We have had the intention of staying at the Hot Springs for four naked days with a Friday trip out to Bonita Creek for a hike and exploration of that canyon. The weather has turned cold and sustaining northeasterly winds have tortured us. Our hike has now been changed to Sunday afternoon, when the temperature is forecast to rise above 70F and the winds will drop from 20mph plus to 9 to 13mph. I have hope that the narrow canyon with sharp steep walls will have the winds caught in tree tops, if it doesn’t just swish over it.
I wake up at sunrise Sunday morning. The place is calm and peaceful, as I climb from my tent and warm quilt. I’m still bundled in layers. Just the calm makes a terrific difference, after days of wind. I’m encouraged. Soon, the wind picks up again, however.
We make the walk over to the swimming pool hot tub for one last soak. It is delightful, not too much just right.
When camp is packed away and breakfast eaten. We drive over to say some good-byes, but last on the list is a quick, “warm us up” dip in stingy ‘ol Geronimo pool. There are several morning soakers there to share our bath.
When our task is accomplished, we’re off at a casual pace.
After trying out another different Mexican Restaurant in Safford, we make the drive out of town to Bonita Creek. We are hoping to have few people there. It is out of the way. The rains have the Gila river flooding and raging. Perhaps the water is up where we are going and flooding will dissuade people from crossing the creek in their cars. That would give us the solitude that we seek for our naked hike and explorations.
The road is surprisingly good. We arrive at a parking area. A large black truck with huge knobby tires sits there. We dress again. I’m in a kilt and sweatshirt, DF in a sundress and her white dress shirt. We are in toe shoes of course. We take a walk down to the stream that crosses the road to scout the water flow.
We meet a rough looking man in a Harley Davidson t-shirt. Three children are coming out of the woods behind him. The guy looks prison tough, but turns out to be very friendly and polite. We discuss the possibility of driving through the waters. The road actually just goes up the stream here, but we don’t know how deep it is from the rains. He tells me that he had to promise his wife that he wouldn’t take the truck in the water. I’m still feeling a loss for not braving the flooded crossing a couple of days earlier. Here’s the story:
I guess that it is a guy thing that has me suffering. This biker understands my feelings. We discuss what our trucks have in equipment. He is feeling a bit sissy, not being brave and crazy. Rather than face my demons in the water, I mention to DF that “we are actually here for some exercise anyway.” I resolve to, “Let’s just walk.”
At that moment, we all hear the sound of a vehicle. It is down there in the creek. It is coming from downstream from the other direction.
Running up the water course, around the bend, comes a newer Toyota 4-runner. The driver pulls up. It is a young woman maybe 19 years old. She has just driven up with no problem.
The biker, sitting in the passenger seat, drops his head in shame and bangs it against the door panel. He laments something politically incorrect about, ”a girl.” DF is trying very hard not to laugh out loud. I’m back to debating my decision again.
We begin our hike, walking down the side of the creek bed about 40 feet and then, I just can’t take it anymore. I tell DF to go ahead and wait. “I’ll be right back with the truck and be sure to take pictures.”
I get my 4-runner. I drive into the creek bed and then up it. I get to the other side and back up to pick up DF. It is easy and it is some fun. My shame has dissolved.
We continue through four or five creek crossings. Each is a bit different. One is very deep even for my high clearance. The creek bed is stable and my truck is in 4×4.
We are at a “Cross #14” sign and stop to get out. I see mud to the far end of the next crossing. We get out and strip. I place my clothing in the pack and DF leaves on her sundress, placing her shirt in the pack. We have water and snacks.
At each previous crossing, in at least one spot, it has been very deep. We get to the other side and see that the mud would have been no issue, but we are here to walk and explore on foot. I have had my fun and been vindicated as a badass 4×4 something, or other. The creek didn’t beat me. Yes, I have to laugh at myself.
Actually, this canyon is a main water resource for the Safford area. All Along the canyon wall, a silver tube follows the contours. This road is maintained enough to be sure that maintenance of the utility isn’t interrupted for access. The waters are high, but badass? Well, not so much, actually.
After a short while, we realize that we are alone out here. DF deposits the last of her clothing in the pack. We relish that we are naked and our coverings are not at hand. It feels liberating as we walk down the road. It is just a camera and protective shoes for DF and a backpack for me.
There are trees everywhere. The road itself is relatively smooth, easy to walk and we do not have to be concerned with tripping. We can look around at our surroundings, instead of looking down.
The rains have the mustard plants at about thigh height. There are lots of flowers everywhere that sunlight is in play, at least a part of the day.
We are on a long straight stretch, listening to the creek and not able to hear much else, when we notice the sound of a truck behind us. Back down the trail, it quickly comes into view. We are caught, nude and natural in the middle of the road by the quick conveyance. There is just no time to get dressed. We stand on the side of the road to let it pass, my back to them and DF in front of me in an attempt to comply with Arizona State law. There are apparently two adults in the cab. Two kids, a boy and girl, are in the bed of the pickup. They pass with no remarkable expression and we just wave and smile. The kids appear unfazed.
When they are out of sight, we continue.
We know that there has been a reintroduction of beaver in this canyon. At the creek, we discover a busy beaver’s work. I am impressed. I had no idea that beaver would choose such large trees. I thought that they only utilized smaller lumber that they could carry. This one had no such compunctions. A number of larger more mature trees had been felled. They are laid around the creek and in it.
Others have gaping hunks chewed out, waiting to rot and fall.
We are having difficulty identifying a bonifide beaver dam. I look for holes, and familiar scum filled ponds with stick dams.
We just aren’t always sure.
We are finding a great deal of diversity here. Even in the creek there can be rippling current and glass-like reflective pools. It is obviously running higher than usual, some spots have trees surrounded by water. Some areas of reeds are lying flat from the force of the current when the water was meaner.
In many places the creek is the road.
Around a bend, we notice the family parked. They don’t expect anyone. They are parked in the middle of the two rut road with the doors wide open. Music is blaring out of the cab, as the two adults lounge in chairs. The kids are playing in the water with sticks. A smaller one must have been in the cab. We apply some cover and move on.
As we pass they are friendly. He asks us if we hike a lot of places. I reply, “All over.” He asks about the road and I explain that it hooks back up with the rim road. He says he has been here all of his life and didn’t know that and will check it out. It is fun out here.
The road climbs and out of the canyon.
At the top of the hill, it descends back down. Out of view, we bag up our clothing again. There is a pumping station across the creek where the pipe line ends.
The vegetation form here is less lush. In the distance, there are some bright green tree tops. It is springtime and many of the cottonwood trees are sprouting fresh new healthy leaves.
DF notices a cave to the right behind some brush. She tramps through the thick low tree growth that is like a briar patch to investigate.
I don’t want to deal with the pack in there, and I just wait. She soon returns. Someone had been digging the start of a mine at one time.
She has a bouquet of jojoba flowers in her hands.
Not far, the road passes across the creek again. It will now run along a south canyon wall. Instead of refreshing shade, there is a chill in the air.
We decide that we have gone far enough. We need over an hour to return. After all of those days of cold weather, this very naked reprieve has been wonderful.
Our curiosity has been aroused by the sound of a waterfall.
The normally meandering creek has had no falls. We find a way into the bushes to see what we can. We are surprised by what we find and don’t recognize it at first.
It is a destroyed old military instant bridge. We find the old pipes that supported it are still in the water rusting. There was a tread encased in steel that used to fit over it. Before we wrap our heads around this unusual sight, it looks like a strange old rock formation.
The creek is flowing directly over the old bridge base making lots of noise.
As we walk back, we find lots of florescence of the spring growth. There are rich patches of green under trees and the bright yellow and orange of the poppies.
Many of the trees have yet to blossom. I can see last years bird nests peppered in the branches.
We dress for the family once again, then drop our coverings around the bend. Our toe shoes are working out very well in the water.
They actually have been warm. The liquid flows through them and out in no time. It is nice and pleasant here, a walk in the park.
On the side of the road we see a cairn in the fallen leaves.
We speculate why it might be here. It is at the spot where we got off of the road earlier. There was an obvious beaver pond to explore. All the while we are looking for signs of ancient Native American life. There are some ruins up here in this canyon, someplace. While there, we thought that we might have seen a petroglyph up on the hill. DF took a picture with her telephoto, but we won’t know until we get home and blow it up. I scan the area, hoping that this cairn marks something.
We wander along. Our feet are beginning to feel cold. The sun is getting blocked by canyon walls more often. We hear the truck with its family crossing through the creek and put on clothing to await their passage. Then their company is probably over. We have this wonderful place to ourselves late on a Sunday afternoon.
We continue on. We inspect a camping site for its potential on another day.
We find one of those huge squirrels that hang out in the cliffs of canyons.
We see a beautiful colorful spot to take a photo of reflections where the road is crossing the creek.
DF has put on her white shirt and I have my torso covered with the sweatshirt. I climb back to get a good shot, passing through thick slippery mud.
As we are leaving and I decide to wash mud off of my shoe, I hear two male voices. It is two teenagers. One has a pack and looks athletic shoulders back, the other has a goofy unsure gate, and a nerdy style about him. They are not concerned with the bottomless old guy as they pass on into the creek.
We gather at the truck and take photo opts as we find them. DF spots an old ruined chicken house which has been crushed by the mesquite tree’s branches growing over around and through it.
She gets out, while I go up to the parking to switch out of 4×4 and twist the lockers. A local guy pulls up and gets out. Locals do these things on Sunday afternoons. It has happened to us a few times now. It is good to look out for these last minute walkers.
When we get above the Gila River’s canyon, we stop to take pictures of the rushing water far below. The Gila Box is very much flooded and rapid.
The popular boat run would be very dangerous in a kayak today.
We stop at the boat launch to see things close up. We see that the water has been flowing down here, The field is mashed and filled with mud. That local guy pulls up just off of the road a distance behind us for a moment and then drives on. Gratefully, we don’t need to bother getting our bottoms on.
All that we have to do is grab some gas and take off to Tucson. For that the wrap of a kilt will do, just fine.