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Saturday, May 8, 2010


UPDATE: APRIL 1, 2011 Good news, hikers, as of April 1, 2011, the Water Wheel-Ellison Creek area off Houston Mesa Road north of Payson has been reopened for day use ONLY. Due to the 2009 human-caused Water Wheel Fire, this primo hiking destination has been off limits-- but no more. Here’s the rub---there’s now an $8 per person day use fee. Self-service kiosks are posted at key access points. Hikers must deposit cash (bring exact change) into provided envelopes and carry the detachable permit stub while inside the fee area. Forest Rangers are aggressively enforcing this new fee---and fines are much more than $8!! WATER WHEEL CLOSURE UPDATE: MAY 8, 2010 Drove up to Payson today to hike and decided to check out the damage caused by last summer’s Water Wheel fire on my way back. Although Houston Mesa Road is now open, there are signs posted long the 1–mile strip where the Water Wheel, First Crossing, Second Crossing and Third Crossing campgrounds are located that warn “no stopping or standing” and the campgrounds are posted with “area closed” signs. The fire charred more than 700 acres, yet, to my amazement, the beautiful old sycamores at the Water Wheel site are intact. Just beyond, though, the hills are burnt down to stubble and it look pretty messy and dangerous. So, please obey the forest service warnings and do not wander into these areas until they are deemed safe again. SEE MY ENTRIES FOR EAST-VERDE-ELLISON CREEK AND WATER WHEEL FOR PRE-FIRE PHOTOS. INFORMATION:, (928) 474-7900

Sunday, May 2, 2010


HUNTER CREEK Tonto National Forest We made a return trip to this quiet little place on May 1, 2010. There was lots of water and nice, cool weather. This easy, water-themed stroll through sunny meadows and pine groves is an excellent off-the-beaten-path hiking destination. Because there’s no real trail, this trip into a bucolic glen appeals to those in search solitude. To find the route, hike uphill from the parking area, pass a gate and drop into the streambed. Here, it’s a good idea to mark your entry point, as it’s easy to miss on the way out. Once at the creek, head right (south west) and follow the babbling brook, taking time to explore terraced waterfalls, a spring, and a crumbling stone foundation. This is also a good place to test your animal track identification skills on the dozens of footprints that clutter the muddy banks of the creek. LENGTH: 2- 5 miles roundtrip RATING: easy ELEVATION RANGE: 6,100-6,160 feet BEST SEASONS: March - November DISTANCE FROM PHOENIX: 125 miles GETTING THERE: From Payson, go east on Highway 260 for 25 miles to Colcord Road (Forest Road 291). Go right and continue .3 mile and park on an unmarked dirt road on the right where there’s a barbed wire gate visible roughly 40 yard farther up the road. INFORMATION: 602-225-5200 or


GORDON CREEK FALLS Payson One of my favorite "who-knew" hikes was especially fine on May 1, 2010. With all the rain we had this winter, the falls were magnificent! They should be running well for a few more weeks before slowing down for the summer---so get out there soon! Just minutes from downtown Payson, in a fragrant ponderosa pine forest, Gordon Creek Falls spills over a 25-foot escarpment into a cool swimming hole. The falls run best from late March through mid-May and after summer monsoons. BEST SEASON: March - October LENGTH: 3 miles roundtrip RATING: moderate ELEVATION: 6,200’ DRIVING DISTANCE FROM PHOENIX: 125 miles northeast GETTING THERE: From Phoenix, go north on SR87 to the intersection with SR 260 in Payson. From there, go east (right) on SR260 for roughly 25 miles to Colcord Road (Forest Road 291) near milepost 277. Turn right and go southeast for 1.3 miles and park in a turnout near a green gate just south of some power lines. To get to the falls, hike down the FR291 a few yards to a road that’s blocked with a “road closed” sign. Shimmy under the fence if necessary  (it's legal) and hike down the dirt road. Pass through a gate and go left at the crossroads. At the second fork, go right. Turn left at the third junction and continue to the creek. From here, go right and follow the creek to the falls. Total one-way hiking distance to the falls is 1.5 miles. INFORMATION: Tonto National Forest (928) 474-7900 or