Two weeks after our trek through the West Clear Creek Wilderness Area, John and I decided to share our adventures with his parents, since they had never been in that area before. We met them on the Mogollon Rim, off of FR 81E, Friday evening after work. They had gone up there during the day to get a decent campsite; because it was Labor Day weekend, the Rim was going to be packed with campers, so it was important to get there early.
We had heard that there would be rain in the forecast for Labor Day weekend, but none of us knew exactly how much rain we would actually get. Friday night, when we arrived, the skies were totally clear, and a bright full moon beamed down on us as we sat around the campfire and drank wine. Even the next morning was bright and sunny as we prepared to hike into West Clear Creek via the Maxwell Trail.
Our plan for Saturday morning was to hike down the Maxwell Trail into the West Clear Creek Wilderness Area. Once we reached the bottom of the trail, we would begin to bushwhack our way through the creek to see how far we could get in four hours. Then, we would return the way we had come. It sounded like a good plan, so at 7:30 in the morning, we left for the trailhead. We took Bill's van so that we would have the clearance to travel over the rocky road leading to the parking area at the Maxwell Trail. The van had no problem going over the rocks, however, the rest of the road gave us trouble because it was still wet from the rainfall of the previous day (but the van was even fishtailing on FR 81E, which is an all-weather road).
We hiked down to the end of the trail. By that time, rain clouds were beginning to gather. Ignoring them, we started heading northwest along West Clear Creek. At first, the hike required little bushwhacking but much wading and boulder hopping to reach the shore on the other side, where we were found a deer trail to follow. The path sometimes took us over small ridges where there were nice campsites; other times, it took us through the creek, where it would continue on the other side. It was much easier to hike than I had expected...so, of course, Mother Nature had to make it difficult for us.
We weren't even an hour into the trail when it began to rain lightly on us -- just lightly enough to get us wet, but not enough to be a nuisance. The rain lasted about five minutes; it stopped only moments after John put on his rain poncho. His parents joked that he couldn't remove the poncho now, because if he did, it would start raining again!
We continued to hike for another hour, seeing some incredible things along the way. At one point, we found Native American petroglyphs carved into the walls of the canyon. (Later that week, when I took the film to Smith's for developing, the cashier at the photo lab, fascinated by our pictures, begged me to tell him how to get there!) Not long after that, the path we were following led us into a thick forest of reeds that were over five feet tall! We also found the terminus for the Tramway Trail, which Erika suggested we take to get us out of the canyon should it start raining again. (John had already removed his poncho; a downpour was inevitable.) However, if we had hiked it back up to the main road, it would have taken us too long to walk back to the van. It made more sense to stay in the canyon and hike out via the Maxwell Trail.
We stopped to take a break on a sandstone ledge that overlooked a beautiful, crystal clear pool of water. John wanted to go swimming, and the rest of us wanted to have lunch there. However, before we could do anything, the thunder rolled, the lightning cracked, and the rain began to pour relentlessly from the sky.
The four of us hid on a steep ridge just above the sandstone ledge...and we were stuck there for over half an hour! Eventually, it let up just enough for us to hike back to the Maxwell Trail, at which point it was drizzling lightly. When we made it back to the van, it stopped raining.
Disappointed that our hike had been cut short, we returned to camp and watched the rain pour down from the shelter of the motor home. Before we had lunch, I crawled into the tent to get some dry clothes; as I did so, I discovered that our sleeping bags were drenched. John and I brought them inside the motor home to dry, but they were so wet that we had to borrow sleeping bags from his parents that night.
During the afternoon, the rain let up enough for us to leave the motorhome and go exploring. John suggested that we take FR 9366M - a primitive road leading to the Willow Crossings Trail #38. "It's not a bad road," he had said, "and I want to check out the trailhead."
The road was muddy and slick, which caused the van to fishtail as it struggled through the muck and mire. We ended up driving right past the trailhead, but there was no place for us to turn around. Eventually, less than a mile from the cairns marking the trailhead, Bill attempted to turn the van around...and in doing so, he got the rear wheels stuck in a muddy rut. The tires were buried so deep that the trailer hitch was buried in mud as well. Another disaster had struck.
It was fortunate for us that it was Labor Day weekend and that the Rim was packed with campers. There was a huge group of campers about a quarter of a mile from the point where we had gotten stuck, so Erika and I walked over there to see if anyone would be willing to tow us out of the mud. One of the campers, Donny, volunteered to help us, stating that he had seen us pass by him and that when he saw us walking, he knew there was trouble. We climbed into his 4WD pick-up truck and started to go...only to get stuck in the mud, too! (It was getting to be an ugly situation, but I kept telling myself that, one day, I would look back on it and laugh.)
Donny's son volunteered to pull him out of the mud, so Erika and I waited in the cab of the truck while he unhooked camping gear from his own truck. Meanwhile, we saw John walking down the road, looking for us. Since we were inside a vehicle, he didn't see us, nor could he hear Donny shouting for him, so he continued to walk, thinking that we had gone to look for someone else to help us.
Donny's son pulled us out of the mud; then we sent him to get John while Donny drove us back to the van. After a few good yanks on the tow chains, the van was finally free from the muck, and Bill drove it back onto solid ground. Erika and I jumped into the van as quickly as we could; then, trying to keep the wheels turning, Bill sped away. He didn't stop until we had caught up to Donny's son, at which time we offered them money and/or beer to show our appreciation for their assistance. They politely refused and sent us on our way.
We drove into Happy Jack after that to replenish our alcohol supply. Of course, it started to rain again, and this time, it showed no signs of letting up. We ended up spending the evening in the motor home, playing Rummikub and watching videos.
At that point, any normal person would have given up and gone home. Not us. The next morning, despite the fact that it looked as though it would rain all day, we once again drove to FR 9366M, parked the van on solid ground, then hiked to the Willow Springs Trailhead. According to the trail guide, the Willow Springs Trail is a relatively easy three-mile trail that begins at a cairn along FR 9366M. The trail follows a faint jeep road along a fence line. It then descends to Willow Springs deep within a ravine. After crossing the springs, the trail then climbs out the other side of the ravine, ending at another forest road.
The trick to this trail, however, is to stay along the fence line, because the path becomes very indistinct, making it easy to get lost. And that's exactly what happened to us. We thought that we were on the right path and that we were about to descend to Willow Springs, but we ended up on a precipice, overlooking the springs. From that standpoint it was possible to see the trail on the other side of the ravine, but we still couldn't see the trail on our side. A bit confused, John wandered around to look for it, and he found it next to a wash...near the fence...and then it started to rain again. Grumbling, John suggested that we turn back; we could hike that trail another time.
Since it was too wet to do anything on the Rim, we decided to take our wet and muddy clothes - and our drenched sleeping bags - into Pine to do laundry. Of course, as soon as we arrived in town the rain stopped, the skies cleared up, and the sun began to shine upon us.
While we waited for our laundry to finish, the four of us walked to the Pine thrift shop. On the grounds of the community center, next to the thrift shop, there was a crafts fair going on. We wandered through it to pass the time away; we also went to the Texaco station to buy ice cream for everyone. Then, when our laundry was done, we returned to the Rim, where it was heating up to be a very nice day after all.
However, the rain continued to haunt us even after it had gone away. Upon returning to camp, John and I announced that we were going to take a walk along some of the forest roads. Though we were hiking on relatively flat roads, the hike was difficult because of the mud. It was so thick that after three steps we would have to stop to scrape it off of our boots - otherwise, our shoes would be too heavy!
We hiked for seven miles. By the time we made it back to camp, it was dinner time - and afterwards, it was time for "Rummikub: The Grudge Match", as well as another video.
The next morning, we dropped camp early and headed back to Phoenix. Although it had not rained in almost twenty-four hours and it looked as though we could do another hike, we had to be home in time for a Labor Day party at the Verleys'. When we arrived in Phoenix, the weather was beautiful, and we were able to enjoy at least one day of our long weekend while we swam in a nice warm pool and barbecued burgers for dinner.
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