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Tule Tank Wash (w/Optional Climbers Loop) - Coconino National Forest

Summary: An off trail rock hop through a seldom visited tributary of Sycamore Canyon. An optional return route is described, however, only strong climbers who are comfortable with exposure should attempt this route. A map of the hike may be found here (496k).
Directions: From Prescott drive north on Highway 89 past Chino Valley. Turn east (right) at the sign for 71 which is initially paved, but soon becomes dirt (ok for passenger cars). Follow 71 for 10 miles until you reach an intersection at a paved road. Turn left (north) on this road which is listed as 173 on the map, but is signed as 73. Just after mile marker 174 turn right (east) on Forest Road (FR) 354 at the sign for the Overland Trailhead (well graded dirt). After driving 7.2 miles FR 354 branches right and FR 105 continues straight. Stay straight on FR 105 driving past right branching roads for FR 125 and FR 127. Immediately after passing FR 127, the road descends down a small hill and crosses a wash. This wash is the start of Tule Tank Wash. Park on the right next to the fire ring.
Road Conditions: Passenger Car
Navigation: Moderate
Length: ~9.5 miles for the loop described
Date Hiked: November 2003
Weather Conditions: Cool and overcast
Required Skills:
Hike Description: From the car park, simply begin walking down the wash. You can avoid the rocks at first by walking on the bank of the wash on one side or the other, but soon you'll be forced into the bed of the drainage to begin the rock hopping that makes up the majority of this hike. A word of warning, the rocks are polished, smooth and slippery and some (even the large ones) are prone to shifting when you step on them. Use care as you proceed to avoid a bad fall. The canyon is not terribly interesting as you continue downstream, but at least there is not much brush to contend with. After 20 minutes or so, you'll hit a drop off, however, it's easily down climbed by staying in the middle of the canyon. Below the drop off the rocks underfoot become boulder sized and the going becomes somewhat slower. It's much the same for the next several hours - rocks, rocks and more .... oh .... I don't know .... could it be .... rocks maybe? Two hours and 15 minutes from the car park (walking quickly) the canyon makes an abrupt left turn and you'll enter a short section of nice narrows. Unfortunately the fun is over all too quickly and the canyon widens once again at a junction with a left branching side drainage. Turn around here, or continue down canyon a ways before turning around (I continued down another 45 minutes - ok canyon, but no real narrows), return the way you came.

Optional Climbers Exit (not recommended, unless you choose to bring climbing protection and rope): This should only be attempted by hikers with excellent climbing skills that are comfortable with significant exposure. Turn left and begin hiking up the side drainage described above. After 15 minutes or so canyon forks, stay in the left in the slightly smaller drainage. More rock hopping (what else is new) and you'll eventually reach a spot marked by several cairns in the center of the canyon. I believe this possibly marks an exit trail used by hunters (on your left facing up canyon). I went up this path a short distance, but it was so faint, I decided to try my luck with the canyon instead. A short distance above these cairns you'll pass through a moderately nice section of canyon. Then, as you progress upwards, the boulders in the canyon bottom become larger, and you'll be forced to do quite a bit of climbing and scrambling. Finally as you reach the upper basalt layer that marks the head of the canyon, your progress will be blocked by a 45 foot shear cliff with a dripping spring. There may be better ways out of the canyon at this point, but the author decided to climb the cliff band on canyon left (left side when facing down canyon) at a crack about 100 feet back from the headwall. The exit I chose consisted of climbing 25 feet straight up along a crack to a shelf, moving left along the shelf to another crack, then climbing another 15 feet straight up to a tree. There were good hand and foot holds all along the route, but be aware that a fall could be fatal. Once on top, follow the drainage up canyon to a point where it is shallow enough to cross. On the other side (the canyon will now be on your left and to your back) hike northeast along cow paths until you hit a 4-WD road. Follow this road north until it reaches FR 105. Turn left and follow FR 105 back to where it crosses Tule Wash and your car.

Rating (1-5 stars):
The author performed this hike solo as an exploratory hike in search of canyoning opportunities. I decided to use the side drainage described as a return route and was not terribly pleased to find that it cliffed out at the topmost basalt layer. I was able to escape by climbing up the cliff face at a crack on canyon left. Had I known the cliff band were there, would not have hiked this route. The author hiked the route described above, including an hour and a half spent exploring below the confluence, in just over 6 hours.
Maps: Click here (496k), or Coconino National Forest Map
Books: None
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.

Cliffs overlooking Tule Canyon.

The short narrows.

Tule Canyon below
the confluence.
Cliff at the top of
the exit canyon.