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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Meandering hike along East Clear Creek


HORSE CROSSING TRAIL
Coconino National Forest

A leisurely amble through the pristine and complex canyon system of upper East Clear Creek reveals wonders that even the most well traveled Arizona hikers will find astounding. There’s the epic views from the coniferous forest rim, a scenic drop into the canyon along a fossil-encrusted limestone trail, and an emerald-green riparian environment along the water.
Sandwiched between two reservoirs, East Clear Creek slices into soft sedimentary pediments leaving behind a meandering sheer-walled canyon.  This 50-mile-long ribbon of life-giving water flows northeast from Blue Ridge Reservoir to Clear Creek Reservoir near Winslow where it merges with the Little Colorado River.  Although traversing the entire length of this gorge would involve technical climbing skills, swimming and rafting, all that’s needed to hike the Horse Crossing trail #20 is a pair of boots and a day pack.  Exploring the mid-section of the creek, Horse Crossing is hemmed in by hard scramble rock escarpments.  At the bottom of the canyon, running water sculpts sandstone walls that look like dunes tilted on their sides in layer-cake formation.  Tens of millions of years ago, the landscape surrounding East Clear Creek was part of a vast ocean and the fossilized remains of sea-dwelling algae, coral and brachiopods are strewn about like scattered bones.  Like all of the “crossing” trails on the Mogollon Rim, this one continues up the opposite side of the canyon. However, it’s more fun to bush whack and wade for several miles up or downstream where clouds reflected in mirror-like pools in the worn sandstone gives the impression of walking on the sky.


LENGTH: 3 miles round-trip
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 6,900’ – 6,400’
DISTANCE FROM PHOENIX: 170 miles one-way
GETTING THERE:
From Payson, travel north on AZ 87 to Clints Well.  From there, continue on AZ 87 for another 9.4 miles to the turn off for Forest Road 95 (between mileposts 299 and  300).  Turn right (east) on FR 95 and drive 4 miles to Forest Road 513B.  Go left (east) on FR 513B and continue 2 miles to the trailhead.  A high-clearance vehicle is required on FR 513B.