Luna and I stood on the deck surveying the backyard and I glanced at the thermometer hanging in the shade — 100 degrees.
Even in Rim Country, it’s hot in the summer. Not Scottsdale hot, but the dash on my truck registered 145 degrees Sunday afternoon, the cloth seat 123 degrees. Too hot to leave a dog in the vehicle, even for a few minutes.
Asphalt can register much higher. Too hot to walk a dog on the road unless it’s early morning to avoid burned paw pads.
Fortunately, there is a wealth of hikes, running water and cool lakes up on the Mogollon Rim, a 20- to 30-minute drive from Payson.
The trick is to gather enough motivation to pack up and pull out of the driveway when the heat makes staying home in the air conditioning an attractive prospect.
Horton Creek came to mind. A well-maintained trail with easy access to the cool flowing creek and soothing waterfalls, the air conditioning didn’t seem as appealing as before.
I gathered Luna’s collar and leash, treats, water bowl and other necessities and we headed out east from Payson on State Route 260 to Forest Road 289 where we turned left to access the Upper Tonto Creek Campground.
Even though it was Sunday, there were a couple of open parking spaces near the trailhead and we set off.
With each step I wondered why I spend so little time out hiking in the beauty of Rim Country.
After the initial switchbacks, there were lush grass, trees, and an abiding sense of calm.
Three cows stood munching the grass on the other side of the creek. Luna had never seen cows before and she regarded them with suspicion then barked as if to say, “What are you? Are you safe?” They ignored her.
We hiked on. I switched out her six-foot leash with a 16-foot one to give her more freedom while still keeping her safe. Dogs are welcome on this trail, but must be kept on a leash.
It was a beautiful day. Still warm, the trailhead is at 5,360 feet, not much higher than Payson, but climbs to 6,429 feet at the top, almost to Forest Road 300, the Rim Road.
Other hikers passed us on their return, some had dogs, a couple of children asked if Luna was friendly and could they pet her. I appreciated their courtesy and the fact their parents taught them how to be safe around strange dogs. “Yes,” I said, and Luna rolled on her back for them to give her tummy rubs.
Most hikers are considerate on the trails around Rim Country. There are a few who let their dogs run loose and cheerfully call out, “He/she just wants to play.”
Luna and I had been attacked by a dog on a different trail a year ago and I am still edgy when strange dogs come bounding toward us.
It wasn’t long before I heard the welcome sound of the creek. At the first small waterfall, Luna and I left the trail and climbed down a bank to the water. She dived in, splashing and jumping under the waterfall, running up and down the bank.
She stood in front of me soaking wet with muddy legs and paws.
I remembered I had not brought any towels on this trip.
We continued up the trail to other waterfalls. A family was sitting on a bank across the creek with their yellow Labrador.
Horton Creek Trail is beautiful in all seasons, but it seemed especially beautiful that day.
We only hiked about half of the trail, just long enough to be refreshed and remember that the simple pleasures in life are the most meaningful.
See Spring Trail
Another trail with flowing water and a mountain spring is See Spring Trail. Only 15 minutes further along State Route 260 from Horton Creek Trail. This is an easy hike that offers green grass and trees in the spring and summer and spectacular fall color.
It’s a shorter trail to the spring, only 2.3 miles out and back with a parking area and restrooms. Dogs are welcome on this trail also, if on a leash.
To get to See Spring Trail from Horton Creek Trailhead, return to SR 260, turn east then left onto Christopher Creek Loop. Watch for the NF-284 road sign and turn left. The road leads directly to the trailhead.