The idea of bushwhacking our way into a wilderness area began to fascinate John, and that was what brought us back to the Mogollon Rim the following weekend. Our plan was to hike four hours into Clover Creek, in the West Clear Creek Wilderness, and then turn around and hike back out. To accomplish this, John had purchased a handsaw and a pair of hiking socks for each of us, and I bought a new pair of hiking boots.
We arrived on the Mogollon Rim Friday night after work and set up camp off of FR 429, a heavily populated area that proved to be a little too noisy. Just moments after sunrise the next morning, our neighbors down the road were already firing off their guns. Fortunately, we were already awake, being the early risers that we are, and where we were going, we wouldn't have to listen to the noise of guns.
We left camp at 7:00 to go exploring before going to Clover Creek Road. John and I found a herd of elk along FR 616 (the road to Pivot Rock Canyon), and we sat in the car and watched them until they disappeared into the trees.
At 8:00 a.m., we began our hike into Clover Creek. After parking the car at the gate, we prepped our camelbacks, rubbed on the sunscreen and the bug repellent, then proceeded to walk down the old jeep road that led to Clover Creek. A quarter mile later, we were in the West Clear Creek Wilderness, hiking along the deer trail we had used during our first trek into the area. That was the easy part; two miles later, the real fun began. It was time to get our feet wet...literally.
As we progressed into the West Clear Creek Canyon, we were forced to climb down a steep cliff to get back down to the creek. John went ahead of me to scope it out and to make sure that it was safe for me to follow. He carefully slid on his rear end down a boulder, but then he lost his footing and slid right over the edge, landing with feet and knees together (just like they taught him in skydiving school) on a dead tree. Then, with his last bit of momentum, he stepped into the creek. At first I didn't know if he had been injured. Standing at the top of the cliff, I asked, "Honey, are you okay?"
"Yeah, I think so," came his winded response.
"Are you sure? Because it looks like you have a stick shoved up your butt!"
Sure enough, a six-foot long branch from the dead tree had broken off and become lodged between him and his camelback. At that point, he had to laugh, despite the fact that the branch could have impaled him. As we continued down the creek, he said that he felt like he had just recreated a scene from the movie Romancing the Stone - the scene in which Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner slide down a muddy hill into a pool of water during a monsoon storm.
Then, the shoreline on which we had been hiking began to diminish, forcing us to wade through the creek. At first I thought it was easy, so I walked carelessly through the water. Big mistake! I slipped on a "slide rock" and fell into the creek, injuring my leg on the way down. Just above my sock line, I had a huge bruise that swelled and turned all sorts of pretty colors. However, nothing was broken and the pain was only temporary. Though it hurt to touch the injury, I could still walk on it without a problem, so I was able to continue hiking.
As we progressed further down the creek, the foliage became so dense that it was almost impassible. John had to cut through it to blaze a trail for us. Wading knee deep in water, we would take one or two steps, stop, cut a path, take a few more steps, and then repeat the process. Other times, it was impossible to cut through the foliage, so we were forced to climb over it, meaning that we had to walk across fallen tree trunks that were balanced horizontally six feet above the creek. Occasionally, we were fortunate enough to find a nice dry sandbar on which we could walk for several feet, but then we would be back in the water again.
At 11:45 in the morning, I announced that I was hungry and that we should stop to have lunch. Just ahead of us, there was a four-foot high ledge on which we could stop, kick off our boots to let our socks dry, and eat our sandwiches and Power Bars. After lunch, John ventured on ahead alone to see if he could find the Tom's Creek junction, at which point the two creeks would join to form West Clear Creek. He was gone for fifteen minutes; when he returned, he reported that he had not found Tom's Creek but that we were lucky to have stopped where we did. Up ahead, the creek was so deep that we would have had to swim through it to get to the other side and there was no way to walk around it.
Though we had been hiking for four hours to reach that point, it only took us three hours to return to the car - mainly because we had already blazed the trail on the way in. During the return trip, two elks - a mother and her baby - ran across our path! Unfortunately, it happened so fast that we couldn't get the camera ready in time. We also found a strange sight that we had to photograph: a very large tree which had been growing on a ridge next to the creek had fallen over - possibly during a storm - taking with it a huge slab of granite that probably weighed at least a ton. The roots of the tree were completely tangled around the rock, holding it in place. Will it still be there in the spring, after the winter snow thaws?
After the hike was over, we were utterly exhausted. John and I returned to camp and started drinking wine, toasting to the success of our day. He then spread out the topographical map to measure how far we had hiked. Though it seemed as if we had gone further, we had only hiked four miles one way (a total of eight miles round trip).
The next morning, John felt like doing another hike - this time a short one. Though I was still tired from the Clover Creek hike, I agreed to it, as long as he could find a short trail for us to hike. After flipping through our "Trail Bible", he found the Maxwell Trail #37, a 0.6 mile long hike leading from the Mogollon Rim to West Clear Creek. It sounded like fun, so I said, "Let's do it."
To get there, we had to go to Forest Highway 3 (also known as Lake Mary Road), which can be found just north of Clint's Well on Highway 87. We took this highway all the way to FR 81, which is off to the left about nine miles north of the junction. About five miles later, FR 81 forked; staying to the left, we continued on FR 81E all the way to another fork. The road to the right - a primitive road that required a 4WD vehicle--leads to the Tramway Trail; and the one to the left - another primitive road that is in slightly better condition than the Tramway Road - goes to the Maxwell Trail. For the first 1.75 miles, the road was not too bad. It was possible to take a sedan through it. The last quarter mile, however, got very ugly. The road was rutted and full of "oil-pan rocks". Sticking to the philosophy that an Oldsmobile can go anywhere, John carefully navigated the car through the mess until we finally arrived at the trailhead parking area.
The Maxwell Trail #37 rates as a moderate trail according to the guide. It immediately enters into the West Clear Creek Wilderness area and begins to switchback all the way to the bottom - a 700-foot elevation loss over 0.6 miles. I thought nothing of it at first...until I saw the trail. It is a very steep descent, going down at a thirteen-percent grade - and it made me wonder how they could classify this as a moderate trail!
However, it is definitely worth the work. As we reached the bottom of the trail, we found ourselves on a beach, next to which is West Clear Creek and a beautiful pool of water that is perfect for swimming. Considering that it was a very hot day and that there was no one else around, we did what another other person would do: we took off our clothes and went skinny-dipping! John swam out to a giant boulder in the middle of the pool and climbed onto it. He wanted me to join him there, but the water was so cold that I had a hard time getting myself submerged.
Eventually he struck a deal with me: if I swam to him, he would let me take a naked picture of him. DEAL! I swam out to the boulder, lingered for a while, then returned to shore to get my camera. (The picture I took of him does not show any genitalia - just his rear-end - because he was perched, belly-down, on the boulder.) John also took a picture of me as I stretched out on a rock to let the sun warm me up. Since the pictures are tasteful, we use them to prove to people that we were indeed naked in the woods.
After a while, we finally put on our clothes and hiked back out of the canyon - a killer hike if you're not up to it. It took us about forty minutes to complete the trail, and by that time, I was very winded and a little sick. I had to eat some saltine crackers out of the food box to settle my stomach - and, of course, being bumped around on the 4WD road didn't help matters much!
It was still early in the day, so John suggested that we take the long, scenic route home. I had no objections to that, so we took FH 3 all the way to Flagstaff, where it was raining and the roads were crowded. We stopped at a little deli/bar to have lunch then continued on towards Sedona on Highway 89A, which took us through Oak Creek Canyon. The whole area was packed with tourists and vendors who had braved the rain to come out and sell their goods. As we passed through Sedona, traffic slowed to a crawl because of the rain, which gave us time to look on the map to find the road leading to the Chapel of the Holy Cross. Also known as the Church on the Rock, it is a non-denominational chapel that was built into the red rocks. The congregation hall has a huge window that looks out onto Sedona, and underneath it is a gift shop. John and I stopped there for a few minutes to see it and take pictures before we continued towards home.
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