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January 17, 2000

"Wet Beaver Creek"

Stressing a need to a) conquer a new wilderness area, b) get back into shape, and c) do something special to celebrate our six-month wedding anniversary, John and I decided to do the Bell Trail, in the Wet Beaver Wilderness Area, for our next adventure. This particular wilderness area had fascinated John for a long time, after having read about it in one of our hiking guides. The Wet Beaver Wilderness Area holds some of the most challenging cross country hikes in the state, one of which requires hikers to swim across deep pools of water while traversing the narrow canyons of Wet Beaver Creek. (For the purpose of our day hike, though, we would not be doing anything that difficult; we would be hiking along an established trail.)

I, of course, find the name of the wilderness area to be ... well, funny, in a sexual sense, but only because of my co-workers. One of these co-workers, in fact, collects beaver stuff. Her cubicle is decorated with everything from beaver beanie babies to beaver candy dispensers, which actually make beaver sounds. Naturally, after John and I decided to do a day hike in the Wet Beaver Wilderness Area, I told this co-worker, "Guess where we're hiking this weekend!" You can only imagine the fun that was had with that statement!

Our hike took place on a holiday Monday - Martin Luther King Day, which, for me, was a bank holiday (John had to take a vacation day, but it wasn't like I had to twist his arm to take a day off!). The adventure began at 6:00 a.m., at which time we left the house and stopped at our usual breakfast place: Einstein's Bagels. (We got lucky when we moved into our house, because there is an Einstein's Bagels located just down the street!) Then, we began our two-hour journey to the trailhead. To get there, we took I-17 towards Sedona. After leaving the highway at the Sedona exit, we turned right and continued along a paved road for several miles. Finally, just before we came to the Beaver Ranger Station, we found the trailhead access road off to the left. The access road was dirt and was only a quarter of a mile long. It dead-ended at a rather large parking area, in which there was only one truck parked. (We didn't anticipate that there would be too many people along the trail, with it being a Monday.)

It was about 8:30 a.m. when we began hiking the Bell Trail #13, which began as an easy hike along an old jeep road. To our right, we could hear the water flowing through Wet Beaver Creek, but it wasn't until we were about a mile down the road that we could actually see the creek itself.

During the first mile of the trip, we were on private land. Across the creek, we could see what looked like a lodge or a ranch house, and there were signs posted at the trailhead, indicating that there was no camping or picnicking along the first portion of the trail.

After 1.5 miles, we came to the first trail junction, for the White Mesa Trail #86, at which time we saw the first wilderness marker - however, we still had a half a mile before we would actually cross into the Wet Beaver Wilderness along the Bell Trail. Nearly a mile later, we came to the popular Apache Maid Trail, which forks off to the left. John explained to me that the Apache Maid Trail can be done as a loop trail with the Bell Trail, but it would require a lot of cross country hiking and swimming through pools of water to get from the Apache Maid Trail to the Bell Trail. The trip would take about three or four days and would cover twenty miles. Sounds like an interesting challenge, but one that is definitely on hold for me. I will have to wait until after the baby is born.
Wet Beaver Wilderness Area
Just a few minutes later, we finally reached the wilderness boundary for the Wet Beaver Wilderness Area. Here, the trail forks: the Weir Trail goes to the left, and the Bell Trail continues on the right. At that point, the jeep road ends and the trail becomes a narrow footpath that begins to climb towards a red rock shelf overlooking Wet Beaver Creek. After sharing a wilderness kiss, John and I began the gradual climb to the shelf. I found this part of the trail to be very scenic. Here, we could see the creek flowing below us, still in shadows as the early morning sun had not yet shone upon it. The trees surrounding the creek were all leaf-bare, as it was still wintertime, and it looked very cold down there. Beautiful red rock walls with uniquely shaped spires towered above us as we walked along the shelf. It reminded us a lot of the West Clear Creek Wilderness Area (the west end).

Soon the trail began to descend towards Bell Crossing, which is where the trail meets Wet Beaver Creek. It was here that the trail became a little confusing, because there aren't any cairns to mark the creek crossing, and at first glance it is very difficult to determine where the trail continues on the other side. After carefully searching, we finally found the trail, but now we had another problem: getting across the creek! Though John was able to get across by careful rock-hopping, I could not do the same because the rocks were spaced too far apart for my short legs. Instead, I had to wade across the creek, through the cold, ankle-deep water.
Wet Beaver Creek
After Bell Crossing, the trail begins to climb the Mogollon Rim, gaining 1,200 feet over two miles. As an out-of-shape hiker, this part proved to be a big challenge for me. There were times along the way that I wanted to stop and turn around, because I was simply too tired to continue. However, I kept going at my own pace, resting when I needed to, until at last, around 11:30 a.m., we finally made it to the top of the Rim. We had reached our destination.

On top of the Rim, the Bell Trail continues on for another twelve miles, eventually ending at another trailhead. However, the trail becomes very indistinct and hard to follow - there is even a sign warning hikers about it. It stretches across grassy plains that are dotted with old gnarly juniper trees. A quarter of a mile from the sign, there is a two foot tall cairn wrapped in chicken wire, and beyond that there is another trail sign - but I imagine that there aren't any other trail markers after that. I doubt that that area receives very much foot traffic.

We stopped for lunch under an old juniper tree and ate our sandwiches and orange slices, which are quite refreshing after a difficult hike. We also "christened a new wilderness area" - our first one of the year. (We also reached a new milestone in our journeys. At the end of the trip, we hiked our 500th mile together!)

Having rested, we began our trek back to the trailhead. For the most part, our hike down the Mogollon Rim was uneventful. It was all downhill, and there wasn't anyone around. In fact, we hadn't seen anyone else on the trail, except for two backpackers, the whole time, but like I said, we weren't expecting to see many people because it was a Monday afternoon.

We were wrong. Just after crossing the creek, we began to encounter one group of hikers after another, hiking towards the creek. For a Monday, it was getting quite crowded along the trail - I'd hate to see what it's like on a Saturday! However, despite the crowds, the Wet Beaver Wilderness Area is a lovely one that would make for a fun backpacking trip.

We reached the trailhead around 2:30 p.m., at which time the large parking area was filled with cars and trucks. We had completed eleven miles of hiking, which we needed to help whip us back into shape. As we drove home that evening, we began to plan for our next adventure - a backpacking trip, something we hadn't done since October. Since I was really looking forward to being out in the backcountry again, I couldn't wait...


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