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.

 

Posted in family life, sqt

{SQT} – up in the mountains

Taking advantage of the overlap between my husband’s last spring break and my maternity leave, we went on our first vacation ever as just our own little family this week, renting a cabin up in the mountains. It’s been a bit cold for us desert rats, but overall really great. So my seven quick takes this week are from our trip!

  1. I’m lucky my husband is a logistics master 🙂 He found the cabin online, he contacted the owner and scheduled the rental, he bought and packed all the food for the trip, and he calmed me down and gave me specific tasks to complete when I melted down in the overwhelming mess of packing everything for the kids and worrying that I’d forget something essential.
  2. The drive from Phoenix to Payson is gorgeous. I had forgotten just how beautiful the Sonoran desert can be, especially in the spring time when wildflowers are popping their vibrant heads up in every corner and the mountains are shaded green among the saguaros. And Payson itself, perched just below the Mogollan Rim with the high pine-covered, snow-topped ridges behind it, is breath-taking even when the deciduous trees are bare. It has been reminding me that, despite all the brokenness in the world, there is still quite a bit of beauty in it as well.

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    Our cabin backs up to a creek!
  3. The simplest things are full of wonder and joy to a child. The boys have spent hours throwing rocks and pinecones into the water, digging in the dirt, and lugging sticks and logs across the yard. It is that pleasure in the everyday and elemental that I strive to hold on to as an adult, now that the cares of life are capable of dulling my senses entirely to the beauty of the small and mundane.

    (Limerick is wondering, in this picture, why he can no longer see the other pinecone he threw into the water. It took him a few trials to understand how the moving water carries the floating pinecones away – what a good way to begin understanding the physics of the natural world!)

  4. A two-year-old in a hoodie is one of the most adorable things in the world, especially when he sticks both hands in his pockets and wanders aimlessly around giving things sideways glances…
  5. A baby who happily lies there watching her brothers play, gazing at the interplay of sun and shade, observing the trees stark against the blue sky, is also high on the adorableness scale. As long as it isn’t too cold and windy, she’s quite content to just take it all in.
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    Lying on the wrap by the river

     

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    (Aubade is rediscovering her favorite sucking hand after having lost it to the IV bandages during her second hospital stay, and can get very focused on it!)
  6. Time away from normal routines and away from all the other people we normally see during the week seems to have brought Rondel and Limerick even closer together as brothers. They’ve begun to play much more interactively, instead of just in parallel: they deliberately make sounds or movements that they know will make the other one laugh; they make plans for digging or building and help each other with them; they prefer playing with each other to playing alone; they fight, but are figuring out how to make up and keep going together. They follow each other around, entertain each other, and generally fall apart laughing at each other most of the day. And one of the nights here we found them both snuggled up in the same bed ❤
  7. I realized how beautiful it is to watch a child explore the natural world, in his own way, at his own pace: running, jumping, climbing, digging, building with sticks, baking mud cookies, collecting pinecones, or throwing rocks into the river. IMG_6682

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