Making A Splash In Rim Country

Photo by Andy Towle. |

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So, the monsoon has arrived — at least in a few places ... Not so much at my house; though when the storms are swirling around the area, the air gets pleasantly cool.

It is still hot — and now muggy at times as well.

So how do you keep cool in the Rim Country?

Well, you know, there are all these great streams and creeks and lakes all around us and they are great for a splash or just dipping your hot, tired feet in the cold water coming off the Rim.

Some places, like the East Verde, are good for tubing as well — at least for short stretches.

Years ago, on occasion in the summer, my family and I would go down to the Natural Bridge and swim in the spring-fed pool they had there. The pool isn’t there anymore, but it probably had the coldest water I’ve ever been in — except maybe the surf off the central Oregon coast.

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Andreas Caraveo escapes the recent heat with a visit to the Rim Country’s East Verde River.

There is something special about being near creeks. The air is different — it is part of what makes the spots so refreshing. The sound of flowing water is revitalizing too. Combine the cool water, the air and the sounds and not only can you take the edge off the hot weather, you can also get the benefits of a nice vacation over the course of just an hour or so.

Fossil Creek

Fossil Creek remains one of the most remarkable streams in Arizona and accessible from Strawberry down a steep, challenging trail.

Fossil Creek has become one of the most distinctive streams in Arizona in the five years since Arizona Public Service electrical company agreed to shut down a historic hydroelectric plant and return the water to the creek.

Since the spring water seeps through fissures in ancient layers of limestone and picks up dissolved travertine, it gives the water that unearthly blue-green color. The travertine also precipitates out of the water, forming dikes and dams of drip castle design. It has also become the premier refuge for many native fish and birds.

Facilities: No camping or fires along the creek, but great for day use.

Access: From Payson, take Highway 87 to Pine and turn on Fossil Creek Road. Continue past all homes to a dirt road. The turn off to the trailhead lies to the right off of the dirt road. Parking is limited, so arrive early. The descent takes about two hours, come prepared for the trek with plenty of water, hats, lots of snacks and time.

Tonto Creek

Tonto Creek boasts great trout fishing in a succession of beautiful ponds that are stocked all summer. This easily accessible stretch of river perfectly combines water and scenery — but you’ll have to overlook the crowds. The lower reaches of Tonto Creek in the Hellsgate wilderness area offer an unforgettable stint of canyoneering. The river returns to civilization, often nearly exhausted, at Gisela, where it waits at the end of Forest Road 417 off Highway 87. Tonto Creek continues into Roosevelt Lake.

Facilities: USFS campground streamside along FR 289 and at the FR 269/260 junction, with another along Christopher Creek at FR 260. The historic Kohl’s Ranch rents cabins.

Access: From Payson, follow AZ 260 15 miles.

East Verde: Water Wheel

This little-known treasure just outside of Payson offers one of the best all-around swimming holes in Arizona. The East Verde River emerges from a spring at the base of the Mogollon Rim and flows down past Payson and to the Verde River. Houston Mesa Road and Flowing Springs Road offer ample access. Water Wheel offers the best single swimming hole, complete with a deep pool and 50-foot waterfall. A fire closed the area most people used to get access, but you search for parking after the bridge and first crossing and hike up to the stream.

Facilities: Several campgrounds near the stream.

Access: Take Highway 87 north from Payson toward Pine and Strawberry. Just outside of Payson, take Houston Mesa Road. Water Wheel lies between the first, bridged crossing and the second crossing, where the stream flows across the road.

Other Creeks

Haigler Creek lies at the end of a dirt road, but gets a heavy stocking of trout every week. A popular hiking trail winds through the forest alongside the creek. To reach Haigler, turn off Highway 260 on the unpaved Forest Road 291, go three miles, then turn right onto Forest Road 200. You’ll come to a trailhead in another five miles. From there, it’s a quarter-mile walk to the creek.

Christopher Creek sometimes all but dries up in a drought, but the Arizona Game and Fish Department stocks its small pools and riffles for most of the summer. To gain access, take the turnoff for Christopher Creek from Highway 260, then turn north onto Forest Road 284 toward See Canyon. You’ll find a campground and small pools full of wary fish, shaded by poplars and spruce.

Horton Creek lies just one mile from Highway 260, just off the Tonto Creek Hatchery Road. Park at the Horton Trailhead and take the beautiful, two-mile hike through the trees to Horton Creek, which twists and turns through slots in the limestone beneath a forest canopy. The creek sometimes goes dry in its lower reaches, but push on upstream toward the spring to regain the splash of water and work the small pools for wary, wild brown trout.

Canyon Creek offers soothing rewards for the adventurous, since it lies well off the highway. Head up onto the Rim on Highway 260 and just past the Young turnoff look for Forest Road 288. Go south to Forest Road 33 and turn east. Continue until you hit Forest Road 34 and turn left. That road soon crosses the creek. Park there and work upstream or downstream to enjoy the small pools.

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