Located in the eastern Goldfields, a few miles from where that range succumbs to the Salt River and Canyon Lake, the Horns of Dilemma are a scenic pair of spires perched on a ridge that are relatively easy to reach. Well, relatively easy, as they eluded us a year ago when I tried to visit them with the kids and my sister. We made it to the final saddle before turning around, frustrated by whining kids and a tough climb facing us. Today I met Chris, his fiancée, one of their dogs, and one of their friends at the pull-off along the Apache Trail with every intent on tagging the horns.
The first five hundred yards is a rocky two-track that ends with a nice overview of the land ahead. A cairned footpath leads on, dropping quickly into Willow Creek, where we found a large pool of water that distracted my kids for a solid twenty minutes. I let them play - it's not often that they get their shoes muddy or get to throw rocks in a puddle. Once that was out of their system we continued, following a side wash slowly up to a saddle, weaving between cholla and palo verde, using the footpath or game trails or whatever led us westward.
A mile into the hike and Chris called for a stop. His dog was collecting cholla marbles in her pads. We discussed options and the adults decided to turn around, leaving me with my three spawn in the middle of the wilderness. Which is how it usually is, I guess. I led my little hikers on and quickly gained the saddle, the same saddle we turned around at last year, and we ate a small lunch and practiced building cairns for future travelers.
Going got tough after the saddle. Dropping into the wash on the other side was steep and the final climb was even steeper. I let Charlotte lead the way for half before the grade and loose ground had me too worried, then I scooped her up and had the boys march ahead. It was a relief when we finally made it to the top, safe yet stressed, and we even got a few glimpses of the nearby reservoirs from the side of the horns.
It was too windy to enjoy lollygagging so we turned and headed back down. This was much more treacherous with the steep grade, and even though we went slow and careful, Thomas still had a good fall and smacked a cactus. We extracted a dozen spines and continued on. As soon as he was back on flat ground he perked right back up, and I let him and Noah find their own way back to the lunch saddle while Charlotte and I followed some cairns I had missed earlier.
On the way back, before we reached Willow Creek, I found a nice set of trickling pools and paused our hike. I wanted to show the kids how to purify water in the field. We scooped some up, pushed it through a filter, and explained how the bad stuff in water is too small to see and can easily get transferred by touch or unclean gear. To make the lesson more fun, we then boiled the water and made cocoa. It had been cool and cloudy all day and the cocoa was a welcome treat.
After the cocoa it was a simple matter to drop into Willow Creek, play with the water and make a few sand-angels, and then climb back up to the parking lot. On a whim I led us north around a hill before leaving the creek and we found a new route up, one that avoided some of the two-track and had less elevation gain. Between the lunch break, frequent breaks, and cocoa-making it took us four hours to do this short, sub-four mile hike, yet we were able to finally reach the Horns of Dilemma and we had a lot more fun doing it.