Pete’s talked about the East Verde waterfalls for years, gushing about the grandeur and the beauty of the falls. So in my mind, they took on a legendary glow.
“I can’t wait to show you those waterfalls,” he said every year.
Finally, on one Sunday beset by chores I’d had enough.
“Let’s just go. It’s right across the way.”
See, we live on the East Verde River near Crackerjack Road. We could have gone out searching for waterfalls on any weekend. But we hadn’t.
A long “honey-do” list. An event to attend. Family to visit. Or ... we’re just tired.
Or maybe it’s just too easy to take for granted what’s right in front of you.
So on a Sunday not covered by clouds or drenched in rain, we packed a lunch and our dog Loki into the Jeep and headed out on a waterfall hunt.
Crackerjack Road connects Doll Baby Ranch to Highway 87. The entrance on Highway 87 lies between Flowing Springs Road and Houston-Mesa Road, about four miles north of Payson. The road starts on the left side of the highway after leaving Payson on one’s way to Pine. Look for a stop sign on a dirt road entering the highway and a cattle guard. If you get to Flowing Springs Road, you’ve gone too far.
We found Crackerjack Road easily enough. The challenge lay in finding Pete’s dimly remembered memory of a trail to a waterfall. Pete seemed confident enough, insisting he could find the trail to the waterfalls even if the road curved away from the river.
“Just look for some plastic tape tied on a tree branch,” he said.
Right. It had been years. No doubt the tape’s still there.
As we trundled along, the road quickly showed storm damage — deep ruts and exposed rocks. Frequently, I grabbed whatever handholds I could find in the Jeep. Poor Loki braced himself as best he could in the back seat.
A couple of years ago, we figured a two-wheel drive street-car could navigate Crackerjack. After this year of wet storms, that is no longer the case. In fact, I worried the Jeep wouldn’t make it.
But then again, I worry a lot.
Pete originally found the waterfalls after walking down from the final wet crossing below East Verde Estates. After miles of picking his way over boulders and through pools, he discovered the waterfalls. He was astounded to see people bobbing about, complete with beer coolers.
He asked how they got there, because he didn’t see them as he scrambled over river rocks upstream. They pointed to a trail up a slope. Pete said he followed it to the road. He was surprised how little time it took him to find his car walking along the road.
But he needed that tape to remind him where the trail started.
“See the granite down there? I’m pretty sure that’s where the waterfalls are, so keep your eyes peeled for that tape.”
Yet the beauty surrounding Crackerjack Road constantly pulled my attention away.
Sandstone spires ring the top of the valley the East Verde River carved after flowing for centuries.
Coming around corners, the view opens up to expose the ribbon of the river deep in a gorge. Down there, we’ve found metates ground into huge slabs of granite. We’ve found deep pools to dive into — with no one around.
But the trail to the waterfalls eluded us.
“I’m sure we’ve passed it,” Pete kept muttering.
Finally, we decided to park and bushwhack down to the river. Making a mental note of rock formations to show us where the Jeep sat, we scrambled down the hill confident we would find our car when we came back.
The roar of the river drew us forward, as Pete craned his neck to see if we were headed toward the telltale granite walls of the waterfall.
Then we reached the river.
It flowed furiously through a narrow, rocky stretch then opened up into the narrow canyon. Long pools, but no waterfalls.
“Let me check upstream,” said Pete.
I decided to have a snack instead. Loki decided to help.
As Pete scrambled around, I pulled out my phone to snap photos of the sky as it changed the color of the water in the fading evening light.
Pete came back with bad news — no waterfalls in sight upstream. So we moved further downstream. He wanted to make a gift of them to me. But you want to know the truth? I didn’t mind not finding them.
The water gushed and roared. The pools stretched out of sight around the corner. The floods had left beaches heaped with sand. The lengthening light made the canyon glow. The wine and cheese tasted just fine.
I didn’t give a single thought to the to-do list, as the clouds chased one another across the sky. As we settled down to admire the stream we too often take for granted, I figured I didn’t have one thing as important as this to do. The search got us out of the house. That’s enough. More than enough.
Besides. We didn’t find the waterfall.
So I guess we have to come back next weekend.
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