There are few trails that take advantage of the Salt River as it meanders between Superstition and Four Peaks Wilderness, with most of the recreational focus on watercraft either on or between the reservoirs. I had already taken the boys to one area, Coon Bluff, and we had had a great time climbing around and looking for wild horses, so it was time to head a little further upstream to Butcher Jones. This time we'd be right on a reservoir so I mentally prepared myself for the stink of stagnant water in the desert.
We parked near the beach and trailhead and headed straight into a wild-looking forest of greedy desert growth that appeared to be taking full advantage of the nearby body of water. Some of the mesquite trees were huge and towered higher overhead than I thought possible. Of course, they were still mesquite, so the branches were twisted and zagged annoyingly low to the ground, forcing me to duck awkwardly to avoid hitting both my and Charlotte's head. As our usual setup, the boys were on foot and Charlotte was in the back carrier; today's hike would be a bit long and treacherous for her little legs.
Once we got past the initial forest the trail curved into limestone and tuff, making for easy walking. The vegetation faded away (it's hard for plants to grow in solid rock, regardless of how much water is nearby) and the beach and nearby rocky outcroppings showed up. I couldn't help but eye up the cliffs on the far side. I've recently been practicing rappelling and jugging for Mountain Rescue in the proximity to a parking lot (and scenery) was appealing. Eh, it probably gets too busy out here for such serious practice.
Noah continued to lead the way, Thomas trotting close behind, and we began to stumble on a few other groups, which was surprising. The gates just opened and there couldn't have been that many vehicles in the parking lot. They were all fishing, with coolers and wagons and a few tents, and I began to suspect that at least a few of the groups had spent the night out here illegally. Guess if the fishing is that good, maybe. I awkwardly tried to keep the boys chatter to a low volume, figuring that excited kid voices is the last thing such people would want to hear early in the morning.
We reached a small point and took a break, more for the picture than anything. There wasn't a lot of distance behind us, though we were about to turn and follow a small inlet for awhile, so I suppose it was cool to check that out. Also, a few paddle-boarders were starting out from the beach behind us, so I got to explain to the boys the difference between kayaks, canoes, and paddle-boards.
The trail along the inlet was quite steep and overgrown and I had to help the boys past multiple obstacles, confirming my earlier decision about keeping Charlotte in the back carrier. It was with some relief that we reached the head of the inlet, a muddy, boggy thing, with flat land and green trees, though the low branches put me in several weird squat-duck positions. The boys loved the green area and I tried to explain how different hiking in the Midwest was, though I suppose we'll have to take a trip up there at some point to actually have it sink in.
Along the north side of the inlet was easy going, even when we got to play zig-zag on a small tributary. I pointed out the trail on the far side, some thirty or forty feet above us, and Noah let out an exasperated exhalation. The darn kid has climbed up Pass Mountain and still thinks a short climb like this is impossible. Two minutes later and we achieved the impossible, continuing uphill and away from the lakeside as the trail circled up the hillside.
Beyond the inlet things got a little boring. We were high on hill, away from the water, though the sound of powerboats echoed easily up over the rocky hills. It was hot and exposed and the boys were whiny. I tried to shake things up a bit by letting them play a short distance off-trail, checking out a dry waterfall or an alternate route, but I think all four of us were growing weary of this area already. Which was weird, because the scenery was amazing.
A mile past the inlet and the trail slunk down to a low spot. I checked the route and saw that there was a bit of a climb ahead of us, and then an interesting view east, and I just didn't care enough. Both of the boys were complaining about the heat and the hard hike (it wasn't that hot and they've hiked much further) so we found seats along the trail, broke out some snacks, and relaxed. Once we were done we started heading back the way we came - this is an in-and-out, and I had been dreading the return past the same old scenery all morning.
We passed two or three groups of hikers on the way out, all much older and faster than we, and my kids were friendly as always. Every person they see is a new conversation, a chance for them to introduce each other and Charlotte, and a chance to show off their hiking sticks and hats. Of course, between the groups their moods were sink and the hike would turn into a trudge, though we were able to keep a steady pace back to the inlet, past the dogs hanging out there, and past the groups of fishermen, which had at least doubled during our outing.
The beach was much busier when we got back, a mixture of paddle boards and families and couples. I had been torn on an after-hike dip for the kids and ultimately decided not to bring our stuff, as the thought of chasing three young kids out of deep water, plus the potential stink of reservoir water, didn't seem that fun. The water wasn't that smelly, even with the mucky-looking beach and trash along the trail. Maybe if we come back out here in a few years and do the entire trail, maybe they'll be old enough to enjoy the water responsibly. For today we bundled into the van and headed back home for pancakes and bacon.