Wet Run: Tonto Creek

June 25, 2006

It's an annual Arizona Catch 22: as soon as the water gets warm enough for swimming, Fire Season starts. The huge Coconino National Forest was closed preemptively on June 23. But Tonto National Forest is still open, so this low desert swimming hole is the place to be.

My last trip to Tonto Creek was in September, 2003. Since then the trail has been rerouted around the Hitchin' Rail Ranch, and the locals have posted lots of helpful signs. You can hardly blame them, given the piles of trash along the trail. What goes through peoples' minds, I wonder, when they deposit their used inner tubes, sanitary napkins and Big Gulp cups beside a pristine desert stream? Do they think the Forest Service sends in a cleanup crew? Do they imagine it's all "biodegradable" and will disintegrate by dawn? Or do they really not mind stepping over other peoples' trash?

We took the trail out in 105-degree heat. With little shade, we progressed at a snail's pace and stopped frequently to suck down water and slow our galloping hearts to a trot. We dropped into the canyon just short of the Narrows. I love this canyon for its smooth granite walls -- some white, but others pale pink as shown here.

The water in the lower pools was slightly skanky, but still inviting. We transferred our gear to the dry sacks and continued upstream, half swimming, half scrambling over slippery submerged boulders.

This trip had a dual purpose: to cool off on a torrid day, and to test out the dry sacks we'll use for future multi-day river trips. The Seal Line 40 was perfectly water-tight and buoyant enough to serve as a flotation device. Sadly, my 25-year-old Hudson Bay Bag, veteran of so many memorable canoe trips in Quebec, Vermont and Maine, has made its last voyage. We've ordered a Seal Line 70 to take its place.

The pool just below the Narrows is nice and clear, and a lovely little waterfall pours in from the top. The climb up through the keyhole and behind the falls was more difficult than I remembered. Above the falls, fellow hikers pointed out a bat colony in a rock fissure no more than four inches wide. Pretty cool.

Inky clouds turned down the heat and we had a pleasant float/scramble back down the canyon to the first swimming hole.

Divers in mid jump at the first swimming hole. A many-armed saguaro offers up a feast of juicy red fruit.