The Mogollon Rim

September 25, 2010

The Mogollon Rim is Arizona's awesome upper story — a 200-mile-long wall of sandstone and limestone that divides the state into two distinct regions. This is big and wild country, where elk are so numerous they're a road hazard, and where the streams that water the canyons of southern Arizona pour over lip of the Rim and tear down its sides.

We headed north out of Tucson on a hot Friday night with no particular destination in mind. We followed forest roads north of Payson and ended up very much by accident in Washington Park at the foot of the Mogollon Rim. In the morning we were surprised to find we were camped next to the headwaters of the East Verde River.

We met David for coffee at "Scoops" in Payson, and then headed east toward Christopher Creek. But the river was a muddy mess, and there were more than 100 people gathered at the swimming hole, including the Phoenix Junior ROTC, the local Search and Rescue Group on a training mission, and three busloads of what appeared to be adjudicated teenage boys.

We ran, not walked, out of Christopher Creek Canyon, and made a beeline for Horton Creek, which is rumored to be the most popular hike in Rim Country.

Along the way, we stumbled onto a fabulous swimming hole with a double waterfall very close to the road, which gave us a chance to cool our heels before taking on the second hike of the day.

We were surprised that the lower section of Horton Creek was completely dry, but since it was a pleasant walk in the shade of towering Pondersosa pines, we soldiered on. Horton Creek trail stays high on a ridge above the creek, but eventually curiosity got the best of us and we bushwhacked down to the stream. There we were delighted to discover dozens of small waterfalls tumbling over shelves of well-worn limestone. From then on we stayed in the stream, which now joins Wet Beaver, West Clear, Fossil and Tonto in my Personal Pantheon of Perennial Arizona Streams.

We camped that night just off the Control Road, where we had a stunning view of the Rim as well as the starry, starry night sky.

On Sunday morning, we returned east and bushwhacked along a power line in search of Gordon Creek, where we'd heard rumors of a 25' waterfall. We never found the waterfall, but we found plenty of adventure and solitude, as well as lots of bobcat, heron and elk tracks.

The Mogollon Rim is only four hours from Tucson! We hope to return later this fall to explore some more of the corridors of Arizona's Awesome upper story!

After a week of +100° temperatures in Tucson, the cool northern air was intoxicating, and by 5:30 am I was up and wandering the sleepy streets of Winslow, hoping the coffee shop would open on time (it never does). Kit and Ann rolled into town in time for breakfast Saturday morning, after a delay of several hours to repair a fuel pump destroyed by a packrat with a taste for automotive wiring.

Each time I witness the Hopi dances, I am awed that such ancient traditions are still honored, and that these ceremonies are open to the public. We witnessed the Comanche dances at Shungopavi on First Mesa, Tasaf at Hotevilla on Saturday, and Chakwaina dances at Moenkopi. The dazzling colors of the kachina costumes and the fresh fruits and vegetables overflowing the plaza are a feast for the senses, but no filming is allowed on the Hopi Reservation. The clowns at Shungopavi coaxed Kit to join them for lunch, but he escaped with his beard intact while the clowns amused themselves with some unsuspecting German tourists.

We camped at Coal Mine Mesa, one of the most eerily beautiful canyons in all of Arizona. In addition to the colorful layer-cake canyon, the mesa top is also remarkable for its mix of fossilized shells and blades of transparent gypsum. We circled the wagons for protection from the wind, and enjoyed a late-night potluck serenaded by Kit.

Panorama of Coal Mine Mesa