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Tuesday, September 2, 2014


Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest
Crossing of Chevelon Creek

One of my hiking  buddies describes the trip through Chevelon Canyon on the Mogollon Rim as a "cross the creek and cross your fingers" venture. This spot-on assessment is a playful nod to the dozens of creek crossings, overgrown willows, log jams, and befuddling boulder-clogged bends that make route-finding a challenge. Therefore, navigating the steep walled, twisted watercourse from Chevelon Crossing to the dam at Chevelon Canyon Lake is a trip only experienced hikers should attempt. 
Sporadic rock cairns belie clues where the primitive trail cuts through thick  vegetation or was taken out by floods. As a general rule, if you find yourself getting very high on the canyon walls or disoriented, backtrack, cross the creek and hunt for signs of a passage.For attentive hikers, the trail-muddling obstacles are but an inconvenience in an otherwise beautiful gorge of vertical limestone cliffs, flowing stream channels and refreshing pools.  Within the moist riparian corridor at the bottom of the canyon, Ponderosa pines, alders and Gambel oaks (think: fall foliage hike) provide plenty of cool shade, but just a few yards up from the stream, drier pinon-juniper grasslands speckled with cacti can be quite warm in summer. 
Trekkers planning a through hike should come prepared with map, gps and plenty of supplies as the 8.5-mile, trip is slow going. For those out for a day hike, the way is relatively simple before the head scratching begins at around 2-miles in.   Finding the start point also is tricky. Here's how--at the Long Draw North trailhead, where the dirt road splits just past the restrooms, walk down the left fork for about 20 yards to a campsite with a picnic table. Where the road makes a sharp right turn going uphill, look for an unmarked path on the left (N 34 35.425 W 110 47.270) heading toward the creek.
LENGTH: 8.5 miles one-way
RATING: experienced hikers only
ELEVATION: 6,300' -6100'
FACILITIES: restrooms, campsites, picnic tables
From Payson, go 29 miles east on State Route 260 to Rim Road (Forest Road 300 at the Woods Canyon Lake sign).  Turn left and follow FR300 8.3 miles, turn right on Forest Road 169 and go 20.3 miles to Forest Road 504.  Turn right and drive 1.4 miles to the turn off on the right for Chevelon Crossing Campground. Forest Roads are sedan-friendly dirt, but there are steep drop offs and hairpin turns on FR504.

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