Horton Creek: The Rim Country's Best-Kept Secret



Ask almost anyone in the Rim Country about Horton Creek and the most likely answer will be, "Where's that?"

So why is Horton Creek not well known? Several factors contribute to its obscurity.


Local artist Jim Hagen photographed this Horton Creek scene, then re-created the image as an oil painting.

It runs underground about a half mile above what would be its confluence with the better-known Tonto Creek.

Therefore, Horton Creek is never seen from any drivable road.

Back in the 1930s, Horton Creek ran all the way to its meeting with Tonto Creek, but after a major storm, it took a nosedive underground and has never resurfaced.

There have been attempts to find out where the water goes by adding a dye to the water, but the destination was never found.

Horton Creek is known by some of the avid trout fishermen because of its native German Brown trout, but most fishermen are reluctant to divulge their favorite haunts.

Some hiking clubs have discovered and written about Horton Creek, but most advocate the trail that parallels the creek on the west side, joins the Highline Trail, and then goes on to Horton Springs. This is a good trail and Horton Springs is a beautiful sight as it pours out the side of the Mogollon Rim.

The trail is three-and-a-half miles from the trailhead to the springs and is of easy to moderate difficulty. The only difficult portion, especially for people with bad knees, is one long, steep, rock-strewn hill.

This trail was once a forest road that went all the way to the Highline Trail. It also had a spur that went west to Zane Grey's cabin and the Tonto Fish Hatchery. These roads have long been closed and are badly eroded, but form a clear-cut trail.

But the beauty of Horton Creek is not seen by following the obvious trail. One can only appreciate Horton Creek's beauty by following the creek "trails." These trails are mostly paths worn in place by fishermen.

This way is more difficult, arduous and time-consuming, but worth the effort.

The stream goes through a forest of ponderosa pines, Douglas firs, sycamores and oaks, and drops 1,000 feet on its way from the springs at 6,500 feet to its underground realm. In making its way over deep strata of limestone and sandstone it forms waterfalls and beautiful deep pools.

Wildlife is abundant in this little-visited domain. Deer and elk are the most frequently seen, but an occasional bear, wild turkeys, or a mountain lion may be seen.

I once came upon a Great Blue Heron in one of the many pools. We each startled the other and the heron made a frantic effort to depart without a clear-cut runway. His huge wings beat wildly as he did a vertical takeoff to get up through the trees.

Near the beginning of the above-ground water there is a meadow on the east side of this north/south running stream. There was once a summer camp in this meadow.

It was called Camp Ruggles and may have been a former Civilian Conservation Corps camp. It may also have once been a ranch site.

Supposedly, Horton Creek was named after a Mr. Horton who had a ranch on its banks.

In the late 1930s, my wife-to-be attended Camp Ruggles in a program for underprivileged children. Kids from the orphanage were allowed the use of the camp after the normal camp sessions were over.

I have tried to find anyone who knows anything about Camp Ruggles, but to no avail. One old-timer remembered that Ruggles was a Boy Scout Camp, the equivalent of Camp Geronimo, except that Ruggles was for the African-American Boy Scouts. Sad, but remember this was in the 1930s and segregation was still very much a part of the American scene.

As you get farther up the stream on the creek trails, the terrain rises more rapidly and in places creates magnificent multiple falls.

Hikers on Horton Creek need always to be aware of the weather. This canyon has many tributaries, and with heavy rain, especially up under the Rim, can quickly produce a flash flood at the lower elevations. In 1970, during a major storm, a 30-foot wall of water came down Horton Creek, smashed into the bridge at Tonto Creek, and swept away two families in station wagons that were crossing the bridge.

Despite the occasional danger a rainstorm can bring to the area, it also brings added beauty. Last year, after heavy winter rains, a special treat rewarded the hiker. A second spring gushing from the Rim was sending forth a volume of water equal to or greater than that of the original spring.

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