San Carlos is located near the southern edge of the Sonoran Desert, but it hasn’t always been desert. During periods of a wetter climate, this area was a part of the Tropical Deciduous Forest. As the climate dried again, the Tropical Deciduous Forest retreated to the south, and was replaced with the desert vegetation we see today. There remain, however, a few places where the tropical forest species survive.
The Nacapule Canyon is one such place. A deep, narrow gap carved into in the surrounding hills, the Nacapule Canyon is shaded much of the day, which reduces evaporation. Much of the surrounding rock is porous volcanic ash, which absorbs the rain and slowly releases it to the bottom of the canyon. The result is an oasis, where tropical deciduous forest trees and shrubs can survive, completely surrounded by desert.
The entrance to the canyon is a broad trail, an easy hike up the arroyo. The walls of the canyon are made up of layers of red, yellow and grey rock twisted and carved into weird and beautiful patterns. A short zipline crosses overhead, accessible by climbing a short, steep trail. The trail follows the arroyo, sometimes running alongside, where the arroyo is filled with boulders. As you follow the gentle slope upwards, you come to the tree from which the canyon is named, a Macapule Fig. There was an even larger specimen nearby, but it was wiped out by the terrible rains of a hurricane.
The canyon splits here, one branch following the edge of a permanent stream, to the right, the other, a dry arroyo straight ahead. Neither branch goes very far, so there is time to explore both. The right fork becomes thick with vegetation as it follows a small permanent stream and wanders through a thicket of palm trees. After the palm trees, the way gets steep, and there is a small cave to explore, or to travel through as you start to climb. Climbing higher brings you to a larger cave, some small ponds and eventually you come out on top, and the trail descends to the desert to the north of the canyon. Rather than descend, if you got this far, you can turn around and head back to the fork
Following the second fork, brings you to a dry waterfall below a series of plunge-pools carved out of the rock. A rope ladder on the right brings you to the top of the falls. From here you can see more pools, glistening black in the sunlight. There is even a Nacapule Canyon leopard frog here, if you can spot it. Can you imagine a frog in such an isolated place surrounded by desert?
The Nacapule Canyon is a jewel in the desert, a place to explore, or just to spend a moment of peace.