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Box Canyon and the Slot

Box Canyon is a popular destination for many Wickenburg residents who want to do a little 4-wheeling. It’s especially popular in the summertime, when desert temperatures soar. We take out-of-town visitors to the canyon quite often, but this November, we also took along the digital camera to record our trip for wickenburg-az.com.

The Drive

Getting to Box Canyon is relatively easy — if you have a 4-wheel drive vehicle. Take 93 (North Tegner) north out of town. Turn right on Rincon road. Follow this dirt road across the riverbed where it becomes paved again. Continue following it to cross the riverbed a second time. The pavement ends again. Continue until you get to the remains of a mine, complete with black tailings. There’s an intersection there, with a double-wide manufactured home and some other structures on the right. Rincon Road continues up and to the left, but you want to go straight and then to the left. This will take you on a rough road that goes right down to the river. (You could also just drive up the river bed from either of the two Rincon Road crossings, but this way is a bit faster because you spend more time on improved roads.)

River BedIn the river bed, follow the tracks made by other vehicles. Unless the river has flooded recently, there should be plenty of tracks to follow. There is no “right way” to go. The “wrong way” is where other vehicles have not driven — driving on soft sand is a good way to discover quicksand and get stuck.

At most times of the year, the point at which you enter the riverbed should be dry. If water is flowing there, however, the water is likely to be flowing even harder upstream. This may make it impossible to reach Box Canyon. Proceed with caution. If you get stuck, it’ll cost $150 or more to get a tow out. (We know this from experience; we once tried to cross the river when it was at least 100 feet wide and almost made it.)

Cows in RiverThe riverbed is a mixture of sandy spots and rocky spots, with some vegetation. Don’t be surprised to see cattle roaming the area. You may also see roadrunners, javelina, and coyote. As for human wildlife, you’re likely to see other 4-wheelers, including jeeps, ATVs, and dune buggies. The Wickenburg Jeep Tours often go to Box Canyon; more on that later. You may also see hikers and horseback riders. When driving past hikers with loose dogs or horseback riders, be sure to drive slowly and give them plenty of space.

The Hassasampa River

The RiverIf you didn’t see water in the riverbed when you entered it, after a while, you should begin seeing it. It usually starts as a wet area of sand. As you continue upstream, the wetness turns to a trickle of water. Then a steam. The farther upstream you travel, the more water you’ll see.

Now this is completely opposite to what folks in non-desert areas expect to see. Normally, the farther upstream you go, the less water there is. But the Hassayampa is different. It’s riverbed is mostly sandy, so the water seeps underground. That’s why it’s dry where it “flows” under the bridge on East Wickenburg Way in town. But in rocky areas, such as the Box Canyon and Hassayampa River Preserve areas, the water can’t travel beneath the surface, so it comes to the ground. As you travel up the river towards Box Canyon, you’re seeing where the water seeps back into the ground.

Box Canyon

Box Canyon EntranceAfter a while and several river crossings, you’ll arrive at Box Canyon. The entrance is marked with a number of large salt cedar trees. If you go on a weekend, there may be campers in this area. The box is beyond them.

If you’re on the right side of the river as you travel upstream, cross the river and park your vehicle. From there, it’s short stroll to the box.

Box CanyonTo those of you unfamiliar with the term “box canyon,” a box canyon is a canyon closed in on three sides. If you can walk into the box, you’ll soon find yourself at a dead end. You’ll see a chute where floodwaters coming down from the desert above enter the canyon. It’s those waters that have carved out the box.

When I first started touring Box Canyon, we could walk all the way into the box. A number of party members even climbed up the chute to the canyon above. But during the summer of 1999, heavy rainstorms sent a lot of water into the box. The water collected there and, since it could not seem through the rock below, formed a pool of muddy water. By our November 1999 visit, the water had receded a bit, mostly through evaporation. But it was still impossible to walk to the back of the box without getting knee-deep in muddy water. Hopefully, the box will dry out soon so it can receive visitors again.

The flooding during the summer of 1999 also washed away much of the soil around the roots of the huge trees at the mouth of Box Canyon. The area beyond the trees remains a good camping spot. Near the river, you’ll also find the foundation of a home or cabin that once stood on the spot.

Unfortunately, many campers leave their trash behind. Although the folks who run the Wickenburg Jeep Tours often carry out the trash of these inconsiderate people, don’t be surprised if you see trash there. If you decide to camp or picnic at Box Canyon, please take out whatever you brought in. And, if you have a few spare moments, consider picking up some of the trash left behind by others. The Box Canyon area is privately owned; if abuse continues, the owner may close the area to all visitors. It would be a shame to lose such a special place because of the thoughlessness of a few selfish individuals.

The Slot and Beyond

Upriver from Box CanyonUp river, beyond Box Canyon, is what I call “the Slot.” This slot canyon normally has the most river flow and makes an excellent place to escape the summer heat.

Slot CanyonTo folks unfamiliar with the term “slot canyon,” a slot canyon is a narrow canyon carved out by water flow. Some slot canyons are so narrow, you can barely walk through. Our slot canyon is a bit wider; at its narrowest point, it can still fit two cars side by side.

Drive upstream, beyond the flood monitoring device (a metalic tube with ladder and antenna) on the left. You’ll soon enter the slot. It’s about a quarter mile long and usually has sand bars on either side. If possible, find a place to park on the sand, get out your lawn chairs, and relax in the shade. You may get splashed by passing vehicles, but when the temperature exceeds 100 in the shade, you certainly don’t mind.

One thing to keep in mind here; during the summer monsoon season months, heavy rainfalls upstream and in the Bradshaw Mountains make the Box Canyon area — particularly the Slot — a dangerous flash flood area. Don’t enter the slot if it’s raining nearby. Monitor water levels during your stay. If the water levels appear to rise — even a little bit — leave. Be sure to have your departure route planned before visiting the Slot.

WaterfallFarther upsteam, the canyon opens again and the road gets even rougher. Few visitors get this far, so it you’re looking for a quiet place to spend a Sunday afternoon, this may be it. You’ll need a high clearance vehicle to get over some of the rocks. We found a small waterfall with two pools perfect for soaking our feet. If our visit had been in the summertime, we would have been sitting in the same pools.

Jeep in RiverAfter the rocky bit, the road smooths out again. You can continue upstream, but I haven’t been much farther. If I recall correctly, seldom-used roads with quicksand as well as fences stopped us. Remember, much of the riverbed up here is on private property, so you want to obey any “No Tresspassing” signs you see. Also, be sure to close any gate you go through. Much of the land is used to graze cattle and the ranchers depend on fences and closed gates to keep the cows where they belong.

Returning Home

There are actually three good ways to get in and out of the canyon. The first and most often used is the one I already tols you about for getting in.

Another road comes into the canyon between Box Canyon and the Slot. It’s on the left side of the river as you go upstream, right before the canyon starts to narrow. There’s a lot of sand and trees there. The road, which is rocky, climbs up the side of a cliff. Because of erosion, you may find yourself driving dangerously close to the cliff edge. Once on top of the hill, bear left on the narrow dirt road. In less than a quarter mile, you’ll find yourself on a maintained dirt road called Scenic Loop. Make a left and follow that all the way back to 93, a distance of at least 5 miles. Make a left on 93 to go back to Wickenburg. (Note: Folks without 4-wheel drive vehicles who don’t mind hiking, may find this a good entry point for the canyon. Any vehicle can reach the parking area at the top of the hill here.)

A third road comes into the canyon after the slot. It’s also on the left, right where the river area opens up. Take it up a hill, past some ruins. Bear left on the narrow dirt road to get to the maintained Scenic Loop. Make a left and follow that about 6 miles to 93. Make another left to go to Wickenburg.

LichenOn our November trip, we were a bit more adventurous. We’d heard there was a jeep road from Constellation Road to the river and we were determined to find it. We went down the river bed, past Box Canyon and past the point where the water seeped into the sand. We found what looked like a road on our left and took it. We soon found ourselves in another canyon with fallen rocks that made treacherous obstacles and desert broom lining the narrow road. At the point where the road climbed a steep, rocky hill, we stopped to check out a smaller box canyon with a sandy bottom. Yellow, orange, and pale green lichen covered the rock walls. It was a pretty spot, shady in the early afternoon.

Little Slot CanyonWe continued on our way and the road got worse and worse, until we reached a point where we felt we could not continue. We backtracked and left the riverbed the same way we came. Although we hadn’t found a passable route to Constellation, we felt some satisfaction in our attempt.

And I’m still cleaning fuzzies from the desert broom out of my jeep.

Trip Details

Distance: About 15 miles round trip.
Time: About 2 Hours, including time to get out and walk around
Features: Hassayampa River (with water!), box canyon, slot canyon
Driving Conditions: Half of the trip is on paved or otherwise improved roads. Last few miles is in Hassayampa River bed. 4 wheel drive vehicle required; high clearance recommended.
Equipment: Bring water, shoes you don’t mind getting wet, and your camera. In the summer time, you may want to wear shorts or a swimsuit and bring lawn chairs for sitting in the water. It’s also a great place for a picnic lunch!

Last 5 posts by Maria Langer

8 comments to Box Canyon and the Slot

  • Betty Jean Bannister

    The floods of 2004 have filled the canyon deeper in sand.
    It makes for a wider driving area.
    I was there August of 2004 right after the cloud burst
    there was a lot of soft sand. I sank down to just above
    my knees..which effectively limits most of your ability
    to extracate yourself. Just had to throw myself flat and
    crawl through the soft to the harder sand. Scary though it
    was, I think the soft sand is not like “over your head” deep
    not that I was going to experiment to find out. Later
    wading in soft sand with a pebbly bottom under foot, gave me
    more confidence in the beauty and safety of Box Canyon.

  • jared

    took my first tour of the area today which i found on this informatiojn site. The area was awesome, i read that this land is privately owned and i appreciate anybody that would allow visitors to this area. I just recently got in to 4 wheeling and was amazed at the scenery of box canyon. I read the warnings and went with some friends be aware the quick sand is definately there i found it and had to be pulled out by a couple jeeps. this trail should be appreciated by many and was a wonderfdul saturday drive. I hope to return and camp out for the weekend soon as there are many spots that would be very ideal for camping and playing. I also appreciated that this area was not abused and i hope it stays that way, please pick up after yourself and remember it is always best to NOT leave your mark. ENJOY ARIZONA!!!

  • Ol' John Mahoney

    Two jeeps took seven of my family on a wonderful tour of Box Canyon and many other plkaces. Our ages went from 13-years ,up to 85-years.and all had a large afternoon. We hope to do another tour with them soom. Thistour is highly recommended for all ages. Wobderful views of the true desert!!

  • sadie

    I used to love Box, its a high school past time for me and friends. Everyone quit going because people are so messy. Don’t forget to clean up after yourselves and be respectful to others. This place is so beautiful and we all try to keep it that way. If you come to visit Wickenburg this is one place you can’t miss.

  • Eric

    there needs to be some kind of signs or something telling people that dnt know and it would most likely get people second thinking what they do with there trash i’ve noticed a lot of people that don’t even think about pickin up there trash there needs to be something to let people know or remind them idk I’m out there almost daily and am tired of it to and p.s. there’s a lot more out there than a river and a canyon

  • John

    I just read this post. I am in Wickenbuurg right now, and intend on exploring the area. As far as needing signs to tell you to pack out your trash, Is this needed. Anyone with a half a brain should Know this! I find that it is most of the locals that don’t respect this rule.

  • Allan Hall

    Unfortunately, “half-brains” are a well distributed sub-species that are found across this state and nation – they are not unique to Wickenburg. If you will read some of the old postings under the heading of “Moose Brigade” you will see there is a direct correlation between the volume of litter and seasonal visitors to the area.

    When the Moose Brigade was operational a couple of years ago, their collection of trash on Constellation and Blue Tank Roads showed that cool weather visitors, including weekend ATV recreationists from outside Wickenburg, deposited significantly larger volumes of trash in the desert than was found during the warm season. Presumably, the half-brains were spreading their litter someplace else once it became too hot for them to enjoy our area.

    Unfortunately, Box Canyon is a nearby secluded spot that seems to be one of the favored sites for under age drinking parties. This area is not patrolled by Wickenburg police or the Yavapai County Sheriff’s office. I would agree with you that “Don’t Litter” signs are of little use. The problem boils down to mental slobs who have no appreciation of our desert. The terms “Clean” and “Beautiful” are not in their vocabulary.

    If you go hiking in The Box, please take a couple of large garbage bags with you. You will need them…

  • I am from the north-west of the UK 6 miles south of the city of Manchester in a town called Stockport in the county of Cheshire, on my first trip to the USA I stayed with a cousin who lives in `Congress AZ` , on the first morning of my stay with him he took me to see Box Canyon , what a beautiful magical mystical place it is, next year 2011 my wife is coming with me to the US for her first trip to the US we will be staying for a few days with my cousin in Congress, and one of the places I want to take her will be Box Canyon after a nice lunch in my other favourite place Wickenburg.
    At 64 I’m retired now and I tell you if I lived in that area I would gladly volunteer to spend time clearing up the litter in Box Canyon, having said that to be honest whether it is due to the efforts of locals on not I can say in all honesty I didn’t spot much if any litter in the area.either way its a beautiful area as is all of Arizona , cant wait to return !!!.