I have often joked that when I turn twenty-nine, that will
be my last birthday. After that I start lying about my age...for as long as I
can get away with it. Little did I know, August 13, 1999 would end up being my
"first" birthday -- as Mrs. Verley, that is!
Due to my lack of vacation time, John was unable to take me on an extended
trip as he had done last year, when we camped in the White Mountains, near the
Escudilla Wilderness, and then on Mount Graham. However, I still wanted to do
a little camping, even if it was for just one night. After much thought, I
told John that I wanted to camp on the Mogollon Rim and finally hike the
Willow Crossing Trail (#38), which we had tried to hike last
Labor Day, to no
avail (thanks to the rain and a lack of trail maintenance). In all honesty, I
just wanted to have an easy weekend, a weekend where I wasn't required to
carry forty pounds on my back while hiking. I wanted to have a little wine and
sleep in a big tent on top of an air mattress and have steaks for dinner. Yet,
I also wanted to be out in the outdoors again, under a blanket of stars,
sitting next to a roaring campfire, communing with nature. That was how I
wanted to celebrate my birthday weekend.
We got everything ready to go Thursday night, so that Friday night, the
evening of my birthday, John could take me to dinner at the Salt Cellar, our
favorite restaurant -- and the one restaurant we can only afford to eat at
twice a year! We ate and drank to our hearts' content, and when we got home,
we drank some more until we fell asleep, contently buzzed on wine....
...And the next morning, when the alarm woke us at 5:00, we regretted it. I
moaned and groaned most of the morning while my head swam through the
aftermath of my binge and my stomach threatened to spew forth the delicacies I
had consumed the night before. However, despite the hangover, we were still
out the door at 5:45, fifteen minutes earlier than expected. After a brief
stop at the AM/PM for coffee and donuts and gas, John and I returned home to
pick up a few forgotten items (i.e. board games). Then we hit the road.
The trip to the Mogollon Rim, after having taken it so many times, has become
a long, boring drive. I found myself napping between Payson and Pine; but what
to do during the rest of the drive? John and I have found ourselves getting
inventive during these road trips to alleviate that boredom....
By 9:30 a.m., we found a campsite, set just off of FR 81E, in a patch of trees
that would provide us with some shelter should it rain during the weekend. (We
had already seen a few sprinkles on the way there, and it had been overcast
all morning. We were probably going to see more rain that weekend.) The first
thing we unloaded was the tent, which we set up in between four trees. This
was the first time I had seen our 9'X8' tent since April, when we had camped
at Workman's Creek. Having spent so many nights since then in our smaller
backcountry tent, I never realized just how huge our car camping tent really
was! I began to feel a little spoiled. Then, as we began to unload all of our
other equipment (i.e. the camp stove, the rolling table, the tarp, etc.), I
pointed out that, to some people that is roughing it; to us, having all of
that stuff with us was a luxury.
But that was the whole point of the trip: luxury! We weren't there to break
our backs or kill ourselves hiking the super-strenuous trails. I wanted for us
to have an easy weekend, which was why I chose to do the Willow Crossing
Trail, an easy to moderate trail that goes into Willow Canyon, where there is
a creek that flows into West Clear Creek. The trail, however, is indistinct
for the most part, making it very difficult to follow. Last year, when we
tried to hike this trail, we ended up getting lost, and when the rain began to
pour on us, we gave up and returned to the trailhead. This time, it looked as
though we were going to get another rainstorm, however, aside from a few
harmless drops of rain, the weather remained calm enough for John and I to
hike Willow Crossing.
The trail began off of FR 9366M -- the infamous FR 9366M, where we had gotten
the van stuck last Labor Day! This time, the road was dry enough for us to
drive on it without the danger of getting stuck. We parked the van at the
trailhead (which is marked by a two-foot tall cairn), and followed the faint
jeep road (which is a very flat hike) along the barbed wire fence until we
came to the stock enclosure. Although the gate was marked "This Gate is to
Remain Closed", we ignored the sign and went through it anyway, closing it up
again after passing through it. After that, the trail became more distinct as
it began to descend into the canyon -- an elevation loss of about 300 feet.
There were a few times along the way that we lost the trail, but after a quick
scan of the area, we were able to find it again and continue on our way.
As we reached the bottom of the canyon, we crossed the dry creek bed and began
to climb up the other side of the gorge. From the top of the hill, we had
stunning views of the canyon walls, which are not unlike those found in West
Clear Creek Canyon. There is even a natural arch carved in the walls of the
canyon. The arch is difficult to see at first; John and I didn't find it until
the return trip.
The trail ended at a junction with a four wheel drive road that is probably
not used very much. The road cuts through a pretty valley with lots of yellow
and white wildflowers and green grass. We followed along the road for about a
quarter of a mile just to take in the scenery before turning around to go back
to the trailhead. During the return trip, John decided to do a little trail
maintenance by setting up cairns along the indistinct parts of the trail, in
order to help future hikers find their way -- now that we knew where to find
the trail, we could help others do the same. We completed the trail by 3:00
p.m., which gave us time to relax, play a game of Monopoly, and enjoy a few
glasses of wine before dinner.
After dinner, John started a campfire by building a fire ring around a dead
tree stump. At the time, it seemed like a good idea, and in fact the fire
burned nicely all night. It kept us warm during our poker game, and it was
even hot enough to make pies with our sandwich cooker. Just before bed, we put
a few small logs on it to keep it going for most of the night. At about 3:00
a.m., I awoke to the sound of popping -- and, of course, to nature's call,
too. I tried to ignore both, but after a while I had to get up to answer the
call. After doing so, I went to investigate the source of the popping. It was
coming from the campfire, which had burned a hole in the ground and caved in
most of the fire ring. The fire had burned so hot that the rocks that had been
used to make the fire ring were now exploding and sending chips flying in all
directions. Since it was almost 4:00 a.m., we chose to ignore the popping and
went back to sleep.
The next morning, John and I slept in until 7:45 -- a new record for us! We
crawled out of the tent and went straight for the coffee cake -- and I went
straight for the coffee pot. Then John restarted the campfire, which was still
smoldering from last night. The rocks, which had fallen into the hole, were
still hot, and once the fire was going, they began to pop again, sending hot
chips flying in all directions. One chip landed just inside the tent and
burned a hole through the floor. That was when John decided that our campfire
had to be put out, dead out. He spent most of the morning pouring water and
dirt into the hole until he was convinced that the fire was out.
After breakfast, we decided to go do the
Tramway Trail #32, one of three
trails that goes into the West Clear Creek Wilderness Area on the east end
(the other two being the Maxwell Trail #37 and the Calloway Trail). We had
wanted to do the Tramway Trail for a while, but due to the rough road
conditions we didn't want to risk getting the van stuck. However, since the
weather had been mostly dry for a while, John opted to take the risk.
The road leading to the Tramway Trail -- FR 693, which branches off of FR 81E
-- could hardly be called a road. It is rutted, rocky, and often
treacherous...and those are its good qualities! John was clenched in his seat
during the entire two-mile drive; he found relief only after he had parked the
van at a campsite.
We began hiking at 9:25 a.m., down the steep Tramway Trail #32. Having done
the Maxwell Trail several times, John and I expected Tramway to be somewhat
similar in that both trails are of equal distance and elevation change. The
Tramway Trail, however, is much more treacherous, requiring a lot of
scrambling down boulders and stepping through loose rock on steep sections. In
order to make it to the bottom without injury, we had to hike cautiously, and
because of that, it took us forty minutes to reach the bottom, 0.7 miles away.
We weren't able to stay long, though, because there were dark clouds gathering
overhead, and John didn't want to get stuck on FR 693 during a monsoon storm.
After taking a moment to catch our breath, we began the long, arduous climb
uphill...a climb that only took us thirty-five minutes to complete! In this
case, the uphill struggle was easier than the downhill scramble because we
didn't have to exercise as much caution.
Of course, since we hurried back to the van, the monsoon storm that had
threatened us never came. John managed to make it back to our campsite without
damaging the van or getting us stuck, and I complimented him on his driving
skills. Once we were back at camp, we relaxed for a while and drank the last
of the wine while we played a few games of Milles Bornes. Then, around noon,
after we had eaten lunch, we began to drop camp. It was time to go home.
As tradition dictates, whenever we camp on the Mogollon Rim, John and I stop
at the Texaco station in Pine to get ice cream, and this trip was no
exception. We drove away from the Rim, enjoying our waffle cones filled with
Dreyer's soft serve. On the way home, we made a side trip through Gisela, an
old town five miles east of Rye. Gisela is a pretty little community, with
small farms and colorful houses with immaculate lawns and swing sets. We
traveled along the dirt road, which parallels Tonto Creek, until the road
became too rough and muddy. That was when John decided that he had had enough
adventure for one day. So we turned around and went back to the main highway,
where we continued to drive home.