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June 24, 2001

"Into the Woods Again"

Immediately following Mother's Day, all hell broke loose, as one illness after another kept us from our normally active lifestyle. It all started with Mother's Day weekend, when Mary started coughing again, and all of us came down with the stomach flu. Over the next few weeks, Mary's cough continued to worsen, and soon she started to develop other symptoms, such as a runny nose and crusty eyes. By the beginning of June, she had developed an eye and an ear infection on top of that, so we immediately took her to the doctor. Her pediatrician put her on antibiotics, but when she didn't respond to the treatment, he ordered us to have her admitted to the hospital. A chest X-ray proved that she had a touch of pneumonia. After spending twenty-four hours at Scottsdale Healthcare, Mary finally started to recover, and she was allowed to go home. Three days later, she was back at day care again; except for a residual cough, she had completely healed!

As if that wasn't bad enough, I, too, became sick. Not only did I have the flu for two weeks, but I also developed the same eye infection. Even after Mary was able to return to day care, I was still at home, feeling like death warmed over, with my eyes stuck shut and swollen to the point where it hurt to blink. It wasn't until I stopped using the drops that had been prescribed to me that I finally started to recover from the eye infection!

Having spent five weekends at home (or in the hospital), John and Mary and I were finally well enough to get back into the outdoors again. Since we were badly out of shape, we decided to pick something easy but also, something that we had never done before. After consulting a book called Flagstaff Hikes, by Richard and Sherry Magnum, we decided to do Wildcat Springs, on the Mogollon Rim. Although this trail had been recommended to us many times by John's parents, we had never done it...

And we didn't know what we were missing!

On Sunday morning, June 26, John and Mary and I left the house at 6:00 a.m. to drive to the Mogollon Rim. We stopped en route at Fry's to buy sandwiches for the hike and at AM/PM for gas and coffee, but we didn't stop at Einstein's because the shop doesn't open until 7:00 on Sundays. (It's okay to break with tradition every once in a while, I guess!)

We traveled on SR 87 north through Payson up to the Mogollon Rim, a trip that we have made multiple times in the past but one that we had not done in a long time - at least, not without John's parents. Along the way, John and I explained to Mary that, the last time we had taken her on top of the Rim, she was only three and a half weeks old. Funny how things had changed in ten months; back then, all she did was eat, sleep and poop! She is no longer that tiny little newborn; now, she is a little baby girl, who does all sorts of interesting things.

Another thing that had changed was the highway. The final phase of the SR 87 construction had been completed, and the new stretch of highway, between Sunflower and the Slate Creek Divide, was finally open in both directions. How nice it was to drive on that new section of the highway, over Kitty Joe Creek and past Mount Ord. Although the drive through Sunflower is pretty, this new road is indeed equally scenic.

We arrived on the Mogollon Rim around 8:30 a.m., and soon thereafter, we turned onto FR 616 - the road to Pivot Rock Canyon. Our destination was the Pivot Rock Canyon Trailhead, which is also the trailhead for Wildcat Springs - the trail is located across the road from the campground, at the "Road Closed" sign.

Our plan for the day was to hike the Wildcat Springs Trail, which was a short and easy hike that would take us through what has been described as "Arizona's Rain Forest". The trail was only 1.4 miles in length (2.8 miles round trip), so it would only take us about an hour and a half to hike, despite how badly out of shape we were. Then, after we were finished hiking that trail, we would go across the road and hike all or part of Pivot Rock Canyon, for a total of five to seven miles for the day. That would be a perfect way for us to get our feet working again.

We parked in the Pivot Rock Canyon campground - which was surprisingly empty, for as beautiful as the weather was that day - and around 8:50 that morning, we began hiking the Wildcat Springs Trail. After passing by the "Road Closed" sign, we followed the old jeep road that is closed to motorized vehicles as it meandered along the creek. About a tenth of a mile from the trailhead, the trail narrowed to a foot path as it entered a beautiful meadow, where we found a campsite situated next to a very unique looking boulder. As soon as we found it, we immediately knew what we would be doing next weekend! "This would be the perfect place to camp," John said, "during the holiday weekend."
The trail to Wildcat Springs
The footpath soon took us into what could best be described as a rain forest. Partly shaded by tall ponderosa pines, the footpath broke through a dense patch of tall ferns, poison ivy, and wild roses that lined the tiny creek. The whole area was lush and green, and the air was thick and humid. As we passed through it, we were dripping with sweat, despite that it was very cool outside. It was very scenic and tranquil, and we were the only ones there to enjoy it.

At 0.7 miles, the trail emerged from the rain forest and into another grassy meadow. Here, it was a little difficult to find the trail, because the footpath merges with the old jeep road again. While we were looking for the jeep road, we discovered that there were several side canyons that we could explore - of course, we would have to have a topo map with us (which we didn't), so we decided to save that for next weekend.

For the next 0.7 miles, we continued up the old jeep road until we arrived at Wildcat Springs, which is the source of the creek that we had been following. There was a large concrete tank there, from which the spring water trickles into the creek. The area surrounding the spring is shaded by tall pines, so it is very cool - that made it the perfect spot for us to stop and take a break.

The trail did not end there, but we weren't far from the end. While John played with Mary, I walked to the end of the trail, which was not more than five hundred yards from the spring. It ended at a forest road that appeared to be a light duty road (possibly FR 149, but we wouldn't know without a topo). My curiosity satisfied, I returned to the spring and sat down to rest with my family.
The Verleys at Wildcat Springs
We stayed for about a half an hour and enjoyed the peacefulness of the area while Mary played with the pine needles and whatever else she could find. At one point, she found a twig that looked like a pretzel rod, but we had to take it away from her after we discovered that she had bitten off a chunk of it! (Mary has four teeth now, and it is amazing how strong they are!) I took family pictures using the self-timer on the digital camera, and John talked out our plans for next weekend as he kept an eye on the clouds that were gathering overhead.

Just before 10:00 a.m., we decided to start hiking back to the trailhead, because the clouds were beginning to threaten - and if we wanted to hike Pivot Rock Canyon, too, we were going to have to do so before lunch, or we were likely to get some rain. Along the way, John and I planned out next weekend: we were going to hike either Kinder Crossing or the Houston Brothers Trail on Saturday, then we would backpack into Wildcat Springs and camp at that first site that we had come to. By camping there, we would only be five minutes from the van, in case we were hit by a severe monsoon storm that night. On Sunday, before breaking camp, we would throw on our day packs and go explore some of the side canyons along the Wildcat Springs Trail - John made sure to mark them all on the GPS during the return hike, so that he could find them on the topo maps later.

We made it back to the van just after 10:30 a.m.; instead of stopping, though, we continued hiking through the campground until we came to the Pivot Rock Canyon Trail, which we had already hiked twice before. Along the way, John came up with an idea for an alternate hike. His father had told him that there is a spur trail that goes to Pivot Rock Falls. Although he had vague directions, John felt certain that he could find it, so he suggested that we go there, because neither one of us had ever been there. "Okay with me!" I said. I was feeling very good, and I thought it would be fun to see something else new that day.

To get to Pivot Rock Falls, John explained that we would have to hike about a quarter of a mile on the Pivot Rock Canyon Trail. Then, when the trail goes down to the creek, instead of following the creek towards the cabins, we would go in the opposite direction. When we actually reached that point, though, we weren't sure which way to go, but, as we were determined to go explore something new, we chose to go into the side canyon, off to the right. We found a narrow game trail and followed it deep into the side canyon, uncertain as to what we were going to find there.
Hiking to Pivot Rock Springs
The little footpath took us through a dense forest of ferns and wild roses and other lush plants as it meandered back and forth across a tiny, trickling creek. The little canyon almost immediately began to narrow as it came to a spring, where there was a pool of clear water, next to a "garden wall", where the canyon wall was covered with green vines. I was particularly fascinated with this little area, because it was so very pretty.

After passing by that little spring, the trail continued upstream for another mile. Here, the canyon began to widen out a little bit, though the foliage was still very dense and tall - some of the ferns were over four feet tall! For the most part, it was shaded by ponderosa pines, which, along with the cloud cover, provided us with a nice, cool hike. Further up the trail, we encountered aspen trees, something that we did not expect to find there. We also found an old, rusted truck bed on the trail - it seemed that there was no end to the discoveries to be made on this trail! It was turning out to be a fun little trek.

Finally, around 11:30 a.m., we came to a group of people who were car-camping just above the creek - we had reached the end of the line. We stopped just short of their campsite and decided to take a break there, so that we could feed Mary her lunch and change her diaper. (She was getting a little fussy, probably because she had missed her morning snack.) We sat next to the creek and enjoyed the fresh, cool air and watched the clouds continue to gather overhead.

"I think I'm going to name this Mary's Trail," John said. "I don't think that anyone has ever done a write-up on this trail, so I'm going to give it a name."

He explained that he was going to look it up on the topo maps when we got home that evening, because he was curious where it ended up. When he did so, he discovered that the trail ended up at Pivot Rock Springs and went back up to FR 616, just beyond the campsite. For that reason, he decided to call it the Pivot Rock Springs Trail instead.

At noon, we decided to start hiking back to the van - it was time to call it a day, before we got stuck in a monsoon storm. On the way back, though, John decided that he still wanted to try to find Pivot Rock Falls, so when we reached the junction with Pivot Rock Creek, we went left instead of right and followed the game trail along the creek. It turned out to be a spur trail off of the Pivot Rock Trail, and after a quarter of a mile it took us back up to the trail.

The return trip took us about a half an hour, so we were back at the van around 12:30 p.m. After loading up our gear, we started our long drive home...but first, John needed to check something out. "What are you doing?" I asked when he turned left instead of right onto SR 87.

"I'm going to see if the road to Clover Creek is still open," he said. Last year, the forest service had opened a new road, so he was curious to see if FR 142 was still open. So we drove north on SR 87 for a mile or so and turned left onto Clover Creek Road, where John was surprised to learn that FR 142 was still open. "Oh, well, that's all I wanted to know," he shrugged, and with that, it was time to go home.

We were home by 3:30 that afternoon, leaving us enough daylight hours to do a few household chores before dinner. That evening, we celebrated our return to the outdoors with a nice dinner. It felt great to be back in the outdoors again, and that deserved a celebration.


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