West Clear Creek

March 22-24, 2013

I can't believe it's been six years since I hiked into West Clear Creek! Crowds at the west end and clouds of no-see-ums on our ill-fated descent from Bald Hill iin 2007 kept us away, but it seems both can be avoided by planning a visit for earlier in the year. We made this trek with a very congenial group of 10 Tucson Backpackers, converging miraculously from all over Arizona on a side road off FR 618 late Friday evening. After a nice campfire and a good sleep, we backtracked to the turnoff for Bull Pen, which was a lot calmer than during our our last approach from the west end in 2005.

I was pleased to see the old stone cabin is still standing, although the roof caved in years ago. Within minutes, we reached the first large pool, and then the small chute where Dennis and I have spent some delightful summer afternoons. The water was running higher than I can ever recall, and we were butt-deep at the first crossing.

The cycle of forest fires and floods has taken a lot of the large trees and sandy beaches in the last few years, and replaced them with fields of boulders. But the canyon was, if anything, even more lovely than my fondest memories, with its signature mixture of bottle green water and burnt orange walls.

The weather could not have been better, with the bluest of Arizona skies and temperatures only in the low 70s. After the third crossing, the trail ascends to a shoulder a few hundred feet over the creek, offering thrilling views up and down the canyon. I've always said that West Clear Creek is red, white and green, but no more so than when the cottonwoods and the sycamores sport crowns of irridescent spring green leaves.

We reached the fourth crossing in mid-afternoon, and decided to camp there after scouting up and down the stream. It was a peaceful evening with the soothing sound of the stream and an occasional sighting of a pair of zone-tailed hawks.

Although we expected a crowd, we saw fewer than a dozen other hikers on this fine spring weekend. Dennis and I plotted several possible approaches to the stream for further exploration. We topped off the weekend with a late lunch at Las Margaritas in Camp Verde, serving the best Mexican food ever eaten in a restaurant that looks completely abandoned from the outside.