For Father's Day this year, John wanted to go backpacking (no surprise there). He even turned down a camping trip with his parents in order to spend the weekend the in the backcountry.
Figuring out where to go was a tough decision, though. Sure, we could have done an easy trip into Kinder Crossing or Houston Brothers, but John thought that those places would be too crowded on that busy weekend. After some research, he suggested that we go someplace where it wouldn't be that crowded, a place that we had visited before, a few years ago.
A little place called Chevelon Crossing.
I wanted to protest, but I did not, because, after all, it was his special day. The last time we went through Chevelon Crossing, though, it was not easy at all...and I couldn't ever imagine bringing a child down that trail. It was overgrown, hard to follow, and even a little bit treacherous. It was one of those hikes where it took us several hours to go two miles, because we kept getting lost at every turn, or because we couldn't get through the thick foliage that covered the trail. I wasn't sure if John remembered that or not, but like I said, it was his special day, so I kept my mouth shut.
A week before our trip, John purchased a product that we hoped would help to lighten our food load: he bought a Foodsaver vacuum sealer, in which we could vacuum seal our food. By vacuum sealing our chicken or beef right out of the can, it would save us from having to carry all those cans around...and all we would have to carry out is one lightweight plastic bag. We could also seal cheese, vegetables, and fruit. The night before our trip, we spent the evening sealing up our food into those plastic containers, and as a result, the food bag was much lighter and more compact than it used to be.
So, with our backpacks loaded in the Jeep, John and Mary and I left the house at 6:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, June 18, to embark on our Father's Day adventure.
Getting to Chevelon Crossing was only half the battle; in fact, it was a long, three-hour drive to get there. Our route took us north on SR 87 into Payson, where we stopped briefly at the McDonald's for a bathroom break (and to get Mary dressed for the day - we had put her into the Jeep in her pajamas). From there, we continued east on SR 260 for many miles, to the turnoff for Woods Canyon Lake (FR 300). We followed FR 300 for about eight miles before turning right onto FR 169.
And at that point, we still had twenty miles to go, on dirt, to get to FR 504, and another two miles after that to get to the campground, where our hike would begin.
Our journey to the campground passed without event, though it took us about three and a half hours to get there (a little bit longer than expected). When we finally arrived at the campground, we parked in exactly the same spot where we had parked before - under a shady tree, next to a picnic bench, near the start of the trail.
We took about fifteen minutes to gear up: John and I each had our backpacks and bottled water, and Mary was carrying John's Camelbak Blowfish, rather than her Wiggles backpack, because John thought it might be easier for her to carry. It would also provide us with extra water filtered water for the hike. Of course, Mary carried it for about five minutes before she decided it was too heavy for her; after that, John had to carry it.
We got started at 9:45 a.m.; after sharing our traditional trail kisses, we hiked from the Jeep down to Chevelon Creek. Once we crossed the creek, we came to an old Jeep road, which paralleled the creek for a while. This part of the trail was much like I had remembered it: cool and pretty and lined with tall ponderosa pines. There are several campsites along the way that would probably be nice for a luxury backpack.
It wasn't long after that, however, that things got hairy...
We had not even been hiking an hour before we got lost...and the worst part about that was, we had made the same mistake during our first trip into Chevelon! Instead of turning and crossing the creek, we kept following the old game trail uphill, and it wasn't until we reached the high overlook that we realized what we had done. Just as we started to turn around, though, Mary set her hand down on a small prickly pear cactus and soon had a hand full of cactus needles. John had to pry them out with his Leatherman before we could continue.
After coming down off of the hill, we discovered that we were still lost; the trail had become even more overgrown and indistinct, so we weren't able to find the trail at all. Treading through foliage choked with poison ivy and wild roses, we wandered around looking for any sign that there was a trail through there, and tempers were starting to flare. We did eventually find the trail, on the other side of the creek, but getting there wasn't pretty at all. All three of us were so frustrated that we had to stop and take a long break before we could continue.
The trail didn't get any better; in fact, from there, it only got worse. Over the next half-mile, we got lost several more times. Every time the trail started to look familiar to me, I would discover that I wasn't on the trail at all, so I would have to double back. Along the way, we found ourselves bushwhacking in hopes of finding something - anything - that even slightly resembled a trail, to no avail.
We were very grateful when we finally found something that was familiar to us: the first meadow, the one in which we had considered camping before, had there not been a giant anthill teeming with fire ants. This time, the ants were gone, so we were tempted to camp there, but for whatever reason (probably temporary insanity), we declined and decided to keep going...although we did take an extra long break there, under the shade of the juniper tree.
Although we had already seen our share of bad times along this trail, the worst was yet to come.
The next half-mile of the trail had been extremely overgrown four years ago, during drought conditions, so it was no surprise to us that it was even more so, thanks to the wet winter we had had. The trail that cut through the wild roses and brambles that lined the creek was no longer visible, and there was no way to get through the thicket without getting scratched. All three of us emerged from the thorns looking like we had done battle with a band of cats. Mary had a long cut down her shin, and there were tears of frustration and pain streaming down her little red cheeks.
Despite her difficulties, Mary did have an easy time getting across the "ledge", where the trail passed along a narrow rock shelf creekside. She walked across it with the greatest of ease, whereas I had to traverse it on my hands and knees after slipping and falling forward. We were proud of her.
When we finally emerged from the brambles, around 1:00 p.m., we found ourselves at last at Durfee Crossing, at mile marker two. It was there that we would make our camp for the night. During our first trip into Chevelon, that campsite had been occupied by a pair of hunters who, it seemed, had a lot of equipment with them for a pair of backpackers. We had seen them sitting at a table as we passed by them, and I remember wondering, "How did they get a table down here?" (It turns out that someone had built that table there many, many years ago, when there was a road to Durfee Crossing.)
Much to our relief, the campsite was unoccupied, and so we dropped our packs and started to set up camp, next to the table. But first, we cooked lunch, because we were starving after that difficult hike. Sitting on the table in the shade of the dead juniper tree, John cut open a bag of pre-cooked chicken, a bag of noodles, and a package of pepper-jack cheese, and with that, he made a delicious pot of macaroni and cheese. We ate quietly, because we were so tired that none of us wanted to spend the energy to talk.
Once lunch was consumed, it was time to set up the tent so that Mary could take a nap. While we were working, we heard voices nearby and looked up to discover that we were not alone. Across the creek from us was a father and his two sons, fishing in the creek while their dogs splashed about. They were having the time of their lives, even though they didn't catch a single fish. But I suppose that didn't matter, because they were spending the Father's Day weekend together.
After a while, John began to wonder, how did they get there? Did they come in on Chevelon, or did they come in on the old Durfee Crossing Road? Was it possible that we could take that same road out in the morning and avoid all of the prickers and thorns that had torn us apart on the way in? John had to investigate, so he grabbed the Camelbak and looked for the old road while I stayed with our napping child.
When he returned, he was laughing. Indeed, the fisherman and his sons had come in on the old Durfee Road - in fact, he passed them on the way back. He explained that he had actually found a MARKED trail - the Durfee Crossing Trail - that was a half of a mile long and ended up at a very nice trailhead. It took him a whole fifteen minutes to climb up to the trailhead and another ten to return to camp, because the trail was maintained - no overgrowth! "Well, that settles it," I said. "We're taking Durfee Crossing out in the morning!"
Mary was happy to hear that. She never wanted to see those prickers again.
Evening was soon upon us, and John and I spent some time gathering wood for the campfire before dinner. Around 5:30, John cooked us a backcountry feast...okay, it was really just a typical one-pot meal, consisting of Lipton Noodles and a can of chicken, but thanks to the Foodsaver, he was able to add a little pizzazz to it. Before leaving the house, he cut up a bunch of vegetables, including red pepper, onion, and habañero, and he added to that slivered elephant garlic. With that, and a few choice spices from the spice wheel, he had created a culinary backcountry masterpiece! It was superb.
After dinner, we spent the rest of the evening lazing around the campfire, waiting for the sun to set so that we could all go to bed - we were too tired to stay up late. We put Mary to bed at 7:40; we followed less than an hour later.
Naturally, after going to bed so early, we were up before the sun, at 5:00 a.m. John and I were up first and warmed up by the campfire; and Mary awoke about a half an hour later.
We didn't waste any time getting packed up that morning; although we knew that the Durfee Crossing Trail was only a half of a mile long, we still didn't know how long it was going to take us to hike along the forest roads to get back to Chevelon Crossing. John had a nice route mapped out for us on the topographical maps, but having not done that route before, he was not sure of it.
"Well, it can't be worse than the prickers," I said.
We started hiking out on the Durfee Trail just before 8:00 a.m. ... and just as John had promised, we found ourselves on a well marked, maintained trail. At the base of the Durfee Trail, at Durfee Crossing, was a brown trail sign. A few yards later, we passed through a gate. Soon after that, we started climbing up the trail: a steep climb for sure, but not very difficult...and certainly not overgrown with prickers!
As we neared the top, we found that the trail was marked with arrows, to show hikers which way to go...as if it was hard to figure out, since the trail was so distinct. Then, at the very end of the trail, we found, as John had promised, a well-manicured trailhead: a large parking area, surrounded by a low fence and marked with trail signs. Both the parking area and the road leading up to it were graded and passable in a sedan.
"Wow, I wish we had known about this before," I said. "That was a much nicer trail than Chevelon!"
It had only taken us twenty-five minutes to make it to the trailhead, but that didn't mean that our day was over. We still had a couple of miles to cover at least before we were done; and although we had a general idea where we were going, we weren't quite sure which route to take to get there.
On the topographical map, John found what appeared to be an old road off of the forest road that we were following away from the trailhead. His best guess was that we could take that side road up and over the ridge to FR 504; from there, we would just follow the road down to the campground/trailhead. On paper, it looked like a good plan; in reality, it didn't work out that way.
We came to the place where we thought the side road would be, but instead, all we found was a very indistinct game trail. Since we weren't sure that that was it, we kept going along the forest road, hoping that we would find it along the way. Well, we didn't, so John suggested that we just climb up the ridge cross-country. As we were halfway up, John told us to stop and wait for him, so that he could scout up ahead of us - he wanted to make sure that he wasn't getting us too lost.
Call it good route-finding skills or just pure dumb luck, but as we continued along our cross-country trek, we soon found ourselves on the right track. As we reached the top of the ridge, we came to a barbed-wire fence, so we followed it for several feet to look for a gate through which we could pass. Not only did we find the gate, but we found the road that we were supposed to be following!
We followed the old road for about a half of a mile. Along the way, we passed through an old homestead, of which only a pair of tin roofs and some splintered wood was left. We stopped there for just a few minutes to take pictures; then, we continued on our way.
Around 9:30 that morning, we finally arrived at FR 504...and we were happy to see that our journey was almost over. From there, it was all downhill to the campground...and the Jeep. Knowing that we were almost done seemed to motivate us, and we hiked at a very good clip all the way downhill.
When we arrived at the Jeep, at 10:00 a.m., we were in much better spirits than we had been the day before at the end of our hike...but we were still tired, nonetheless. For that reason, we decided not to go and visit John's parents at their campsite near Milk Ranch Point. Instead, we decided to head straight home.
To leave Chevelon Creek, we took FR 504 all the way to SR 260, just west of Heber. Once we were back on pavement, we stopped at the first Circle K we could find so that we could get something cold to drink. We then drove non-stop to Payson and arrived there just in time for lunch. Since it was Father's Day, I offered to buy John lunch - his choice. He chose Subway, so that we could eat lunch on the road (he just wanted to get home). He and Mary even waited in the Jeep while I ordered the sandwiches.
From Payson, we drove straight home along SR 87. We had survived another adventure out in the wild - or, as John called it, a "mother of a Father's Day trip"; now, tired and sore and a little bit smarter, it was time for us to head home and recover.
But will we ever return to Chevelon Crossing? Of course we will...but next time, we'll take the Durfee Crossing Trail!
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