Hassayampa River to Fools Canyon

A long time ago in Arizona, the Indians came upon a river that flowed above ground only when it wanted to. The rest of the time the river would only peek above ground a little here and a little there. The rest of the river chose to flow underground, giving the appearance of being only a dried out riverbed. For this reason the Indians named the river the Hassayampa, which means “the upside-down river”.

On April 8, 2000, I was fortunate enough to go with six other off-road vehicles (Jeeps outnumbered the others 3:1) for a great day of adventure near Wickenburg, Arizona.  We were exploring the Hassayampa River upstream of Wickenburg, AZ.  The plan was to go up the river to Fools Canyon, which lies several hours up the river.  The other trivia fact of this little off-road trip was that all of the adult participants were ham radio operators.  Don’t ask me to repeat any call signs (OK, Tom, I can remember yours on account of knowing you for several years).   Heck, I was lucky to make it to the end of the day and not get everyone’s name all messed up!

We headed northwest out of Wickenburg, turning off on Rincon Road.  A couple of miles down the road and we left the asphalt behind.   This was a good place to stop and air down.

Donna snapped a picture of some of us airing down

We stopped by the river to take a group photo of all the mighty adventurer’s.  Donna being the Girl Scout leader that she is, noticed some smoke about 100 yards away, across the river.  After the picture, we drove over to investigate and sure enough, a camp fire was still smoldering.  I grabbed the small utility shovel from the back of Lady (you do carry one, right?) and Donna took a trash bag down to the river to get some water.  Several bags of water and a goodly amount of dirt and things were in a much better status.  Although not certain, it was most likely the left over bon fire from the previous night’s beer party…..or, some very sloppy campers.


Spring being spring, and Donna being herself, she snapped a few shots of the local flora at one of our stops.  The desert really has a lot of plants in it and in the March and April time frame, you can see a lot of them in bloom.

Hassayampa River to Fools Canyon

We overshot the entrance to Fools Canyon a bit and found ourselves further up the river.  Actually, the little trail that leads off into Fools Canyon is not the easiest to find and had it not been for the USGS topos and laptop I had in the back of the Jeep, I am not sure we would have found it.  (What, you don’t go off-roading with a 333 Mhz laptop?)

What makes Fools Canyon unique is the trail that goes through it will eventually (if you can get through) take you to Wagoner.  From there, you can go to Minnehaha and then on to the Senator Highway, just north of where it runs into Crown King.  So, we backtracked a bit and finally found the trail that lead off to Fools Canyon.

Fools Canyon is remarkably different than the river bed we had been running.   Through the day, we had been in and out of the water constantly.  The water flow in the Hassayampa River had been about 3 to 5 inches deep and about 10′ wide….sometimes more, sometimes less through out the day.  We stopped several times to cool off and the kids (and adults) found some deeper pools in the shade and enjoyed it a lot.

Once into Fools Canyon, everything gets a bit drier.  The brush is not the bright green it was along the river, and you are once again reminded just how dangerous it can be should you find yourself here without water.  Luckily, we are all seasoned desert travelers and there was plenty of water brought along.

We made good time in Fools Canyon, driving along the sandy wash that you first encounter after leaving the river.  We zigzagged back and forth through the wash while it began to narrow and the dirt banks became rock walls.  Oh yeah, we are getting into the real canyon for sure! 

We rounded a corner and found ourselves confronted with some large boulders scattered through a much narrower section of the canyon.  We stopped for lunch and make use of what little shade the rock walls offered.  One vehicle went on ahead to see what lay beyond.

fter lunch, I maneuvered over the boulders (bounced the skid plate once or twice) and got through without too much trouble.  The vehicles that were still behind were going to have a difficult time getting over the rocks.  It was certainly possible to do, but tow straps on the more stock vehicles would have been a requirements for sure.   There would have been the possibility of rocker panel damage on the unlifted vehicles, and it was already mid-day.  So we decided the the remainder of Fools Canyon would be left for another day and with more capable vehicles.


I took a couple of pictures of Lady playing along the wash after she had gone through the boulders.  There was actually a reason for this one.  I had never really checked to see if my Canyon City rear rack was going to decrease my departure angle.  As it is now, my bumper will hit before the tire does, so that is fine for now.

Another rock and another pose for the camera.  This one flexed the suspension pretty well.  The passenger front is almost at full droop and the rear is at full compression.  On the driver’s side, the rear is quite extended, and the front is fairly well compressed.

Here is the same pose with a view from the front.

We headed back to the river by backtracking out of Fools Canyon (I wonder why they call it that?).  After we regained the river, we headed out on another trail that finally connected us up to Constellation Road.  We headed back towards Wickenburg.

Hassayampa River to Fools Canyon

A funny thing happened to me on the way back to Wickenburg.  As we were driving along, we were passing a great looking hill that was just calling my name….it was amazing….”Stu, bring Lady and climb this hill….Stu, you will have fun…”.  Not wishing to pass up this opportunity, I announced on the radio that I was stopping to play. 

After walking to top of the hill (actually, that is a lie….about 1/2 way up, I resorted to using my hands and crawling the last couple dozen yards), I made sure there was enough room to turn around.  I slid down the hill and jumped into the driver’s seat, with Donna riding along as co-pilot.  I made it about a 1/4 of the way up and that was it.  All four MTs were turning nicely….the Detroits were doing a great job….I just stopped making headway up the hill.  I backed down the hill to try again.  Before doing so, it was suggested that I drop my tire pressure a bit more.  Sure, why not!  There wasn’t really any clearance problems to worry about, and I certainly was hurting in the traction department.  I have been running my tires right at around 15~16 lbs during the past several trail runs.  This has done very well for me, and seems to be a happy compromise between traction and clearance.   But, what had been working for me was not working now. 

I dropped all the tires to 12 lbs and gave it another try.

That did it!  Lady climbed right to the top on the first attempt with very little wheel spin and the engine turning about 1700 RPMs….slow, steady, and no traction problems!


I must admit that I have not put a lot of miles on the MTs yet, and this was a learning experience for me.  I made several other trips up the hill, all with no problem.  If you had told me that the difference between success and failure was 4 lbs. of air pressure, I would have laughed in your face.   Well, not any more.  It made all the difference in the world!

A shot from the top of the hill.  The previous pictures looking up the hill makes it look a bit smaller than it really is.  

After playing on the hill for a while, we continued on into town and hit one of the local burger stands for dinner.  It was a great time for Donna and I.  We met a whole group of new friends, and look forward to exploring some more trails with them in the future.   Remember, the worst day 4-wheelin’ is better than the best day at work!