2Like This
Jump to Map

This canyon is a museum of ecological oddities…Often within sight of one another are species belonging in low deserts, pine forests, and the tropics…These are here because of the highly prized creek, and the topographic complexities of the canyon, and the canyon’s placement along the boundaries of ecological provinces. The canyon looks as if it were decorated by a mad botanist.

Craig Childs in The Secret Knowledge of Water

Overview from the Coronado
National Forest website

Most of those who come to visit in this area are drawn here by the unique environment of Sycamore Canyon. Home of one of the few perennial streams in extreme southern Arizona, it supports such a diverse plant and animal community that part of it has been designated the Goodding Research Natural Area. Over 625 species of plants have been identified here, many of which are rare and/or endangered. Sycamore Canyon’s animal life is extremely diverse as well, especially its birds. Over 130 species have been identified as frequent visitors here. Among those are colorful vermilion flycatchers and various warblers, raptors and herons. The trail starts out at the Hank and Yank Ruins. The remnants of an old adobe wall are all that’s left of a Civil War-era homestead that was pioneered in this canyon by Hank Hewitt and Yank Bartlett. The trail itself exists only in a few places along the floor of Sycamore Canyon. More generally it just follows the stream, crossing it and recrossing it via stepping stones and gravel bars. As the canyon meanders toward Mexico, pinnacles and sheer rock cliffs that form the canyon walls occasionally crowd the stream so that a little fancy footwork is required. A number of pools in the inner reaches of the canyon usually hold water year-round. About 5 miles downstream of the trailhead, the canyon opens out and crosses a barbed wire fence that marks the Arizona/Mexico border. Here, you can either turn around and return the way you came or turn east and travel along a little-used pathway called the Border Trail. This foot and horse path was put here to provide access for maintenance of the international boundary fence. It leads over the grassy foothills of the Pajaritos to the end of the Summit Motorway (FR 39A), which may sound like a thoroughfare, but it’s a 4-wheel drive road.

Getting There

Turn west off Interstate 19 at the Peña Blanca/Ruby Road (AZ Hwy 289) Exit 12. The exit is approximately 8 miles north of Nogales. Follow this road 9 miles to Peña Blanca Recreation Area where the pavement ends and the Arivaca-Ruby Road becomes FR 39.  Drive a total of 8.5 miles from the end of the pavement to the Sycamore Canyon Road (FR 218) which turns left (south) to the trailhead at the Hank and Yank Ruins historical marker. The road is rough and winding but passable in a passenger car unless there has been recent rain. Allow extra time for the drive from I-19. 

The Hike

The hike begins from a large parking area. The trail soon passes by a large downed tree. Two trails diverge here and both will take you into the canyon but the one closest to the fallen tree is more direct and passes by the Hank and Yank ruins which is just a a portion of an adobe wall. 

The trail continues across a grassy hillside before dropping to the creek and crossing at the entrance to the canyon. As the trail enters the canyon, towering rock walls and hoodoos appear on both sides of the creek. The trail is often faint and overgrown with vegetation depending on the time of year, but generally follows the creek bottom. At times, it is necessary to cross the creek to continue but usually this can be done without getting wet feet. The going is slow due to large rocks and boulders to negotiate and overgrown vegetation.

After about 1 mile, a short but steep climb over a rock wall is required to continue. There is an obvious route up a crack in the rock with good foot and hand holds. The descent down the other side is a little easier. The hike then continues along the creek bottom. The rocks become larger and the trail harder to find. We were advised to stay on the left side of the creek and that worked well. 

At about 2 miles, the canyon narrows and to go further, hikers will have to do a tricky scramble over rocks on the right or wade through water that can be up to waist deep. We stopped here for lunch and then returned to our vehicles. Hikers who choose to go on, can hike to the Mexican border at about 5 miles. 

History of Hank and Yank Ruins

Hank Hewitt & John (Yank) Bartlett homesteaded a ranch in the Pajarito Mountains near the head of Sycamore Canyon in the 1880s. They were attacked by Geronimo in April 1886 as he and his band were heading back to Mexico after having attacked the Peck Ranch in Agua Fria Canyon (later named Peck Canyon because of the Peck Ranch massacre). Hank Hewett was wounded and a neighbor killed by Geronimo’s warriors. Yank Bartlett (or Bartlett’s son depending on  which source you believe) escaped to get help from the town of Oro Blanco. Hank Hewett died in August, 1896. We have no further information on Yank Bartlett.

Green Valley Hiking Club

Special Considerations

Sycamore Canyon is often traveled by illegal immigrants entering the U.S. from Mexico. While they are rarely seen, there is much evidence left behind including water jugs and tattered clothing, blankets and backpacks. If encountered, do not approach.

Temperatures in southern Arizona can be extremely hot especially in the summer. Carry plenty of water and wear sun protective clothing. 

Take the Natural Atlas Map with you and Record Your Outdoor Adventure
  • Free
  • Offline Maps
  • 100+ Activities and 45,000+ Presets (Plants, Animals, …)
2Like This
Last updated
Print MapiPhone App