Blue Ridge Reservoir

June 11-13, 2017

I refuse to use the new name! We got the idea to return there a few weeks ago when I saw online that the reservoir was 90% full. By the time we were packed up and ready to go, it was probably in the 80s, but that was still higher than I'd ever seen it. David and Rogil had a few days off, having just returned from their annual canyoneering trip in Utah, so we arranged to meet them at Scoops in Payson on Sunday morning.

The reservoir is testament to the complex web of arrangements that control the distribution of water in Arizona. Water from the Black River in northern Arizona is pumped up 700 feet to the rim of the Black Canyon, gravity-fed 6½ miles into Willow Creek and then transported 21 miles to Eagle Creek, where it flows downstream 30 miles to a pumping station that supplies water to the mines in Morenci. In exchange for the water taken from the Black River, the Phelps Dodge Corporation built the dam on the East Clear Creek, which pumps water through a 4400-foot-long tunnel 435 feet up and over the Mogollon Rim and then delivers it 11 miles downhill to the East Verde River from whence it is distributed to the Salt River Project to supply Phoenix and the many irrigation canals that surround it. In 2005, the Salt River Project acquired the reservoir from Phelps Dodge as part of the Gila River Indian Water Rights Settlement, and reached an agreement with the Town of Payson to supply 3000 acre-feet of water.

Dennis and I headed north Saturday afternoon, intending to camp near Washington Park on the East Verde River, where we had camped two years ago. But the road to Washington Park is all torn up to make way for a 15-mile-long pipeline that will carry water from the Blue Ridge Reservoir to Payson, and McMansions are sprouting on either side of the road. I am always puzzled to see so much new development on public land, but as Rogil suggested, "BLM" stands for "beef, lumber and mining". I guess we shouldn't have been surprised that all the nice camping spots along East Verde Creek are now posted with "no camping" signs. We ended up nosing onto a 4WD side road, which was nice enough, but still littered with spent shells, beer cans and toilet paper. We went for a sunset walk along a two-rut track that led to the top of the rise where there were great views of the Mogollon Rim towering above us, and also of a wildfire below the lip of the Rim that ignited earlier that day.

There were, in fact, dozens of wildfires burning all across northern Arizona, including one on either side of the reservoir. Only Arizonans go camping when all around there are clouds of smoke on the horizon.
Next morning we continued with David and Rogil on route 87, looping around the edge of the Rim to intercept East Clear Creek. We chose a Sunday arrival to avoid the crowds. There was a long line of cars heading south on 87, and there was no line at all at the boat ramp.
Winds were very high both days, so it was a good workout to paddle our way upstream to our favorite camping spot, on a shelf where the road once crossed the canyon before it was filled with water.
Relaxing in camp.
That afternoon we did a big hike, bushwhacking uphill to intersect the road to the pumping station.
That warmed us up almost enough for a swim, but the air felt rather chilly.
Early in the morning, the winds were calm, and the reservoir surface was smooth as glass.
We pushed upstream, anxious to see how much farther we could go and the higher water. When we ran out of water, we tied up the canoes and continued upstream on foot about ½ mile to the intersection with the Arizona Trail.
So we followed the trail up and out of the canyon where we found ourselves atop a beautifully forested and nearly flat mesa, lush with enormous Ponderosa pines, and with great visibility because there was almost no underbrush.
Prairie roses, just like the ones that ran wild along the roadsides in Minnesota. I didn't know we had them here in Arizona.
I see this wildflower in the Sky Islands and all over northern Arizona. I think it's a type of (resin bush, shrubby or skeletonleaf) goldeneye.
The trail ended at a quite respectable red dirt road. Dennis and I have vowed find our way back here, since the camping would be heavenly.
We could see on the map that a monument to "The Battle of Big Dry Wash" was nearby, but the location was somewhat mismarked. We followed a faint two-rut track until it dead-ended on a ridge, and then returned the way we came.
Our timing was impeccable. Back at camp, an armada of paddle boards and kayaks had moved in and cranked up the loud bubble gum music. They were followed by a canoe nearly submerged by a huge load of firewood. Were they seriously thinking of building a "white man's fire" in high wind with humidity in the single digits? We paddled away quickly, dodging the inevitable hissy fit.
During a peaceful morning paddle on the reservoir, we flushed a family of mergansers.
Working women: Rogil and me ferry gear from the canoes.
We returned home via Roosevelt Lake and Globe. It's longer, but much more interesting. Roosevelt Lake looks so appealing from a distance. Up close, however, it's all jam-packed campgrounds and marinas. The small access points are all closed now. I keep thinking there must be some small corner of their lake where we could take a break and go for a swim, away from the speedboats and the generators and the sub-woofers. We explored a couple of side roads and hiked down to the lake, but the shoreline is spiked with submerged brush, and the water is lime green with algae. At the only somewhat interesting beach — an isolated boat launch — there was, of course, a sign announcing "no swimming."