It had, so far, been a very wet winter in Arizona. During the month of December, our state had received higher than average rainfall, and the high country finally had a decent snow pack. Everywhere, the creeks and rivers were flowing with water - even the Salt River had water in it, because Tempe Town Lake had to let some of it drain into the river bed. We were all grateful to see the heavy rainfalls, because every little bit would help.
But for those of us who loved to be in the outdoors, the rain also meant that there would be very little hiking going on. Our last day hike, in the Spur Cross Conservation Area, had been cut short by overcast skies that threatened to open up on us at any minute. (In fact, it started raining on us just minutes after we pulled away from the trailhead.)
Every now and then, we managed to find a clear day on which we could go hiking. January 2 turned out to be a perfect day for a day hike, so we decided to do something. (We also needed to take John hiking, so that he could try out his new boots! I had bought him a pair of Merrell Chameleons - the men's version of my boots - for Christmas, and he had not yet had the chance to try them out!)
John had become more and more fascinated with the Cave Creek Trail #4, a lovely trail that started near Seven Springs and followed along beautiful Cave Creek. We had hiked the Cave Creek Trail once before, in February of 2004, and ever since then, John had been wanting to come back to explore the area a little bit more.
We left for the Seven Springs Recreation Area around 8:00 in the morning on January 2. To get there, we took Cave Creek Road through the towns of Cave Creek and Carefree, all the way to the Tonto National Forest boundary, where the road became FR 24. From there, we kept going another eleven miles, until we came to Seven Springs. There, we paid our day-use fee at the self-pay station; then, we parked on Ashdale Road, where we would begin our hike.
The Cave Creek Trail began with a short descent into the pretty riparian area that surrounds Cave Creek. Shortly after we began hiking, we came to a fence line, where we had to climb three steps, up and over the fence, to get to the other side. After that, the trail was almost completely flat as it wandered through the mesquite trees.
The recent rains had certainly had an impact on the Cave Creek area. Not only was the creek flowing with water, but the trail was full of green grass - it was simply stunning! The trees surrounding the creek, however, were still leaf-bare for winter, making the area look very stark and cold.
An hour after we started hiking, we stopped to take a breather next to a drainage that ran perpendicular to the fence line. We had already gone a mile and a half, and we were certain that we were going to be able to get more mileage out of Mary, as long as we took frequent breaks. We knew that we could easily get three miles out of her - would we be able to get more out of her today?
After our break, we kept going another twenty minutes or so, adding another half a mile to our journey. That was when we came to the first creek crossing along the Cave Creek Trail. Now it is a known fact that I don't do very well with creek crossings. John always takes them easily, even carrying Mary on his shoulders, but having fallen on so many occasions, I am much more cautious...and it didn't help that Cave Creek was flowing much faster than normal. Although we all made it across the creek without incident, it was a difficult one for me to maneuver.
We didn't go much further after that creek crossing. Having already gone two miles, we knew that we were pushing our limits with Mary. She was already starting to show signs of fatigue - and, on top of that, she had been sick recently, so we knew that we weren't going to get much more out of her. So, we stopped for a snack break about a hundred feet from the creek, under the shade of a mesquite tree. There, we ate cheese and crackers and contemplated doing a backpacking trip there someday. Then, once we were all rested, it was time for us to go.
On the way back, in order to make it fun for Mary, we made sure to play games. One of the fun things that we did was to show Mary how to balance on a fallen log. Naturally, she has my balance, which means that she didn't do very well at all, but she sure did get a good laugh about it.
It took us another hour and a half to get back to the Jeep; during that time, the skies had begun to cloud up again, as another weather system moved into the area. We were fairly sure that it wasn't going to rain on us until after we were off the trail, but just in case, we didn't waste any time getting back to the Jeep.
We arrived back at the trailhead around 11:30 a.m., completing a four-mile roundtrip hike - a new record for Mary! We were very proud of her, because she was finally starting to hike without needing to be carried (except during creek crossings, of course).
It was lunchtime when we left the trailhead; we didn't bring our lunch with us that day (all we brought were snacks), and now we were hungry! So, we decided to stop for lunch in Carefree on the way home. Eager to try something new, we stopped at Bad Donkey, a nice little pizza and sub shop at the corner of Cave Creek and Tom Darlington Road. It was decorated with little toy Donkeys (from the movie Shrek), and the beer on tap was called Bad Donkey P, which tasted very good. That, and the large pizza that we shared, was the perfect way to end a good day of hiking...
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