After carpooling from Payson, we park our vehicles in a lot near the entrance to the Roosevelt Bridge. I step out into bright sunshine and glance up into a clear, hazy sky, tinted by dust and particulates from as far away as Phoenix. The air fills my lungs. A crisp, but not cold morning, I decide to shed my light jacket.
I slip on my snug pack, with snacks and water, a camera and binoculars. On the far side of the lake, the Sierra Ancha Mountain range looms above the shore. Dutchman’s Ridge, a promontory at its forefront rises from a sloping, eroded base to a narrow table at its top. A telltale monument that leads the way to trailhead to the Salome Wildness nestled deep down in the ravine at its base.
My attention turns to the bridge, which dominates the scene. Its half-moon shape contains metal and concrete workmanship that portrays not only intelligent design, but a penchant for beauty.
At the Vineyard trailhead, nestled just inside the highway’s guardrail, I let my vision drift upward as I follow the ascending path.
“The first part goes straight up,” says another hiker. “Not too many switchbacks.”
At first, the trail begins a gentle climb as it winds along the steep ridge, along switchbacks and a few level stretches. I am lulled into believing that it may not be that difficult after all.
But then we round a bend and start up a trail that heads straight up the ridge. I trudge along behind the others as my breathing grows belabored on the steep, narrow trail littered with loose rocks.
The hike leaders scramble up the trail. I envy these human mountain goats, but I am determined to persevere. I keep my head down and watch my boots, stopping often to relieve the stabbing ache in my chest. I catch up to the others at a rare flat spot on the ridge. They are patient with us and that’s why I enjoy hiking with this group.
After a grueling ascent, we reach a saddle in the ridge. For a moment, I think I’ve reached the top — but then ahead glimpse another rise. This less steep climb continues for the better part of another mile. But I gain strength as we climb.
Finally at the high point, I turn my attention back toward the bridge that now lies in the deep ravine below us, looking now like a model, its grandness is subdued. However, from this height one can appreciate even better, the details that went into its construction, its buttresses integral to the landscape.
We have gained 1,000 feet in 1.5 miles, which explains the ache in my legs.
On the descent on the far side, we stop at point overlooking the Salt River as it flows from the dam toward Apache Lake, which we can see down the canyon below us.
After a quick snack and brief reprieve, we continue on along the trail through stands of looming saguaro, with their bristling arms. Here and there we cross over fields of jumbled volcanic rock scree that add a minor obstacle to our passage.
We descend to an open plain covered in prickly pear, possum and pincushion cacti, interspersed with stands of mesquite, scrub oak and brush. Magnificent views of the Four Peaks Mountains form a backdrop to the shifting ridges of mountains and valleys. Along this gentler stretch of trail, we eventually reach the Mills Ridge trailhead — 4.5 miles from our starting point.
For this hike, two choices exist. Either retrace your journey to the starting point for a hike of nine miles total. Or arrange for a shuttle vehicle at the Mills Ridge parking area. This area can be reached by an unpaved road that leads up from the highway.