It was with relief that we moved to the cool, clear air of Payson AZ from the yellowish smog of the Picacho Peak area. Being at a much higher elevation (about 6000′), it seemed obvious that we should spend our time exploring the many hikes in the area. So, we did.

Our base for four nights was the Houston Mesa Campground in the Tonto National Forest. Other than the Camp Host, we were the only campers in this 100 site campground. What a change from the packed Picacho Peak State Park! This campground is a gem.

Day One: The first hike we selected was a bust. Called the Monument View hike, we hoped for something with sweeping vistas of the Mogollon (Muggy On) Plateau. Nope. What we got was a walk through a hard-packed ravine where trail motorbikes must often race around. 20180305_1221191162682630.jpgIt was quite a disappointment. The best thing was this huge boulder alongside the road. It was impressive, just sitting there all by itself.20180305_133210117398971.jpgThe rest of the hike? Meh…

Day Two: It seemed like a good idea to take a hike with a bit of elevation involved, since our legs had finally recovered from hiking at Picacho. So, the Military Sinkhole Trail seemed like an obvious choice.20180306_1248171357081767.jpg We started at the bottom, and hiked a rocky trail up and up. 20180306_1206231361577040.jpgThe number of downed trees in the forest was amazing – I understand now how all this brush can fuel a forest fire – some of these trees had obviously been down for years, if not decades.20180307_124845119157993.jpg Thick carpets of pine needles and leaves made the path soft underfoot. When we finally arrived at the top, we were puzzled as to where the sinkhole actually was. John consulted Google, and we located it across the street from our scenic lunch spot. 20180306_121912369153406.jpg20180306_1218501013557682.jpgSadly, the sinkhole itself wasn’t photogenic in the least – there really was nothing there to see. But, what a gorgeous hike.

Day Three: The most popular hike in the Payson area is the Horton Spring Trail, according to Alltrails.com. Why not? This was totally different than the other two, as it followed Horton Creek up to its source. For four miles we followed along the rushing, cool creek – past small waterfalls and rocky outcroppings in the creek. 20180307_1148421088939701.jpg20180307_122622357031273.jpgAt one point, we passed two large wooden teepees. This photo doesn’t do them justice – somebody had to work hard to erect them – the logs in the big one were huge! I’m hoping it was a Scout project of some type – I really wanted to wade across the creek to examine them more closely, but there just wasn’t a spot where I felt I could cross without likely falling and filling up my boots!20180312_121604922202610.jpg Horton Spring is at the end of the hike – the water pours out of a rock from an artisan spring. Amazing. Most of my photos were a bust, so just take my word for it that it’s a gorgeous area, and a cool walk in the woods was the perfect activity for the day.

We were really sad to leave the Payson area after four nights. There’s a lot to explore here, and the cool air was much to our liking. But, we had a return date at Lost Dutchman State Park for a few nights. We took in a Cubs spring-training baseball game (Cubs beat the LA Angels 6-1). In case I don’t get to see the Detroit Tigers this year, this may have to satisfy my baseball game watching urge. We had pretty mediocre seats, but it was still fun.

Lost Dutchman has a trail that has intrigued us since the first time we saw it. It reaches from the campground up to the Flatiron – a peak at about nearly 3000′ above. 20180308_14364265722636.jpgIn a distance of about 3 miles, that’s a lot of elevation! It truly was the hardest hike I’ve ever done – the Trail was crowded with adventurers on a Saturday morning. There were even some paragliders out early on that Saturday morning. You can barely see one of them in this photo.20180310_084531-1144373445.jpg The crowds made things easier and harder at the same time. It was beneficial to have others around to point out the best handhold or route up an uncertain path, but it also led to a few logjams where we had to wait for our turn to haul ourselves up a particularly rough area. It took us exactly three hours to get to the top, and my legs were like jelly! Wow – what views! But, I never want to hike that one again. Once and done!20180310_0957441415430516.jpg20180310_1231401012063050.jpg20180310_112648-1939817177.jpg20180310_1133121389221668.jpgNow we’re holed up at Indian Cove Campground in Joshua Tree National Park. It would be tough to find a more beautiful campsite.20180311_155250-12087199245.jpg20180312_094446-11588087552.jpg We’ve got five days to explore the area – revisit a few of our favorite spots, and find a few hidden gems.



In the Shadow of the Moosedog

There are probably lots (or at least a handful) of readers of this blog who aren’t camping enthusiasts. You’re the folks who read this stuff and wonder, “When is she ever going to shut up about the perfect campsite, blah, blah, blah…” If you see yourself in this statement, take a few extra moments to stare at this photo. 20160121_124408This was our perfect campsite in Joshua Tree National Park. No neighbors for hundreds of yards in any direction. Absolute silence at night. Huge star-filled sky. It was amazing. Such a great place to spend five days. (And, yes, I did scramble up those boulders to capture this photo.)

Joshua Tree seemed to be a great place for a hike, so after getting settled in on Day 1, we dragged out our bikes and coasted downhill to the Boy Scout Trail Trailhead. Truly, from our campsite, we could nearly have glided the entire three or four miles to the Trailhead. This did not bode well at all for the return trip. But…

We’ve been on more exciting hikes. The first couple of miles was a soul-sucking trek through pure flat sandy desert. A few desolate creosote bushes lined the path. No Joshua Trees, no wildlife. Nothing. It was hard to stay awake while plodding forward. Finally, we climbed up, over, and into a narrow canyon, where things became a bit more interesting.20160119_142906 20160119_121534At that point, John decided to turn back. He’s been battling a cold since Christmas, and the dry air combined with his hacking cough was making his hike pretty miserable. We split up, agreeing that I would continue on for as long as I pleased, then pedal down to the Ranger Station at the entrance to fill up our two gallon containers with water. I will say now that it was Stupid of me to agree to that. Joshua Tree is unique in our experience in that there is no water available at ALL inside the park, with the exception of one other campground. No concessions, no bathrooms with running water, no pumps in the campgrounds. Requires a bit of planning….

I hiked for 5-1/2 miles before turning around – far enough to get through the canyon, 20160119_123310wind up and around to the plateau, where there at least are a few Joshua Trees.20160119_12552820160119_124902 These are such curious plants – spiky and very, very stiff to the touch. 20160120_134221They can live for 200-300 years. They grow about 3 inches a year for the first ten years, then level off at about 1-1/2 inches a year for the rest of their lives. Like the saguaro cactus, it may take them years to branch a limb off the main trunk. They grow only in the Mojave Desert and the surrounding area.

For Day 2, we decided to drive into the main portion of the Park, and explore a few areas with short hikes. First up was the Lost Horse Mine, the most productive of the many gold mines within JTNP. Over a period of about 70 years, this mine produced approximately 9000 ounces of gold. More interesting to me was the trail that led up to the Mine.20160120_124106 It passed through an area that had burned in the 1990s (the Ranger I quizzed didn’t know the exact year of the fire, but it’s about 20 years ago. Give or take a few.) As far as we could see, there were only charred Joshua tree stumps punctuated by a few creosote bushes and an occasional short Joshua tree.20160120_125234 It’s amazing to realize how slowly things grow in the desert.

Keys View was our second stop for the day, where we had a great view of the San Andreas Fault from nearly 5200 feet. If The Big One would have happened at that moment, we would have been safely on the side still attached to the continental US. The fault runs right through the middle of the photo, where the color changes from brown to yellow.20160120_113951For our last big stop of the day, we elected to climb Ryan Mountain, a steep ascent with spectacular views from the top. 20160120_150423We really huffed and puffed – my legs were screaming from the prior day’s hike, and John’s lung power hadn’t improved overnight either. But, the view from the top was worth the effort – an eerie landscape of rock piles that appear to have been extruded by a crazed architect.

Our last full day in camp was a lazy one. We wandered around, making a list of all the other campsites we would reserve on another trip (yes, we keep track of stuff like this). Joshua Tree NP is full of rock climbers, and we watched several attack the rock towers, with varying degrees of skill and certainty. There are lots of descriptive names for the rock formations, and we tried our damndest to identify them. For example, our camp was directly in front of Moosedog Tower.20160120_165849_LLS Can you see that? What the heck does that mean?

By no means were we ready to leave this spectacular park on Friday. We’re already looking forward to our next visit, but doubt that it can possibly compare to the grand time we had this past week.