to a point across from a dam I had found on my Topo map and Google Earth. There was no trail to it and I warned the people with me that I often get myself into more than I should and said they could stay back if they wanted to. All were good sports and decided to go along. Itís not a long hike, but itís through some dense and very prickly underbrush. If you decide to do this, wear some thick long pants and a long sleeved shirt or you may end of with a bunch of cuts. More than one person tore open their pants on this adventure. The dam was filled in on the high side and about 15 feet tall. It was made out of concrete and concave (which you donít see often in these small, homebuilt dams). Kudos go out to the builders.

After a prickly bushwhack back to the vehicles, we loaded up to find a spring (which was another item of interest I found on the geocaching site). Parts of the trail from here to the spring were overgrown and extremely brushy. If you love your paint, you may not want to do this trip. Route finding can be difficult. There are TONS of old roads out here and getting lost would be very easy. The trail comes and goes out of the washes without much reason and little notice.

We found the spring, but that was an adventure in itself. But it was beautiful, crystal clear water and flowing from behind a wall of ferns. The pictures donít do it justice.


After finding the spring, we headed out for the cabin. As you come down into a small canyon, you will see if off to your left. A very cool sight.


Thereís ample parking for a number of trucks by it. It looks like fairly recent construction with stucco on the outside and modern stuff on the inside (ceiling fans, stainless steel sink). Thereís some interesting artwork on the outside in a language I donít know. The rockwork is really nice as is the wood porch. Thereís an old outhouse and carport next to it. There were a few stone pathways that led to what looked like old gardens, but we never found any apple trees (we didnít have a great deal of time at that point). So maybe this isnít the cabin I was looking for.


After exploring the area, we headed toward Empirita Ranch via the quick way out. The canyon next to the cabin is really beautiful with large trees and interesting canyon walls. This is where a second washout that will give long wheel based vehicles issues is located. It was a great deal of fun going through it.

Once out of this canyon, you will go in and out of a few more canyons until you reach a gate that means youíre entering the Empirita Ranch area (Empirita Ranch permit required). From here on out, the trail becomes high clearance 2WD and is much easier. You will find a locked gate and a sign in station near the exit (the permit gives you the combo). After that, itís a quick and easy escape to I-10. When we finally got to pavement after almost 30 miles, the sun was going down and the wind was coming up. It was COLD. Cat-dog was ready for her nap so we shook hands, got in the trucks and headed home.

So, did I find the cabin with the apple trees. I THINK so, but donít know for sure. It looks like I will have to do some more research Ö or just head back out and do some more exploring :-).

Tons more pictures, video, detailed maps, GPS coordinates, history, etc can be found at:

The gallery can be found at: http://www.experience-az.com/adventures/4wd/wakefieldcanyon/wakefieldcanyongallery.html

The video can be found at: http://www.experience-az.com/adventures/4wd/wakefieldcanyon/wakefieldcanyonvideo.html

bob3 was bob2
12-13-2012, 06:50 PM
What an awesome find! Bummer for the guy in the Toyota, but at least he had you guys there to help get him out.

12-14-2012, 09:17 AM
Outstanding post! I love living vicariously though other folks adventures.
You guys do it right.
Lots of rigs in case someone gets stuck, and the means to get them "un-stuck."
( If no one gets stuck, we're not having enough fun yet )

Earning your "Arizona pin strips" through the brush. We call them Idaho pin-stripes up here.

I am always amazed when I find beautiful flowing springs in the middle of the
harshest deserts. It's always strikes me as a phenomena.
( Geologist - please don't blow the magic for me ) :D

Great pics.
Thank you.

12-15-2012, 09:34 AM
Nice find on the old house. I did not know that it was there. I walked into Wakefield spring a few years ago. There was less water then that what appears to be there today. There are a couple of springs south and closer to the main mountain mass that have a much greater flow than Wakefield. They are a worthy destination themselves. They are Nogales Spring and Little Nogales Spring. A well-defined smuggler's trail goes that way from Apache Springs Cabin that you had as an earlier post. The springs can also be accessed by navigating rough roads from the area described here.

12-19-2012, 07:35 AM
I'm glad I'm not the only ghost towner that is also a geocacher!!

12-20-2012, 05:40 PM
Awesome post and story! Thanks!!!