Wednesday, November 12, 2008
SEE CANYON Nothing says “autumn in the high country” quite like a willowy stand of golden-crowned aspens. Transient and opportunistic, aspen trees rely on forest fires for their survival. In their natural cycle of life and death, aspens can only sprout and regenerate when bathed in sunlight. Young aspens literally rise from the ashes of sun bathed burned areas and thrive for years until encroaching pine trees catch up and choke out sunlight and nutrients. Eventually, the aspens dwindle, and their subterranean root systems go dormant until fire clears the canopy again. A hike on the See Canyon trail is like getting a field lesson in the lifecycle of this tenacious, showy species. From the ancient knarly-trunked hangers on that refuse to succumb to the clutch of predatory pines to spindly, soot-covered sprouts on barren charred slopes, the aspens chronicle how fire has transformed the landscape over time. To find the route, descend down through a wooden fence that’s located to the right of the parking lot trailhead sign. Bear left and head down toward the creek. Cross the creek, head up the bank and then veer right along a faint path to the signed intersection for the Highline and See Canyon Trails. Turn left at the junction where the See Canyon trail sign is sometimes covered by tall vegetation. The first portion of the trail is usually overgrown with soft grasses and washouts may camouflage the trail in places, but by paying attention to the metal trail markers that are nailed to trees, it’s not too difficult to stay on track. The trail crosses Christopher Creek several times before it leaves the green streamside environment behind and begins an arduous 1,700-foot climb up to the rim. For an easier option, turn right at the junction for See Spring Trail #185 that branches off the main path before the going gets rough. The See Spring Trail is a half-mile in length and dead ends at the spring. Intrepid hikers can opt to stay on the main trail and complete the uphill grind to experience exquisite vistas and plenty of fresh mountain air on the 7,860-foot-high crest of the Mogollon Rim. LENGTH: 4.8 miles one-way RATING: difficult ELEVATION: 6,100 – 7,860 feet PEAK COLOR: mid October GETTING THERE: Lower trailhead: From Payson, go right (east) onto Highway 260 and continue for 20 miles to the Christopher Creek Loop exit. Continue on Christopher Creek Loop to Forest Road 284, which is located directly across the road from the Tall Pines Market. Follow FR 284 for 1.6 miles (ignore the many dirt spur roads; stay on the gravel) to the signed circular parking area where there’s a restroom and a corral. Rim Road trailhead: From Highway 87, go east on FR 300 for roughly 30 miles to the signed trailhead on the right.