Posted in hikes

hiking with littles: see canyon springs

I had the good fortune to stumble across the See Canyon Springs trailhead in time for a hike with Paul and both my parents (before my mom started teaching for the fall semester and while Paul had a week off between jobs). While I always do enjoy hiking with the kids, having all those extra adults makes it easier when little legs get tired or when one kid wants to explore ahead and linger behind to examine the bugs!

The trailhead sign! Several trails begin at the See Canyon Trailhead; while some are long and not safe during the monsoons, See Springs Trail is relatively short (2 miles round trip, approximately) and avoids canyons with flash flood risk.

And the bugs certainly were a highlight of the hike, from the very beginning when we came upon an Arizona Sister butterfly in the parking lot, through the handful of exoskeletons Rondel collected along the way, to the clouds of tiny periwinkle butterflies congregating along the trail on our way back.

The Arizona Sister butterfly is several inches across, velvety black with subtle navy patterning near the body, bold orange patches on the far end of the top wings, and white blotches creating a ‘V’ shape down towards the base of the body. In person, it is stunningly beautiful.

The trail crosses over the river only a few times, but follows close by its course the entire way up to the spring – there was only a short distance towards the middle of the hike where the murmur and rush of the waters was out of earshot. And at every turn there was some new beauty waiting for us. There were lush expanses of ferns, the rich odor of ponderosa in the air, sunlight reflecting off hidden pools through breaks in wooded shadow, mossy rocks with rivulets of clear water streaming around them, deep reddish brown trunks reaching into the sky, clear blue overhead with towering white clouds over the eastern heights.

I could have stayed there forever. (And I think Rondel could have as well. He’s already asked to go back, one of the first hikes he’s ever wanted to repeat.)

We did see a rattlesnake quite close to the trail, but it gave us its courteous warning rattle and we politely respected its space and watched it from a safe distance until it slithered back up into the woods. While there are certainly aggressive animals in the world, rattlesnakes are typically more like bees in that they only attack when they feel threatened, which is reassuring when your six year old is practically squirming to get closer to a venomous wild creature because he’s so fascinated by it…

The Arizona black rattlesnake we encountered – a mature individual, darkened to black on almost its whole body with only small tan stripes on the back. Apparently this species is capable of delivering large amounts of potent venom and should be avoided, as most bites happen when people attempt to handle the snake… not that I plan on trying to pick up any variety of wild rattlesnake, thank you very much.

In addition to being beautiful, the trail was easy enough for the boys to hike (Aubade ended up taking a nap in Paul’s arms – we should have brought the backpack for her), and they were captivated by the nature all around them. Limerick pushed on ahead with Grandma, excited to see what lay around each bend and to play in the water; Rondel meandered slowly with Grandpa, intrigued by each small detail and treasure along the way.

To get to the See Canyon Trailhead from the east valley: take the AZ-87 north to Payson. In Payson, turn right onto the AZ-260E and continue for 22 miles, until you reach the town of Christopher Creek, at which point you will turn left off the highway onto Christopher Creek Loop. Across from the Christopher Creek market, turn left onto FR-284 and follow the road until it ends at the trailhead. Once on the trail, follow the signs for See Springs instead of See Canyon for the shorter, kid-friendly hike – it is well marked. Parking at the trailhead is free and there is a bathroom available.

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