|Although we spent Mother's Day in the San Pedro Riparian
Area, camping and hiking with my friends from Berlin, that didn't mean that we
had completely neglected John's mother (Erika). In fact, we had a special
Mother's Day treat in store for her, and it would take place during the
Erika had been aching to do some hiking and camping, but with Bill's back problems, she had found herself at home more often than she liked to be. John decided that it would be fun to take her away for the weekend on an easy backpacking trip - you might even call it a luxury backpacking trip - on the trail of her choice.
We picked out three trails that would be easy enough for us to hike: the Maxwell Trail, Kinder Crossing, and the Houston Brothers Trail. From the list of choices, Erika picked Houston Brothers, because it was the one trail that she had never hiked before. (She loved Kinder Crossing, but she did not like Maxwell because of the poison ivy!) Of the three trails, Houston Brothers was also the easiest as it was completely flat, unlike the other two, and she wanted to do something that wasn't going to do any further damage to her knee.
With the plans set, John and I spent some time during the week packing our backpacks and coordinating all of the things that we would bring on the trip. We lucked out, too, because on Friday, May 16, I was given a day off of work because our department was relocating to another floor. So I spent most of the day getting the packs ready for the weekend and making sure that we had everything that we could possibly need for a luxury backpack.
Then, on Saturday morning, at 7:00 a.m., John and Mary and I picked Erika up at her house, and the four of us started up to the Mogollon Rim…stopping first, of course, for bagels at Einstein's to revisit an old tradition.
Our journey up to the Mogollon Rim took us about two and a half hours, as we had to make all of the necessary stops for potty breaks along the way. We stopped first at a Texaco station in Fountain Hills so that Mary could use the potty (and she did so successfully) and to buy snacks for the trip. We then stopped in Rye for a quick breather before continuing on to Payson. In Payson, we stopped at the McDonalds, located on the corner at the junction of SR 87 and SR 260. (McDonalds had become our new traditional stop during road trips, because it was the place where Mary could get rid of her pent up energy by playing on the playground.)
After our stop in Payson, we continued north on SR 87 and began to climb up to the Mogollon Rim. Upon arriving in Pine/Strawberry, we entered into what was left of the ponderosa pine forest surrounding the two communities. Sadly, most of the trees in that region of the Tonto National Forest were all dead, having become victims of the bark beetle. Most of the trees had already been cut down; the ones that were left standing were nothing more than browned matchsticks, waiting for that first lightning strike to set them ablaze. Needless to say, there were strict fire restrictions in place for the Tonto National Forest; parts of the forest had even been closed due to the extreme fire hazard. It was a sad sight indeed.
Once we got north of Strawberry, though, the damage left behind by the bark beetle diminished, and the trees in the Coconino National Forest were all healthy and green. There were no camping or fire restrictions in place, so we weren't going to have any closures to ruin our weekend.
We made one last stop in Clint's Well - another traditional stop for us - then continued north on SR 87 for another ten miles, to FR 95. From there, it was another ten miles on a good dirt road to FR 95D, where we would park the Jeep and begin our backpacking adventure.
Upon our arrival, Erika took Mary over to pick flowers, while John and I made sandwiches and prepared our gear for the short hike to camp. We did leave some things behind, though, because we were going to be close enough to the Jeep that we could hike back for them in the evening. One of the things, for example, was the bottle of wine, which we left in the ice chest to keep it chilled. (We didn’t bring a whole lot of wine – just one partial bottle – because I was just too nauseous from the morning sickness to want any of it!)
Around 10:30 a.m., with our backpacks full, the four of us set off on the Houston Brothers Trail. Even Mary had a little backpack, filled with toys and a sippy cup of juice, on her back as she hiked the whole third of a mile to our campsite. She carried it proudly, saying over and over, “Mommy, Daddy, I have a backpack, too!”
Halfway through our hike, we came to Pinchot Cabin, where we stopped to show Erika the signage for the Cabin Loop Trails. We indicated to her that we would only be hiking as far as the next meadow; however, if she wanted, we would take her all the way to Aspen Spring later, where we would see another structure: the hay barn.
It only took us another fifteen minutes after that to reach the meadow where we planned to camp. There, we dropped our packs and began to set up our equipment for the night, beginning with the tents. While John set up “Mary’s Tent”, our four-by-six backcountry tent, which Mary had claimed as her own, Erika began to empty out the stuff sack containing her tent…and that was when she made the shocking discovery…
There were no tent poles! Bill had taken them out of the sack, and she had forgotten to replace them! D’oh!
Fortunately, Erika Verley has a very clever son, who, with a little bit of rope and a lot of planning and coordinating, managed to rig the tent between two trees. He then staked it into the ground to keep it from blowing away. It wasn’t pretty, and it was only able to sleep one person, but it worked in a pinch.
Once we were all settled, we sat down to eat lunch and to enjoy our wilderness experience. For the next several hours, the four of us relaxed in that meadow, occasionally wandering off to explore the Houston Brothers Trail. Even Mary wandered off by herself at one point; she traipsed to the very edge of the meadow, which was about a hundred and fifty feet from our campsite. We could hear her proudly proclaim that she was hiking and that she would be back later. When she did return, she brought with her a handful of deer poop. “Look what I got!” she exclaimed. She was so happy about her discovery that I didn’t want to scold her for playing with scat, but I did make her drop it immediately.
A couple of hours before dinner, after I had had a short nap and was rested, the four of us decided to hike to the hay barn at Aspen Spring, just to show Erika what a beautiful area it was. Although it was a very short trip, we took our time getting there…mainly because Mary was starting to get a little whiny about hiking. Eventually, John had to carry her to get us moving along faster, especially after Erika and I ended up a quarter of a mile ahead of them!
Despite that minor setback, we did make it to Aspen Spring, where we showed Erika the hay barn, the spring, and the fireplace. We also showed her the road leading into the meadow and explained to her that, during our first hike into the area, we had seen truck there. We had no idea how it had gotten there, but John was determined to find that road eventually, in hopes that we could camp there someday.
“This would be a great place to do a camping trip with the whole family,” John told her.
Erika agreed – it would be a great place to camp with the whole family, if we could find the road to get there. She decided that she would do what she could to arrange such a trip.
Our return hike didn’t take nearly as long, mainly because we had decided to take turns carrying Mary back to camp. (She just wasn’t going to hike – she was done for the day.) We were there just in time for happy hour. That was when John decided that it was time to hike back to the Jeep for the rest of our supplies. While he was gone, the rest of us made ourselves comfortable and enjoyed the silence of the afternoon.
As soon as John returned with the wine and the rest of the supplies, it was time to cook dinner, so he and Erika fired up their camp stoves and started cooking. First, John made some Easy Mac for Mary; then, he whipped up our usual backcountry dinner consisting of Lipton noodles and canned chicken. He spiced that up with some chopped onions, some pepper jack cheese, and some selections from our spice wheel. It really had a kick to it – of course, John can turn any “blah” meal into a tasty treat.
After dinner, it was time to filter water, so John and Erika took turns using the water filter to pump water into their bottles. Mary helped both of them when she wanted to, but for the most part, she played Pooh Sticks in the creek.
At one point, after I had washed the dinner dishes, I went down to the creek to supervise. That was when I discovered a piece of garbage lying next to the rocks. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that it was a diaper – specifically a Huggies diaper. “Look at this,” I said to John. “Some slob left their kid’s diaper here!”
And that was when John realized that he was the slob in question! “I think I did that!” he said. Last September, right after Labor Day weekend, I had taken a three-day weekend to fly to San Francisco to see my best friend Suzanne’s new baby, Katherine (born on Mary’s second birthday). Meanwhile, John decided to spend the weekend camping with Mary. They had attempted to do the exact same backpacking trip into the Houston Brothers Trail, but they aborted the trip after hours and hours of rain had kept them in their tent.
Mary was still in diapers at that time (she was in Pull-Ups now), and she had had what John would call a “super-duper poopy” while they were caught in the rain. He managed to get her cleaned up, but in his haste to leave the trail to seek shelter in the car, he accidentally left the diaper behind.
“Well, now you have another chance to pack it out, Mister!” I said to him. (Yes, we did pack out the diaper the next day, because, after all, we try our best to leave no trace.)
With all of the chores completed, including the gathering of the firewood, it was time to relax for the evening around the campfire. Then, not long after the first star appeared in the sky, we all decided to retire for the night.
It turned out to be a long, long night – or, at least it was for me and Mary. While John slept outside next to the fire ring, and Erka slept in her makeshift tent, I decided to sleep in the backcountry tent with Mary. Although it was not that cold overnight, Mary had some problems getting comfortable and staying asleep, and every fifteen minutes or so, she would wake up crying. When she wasn’t crying, she was sleeping restlessly and kicking me in the back at every turn. This continued for most of the night, and as a result, I only got about three hours of sleep. Eventually, Mary did calm down and stay asleep for the rest of the night, and she slept very late into the morning.
I, however, was up at first light, and so were John and his mother. After getting the campfire going, John made pancakes for breakfast, which we ate while waiting for Mary to wake up. Once she was awake, she, too, ate breakfast; then, we began to pack up our campsite.
While Mary played with her toys, John and Erika and I packed up our backpacks in preparation for the short hike back to the Jeep. Once we were finished, we all posed with our packs on for a group picture, to commemorate our fine Mother’s Day adventure. Then, at 8:30 a.m., we hit the trail.
It only took us about a half an hour to complete our hike to the trailhead. Having reached our destination, we immediately dropped our packs and loaded them into the Jeep. Without taking a moment to rest, we drove away from the trailhead in search of more adventures to find.
Specifically, we went in search of the road to Aspen Spring. John was determined to find it this time, so that we could camp there someday, and he was certain that he had located it on the topo maps. So, we followed the map and went in search of the road.
We turned off onto FR 139G, which was not far from the Houston Brothers Trailhead, and we followed that for about two miles, at which point we came to an unmarked road that passed through a fence off to the right. That road was a little bit rough, but the Jeep had no trouble on it at all, not even when it dropped steeply down the hill. Once the road leveled out, it continued on into the trees and eventually passed through the fence at Aspen Spring. We did it!
Now that we knew how to get there, Erika decided to put together a family camping trip at Aspen Spring. That following Monday, she sent out e-mails to all of us with possible dates for the trip.
After leaving Aspen Spring, we decided to do a little more exploring in the area. Instead of taking FR 95 back to Highway 87, we took it further into the woods. Using the map as our guide, we followed one forest road after another until we finally ended up on FR 300 – the Rim Road. Although we knew it would be a long drive, we opted to stay on FR 300 and take that all the way back to the highway.
Along the way, we saw some interesting sights, as well as some places we had not seen in years. We drove through the Lee Johnson Springs area, which had burned several years ago – John and I remembered stopping there for a picnic five years ago, during our ill-fated exploration on FR 300 in July of 1998, when we blew two tires, including our donut spare. We also passed through an area that had been burned recently, during the Pack Rat Fire that had started in the Washington Park area in August of 2002. (It was still burning during Labor Day weekend; we hiked the Houston Brothers Trail through a thin haze of smoke from back-burning that was taking place only miles from us.) The devastation along FR 300 went on for miles.
As we reached the end of the fire-damaged forest, we encountered more damage within the forest – this time, however, it was a wrecked vehicle. Someone had smashed his Honda Accord into a tree while turning a sharp corner! The Honda was very badly damaged, and both airbags had been deployed. We’re not sure how long the car had been sitting there like that, but we did look to make sure that the driver was not still stuck inside the vehicle. Fortunately, it looked as though the driver had either escaped harm, or he had already been transported to the nearest hospital, as no one was there.
After nearly an hour traveling on FR 300, we finally came to Highway 87. At that point, we were done exploring, so we merged onto the highway and headed south into Payson. There, we stopped to treat Erika to a Mother’s Day lunch at Famous Sam’s before we continued the long drive back to Phoenix.
We arrived in town around 2:00 p.m. and dropped Erika off at home. She gratefully thanked us for taking her on such a wonderful adventure, and we told her that we were happy to oblige.
And so, with that, John and Mary and I returned home to relax. Another fun adventure was over.
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