Out to Rim Road
We have a casual start Saturday morning. There is no hurry. It takes about two hours of interstate and freeways to get to Highway 87 and wide-open spaces. On the other side of Phoenix, we pass along the highway sadly. Because of unprecedented drought, a fire has devastated mile upon mile of lush Sonoran desert. Two hundred year old saguaros are burnt and slowly dying among scorched dark hues of black and brown. The coating is like earth under a leaky car on the completely barren landscape.
Tall cottonwood trees, formally a riparian habitat, are black sticks on one side of the highway bridge, while it is still abundantly green on the other, accenting the contrast.
Having escaped the somber tone of the once great, the highway brings us into the dominion of the bushy pinion pine forest.
Soon, the town of Payson marks the beginning of the tall pines. We stop in a parking lot behind a real-estate office and cover our bodies for drive-through ice cream. After pumping gas, we head into the wilds, the great pine forest of the White Mountains. We are heading to a section of the Arizona Trail to camp. Tomorrow, we will leave that trail to explore a dry river to a lake reservoir.
The forest is full of campers. Every place is packed with trailers and tents. This is the “Rim Road.” A huge geological drop off, which stretches for many miles. It is a demarcation between green mountain forest and the desert, accented by the orange, reds, and color that exposed layers bring to the classic landscape of Arizona. Sedona is of this.
People drive wild on the narrow cliffside road. Another 4-runner slides around a corner, the driver smiling with his arm stretched out high, waving his greeting. He doesn’t realize that his rear end is sliding out behind him and near us, as he turns the bend. Every few minutes there is another, or even a caravan.
We seem to have found escape from our fellow tourist, when we turn off toward the Battleground Monument deep in the forest, our destination, a spot along the 800 mile long Arizona Trail.
There are two trucks there as we arrive, both with quads. Alarmed to find them after 250 miles and five or six hours of driving, we are relieved to see that they are just leaving.
The camp there is beautiful and perfect and we are tired. I set the tent.
As DF preps some dinner, I pluck guitar. I sip kombucha as the sun sets.
We take a little walk hand in hand in the light of an orange juice dusk through the silhouettes of trees.
During the night it rained quite a bit, a long hard consistent sprinkling, with little lightning and not much wind. DF thinks that it must have been five or six hours of soaking.
We awaken to a clear blue morning sky. Everything is just perfectly moist enough. It is a bright contrast from the dry, dusted and brittle forest that we arrived in.
The weather tells us that this day will make for a wonderful hike. There will be no chance of rain until afternoon.
Out on a Hike:
The Arizona trail slopes down a hill into a river bed here. It starts out a nice trail with steps. After 150 feet, an enchanted forest begins.
Wandering through the groove of a small gully and back out, switchbacks lead us further. We have no idea how deep the canyon’s side is through the thick forest and its cascading canopy, but is is becoming obvious that at the end of this hike, when we are tired, we will have one last great haul up this incline.
DF stops to knock on a tall naked tree. It is hollow. We hear the echo inside, traveling up the inner tube.
Eventually, I make out the creek bed below. It is only a track of stones lit by the sun, contrasting with the forest and the floor of needles and green plants.
At the bottom, there are cairns marking the trail. We stand and decide which direction to explore. I know from aerial photos that the upstream meanders a good distance and with seasonal water. It would make an idyllic trek. The water today, however, is downstream collected by a dam, a reservoir for the thirsty cities of Arizona.
As we walk along this wide meandering road, the crunch under our feet sounds like Rice Crispys. Chunks of gravel have been sorted out and deposited by the dissipating floods during rains. The mosaic of size has been created by rushing waters. The deeper more forceful flows have dropped larger pieces and the later fading streams have left a last coating layer of fine grains. All colors, shapes, many types of stones entertain us.
I see toe shoe tracks in the mud. It is a wide channel with many fun rock formations sculpted by the millennia of water and the layers deposited in ancient times. Mush of silty mud is black from ashes of forest fires upstream and the soils of rotting pine needles washed down from the slopes. Occasionally, a boulder has rolled down the hills.
The inside of the meanders are high and would make fine campsites when the creek is flowing.
Stretching like fairways, it is green on each side. Steep pine covered slopes rise from there. There are several bends and “S” shapes.
The water rushing through has inserted deep gouges under layers of rock, creating caves.
Glistening sandstone is glittering with granite specks. Lines in the rock walls show how earthen mass was laid down and pushed up in many different directions in long ago times.
Eventually, black mud takes over the riverbed. A million tiny sprouts are popping out of it.
I find a small pond of water, enough for tadpoles. The critters are in early stages of life. The water must be ponded from the recent and long awaited rains and the receding lake. We know that the lake will appear shortly. There is far too little for a flow.
In this black and florescent green landscape water appears. The mass of the lake will be coming soon.
The lake will be in the deep river channels like this one only with water filling the canyons . It is more of what we have been hiking in, filled with fresh water from bank to bank.
We hear voices around the bend and I see a head. We retreat and pull on coverings. We don’t know what to expect around precious lake water. In Arizona people flock to it. It isn’t wild but managed.
We then continue, we walk through a group of many small children and few adults, who are sitting on the river bank.
Two open top kayaks are paddling upstream. These are manned with older teenage boys.
A metal boat pulls up to this, the end of the lake. An adult sits as captain, holding a bar attached to an engine to guide. A designated umbrella kid holds a large umbrella, shading the boat’s master. At the bow, an excited young boy with a heart obviously filled with adventure, is making like Mark Twain as the water becomes more shallow.
They soon bring up the motor on its pivoting perch to coast ashore. They have much gear. They hop out to drag the little vessel. The depth of the slippery muck is evident.
To go further, we would have to take off our shoes and slog across the stream to another meander. I would have to pull up the sarong and DF her dress for the duration. The view would probably just be more of the same, only with the water bank to bank and more people. The shade is decreasing in the 12:30 sun. It’s time to head back into our solitude.
I’ll continue and conclude this story in a few days.
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