Having spent New Year's weekend at home with the flu, John
and I finally decided that it was time to venture out into the wilderness once
again. We had been planning to spend New Year's Eve in the backcountry, to
ring in the new millennium under a blanket of stars. Our plans began to
change, though, when Mary came down with a mild cold the day after Christmas,
and from there it quickly snowballed. The following day, John and I were sick,
too, and we came home from work early (both of us worked abbreviated hours
during the week because we were so sick). On Saturday December 30, John went
skydiving, even though he hadn't completely recovered from his cold - and he
ended up making himself worse. At that point, we knew that we weren't going to
be spending New Year's Eve out in the backcountry, so we decided to stay home
and try to recuperate.
We made plans to go backpacking the following weekend, but we cancelled those
plans, too, because I had a mild relapse during the week. Finally, on Sunday
morning, January 7, all three of us were well enough to go on a day hike.
John had been spending much of his sick time reading about wilderness areas
that we have not yet visited. One in particular was the Hell's Canyon
Wilderness Area, which is located near Lake Pleasant. After researching it, he
found that it was easily accessible and that it had one maintained trail going
through it - so why hadn't we gone there before? (Of course, keep in mind that
as soon as John said the name "Hell's Canyon", the only thing running through
my mind was, "Not another descent into hell!")
It was decided that we should do the
Spring Valley Trail, in the Hell's Canyon
Wilderness Area, for our day hike. So on Sunday morning, we left the house at
8:00 a.m. and began our short journey to the trailhead - stopping first, of
course, at Einstein's Bagels for breakfast, because that is the tradition.
We weren't very sure what to expect on the road to the Hell's Canyon
Trailhead. There wasn't anything written about the condition of Castle Creek
Road, about whether or not we would need a four-wheel drive vehicle to get
there. For that reason, we decided to take the van, just so that we would have
the ground clearance to get past any obstacles that we could encounter.
Surprisingly, the trip was much easier than expected and we could have easily
made it in the Oldsmobile. To get there, we took I-17 to the Carefree Highway
(SR 74) then turned left. As we approached the Lake Pleasant Recreational
Area, we took the Lake Pleasant access road (the second turn-off) all the way
to Castle Creek Road. This road immediately became dirt, but it was a good,
all-weather road. After a few miles, we came to a junction for the Lake
Pleasant Recreational Area, which went off to the right - we kept going
straight and eventually came to the Castle Creek river bottom...or should I
say the Castle Creek Wash? There wasn't a drop of water to be found. The road
continued through the river bottom until we reached the trailhead. From the
time we left our house, it only took us an hour to get there - we arrived at
The trailhead was difficult to find. John had marked it on the GPS, but he
found that he had marked the wrong place, so we had to drive very slowly,
keeping our eyes peeled for any signage. We ended up driving right past it,
and as we did so, I saw a sign that simply read "Trail". Next to the sign was
a pull-out that made for a nice parking area; that was where we left the van
as we started our hike. (The trailhead, however, was on the other side of the
river bottom, less than a quarter of a mile away. We could see the trail
registry, gleaming in the morning sunshine.)
We began our hike at 9:20 a.m., after Mary had a clean diaper and all of us
were sun-screened. In order to access the trailhead, we had to hike a few feet
down the road, to a place where the road was level with the creek bottom.
(Next to the van, there was a short cliff that we could not climb down - it
was about eight feet tall with a sheer face of loose dirt.) We hiked through
the dry creek bottom until we came to a grove of mesquite trees on the other
side, in the middle of which was the trail registry, as well as signs marking
the wilderness area. We stopped there to sign the book - John made sure to
comment that we were hiking with Mary, who was five months old. Then, after
our traditional "trail/new wilderness kisses", we began our hike on the Spring
Despite my initial misgivings about the name of this wilderness area, I was
completely impressed by both the trail and the surrounding landscape. We found
that the trail was very easy - so easy, in fact, that we were able to get a
good two-mile-an-hour clip going. It started out with a quick jaunt uphill;
although it got the heart beating, it wasn't too difficult and it didn't slow
us down at all. That lasted for about a quarter of a mile or so; then, the
trail flattened out. For the next two miles, the trail wound through the
beautiful desert landscape, occasionally descending into washes then climbing
back out again.
The trail itself wasn't very difficult to follow. This wilderness area is
little-used, which is evident by the condition of the trail - it is barely
distinct. However, it is maintained. There are cairns all along the trail to
help guide hikers to their destination. If it wasn't for the cairns, we
probably would have gotten lost, as there were a few times that we had to stop
and look for the next set of cairns to figure out where the trail went.
The landscape wasn't much different from that in the Superstition Mountains: a
wide valley full of stately saguaros and lush chollas and prickly palo verde
trees. Spring Valley was surrounded by mountains, including the Hieroglyphic
Mountains, which could be seen to our right during the first mile of our hike.
At 1.5 miles, we ended up at a barbed-wire fence that wasn't on the map -
we're not exactly sure why it was there, if it was some sort of border or it
if was for cattle control. A half a mile later, we took a break at a sort of
overlook, where we could see the end of the trail, which was still 0.3 miles
away. The Spring Valley Trail ended in a wash - but that wasn't going to be
end of our hike. Our plan was to hike down the wash to see how far we could
get - if possible, we wanted to see if we could get all the way to Hell's
Canyon, which was about four miles from the end of the trail.
From the overlook, it was all downhill to the wash, where the end of the trail
was marked by a large cairn with a stick in the middle of it. We stopped there
for a minute so that John could take off his jogging pants - it was getting so
warm outside that he had to start losing layers of clothes. Just then, Mary
started wailing, and she continued to wail while we hiked until we decided to
stop at a shaded spot to calm her down. After John removed her from the Snugli,
he gave her to me, and I proceeded to go through "the checklist" to see what
her problem was. Is she hungry? Does she need a clean diaper? Is she bored? Is
she in pain? Is she teething? Is she tired? We tried to feed her, but she
wasn't hungry. We changed her diaper, but that didn't seem to be the problem.
We gave her some Baby Orajel for her teeth, but she only cried harder.
Finally, I just sat down and comforted her, and she perked up again...
...Until we put her back in the Snugli, at which point she started wailing
We hiked only a quarter of a mile into the wash before we decided to stop and
take an extended break so that Mary could take a nap. It was obvious now that
that was the scope of her problem: she was tired, but she was having trouble
falling asleep in the Snugli. So we found a nice, shaded grove of mesquite
trees, where we sat down and comforted Mary until she fell asleep.
Of course, putting Mary to sleep was no easy task. As soon as she dozed off, I
put her down on her changing pad, but she immediately woke up and wanted to
play. We played with her for a while in hopes that we could wear her out, but
then she became fussy again and began chewing on her bib - eventually that
lead to more crying. Finally, we gave her some more Baby Orajel, and she soon
fell asleep, much to our relief.
John decided to call it day and start hiking back to the car - Mary was much
too miserable from teething and from lack of sleep to continue hiking into the
wash. "I would love to come back here, though," he said. "This would be a
great area to explore further. Maybe next time we could make it to Hell's
Canyon - there's no way we would have made it today anyway."
I agreed with him; despite Mary's crankiness, I was enjoying the hike, and I
would have loved to explore the wash a bit more. It was much like the washes
we had encountered in both the Eagletail and the
North Maricopa Wilderness
Areas, and it left me wondering what sort of interesting things we could find
as we approached Hell's Canyon.
But we would have to save that for another day. Our priority now was to get
Mary back to the van. Without waking her up, we managed to put her back into
the Snugli so that we could begin our return hike.
As we approached the trail junction, where John had left his jogging pants, we
ran into another group of day-hikers - two women and their dogs. Having seen
John's comments in the trail registry, they were excited to see the five-month
old baby and remarked that she was absolutely beautiful. They also told us
that we were lucky to have such neat inventions like the Snugli, which enabled
us to take our baby hiking. One of the ladies said that they didn't have those
things when her children were babies so it was difficult to stay active.
After leaving our fellow hikers, we began the short climb out of the
wash...that is, once we found the trail! Immediately upon leaving the wash, we
couldn't find the cairns to guide us back to the trail. We tried several
possible routes until we finally found the right one. Over the next 0.3 miles,
the trail climbed steadily towards the overlook where we had taken a
break...and during that time, Mary woke up and resumed her fussing. She fussed
and cried for about a mile while John tried to comfort her to no avail. Just
after we passed through the gate again, we found a nice shaded area where we
could sit down and remove her from the Snugli for a while in hopes that she
would stop crying.
Once again, we managed to get her to quiet down, but for how long this time?
It seemed that every time we put her back in the Snugli, she would get mad as
hell! So John came up with an idea: instead of having her face him, what if he
reversed the Snugli so that she could face forward?
And wouldn't you know it: it worked! The last mile was so quiet that I thought
she had fallen asleep, when in fact she was completely alert. At one point,
when John stopped to consult his maps, we found her quietly studying the maps
with him. I guess she had gotten bored of watching her father and wanted to
check out her surroundings instead. Whatever the reason was, though, we were
happy that she was finally happy.
During the return hike, we were able to see things that we hadn't seen while
we were hiking in - for example, Lake Pleasant, which used to be nothing more
than a mud hole when I was a kid. John told me the story of how Lake Pleasant
came to be as big as it is today. Instead of tearing down the old dam that
created the lake, they built a new dam - the New Waddell Dam - further
downstream and allowed the water to flow over the old dam until it was buried
We finished hiking around 2:00 p.m., and by 2:15 we were back at the van,
ready to go home. Once we put Mary in her car seat, she fell asleep and slept
for most of the ride home. As we pulled away from the trailhead, John said,
"That was a great hike! When I woke up this morning, I was still congested and
I almost called off the hike. I'm glad I didn't!"
"Yeah, I'm glad you didn't, too!" I replied. "I really enjoyed that trail!"
"I'm curious to see what's in Hell's Canyon," John continued. He proceeded to
tell me about a section of the wilderness area that is marked as private
property, right in the middle of Hell's Canyon, according to the map. However,
there are no roads leading to it, which leads us to wonder if there is anyone
living there, and if so, what do they do for transportation, since they can't
take motor vehicles into the wilderness area? And if it's a ranch, how do they
ship their goods in and out of the wilderness area? We would be interested to
find out next time we're there.
Next time, we'll find out, because next time, we'll make it all the way to