Posted in family life, hikes

hiking with littles: wet beaver creek day use area

It is good to simply be – to be present, to be at peace, to be free.

This is something I try to give to my children: freedom, space for wonder, opportunity for exploration and self-determination, time to be young and wild among the wild things of the earth.

Chores, deadlines, busy schedules, impatient adults – they all can make it hard to leave no stone unturned in the quest for interesting bugs (not to mention that riparian areas tend to have much more fascinating bugs than our urban desert backyard!).

Home is good, and safe, and stable – but unless you go out adventuring you will never stumble across pools to wade in, rocks to splash, logs to climb, and leaves as big as your head.

And when you begin, you may find that every bend in the river is calling you forward, over boulders and brush, through shadow and sun, to discover the unknown ahead.

Or perhaps it is the curve in the path that beckons, as it winds through the grasses underneath an archway of leaves.

The wild around you may make you feel small, dwarfed by the solid rock beneath your feet and by the broad, tall trees rising overhead, in whose roots alone you could take shelter.

Yet it is that same grandeur and size that makes overcoming those wild obstacles such a meaningful feat, such a source of delight and satisfaction – no worksheet or artificial task can hope to compare.

You learn to ask for help when the problem is too large to handle alone; you learn to stretch and bend and serve when your friend needs help that you can give. And in the serving, you come to find joy, and in the receiving, you find joy as well.

And when you cannot find the trail that others made, you go where beauty and danger call, where the challenge and reward are equally great, and never count the loss of what might have been for the thrill of the wandering.

How to get there: As you may have guessed, we didn’t exactly follow a trail on this adventure! Instead, we used the Wet Beaver Creek day use area as our base and spent five hours exploring the surrounding area. To get there from the valley, take the I-17 N through Camp Verde, exiting onto the 179N toward Sedona at exit 298. Almost immediately, turn right onto FR618 and follow for 2.4 miles until you reach the day use area on your right. There are several one-lane bridges, but the road is paved the whole way. The day use area has no fees and a couple port-a-potties and picnic tables.

If you do want to take an established trail (and I’ve heard this one is good, although I didn’t locate it until we were leaving), you won’t need to stay on FR618 quite so long, instead turning left into the Beaver Creek Work Center and parking near Bell Trailhead. This is a 3.5 mile trail leading to a swimming hole, so it’s probably better for older kids.

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.

Posted in hikes

horton springs take 2

Since we enjoyed Horton Springs last year (even though we didn’t really find the actual trail in time to hike it), I took the kids back up on my own this summer.

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The trailhead is across the road from the parking site (which has a bathroom and is free!), up towards the Horton Campground. To get all the way up to the spring itself is a 4 mile hike, so I knew in advance we wouldn’t be doing the whole thing, but the trail follows along roughly beside the creek with multiple opportunities to drop down to the water so it is still good for little kids.

The kids all found walking sticks by the trailhead, and held on to them devotedly for the whole hike (well, the boys did – Aubade traded hers out every ten minutes or so for a new model). IMG_3027IMG_3041 crop

We found a huge old tree reaching across the creek from the trail – Rondel went part of the way across, and Limerick went all the way across the creek until the tree starting sloping more steeply uphill on the other side.

Not too far after the second gate, since the kids were starting to get tired of just walking, we detoured down to the creek and trekked upstream a while. The water seemed to give the kids a new burst of energy, and they watched sticks and leaves float downstream, clambered over rocks, and waded through shallow pools.

Just a short ways upstream, however, we stumbled upon a pool about 3-4 feet deep at the base of a small waterfall, and decided to stay there – swimming in the pool, throwing rocks in to make a splash, and observing the local insects 🙂

After we were done at the pool we hiked back to the trailhead and had a picnic lunch at the parking area – there are a few tables tucked away by a small trail that I believe leads back down to another section of the creek.

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to make our way up the road to the patch of blackberries we’d found last year – the kids were worn out and I wasn’t completely sure I could recall the way from the road without a bit of scouting. So I can’t update my prediction as to when they are actually ripe! I suppose we can just try again next year, when all the littles have longer legs and more stamina 🙂

To reach Horton Creek Trailhead from the East Valley: Take the 87 north to the center of Payson and turn right onto AZ-260 E at the McDonalds; about 16 miles later turn left on Nf-289. The parking area for the trail is on the left just after a one-lane bridge; it is marked and has a vault toilet and picnic tables. To get to the trail, walk back down the road across the bridge and up towards the Horton Creek Campground. The trailhead is at the base of the campground and is well marked.

Posted in family life, sqt

{sqt} – water, water, everywhere!

I’m linking up with This Ain’t the Lyceum today for the weekly seven quick takes blog party 🙂 Head over to catch up with everyone else!

  1. Our city has a family pool pass option for the summers, and it’s half price if purchased before Memorial Day weekend – so I decided to try it out this year. While we haven’t quite recouped the investment yet, we’re getting close: we’ve already visited our local pool eight times in the three weeks its been open! And if the kids start itching for something different, there are a few other pools around the city with their own unique features we can try with the same pass. Every time we go, the kids tell me they want to go swimming every day. It’s only because there are other things to do in life that we don’t :)Waiting in front of the entrance to the pool!

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    Waiting in front of the entrance to the pool

  2. We’ve also been taking swim lessons at that same pool. The boys had a two week session early in June, and all three of them will have another starting soon; Aubade is still too young to be in a class without a parent (the minimum age for our city is 3), so I thought I’d save it for the hotter weather. It wasn’t unbearable sitting and watching in early June, but it’s just been getting warmer since then. (Although I am comfortable sitting outdoors typing this, with a warm glow coming up from the ground and a cool breeze rustling through the drying sunflower stalks, so I most definitely can’t claim that this is one of those hellishly hot summers Phoenix is known for). Anyway, it’s a chance for the boys to learn some form and technique, and Aubade has been dancing and twirling every time she remembers that she gets to have lessons this time also, so it’s a good thing all around 🙂
  3. Our other go-to pool is the one at my parents’ house. It’s a very different experience than the city pool: there’s no beach entry, Aubade can wear arm floaties, the kids can run on the deck, they have pool toys to play with, and so on. So it is a good way to mix things up – and of course it is always nice to visit the grandparents and eat all their cookies and popsicles…
  4. At home, we have a little kiddie pool that we can set up in a few ways. Or rather… for a few days the kids were satisfied playing in it under the shade of the patio, but now it’s been instated at the foot of the double slide, with a hose rigged up at the top so they can slide into the pool under the spray. Rondel remembered how we had set it up that way last summer, and when I suggested doing it again this year he started running around in circles because he was so excited 🙂

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    Playing in the pool the “boring” way…

  5. This week (since we had some extra time without either swim lessons or zoo camp), we also took an afternoon to drive up to Saguaro Lake and swim. I had bought a massive inflatable watermelon raft on clearance a month or so ago, so we got to try it out for the first time and the kids absolutely loved it. Well, the boys loved it. Aubade was so excited she stayed awake on the car ride there, and announced she was tired after fifteen minutes in the water; fortunately, however, inflatable rafts are apparently rather soporific and she took a nap on the raft while the boys bounced on and off of it around her, taking turns swimming back and forth from the raft to me in the deeper water. After her rest Aubade did have a great time, though! She kept bouncing and twirling through the water, telling me how beautiful it all was.
  6. Next time we have a day free and need a place to go, however, I’m hoping to take the kids up to the Verde River just north of Payson. They loved our creek hikes last year, and while I had the chance to go up with just Paul for our anniversary this year, I’d also like to take them. The running water below with the wind through the trees overhead, the clean sharp edge to the air with the rich earthy counterpoint of rough bark and tree sap, the pure blue of the sky and the myriad shades of green – all of these make those little northern Arizona rivers some of my favorite places in the world. In fact, it was one of them that I envisioned when my therapist had me construct/imagine a safe place for some anti-anxiety exercises. So I’ll go up any time I can.

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    The backyard view from the cabin Paul and I stayed in for our anniversary!

  7. In the meantime, if our other springs run dry, we still have all the Valley splash pads to explore this year! And by the time another month has passed, we’ll have the monsoon rains upon us. The dry season here can sometimes feel like those barren and thirsty wastelands of life: empty, scorched, and fruitless. But when we retreat to our oases, to the pools and lakes and rivers, we find happiness – just like our spirits can find joy in the wellspring of the water of life in Jesus.
Posted in family life, hikes

hiking with littles: tonto natural bridge state park

As part of the Maricopa County reading program this summer, we all received passes to the Arizona state park system, and I’d been looking for a chance to use them (we’re saving some for Boyce Thompson Arboretum in the fall). Then I was reminded about the Tonto Natural Bridge just outside of Payson – the largest travertine bridge in the world.

Travertine is a form of limestone, calcium carbonate deposited at the mouth of mineral springs; travertine bridges like the one at Tonto can be formed when a travertine dam across a canyon (in this case Pine Creek Canyon) is eroded by water over time. For a detailed and illustrated explanation, visit the Arizona State Parks page about it here!

I hadn’t been to Tonto in at least 15 years, so I didn’t remember how difficult the trails were, but I did remember how beautiful they were, and how breathtaking the natural bridge was, so I decided to try it. We drove up early one Monday morning, making the ascent into Payson and then the steep descent into the Tonto valley. It is like a hidden vibrant green gem surrounded by dark pine-covered slopes; with the clear startlingly blue sky overhead, it was beautiful beyond my ability to capture with a camera (at least with three little kids running every direction at once!).

We did the Waterfall Trail first. This is a short trail (300ft one way) down a series of steps to a small waterfall running down a moss-covered side of the canyon.

The steps are quite steep. This isn’t a good trail for someone with poor knees – and Aubade needed to be carried most of the way down because the steps were too tall for her short legs. She was able to clamber up, however! The trail also gets very slippery down by where the waterfall splashes over it; the railing will keep you from tumbling down the canyon wall, but good shoes and attention to footing are important also (or you can be barefoot like Limerick was for the majority of the time… he does a lot better when he can feel the ground directly).

After we came back up from the waterfall, and realized just how short of a trail it had been, we decided to try the Pine Creek Trail – a half mile loop down the creek bed to the natural bridge. Does that sound easy? It did to me as well, until I saw that 75% of the hike consisted of bouldering through the creek with occasional arrows for guidance. But hey, if bouldering proves too difficult there is always the creek to play in, so we went for it.

The first part of the trail is very easy – smooth paths and steps down to the creek. Aubade was able to handle most of this on her own, except for a few of the bigger steps. Several of the native trees are signed along the way, so we were able to identify and learn about the cypress tree, comparing its thin peeling bark to the thick checkered bark of the juniper tree, noticing how much larger its berries were, and feeling its sticky resin.

When the trail first reaches the creek, there is a shallow wading pool perfect for little kids to play in! We stayed here for quite a while before moving on, and again on our way back; I think there are only a few things in life that Aubade enjoys more than playing in running water, and she could have stayed here happily for hours. Limerick, however, was eager to climb, and Rondel wanted to see how far he could hike and try to reach the bridge. So onward we went!

It was on this hike that I realized how lucky I had been at Ellison Creek that Aubade had taken a nap on the drive up; here, she wasn’t as rested, and almost fell asleep during an emergency nursing break halfway down the creek. Fortunately she was able to recover and enjoy the rest of the hike, but I was seriously regretting not using the hiking child carrier backpack for a while there. (She dislikes it, and also likes to hike herself where possible, so it tends to mean I’m just carrying unnecessary weight, but she may have fallen asleep in it.)

I also was very grateful that I had remembered a backpack for the water bottles as there is no way I could have made it over the boulders carrying both Aubade and a water bottle in my hands. There were times when I had to lift her over a tricky spot and then climb up myself – and then, at least once, lift the boys up next! So this is definitely not an easy hike, despite the short overall distance, and I wouldn’t recommend it if your children don’t enjoy scrambling up and over boulders.

Mine do, fortunately, so we made it, in the end, to the bridge.

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It is stunning. Too high and wide to get a good shot of in its entirety, from where we were in the canyon (we didn’t go all the way under it as I remember those rocks being extremely slippery – I had to be coached down so I wouldn’t fall when I was quite a bit older than my kids are now – and we were already all worn out). But we stayed and admired it for a while, one of those wonders made by the joint efforts of hard rock and moving water, and then made out way back from whence we came.

This was a difficult hike (the ranger who gave us our parking pass emphasized that the trails were “strenuous”), and I was so proud of all three kids for pushing themselves up the final stretch back to the car, when they were just about exhausted. Limerick was especially tired, being smaller and younger than Rondel but hiking the whole trail independently unlike Aubade, but he kept going without complaining all the way back to the car, and rode home in a very well-earned glow of accomplishment (not to mention a much-needed nap). However, despite the difficulty, I would wholeheartedly recommend this hike, and the entire state park, for anyone with experienced or determined young hikers, or who has extra adults to help carry a tired child. It is a truly unique and beautiful place.

To reach Tonto State Park from the East Valley: Take the 87 north through Payson; turn left on Nf-583 (it is well-marked with a sign for the state park) and continue to the park entrance. The park is open beginning at 8am in the summer and 9am in the fall through spring.

 

 

 

 

Posted in family life, hikes, information

hiking with littles: ellison creek

Before my husband and I were married, we hiked a lot, for most of our dates actually. It was one of our favorite ways to spend time together – we both love the outdoors, I liked having a way to be with someone I loved without the stress of normal small talk (since the activity determined the body language and visual focus), and it’s really just a lot nicer to do anything when you’re using your body and surrounded by beauty. (We even rented a remote cabin and just hiked around for a week for our honeymoon).

So, ever since we started having babies I’ve been waiting for them to be old enough to hike with us! And honestly, I’ve been waiting even more for them to be old enough to hike with just me – for them all to be able to hike well enough that I only have to carry one of them at any given time, and can even have some time without carrying any of them.

Now, at last, we’re finally there.

After giving them a taste of wildlife and the natural environment at Saguaro Lake, and realizing that they loved it, I began searching for easy or short hikes up in Payson that we could explore together while the weather is still too hot in the valley. Payson is less than two hours from our house, but the environment is very different: mountains, pine forests, narrow creek beds and rocky waterfalls, berry brambles and grapevines, etc. When it’s over 100F here, it’s in the 80s up there, with the shade from the trees, the breeze down the canyons, and the cool water to make it even nicer.

The first real hike I attempted was at Ellison Creek, at the Water Wheel crossing just north of Payson. The day use area is easy to find, with a fee of $9 (check the National Forest Service for up-to-date information, especially with regards to closures during fire season before the monsoons) and a vault toilet that it ridiculously clean.

When we arrived, I had trouble locating the trailhead, so we played in the creek for a while first, swimming in a little pool and climbing the rocks in the area (all three kids love climbing).

When we came up from the creek to have a snack, I found the trailhead. It is actually well-marked, with flash-flood warning signs and a memorial to people who have died in this creek from flash floods. This is not the most comforting way to begin a hike in monsoon season with a forecast of rain in the early afternoon, and because of the history of the location I would recommend hiking this creek at a different time of year or on a day without expected rain; if that isn’t possible, just be very aware of the weather at the moment and turn around to leave the creek area if you feel a cold breeze and see the thick clouds of a storm head rising over the mountains.

The trail begins relatively flat and smooth, and even Aubade was able to walk along here for a long time. We took some time to “stop and smell the roses” – Rondel was especially fascinated by the small insects living inside the huge white flowers of the sacred datura, and examined every blossom carefully. Just so you know, these plants are toxic and hallucinogenic, so make sure no one ingests them if you are hiking with small children. They are certainly stunning, however!

After a short while, the trail became harder to follow as it went through more rocky areas – over boulders and up ledges. I mostly decided upon our direction by guessing which path over the rocks would be easiest for small legs, and was rewarded whenever we happened upon a sandy area with footprints letting us know we were still on the trail.

We eventually stopped at a high point of the creek, where a rippling waterfall cascaded over the stones across from us and a little pool collected in a cup of the rock where we could play. The trail continues from here up to a larger waterfall that I believe has a staircase and a large swimming hole underneath, but at this point I saw rain clouds coming in and needed to turn around and get out of the ravine quickly.

Up there on the high rocks, surrounded by pine forest, with only the sound of wind, water, and birds, is fairly close to perfection in my opinion, and the kids thought so too: only showing them the rain clouds and explaining the potential risk to them convinced them to leave.

Obviously we made it out safely; the rain hit us at the parking lot while we were eating lunch, and we got to enjoy it for a few minutes before heading out for naps. All in all? A perfect introductory hike for my three adventurers, and an incredibly refreshing day for me out of the city and away from the noise and people and pressure of everyday life.

To reach the Water Wheel day area from the East Valley: Take the 87 through Payson; turn right on Houston Mesa road and continue for 7.5 miles. Water Wheel Crossing parking area will be on your right.