My wife does not walk around the neighborhood with our puppy Annie and me anymore. I asked her why. She said, "You always walk with your head down. You never look up. Are you depressed?"
"Yes, Rocks. I have been hiking around these parts of Arizona for over 14 years and am always walking on rocks. Sometimes they even jump up in front of you. If you do not keep your eyes on the ground, you will fall flat on your face."
However, if you have good peripheral vision, you can make some exciting finds.
Leading new hikers down the Forest Service Half Moon trail is always a time for a joke. The trail begins by walking on thousands of fairly good-sized rocks. I tell them that the Forest Service dumped several truckloads of rock there just to make the hike interesting.
Petroglyphs are interesting finds. They are rocks and sandstone walls where Native Americans chipped images of deer, elk, lizards, snakes, the sun and moon and hundreds of strange symbols. Recently, we even found one of a spider and its web. There are several petroglyphs on rocks lying on grassy, south-facing slopes overlooking the Tonto and Payson basins. Pictographs, or Native American paintings, also are found while hiking in some areas. If found, never deface them.
Fossils can be found hiking on limestone layers such as the Naco found near Tonto Village and the Kaibab up on the Rim. We have seen some along the Arizona Trail as it passes near the Battle of Big Dry Wash.
Native American sites or villages can be found if you have a trained eye and can spot rock on the surface of the ground that shows a pattern of a straight line, and perhaps a corner and a scattering of pottery shards. (Take nothing.) As hikers, we have found large villages and small field houses that I call honeymoon havens. Recently, we came across two large villages and even the source of their rock material. As a defensive measure, many Native Americans in this area built their homes atop hills.
Metates are very interesting finds. You find them on rocks and see them in stream beds. (Bedrock Metates.) Native Americans used them to grind corn and nuts. A large concentration of them on stream beds means a major food processing area and a sign that there is a large village nearby. Our hiking group found a large site recently east of Payson. There is another site north of Payson that could be a problem for any new water line the town of Payson may want to build.
Then, there is the scenery.
Looking to the south from Milk Ranch Point toward Payson is an eyeful.
Hike down off the Rim into Fossil Creek Canyon and have lunch in the woods, watching the springs pour forth thousands of gallons of water.
Climb to the top of Table Top Ridge, located east of milepost 245 north on Highway 87, and you'll overlook miles of sedimentary landscape and view the Beeline as it winds north and south.
Let us not forget the flowers. A favorite hike this time of year is the Ballentine Trail located off the Beeline south of Sunflower. There is a large concentration of flowers on the southern route of this trail. A couple of interesting plants are the Chia and the Rock Echeveria. This is a very rocky trail.
Don't forget: when you find that "Rocky Trail Ahead" ... keep your head down.
(Editor's note: The writer does not reveal the locations of Native American sites.)