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.



Arizona on $3/day

After spending big bucks ($30/day) to camp at Fool Hollow, we’re ready for a dose of reality.  Our destination in the Tonto National Forest fills the bill with $3 camping (with the aid of our National Park Geezer Pass).  This particular location offers flush toilets (always a plus), and the big bonus of solar showers.  We had cold solar showers at one stop this month, but hope springs eternal.  This shows promise!  20150120_153902Once again, the drive to the new spot is pure eye candy.  20150121_152435We pull in to our campground, and are enchanted with the wonderful campsites in this large National Forest campground.  Water spigots are plentiful, but not on every site.  We don’t need that anyway.  There is no electric power, but we’ve got a bit of cell phone service.  All good!  This campground is set on Roosevelt Lake, formed by the Roosevelt Dam, near Globe AZ.  We score a terrific sites – above the lake, with spectacular views.  Here’s the map.  20150120_17350820150120_15020920150121_092537(Learning to create panoramic shots on my camera, above).  It’s spectacularly beautiful here.  The morning sun (below) was especially beautiful, in the way that it highlighted the desert and mountain colors.20150121_091244We only have one full day here, so we grab our bikes and head off to explore the Roosevelt Dam, on the Salt River.  20150121_123444Once again, we’ve got a photo-perfect day.  I just couldn’t stop taking pictures!  The Arizona Trail runs from Mexico, all the way through Arizona, into Utah.  Right here!20150121_12115120150121_122740We rolled into the Visitor Center, checking out the videos (I LOVE those!  We make a point to see them at every National Park or every Visitor Center where they’re offered).  I want to check out the Cliff Dwellings, John is less inclined to ride another five miles uphill, and clunk around in bike shoes up a trail of unknown quality to a cliff dwelling.  So, we part – he heads back to camp to hike with Jezzy, and I roll to the Cliff Dwelling Monument.  We are both happy with our decisions.

This Salado cliff dwelling dates to the early 14th century, and was likely inhabited for about 100 years.  There are actually two dwellings – the lower, which I visited, and the upper, which can only be seen on a Ranger-guided tour.  From the upper Visitor Center, the trail to the dwelling winds up and up, until it finally arrives at the cliff opening.  Whew!  I passed a lot of folks, sitting on the resting benches, panting, and appearing a bit stressed, physically.  What a view from up there!20150121_14412520150121_144455I really didn’t take any decent photos inside the dwelling – it was shallow, and it was pretty difficult to get any decent perspective on what my eyes could actually see.  But, it’s always worthwhile to take sights like this in, and absorb what bit I can.

The ride back to camp was something I really looked forward to.  I knew the first three miles would be downhill, and I looked forward to cruising.  NOT!  While I was up on the hillside, a vicious north wind picked up, gusting to 25-30mph.  I had to pedal my butt off just to stay upright, even though I was on a decent downhill slope.  At one point, I dismounted, and tried to walk my bike, as the wind was swirling so hard I was fearful of blowing into the guardrail, and over the side of the road.  If you know me at all, you know that I NEVER get off!  It was a horrible ride.  I cruised into camp, bonked and totally whipped from the ride.  Chalk that one up!

Is my credibility shot yet?  Nearly every campground we’ve visited this trip has been the Best. 20150121_14115020150121_12050320150121_115840 How can that be?  They’ve been so diverse.  So far, I can definitely say (for myself – John will have to chime in on his own….), that I loved this campground the best.  Organ Pipe is 2nd best.

The only shadow on this day has been our neighbor in this last campground.  She’s camping in her car with a large puppy.  I went over on Day 1 to say hi and said something stupid like, “Oh man, you’re brave to camp with a four-month old puppy” (A Great Pyrenees, which is an enormous dog).  “It’s not like I have a choice”, was her reply.  So, I stewed for two days, trying to figure out how I could leave her with a bit of cash.  Perhaps I just wanted reassurance that she has things under control.  On our last morning, I wandered over with a bag of dog treats and two $20 bills folded up in my pocket.  As things would be, she was very involved in a conversation with another camper and his dog.  I hung on the outskirts for a few minutes, then left her with the treats, and we rolled off.  Wish I had handled this differently – it’s weighing on me heavily right now.