In July 2007, John and I celebrated eight years of marital bliss. Eight years...it was hard to believe that it had already been that long. Some days, it seemed like only yesterday that we had met on that infamous blind date. Other days, it seemed like we had known each other our whole lives.
In typical Verley fashion, John and I decided to celebrate our anniversary with an adventure. In past years, we have had some interesting anniversary adventures: the Chiricahuas, Chevelon Crossing, Kartchner Caverns, the White Mountains, the Grand Canyon, Alaska, and Flagstaff. We've done half of these adventures without Mary and half of them with her. This year, we decided to do something without her, so that John and I could get some alone time together.
Our plan was to take a three-day weekend and spend some time in Overgaard, at the Gaard-Chak. Using the cabin as a base of operations, we could do some fun day-hikes in the White Mountains; and in the evening, we could do a night out on the town in Show Low. We even considered doing a night at the Hon-Dah Casino; although John wasn't much into gambling, we were intrigued by the ads we seen, depicting fine dining and entertainment at the casino. We could definitely make an evening out of that!
So, on Friday night, July 13, we dropped Mary off at Bill and Erika's house; and that enabled us to get an early start on Saturday morning. We left the house around 6:30 a.m. - much earlier than we normally leave - and started on the road towards Heber-Overgaard. To get there, we took SR 87 north to Payson, where we connected with SR 260. Upon leaving Payson, we followed SR 260 for thirty-five miles, to the Heber town limits. The Gaard-Chak is located off of SR 277, within the Overgaard town limits.
Upon arriving at the Gaard-Chak, John and I dropped off our bags and supplies, turned on the air-conditioning, and quickly made sandwiches for our day-hike. Our plan for the afternoon was to hike the Country Club Trail #632, a 4.5 mile loop trail that is part of the White Mountain Trail System. The trail is located within the city limits of Pinetop-Lakeside, which meant that it was city-hiking, but city-hiking in Phoenix and city-hiking in the Show Low area are entirely different. We try to avoid city-hiking in Phoenix at all costs.
With our hiking gear and our lunch packed, John and I left the Gaard-Chak and headed toward Show Low on SR 260. Once in Show Low, we continued along SR 260 and passed through Pinetop-Lakeside until we reached Burnside Road, where we turned left. This road took us through a neighborhood of new homes. At the intersection with FR 182, we turned left and continued on for two miles, until we reached the trailhead.
The trailhead for the Country Club Trail was just a dirt lot, just off of the paved road leading into a new housing development that was under construction. As we stepped out of the 4Runner, we could hear the construction vehicles at work; hearing noises like that is one of the reason why we don't like city-hiking. At that point, the wilderness experience is lost to the sights and sounds of the city. We just hoped that we could still escape the city along this trail.
From the trailhead, the Country Club Trail crossed FR 182 and began to traipse through the forest along a narrow footpath. It was flat at first, but after three-quarters of a mile, the trail began to climb gently until it came to the junction with the spur trail leading up to Pat Mullen Mountain. At that point, John and I looked at each other and debated about whether or not to summit; it was only a half-mile, but it was a steep half-mile and we didn't know if we were in shape enough to do it. In the end, we decided to tackle it.
The climb up to Pat Mullen Mountain was steep, but it was not nearly the groaner that we feared it would be. Along the way, we saw some interesting alligator juniper trees; some of them were so large that it would take three or four of us, holding hands, to completely encircle the tree. The switchbacks along the trail were mostly exposed, which gave us some nice views of the city below. Once we were on top of the mountain, though, we lost that nice view; it was completely obstructed by tall pines.
We sat down to rest on a pile of large rocks at the top of Pat Mullen Mountain; there, we ate our sandwiches and enjoyed the cool afternoon breeze. John also looked for a geocache that was supposed to be located at the summit, but he couldn't find it. The trees were interfering with the GPS signal, making it hard to pinpoint the exact location of the cache. We would have to try again another time.
As soon as we were fully rested, John and I made our way down from Pat Mullen Mountain and rejoined the Country Club Trail. From there, it was another three miles to complete the loop.
The rest of the hike was very beautiful. From the junction with the spur, the trail began to descend gently for another half-mile and soon connected with other trails in the White Mountain Trail System. We even found the Los Burros Connector Trail, which, of course, is the trail that connects to the Los Burros Trail #631 (been there, done that!). We considered doing a portion of that trail, but since we had plans for the evening, we decided against it.
The last two miles or so of the trail were very flat. We walked past pretty, grassy meadows, past still ponds, and through dense forests of tall ponderosa pines. All the while, we enjoyed the silence of nature and forgot that we were in the city...that is, until the last quarter of a mile, when we approached the construction zone again, near the trailhead. The sounds of nature were replaced by the "beep beep" of the construction vehicles. At least we were nearly finished hiking!
After completing our four and a half-mile hike, we returned to the Gaard-Chak in time to start dinner. We decided to have our dinner early that evening so that we could return to Show Low to catch a movie. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix had just opened up in the theaters, and this was our opportunity to see it without having to worry about finding a babysitter for Mary.
So, immediately following dinner, we got back into the 4Runner and drove all the way into Pinetop-Lakeside again to see the movie. It was an hour to get there - and, of course, an hour to get back home again afterwards - but it was well worth it. The movie was excellent, and it was nice to have a date night, too.
The next morning, though, it was back on the trail again, for another day-hiking adventure.
Our next hiking adventure would take place on the Land of the Pioneers Trail #629, an eleven-mile loop trail that was also part of the White Mountain Trail System. True, eleven miles would be a bit ambitious for us, considering how long it had been since we had last hiked anything that long. We just hoped that we were in enough shape to handle it. And, if not, we always had the option of cutting the trail short by taking one of the shortcut trails...
To get to the Land of the Pioneers Trailhead, we took SR 260 through Show Low, where we connected to US 60. From there, we continued along US 60 for another twenty miles, until we reached FR 224. This road took us through Vernon and eventually connected to FR 5, where the trailhead was located.
The Land of the Pioneers Trail #629 is an eleven-mile loop trail that follows several jeep trails and footpaths through the ponderosa pine forest of the White Mountains. Along the way, there are two shortcut trails - one that shortens the trail to a 3.5-mile loop, and another that shortens the trail to an eight-mile loop. Along the way, there is a spur trail that goes to the top of Eck Mountain; there is also a very interesting box canyon as well as an old homestead that belonged to a trio of sisters - the three "Arab" women, who were among the pioneers who settled in the area in Arizona's early days.
As we started hiking that morning, John and I discovered that we had conflicting information about the trail we were about to hike. The topographical map that we had printed from White Mountains On-Line showed the trail as more of a lasso, with a spur trail leading to the beginning of the loop. The map we picked up at the trailhead, however, showed the trail as a full loop. We weren't sure why there was a conflict between the two maps, but once we started down the trail, we discovered that it was the latter of the two maps that was correct. The loop did indeed start and end at the trailhead. For our hike, we started out on the southern leg of the trail, to do the loop in a clockwise direction.
Within the first two miles of our hike, we came to a bridged creek crossing, next to a gigantic, gnarly alligator juniper tree. John had me climb up inside of it so that he could take a picture, to show perspective on just how big it was. I was a dwarf compared to its many branches and offshoots!
We continued through the forest for a little bit longer. Then, after we intersected with the first of the two shortcut trails, we entered an area that was extremely exposed. The trail followed an old jeep road, along which there was virtually no shade to speak of. The sun was beating down on us, too, and with the humidity, it was almost unbearable.
After about three miles of hiking, we came to the second shortcut trail. By that time, we were so hot and miserable that we almost considered taking it, just to see if there was more shade along the way. However, after some hemming and hawing, we decided to stay the course and continue towards Eck Mountain.
The route to Eck Mountain offered no relief for us from the hot sun - and, on top of that, we had a groaner of a climb, too. The climb was steep and rocky, but at the top of it, we found some much-needed shade, where we took a break to cool off.
From there, the trail turned to the left and followed the ridgeline to the spur trail that would take us to the top of Eck Mountain. Having come all that way, we decided to take the spur to the top, even though we were hot and tired. Like the rest of the trail, the spur was steep, rocky, and had no shade; but once we were on the top, we found a cool spot among the ponderosa pines and took an extended break there to rest.
And wouldn't you know it? We had cell signal up there! John's phone rang, and it was Bill and Erika and Mary, calling to check up on us. We had to laugh. There was once a time when we could go out into the wild, and no one could get a hold of us. Now, we were discovering that there were more and more places where we could get a cell signal. It was just sick and wrong.
Once we were rested, we descended from the summit of Eck Mountain and continued down the trail. From there, the trail was still very much exposed, but at least now it was all downhill.
But now, we had one more thing with which to contend: the summer monsoons. The clouds were beginning to gather already...
More than halfway through the trail, as we made our way down the northern arm of the loop, we finally found the shade again. By that time, the temperature had cooled by about ten degrees as the monsoonal thunderheads began to gather in the distance. A cool breeze had picked up, and passing clouds kept blocking out the sun's rays. It was a welcome relief.
We soon began to find evidence of the pioneers who had once lived there. At Section 31 Tank, we came to a fence line and a gate, beyond which there was once an old homestead. Later, we found the old cabin at Arab Tank. The story goes that there were three sisters who lived in that cabin. It was rumored that they had stashed a lot of money in their homestead, and those rumors brought robbers to their homestead. The three "Arab" sisters were murdered and their homestead was destroyed by the outlaws who sought their money; but it is not clear whether or not they managed to find the loot that they were looking for. Today, all that remains of their old homestead are some logs that were once their home; these logs can be seen just off of the trail.
About three-quarters of the way through the trail, John and I stopped for lunch at the box canyon, which wasn't far from Section 31 Tank. The box canyon was small and pretty, and it wasn't very deep at all. We probably could have climbed down into it, if we felt ambitious enough. But having hiked eight miles already (with three miles to go ahead of us), we weren't feeling very ambitious anymore...
After lunch, we still had about three miles ahead of us; and we took those three miles as quickly as we could, mainly due to the fact that the thunder had begun rumbling overhead. A monsoon storm was coming, and we really didn't want to be stuck out there on the trail in it. Our hustle paid off, too, because we managed to make it to the trailhead just as the rain began to pour down on us! What luck!
Having completed our eleven-mile hike, John and I drove through the rain along FR 224 and made our way back to US 60. Along the way, we stopped at the Midway Store in Vernon (where the power was out) and we bought some cold drinks to enjoy on the ride back to Overgaard.
By the time we arrived at the Gaard-Chak, we were exhausted, so we crawled into bed and took a short nap to rest up for our big date night. It was important that we rest up before heading out for a night on the town; otherwise, we were going to zonk out before 9:00 p.m.!
Around 4:30 p.m., John and I showered and got dressed up for our date night, and at 5:00 p.m., we started out towards the Hon-Dah Casino and Resort, located just three miles east of Pinetop-Lakeside on the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation. Although we had passed by this casino many times in the past, this was the first time we would ever stop there.
...and quite possibly the last...
We were very disappointed in the Hon-Dah Casino. Their television advertisements had indicated that there would be fine dining, but we never found it. Instead, we found the equivalent of a cafeteria or a Vegas-style buffet, with loud, obnoxious kids running around. Although half of the tables were empty, it took them fifteen minutes to seat us, and we waited an additional fifteen minutes without ever seeing a server before we got up and left. There was no way we were going to spend our big date night there!
On the way through Pinetop-Lakeside, we had seen several restaurants that looked nice, so as we left Hon-Dah, we tried to figure out which one would get our business. The one that stood out was a teppenyaki place called Kabuki, for which there were several billboards in town advertising it. The name stuck with us, mainly because John kept thinking of "Shepoopi" - the song that Peter Griffin performed while showboating after a touchdown, in the episode of Family Guy where he played for the New England Patriots. It wasn't long before that song got stuck in our heads, and John pulled up the clip on YouTube just for a giggle.
Despite the fact that we had closely associated the name of the restaurant with a song from Family Guy, Kabuki was a very nice restaurant, and we had a wonderful time there. We did a table for two instead of the teppenyaki seating and enjoyed a delicious dinner; they even brought us a free dessert because it was our anniversary. (Unfortunately, I couldn't eat the dessert; it was green tea ice cream, and I'm allergic to green tea.) It was such a lovely experience that we decided to go back there again someday.
After dinner, we returned to Overgaard, but we didn't return to the Gaard-Chak quite yet. Instead, we stopped at Tom's Cabin - the local bar - to go dancing. When we arrived, we found that there wasn't much going on - it was Sunday night after all - so we just had one drink before we called it a night.
The next morning, John and I were up bright and early, though we certainly didn't need to be up that early. We tried to sleep in, but when the sun broke through the windows, there was no turning back.
We spent the morning cleaning up the Gaard-Chak and getting everything locked up, turned off and put away. Around 10:00 a.m., we said good-bye to the cabin and started the long drive home.
Along the way, we had every intention of stopping to do a day hike; but as tired as we were from the eleven-mile hike the day before, there was no way we were going to do anything longer than a mile that morning. That said, we decided to stop at Woods Canyon Lake and do a short, easy jaunt on the Woods Canyon Lake Trail.
The Woods Canyon Lake Trail took us from the dam at Woods Canyon Lake downstream along Chevelon Creek. The hike was easy and flat and reminded us a lot of hiking Clover Creek - same type of terrain, same type of forest riparian foliage. As we made our way downstream, we found ourselves in plants that were over five feet tall! They were so tall that I could barely see John's head over the top of them!
Along the way, we found a little brown mouse, hiding in the grass and ferns along the side of the trail. He didn't seem to be too scared of us and didn't run away when I tried to take his picture. Seeing this little critter made me laugh; in the building where I worked, there was a mouse infestation, and most of my co-workers were freaking out about it. As I kneeled now in front of this little creature hiding in the grass, I had to say, "But you're so cute! I don't know why these people are freaking out over your cousins!"
We only hiked for an hour that morning; by the time we arrived back at the dam, it was lunchtime, so we got back into the 4Runner and continued our drive to Payson.
We finally arrived in Phoenix just after two o'clock in the afternoon, at which time we stopped at Little Treasures to pick Mary up from summer care. She was excited to see us, even though she had had a wonderful time at Grandma's house. With that, the three of us went home and spent some quality time together as a family before returning to reality...
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