This is one of the premiere, and least run wilderness paddles in Arizona.
Trip Video and photos (Jon Fuller, Grace, and myself):
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From Coolidge Dam to Winkelman is one of the most scenic and inaccessible river stretches in Arizona. Jon Fuller, who is involved with a low-water navigatibility study of this section for the state, extended an invitation for this three day trip. The weather was unexpectedly cold the first night, then perfect for the rest of the trip. At 220 CFS, there were many class I+ to III- rapids and a seemingly endless number of sweepers and strainers. The rapids tend to wash out at higher flows but the risk from the brush/trees would get scary. It was obvious that essentially no one runs the portion of the Gila River.
That point was the topic of more than one conversation. The below excerpt from the BLM web site notes the lack of legal access. Does anyone have any knowledge or history concerning attempts to gain access for the public to the Needles Eye area?
The 8,760-acre Needle's Eye Wilderness is located about 20 miles southeast of Globe, Arizona, in Gila County.
The Mescal Mountains trend northwest across the center of the area where the southwest flank forms a spectacular striped dip-slope of Paleozoic limestone over 2,500 feet high. Slicing through this range, is the Gila River, which enters 3 canyon segments with 1,000-foot walls known as the Needle's Eye. A deep, entangled riparian zone covers the narrow river channel, forming the southern boundary of this area. Several small slickrock canyons bisect the area, and wind to the Gila River.
Recreation such as backpack trips, photography, and challenging day hiking can be experienced in this remote unroaded area. This area offers a high level of solitude to hardy adventurers.
Currently there is no legal access to the Needle's Eye Wilderness. From Phoenix, take State Highway 60 to Globe. Along Highway 70 east of Globe, the area can be accessed either from the Coolidge Dam or the Ranch Creek Road. You must obtain a recreation permit from the San Carlos Apache Indian Tribe in advance. Twenty-six miles south of Globe along Highway 77, the area can be accessed near the Dripping Springs Wash. You must obtain permission to cross State Trust lands and private lands in advance.