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April 17-18, 1999

"Naked on the Trail"

It seems that recently, when we plan our weekends, we have begun to plan two separate trips -- Plan A and Plan B -- so that if one trip doesn't work out, we always have something else to do. This weekend was no exception. Plan A was to go backpacking into the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness via the Dogie Trail (near Sedona). We had read all of the literature on this trail and found that it was a relatively easy trail, eight miles in length (sixteen miles round trip) with only a seven-hundred foot elevation gain.

However, due to the injuries I had received during our hike into Hell's Gate, we ended up car camping in the Workman's Creek Recreational Area. For our hike, we chose the Rim Trail #139, an easy seven-mile trail that winds through the Sierra Ancha Wilderness -- a wilderness area that we had not yet explored.

John and I left at the usual time on Saturday morning, April 17 -- at 6:00 a.m. -- in hopes that we would be at our campsite along Workman Creek by 8:30 and at the trailhead by 9:00. Normally, we are very efficient and can get out of town very quickly, making only two stops: one at the AM/PM for gas and ice, the other at Einsteins Bagels for breakfast. This time, however, we were delayed when the manager at the AM/PM decided to do his morning closing reports at the exact same time we were there to get gas, meaning that we had to leave and come back at a later time.

At 8:45, we arrived at our campsite, and we did a "Chinese Fire Drill": we pitched the tent to claim the site then climbed back into the van and continued on towards the trailhead, which was along the same forest road -- FR 487. It was at that time that John realized that he had forgotten his jacket. Though it wasn't that cold outside, we knew that it would be close to freezing overnight. I told John that he could borrow my sweatshirt to keep warm, for which he was grateful.

Though it was already mid-April, there were still large patches of snow on the ground, slowly melting with the warmer temperatures. Most of the creeks were flowing with run-off from the thaw, so that all you could hear was the peaceful sound of water rushing by. However, the melting snow also meant that FR 487 would become hazardous. At Workman Falls, the road becomes primitive, meaning that it is only suitable for four-wheel drive vehicles. John and I had taken the van on this road before, during Thanksgiving weekend, but at the time, there wasn't any snow on the ground. Though the van has the clearance to make it over most of the obstacles that can be found on these primitive roads, it can easily get stuck in snow packs and mud.

We managed to get through several snow packs before we came to a trailhead. Across the road, there was a group on young people -- two guys and their girlfriends -- who were camped there. Each of the guys had a four-wheel drive vehicle. We pulled up next to their campsite and asked them if it would be okay for us to park there while we hiked the trail. They said yes, so we parked the van next to the jeep.

Suddenly, we realized that we were not at the right trailhead -- this was the trailhead for the Abbey Trail #151, a newer trail in the Sierra Ancha Wilderness. Realizing our mistake, we let the group know that we were at the wrong trailhead and that we were leaving. We also asked them if they knew where to find the Carr Trailhead, where we could access the Rim Trail #139. They said that they didn't know but that we might not be able to get there, because a mile up the road was a snow pack that was so thick that they couldn't get their four-wheel drive trucks through it. John thanked them then put the van in reverse...

...And the rear tires began to spin, and spin, and spin. We were stuck in the mud.

Fortunately, we weren't stuck too deep, and the guy who owned the jeep gladly towed us out of the muck. We thanked him again for his help as we drove away.

A quarter-mile up the road, we came to the snow pack, and after closer examination, John determined that he would never be able to get the van through it. However, there was no place for him to turn the van around, so he proceeded to back the van down the hill. The snow caused the van to slip to the right, towards the edge of the cliff, so John had to pull forward then try again, this time steering to the left to avoid the ice...and in doing so, he managed to drop the left rear tire into a thirty-inch deep hole!

(You know you're having another adventure when you've gotten stuck twice and it's only 9:30 a.m.)

We were fortunate that there were people close by, that they were good people, and that they had a jeep...because otherwise, we would have been screwed. Though we had a cell phone, it would have taken AAA hours to get there -- and even longer for John's parents. However, with the assistance of kind strangers, we were free within minutes. John offered the guy $20 to thank him for his help, but he wouldn't take it, so we thanked them profusely before continuing down the mountain.

Once we reached our campsite, John and I consulted the map to find another trail for us to hike -- one with an easily accessible trailhead. We decided on the Parker Canyon Trail #160, a 3.4-mile long trail that does not enter the Sierra Ancha Wilderness. It does, however, connect with the Rim Trail, which does enter into the wilderness area. The trailhead begins just off of SR 288 (Young Rd) at the Sierra Ancha Experimental Forest Station, and it gently and gradually climbs 2,000 feet over three miles through the experimental forest as it follows Parker Creek, which was flowing wildly with run-off from the snow.

The Parker Canyon Trail was very beautiful. Everything was green and blooming, and there was still snow on the ground in some places, giving us an opportunity to have one last snowball fight for the season. It winds primarily through a tall forest of ponderosa pines as it gently switchbacks to the top of the mountain, at which point the trail becomes rough and rocky. After cresting the hill, the trail descends down the other side of the mountain, at which time it junctions with two other trails: the Coon Trail #254, and the Rim Trail #139. The Parker Canyon Trail then continues on, eventually ending at FR 487.

While hiking the Parker Canyon Trail, however, we were met with several obstacles. At several points along the first mile or so of the trail, there were trees, which had been blown down, possibly by the freak snowstorm on Easter Sunday. John tried to cut away the branches with his handsaw, but that proved to be too much work, so we ended up hiking around them the best that we could.
Snow on the Parker Creek Trail
There were many points of interest along the trail, one of which was a weir, six-tenths of a mile from the trailhead. Then, about two miles into the trail, we came to a rockslide, where the entire side of the mountain and the trail was covered with loose granite slabs. We didn't know how it had happened, but it was an interesting sight.

Three miles later, John and I turned onto the Rim Trail #139, which enters into the Sierra Ancha Wilderness after a half a mile. Immediately, we began looking for a place where we could "play naked." (Yes, I realize that we have become a couple of sick bastards, but that's the sort of thing you do when you're young, childless and in love.) Two miles later, we still had not found a place for us to play, so John suggested that we "do it" on the trail, right there in the pine needles. Why not? So we stripped down and used our clothes as a blanket.

Fortunately, no one else was using the trail that day, so no one caught us in the act.
Entering the Sierra Ancha Wilderness
Hiking back to the van took very little effort, and we completed ten miles in just six hours, including the time we took to eat lunch and to "play naked". When we started hiking, at 10:30 a.m., we anticipated that we would be done by 5:00 p.m. However, it was only 3:30 p.m. when we arrived at the van. Instead of returning to camp, we drove to Young and stopped at the Antlers (the bar) to have a beer.

That night, after setting up camp and looking for firewood, we dined on big, juicy steaks and drank wine by the campfire, and at 9:30, drunk off of the wine, we stumbled to the tent and were lulled to sleep by the sounds of the rushing waters of Workman Creek.

It took some time for us to get out of the tent the next morning, but eventually we dropped camp and started driving back towards Phoenix so that we could be at John's parents' house by noon to help dig a ditch for their new fence. Of course, we didn't take the "normal" route home. Instead, we took the scenic route: A Cross Road (FR 60) to SR 188 then FR 143, which goes over Four Peaks and on towards SR 87. This route would entail driving for fifty miles on dirt road, but according to the map, it was a shortcut.

Yeah, right! It took us nearly four hours to go fifty miles because these two roads were steep, curvy mountain roads on which one could only travel at a maximum rate of thirty m.p.h., but only when the road was flat and straight. Furthermore, these routes were not all-weather roads. They were light-duty roads that were primitive in some places. A passenger sedan could traverse these roads with some difficulty and at great risk to the oil pan.

It was worth it, though, to take this route because we were able to go into another wilderness area to "play naked". While driving along FR 60, we passed by a Salome Wilderness sign at the trailhead for the Jug Trail John and I grabbed a sleeping bag and hiked to a nice flat area off of the trail where we could enjoy another "wilderness experience". (The total now is five wilderness areas.)

We also had the chance to get the tires on the van wet as we were forced to ford the rushing currents of Tonto Creek. We had seen the creek crossing on the map, but we were hoping that there would be a bridge. No such luck for us! Instead of turning back, John put the van into drive and, clenching his teeth, drove across the river to the other side.

The drive across Four Peaks provided us with some spectacular views of Phoenix and of Lake Roosevelt. However, since we were pressed for time, we were unable to fully enjoy the trip -- nor were we able to enter the Four Peaks Wilderness Area, although we passed within a quarter-mile of the boundaries. Maybe one day we'll return to the area and take the Lone Pine Saddle road all the way to the top or hike the many trails in the area. Maybe one day we'll get to play naked in the wilderness there.

Despite the rush, though, we had an enjoyable weekend, and when we returned home we toasted to our "successful" weekend.

("Successful", in that there were no fatalities, no trips to the emergency room...)


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