If you enjoy hiking, photography and the solitude that is afforded in the area east of Wickenburg, then I recommend a hike down Slim Jim Creek. This area is rich in scenery, wildlife and mining history, and creek bed and walls provide a visually stunning record of geology that can be appreciated by anyone. I specifically use the term “hiking” because there is no other way to complete the entire route than on foot.
My Definition of Slim Jim Creek
For purposes of this article, I divide the route into three geographically unequal but logical and convenient segments:
- Upper Slim Jim Creek – the segment between Buckhorn and Constellation Roads. This portion of the creek provides access to several mines and historically significant sites.
- Middle Slim Jim Creek – the segment of creek from Constellation Road heading generally east to the point where a trail joins the creek from the Monte Cristo Mine (from the south). This segment includes the Black Rock Mine with its shaft, tunnels, buildings and cemeteries, as well as side gulches and interesting geology.
- Lower Slim Jim Creek – the segment along the creek that extends from the terminus of the Monte Cristo trail west to the Hassayampa River. This segment of the creek contains – by far – the most rewarding trek through the fascinating geology of the area, and includes tunnels, a route to the ATOS Mine and, of course, the Hassayampa River.
This article is confined to Lower Slim Jim Creek and, therefore provides only cursory discussion of the ATOS/George Washington mine.
How to Get There
The GPS coordinates provided in this article are listed in NAD27 format: DDD-MM-SS.S. Conversion to alternate reference systems will be up to the reader. All location references may be found on the USGS Morgan Butte Quadrangle, Grid numbers 4-5 and 31-32. See the later section titled “Travel & Hiking Coordinates” for more details.
Access to Lower Slim Jim Creek is achieved by traveling from Wickenburg up Constellation Road to a point about 100 yards west of the Monte Cristo Mine. Here, turn left onto a trail that runs generally in a NNW direction. Bear right at the first (and only) fork and continue heading in the NNW direction.
Along the way you will pass the shaft of the Texas Group Mine on your right. Shortly after this point, at a distance of about one mile to your right (northeast) you will also see the Black Rock Mine. As you proceed along the trail you will come to a cattle gate separating the grazing leases of the JV and Williams ranches. This gate has been closed each time I have passed through the area, so I recommend that you close it after passing through. From this point until you reach the creek, I recommend that you use lower 4WD gears and proceed slowly to help preserve the condition of the trail. Upon reaching the creek bed, you will turn left and proceed down (WNW) Slim Jim. I define this trail junction as the beginning of Lower Slim Jim Creek. Elevation at this point is approximately 3040 ft.
4WD and ATV vehicles can travel down the creek as far as the trailhead to the ATOS Mine, which departs the creek bed at GPS: 34 o 04′ 34N by 112 o 35′ 47″W (located in Grid #32 of the Morgan Butte Quadrangle). There is modest space to park one or two vehicles without obstructing access to the ATOS trail. From this point forward you should be on foot. Although it is possible to continue a short distance beyond this point on an ATV, doing so virtually guarantees that you will see no wildlife.
Hiking in Lower Slim Jim
Turn left upon entering the creek. You will find yourself in a rather broad, sandy wash that initially heads in a northwesterly direction. At this point the creek will appear to be unremarkable; but this view will quickly change! The creek will become more constricted as you begin a series of bends and turns and you will soon encounter the first examples of the fascinating geology in the creek, as evidenced in Figures 1 and 2, below.
Figures 1& 2. Geology in Lower Slim Jim Creek
Seams and bands of volcanic extrusion rock characterize Lower Slim Jim Creek and, as you continue down, you will encounter numerous formations that suggest a violent creation in eons past. The area is highly mineralized and you will see several types of granite, quartz and diorite, as well as dark ore-bearing bands that suggest the presence of gold and copper. The creek bed itself is a virtual stream of sparkling, crystallized stones and chrysacolla. I am not a geologist, so I cannot begin to describe the many types of rock that you will see.
By the way, don’t stow your camera on the way back out! The light conditions and time of day in Slim Jim Creek will reveal interesting rock patterns that were not visible on the way down to the river.
Figures 3 and 4 below provide further examples of the rock formations in Slim Jim. These photos show the two most significant granite dikes that cross the creek bed. There are no practical routes around these dikes; so you will need to scale your way up and down them. Each photo view is taken from below the respective dike looking upstream.
Figure 3. Granite Dike in Lower Slim Jim Creek
The dike in Figure #3 is approximately eight feet in height at the point where you descend. There are ample spots to establish safe footing as you climb this location as well as the dike in Figure #4. The vertical height of the next dike is probably closer to twelve feet at the point of ascent/descent.
Figure 4. Additional Granite Dike Formation
A few hundred yards beyond the ATOS trailhead you will arrive at a location that has been fenced off in the creek bed. This is the site of a placer claim that appears to be active, although it is not continuously worked (see Figure #5 below). I have yet to encounter anyone at this site, but I would urge caution and respect as you pass through the area. As the old saying goes, “Friendly is as friendly does.”
Figure 5. Placer Claim in Lower Slim Jim Creek
As you near the end of Slim Jim Creek you will find two mine tunnels that appear to have been exploratory in nature (see Figure #6, below). Each tunnel is approximately 20 to 30 feet in length and was dug into very conspicuous ore-bearing bands of rock. These tunnels are on opposite sides (east and west) of the creek and contain no vertical shafts. I have found no historical references that would connect them to the ATOS (George Washington) or White mines, although the White is much closer in proximity. The floors of both tunnels are covered with sand deposited from past runoffs. This should give you some appreciation for the potential water flow through the creek after heavy storms.
Figure 6. East Tunnel in Lower Slim Jim Creek
Vegetation in Lower Slim Jim Creek
The vegetation in Lower Slim Jim Creek is typical of the high desert. The area is full of color from late February until late May. You will see an abundance of Ocotillo, Saguaro, Barrel Cactus, Prickly Pear and Beavertail, as well as Hedge Hog, Pincushion and several varieties of Cholla cactus.
Flowering plants will include Mexican Poppy, Brittle Bush, Desert Marigold and Globemallow, as well as many lesser-known species in the creek bed and on the hillsides. I did not see any Mariposa Lily this year, but the lack of rain in the past three years is probably a factor. Naturally, you will see many Mesquite, Palo Verde and Acacia trees that bloom in the spring season, as well as Jojoba bushes.
If you are seeking views of uncommon species, you will be rewarded with plants such as the Twining Snapdragon vine, as illustrated in Figure #7 below. This specimen is located west of the ATOS trailhead in the creek and produces blooms from April through October.
Figure 7. Twining Snapdragon
Once you reach the terminus of the creek at the Hassayampa River, you will find many flowering trees, including the specimen in Figure #8 below that I have not yet identified.
Figure 8. Flowering Trees at Terminus of Slim Jim Creek
Wildlife in Lower Slim Jim Creek
The creek bed will contain many tracks of coyotes, fox, squirrels, deer and javelina in the first half of this hike. I have seen deer, quail, Gila Monsters, a variety of interesting lizards and, of course, snakes while hiking through the creek. As it progressively narrows toward the terminus at the Hassayampa, you will see fewer signs of these animals, however. Figure #9 below shows an Eastern Collared Lizard that I was fortunate to photograph in the wash east of Slim Jim Creek; but this species occupies Slim Jim as well. This particular lizard measured between 14″ – 16″ in length.
Figure 9. Eastern Collared Lizard – Crotaphytus collaris
Bird enthusiasts will particularly enjoy the areas upstream and downstream along the Hassayampa River. The habitat is quite similar to the Hassayampa River Preserve south of Wickenburg, although it is not as densely wooded. With a bit of luck, you may also see large groups of vultures socializing on the rocky bluffs just west of the creek where the river makes a turn to the north.
If you were climbing a mountain peak, the reward would be reaching the top. In this case, the reward is reaching the bottom – arriving at the Hassayampa River! Upon emerging from Slim Jim Creek you will be near the confluence of the creek and river. Elevation at this point is approximately 2520 ft., so you will have descended about 520 feet from the point of entry into lower Slim Jim. To your right (upstream) you can hike a distance of approximately four miles to the Williams Ranch. See Figure #10 below. The banks of the Hassayampa are well covered with several types of trees in both directions. There is plenty of shade, grass along the banks, and even some large sandy “beach” areas. It is a great place to consider over-night camping if you are so inclined. Unfortunately, your solitude may be disturbed by the sounds of ATVs driving up and down the riverbed – especially on weekends. A hike of approximately 1.5 miles to your left (downstream) will bring you to the next wash near the old White Mine mill. This wash will lead southeast to the Unida Mine Group that was described in Lee Pearson’s recent article. Although it is unnamed on the USGS map, local tradition calls it “Unida Wash.”
Figure 10. Hassayampa River at Lower Slim Jim Creek – Looking East
After a rest and lunch, it will be time to head back up the creek to your vehicle. Changing light conditions in the wash will reward you with as many photographic opportunities on the return as you had hiking down. I recommend that you time your exit so that you will reach Constellation Road before sundown. Negotiating some of the narrow turns and boulders in the creek (between the ATOS trailhead and the Monte Cristo trail) will be more difficult in the dark!
Slim Jim Creek and mining history are inseparably linked. Indeed, if it were not for the veins of gold, silver and copper that run through this area, there would have been no mines. But mines also required equipment, supplies and a means to transport ore. Lower Slim Jim Creek served as a “highway” of sorts for access to the ATOS/George Washington mine. Other mines used the relatively flat and sandy portions in the middle and upper sections of the creek in the same way. The trail to the ATOS mine only emerges from the creek at a point where further vehicle travel downstream becomes impossible. As you hike through this area, imagine seeing a team of mules pulling a wagon on its slow and arduous journey between the mine and Wickenburg or points beyond.
The stream bed renews itself after every runoff from storms – it is cleansed (at least temporarily) of all evidence of human passage. The old mine trails that lead into Slim Jim Creek are not as fortunate, however. Natural erosion and vehicle traffic take an inevitable toll. Please drive these old trails responsibly so that we all can continue to access and enjoy these areas in future times.
Before You Go
Regardless of the time of year that you choose to hike lower Slim Jim Creek, there are some fundamental, common sense things you should consider before hiking in this area:
- Let someone know specifically where you are going before you depart and when you plan to return. If you get in trouble, there is no cell phone signal in this area!
- Be absolutely certain that your vehicle is in good working condition and that you have sufficient fuel, oil, coolant and good tires. Getting a tow truck into Slim Jim Creek will probably cost you a fortune.
- Bring plenty of water and energy snacks. Depending on the season that you hike, your need for water could vary greatly. Remember that what you hiked “down,” you will be hiking “up” on the way out. Your energy expenditure and need for water will increase. I characterize this hike as “moderate” in the scale of effort required, but I hike one or two times a week. Make sure that you are properly hydrated before you start. For the record, I carry four to six pints of water in my backpack for this section of the creek, but I also have additional water in the cooler after returning to my vehicle. During the warmer season you might even consider making a “water drop” somewhere along the hike so that you will have a cache on your way out.
- Appropriate clothing, including hiking shoes with good, firm soles and a hat is essential. You might also consider bringing a pair of leather gloves.
- Allow a combined travel and hiking time of at least six hours. If you decide to hike up or downstream along the Hassayampa River, allow more time – and water.
Some additional things to keep in mind.
- At the time of publication, there is a placer mine claim in the creek bed a few hundred yards downstream and west of the ATOS trailhead. This claim appears to be active, although not continuously worked. This is public land and you have a right to pass through the area. Be courteous and respect the claim-owner’s rights.
- From mid-April through September you can expect to see snakes. Be alert.
- Don’t become a statistic. DO NOT attempt to hike this section of the creek if there are heavy storms in the upper watershed. The drop in elevation between the peaks at the top end of Slim Jim Creek and the Hassayampa is about 2100 feet. Heavy winter or monsoon rains can produce sudden and significant water flow. There are several locations where the width of the creek is very narrow, and the “high water mark” in these areas is quite impressive. The runoff from light rains will produce only a small stream, but continuous rainfall in the upper watershed can generate heavy, and potentially catastrophic, water flow. I have seen runoff continue for more than a week after a single storm.
- Know and understand your own capabilities. If you are a “cool weather” hiker, you may want to defer hiking in Slim Jim Creek until the November-April time frame.
- If you find that the return hike is becoming overly strenuous, take a rest break in a shady spot. You might also find that walking on the gravel surfaces is easier than the sandy areas of the creek bed – it will take less effort and it will be easier to gain traction!
- The sand-gravel mix in the lower creek bed compacts very nicely in dry conditions. If you enter the area with a vehicle after a heavy runoff, I cannot guarantee that you will not experience problems. Be aware of the conditions and don’t overestimate the capabilities of your 4WD vehicle.
- Plan to take photos and leave only footprints. Pack out what you carry in! The Lower Slim Jim Creek area is pristine. Leave it that way.
Travel & Hiking Coordinates
As previously stated, all coordinates are listed in 1927 North American Datum, (NAD27), which appears on USGS Quad maps.
- Distance from the Wickenburg Rodeo Grounds to the lower Slim Jim Creek turnoff at the Monte Cristo Mine is 10.4 miles.
- Turnoff from Constellation Road to lower Slim Jim Creek:
34o 03′ 54″N by 112 o 35′ 04″ W – Morgan Butte Grid #4
- Entrance to lower Slim Jim Creek:
34 o 04′ 26″N by 112 o 35′ 22″W – Morgan Butte Grid #32
Elevation is approximately 3040 ft.
- Trailhead to ATOS Mine in lower Slim Jim Creek:
34 o 04′ 34″N by 112 o 35′ 47″W – Morgan Butte Grid #32
Hiking distance from ATOS trailhead to Hassayampa River is 1.55 miles, yielding a total distance of 3.1 miles.
- Lower Slim Jim Creek at the Hassayampa River:
34 o 04′ 56.9N by 112 o 36′ 55.2″W – Morgan Butte Grid #31
Elevation is approximately 2520 ft.
If you have any questions about directions or content of this article, please use the comments link or form for this article. Good hiking!
Last 5 posts by Allan Hall
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