Weaver's Needle is a well-known rock formation in the Superstition Mountains / ©Marie-France Ganansia

Edward Abbey's Way

Daytrips to explore the iconic author's passion for the Sonoran Desert

BYJackie Dishner
Edward Abbey sparked a nation of conservationists with his 1975 novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang, in which four friends set out to save the wilderness by waging war on anything that threatens it.
 
The self-proclaimed nature lover, who felt most at home in the Southwest, detested modern development and suggested that even our own footsteps should stay off the landscape. He’d say that, of course, with hiking stick in hand.
 
The ornery author built a home and writing studio in his beloved Sonoran Desert. In his 62 years, he penned more than 20 fiction and nonfiction books, featuring his curmudgeonly angst and wit. When he died, it has been reported that close friends, following his oddball sense of humor, placed his body in a blue sleeping bag and hauled him off in the back of a pickup truck with dry ice and five cases of beer. They buried him illegally, so he could serve his next life as cactus fertilizer. 
 
To experience the silent world of the empty desert Abbey longed to conserve, explore the following three Arizona sites that were special to the author and can be reached as daytrips from Phoenix.
 
Weaver’s Needle
Directions: Head east onto U.S. 60, past the town of Apache Junction. Turn left onto Peralta Road/Forest Road 77 toward Peralta Trailhead, about 7 miles north.
 
This landmark rock formation rises above the mystical Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix, on land where miners (the Lost Dutchman, for one) once searched for gold. Abbey would hike the 6.2-mile Peralta Trail en route to Weaver’s Needle, which he references in The Journey Home. Around 2.2 miles into the hike, you’ll reach Fremont Saddle, where you can view the 4,553-foot-tall rock formation known as Weaver’s Needle. It appears to be giving the thumbs-up gesture. To reach the two peaks of its summit from here, hikers need technical climbing/rappelling skills and a GPS. If you’re looking for a scenic journey that doesn’t require rock-climbing savvy, stick to the dusty Peralta Trail. It cuts through a path of cliffs and boulders, weaves in and out of lush desert landscape, and follows a dry creek bed — all part of the wilderness Abbey loved so much.
 
Aravaipa Creek
Directions: Head east on U.S. 60 to Superior. Turn right on Highway 177 to Winkelman and Highway 77. From Highway 77, drive 11 miles to Aravaipa Road at Central Arizona College. Turn left onto the paved/graded road. The west-end trailhead is 12 miles ahead.
 
Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness was Abbey’s stomping ground for two years in the 1970s, when he became the first caretaker of what was then known as the Whittell Nature Preserve at Aravaipa Canyon. The Nature Preserve and Bureau of Land Management now care for this rare desert riparian area in the midst of the Galiuro Mountains, a sky island northeast of Tucson. Permits are required, and only a limited quantity are available for visitors who want to see the land the way Abbey did. On an 11-mile water hike through Aravaipa Creek (which is a tributary of the San Pedro River), you can see canyon walls up to 1,000 feet tall, bighorn sheep and mule deer, cottonwoods and willows, side canyons, and buzzards flying overhead. 
 
Oracle/Catalina Foothills
Directions: On U.S. 60 toward Globe, merge onto State Route 79 S at Exit 212 toward Florence/Tucson. Turn left onto State Route 77/AZ-77. Continue on AZ-77 for 9 miles to W. American Avenue. Take a right, and the town of Oracle is less than 3 miles ahead.
 
Although he made his home in Tucson, Oracle is where Abbey kept a post office box, and he visited the area often. When Abbey chose Tucson as a home base, he was teaching at the University of Arizona and wanted to be close to his beloved Sonoran Desert and a mountainside to easily explore. He built his home in a sparsely developed area. Today, you can explore the land Abbey called home starting in Oracle, an old mining town that has become a haven for eccentric artists. Here, you’ll also find Edward Abbey archives and artifacts on display at Acadia Ranch Museum. Oracle also is a gateway to Tucson, where you’ll find hiking at Oracle State Park, scientific study at Biosphere II, and a long drive up Mt. Lemmon Scenic Byway to Tucson’s alpine ski area and the highest point in the Catalina Mountains.
JACKIE DISHNER writes from Phoenix and is author of Backroads & Byways of Arizona.
If You Go
Weaver’s Needle: Get park details by calling the Mesa Ranger Station at 480-610-3300. 
 
Aravaipa Creek: Get park details by calling the Brandenburg Ranger Station at 520-357-6185. 
 
Abbey and the North Rim: Edward Abbey wasn’t just a fan of central and southern Arizona. He also was extremely fond of the Colorado Plateau. Take a trip to the Grand Canyon’s North Rim to see where Abbey worked one summer season as a fire lookout.
 
 
Explore Arizona
Find out about more Arizona trips by visiting AAA.com or calling your local AAA Travel agent toll-free at 1-888-870-9392.
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