Arizona's 2019 winter was, to say the least, enjoyable. There were a number of days that showered the Phoenix valley and sprinkled white snow in the higher elevations. After one such wet event I decided to take the kids for a hike - not an epic snow hike, like our adventure in the Mazatzals, but something closer to home. We headed north towards Carefree, on the far side of the valley, to explore the Spur Cross Ranch area.
The first thirty minutes of the hike was busy. The parking lot was already filling up and getting to the beginning of Spur Cross meant herding the kids through the lot, across a road, and down a muddy, busy trail. While I paid the fee I asked about the condition of Cave Creek, as my planned route meant crossing it twice, and the man took a look at my young kids and advised a shorter half-mile loop nearby. We didn't drive an hour to go for a half-mile hike. I thanked him and we headed down towards the creek.
A set of planks balanced on rocks bridged the brown, turbulent flow, and no bottom was in sight. Taking a single kid at a time we crossed slowly, inching along, and when the planks bent and the water rose in the middle I scooped up the kid to keep their feet dry. Charlotte is still in tennis shoes for these adventures and I don't trust the boy's boots to be waterproof. After we all were safe on the other side I gave them a few minutes to play in the mud and throw rocks and do all those kid-approved activities before shooing them up the opposite bank.
Our loop was simple. Take Spur Cross Trail across the creek and up the other side, then follow it west for a mile before branching off on Dragonfly, and then play in the "Jewel of the Creek Preserve" before crossing Cave Creek again and returning to the parking lot. Less than four miles and plenty of variety. Things seemed to be going well, even though the tread was steep and a bit muddy, and then we started heading west. As soon as the trail flattened the ground turned to sticky clay and practically halted all forward momentum.
With the cool and wet temperatures I had bundled the kids up this morning, jackets and long pants and gloves, though a few puddles and falls quickly soaked them through. That, plus the clumps of mud stuck to their shoes, frustrated them. Breaks became common and my motivational treats were running thin. Eventually I gave in and carried Charlotte, who was having the hardest time, while Noah and Thomas made a slow lead. Maybe I should have been more worried about the trail conditions than the creek crossing. When we reached the junction with Dragonfly a small bench showed up, the driest sitting-spot we had seen all morning, and we stopped for a healthy breather.
Our immediate surroundings had not been that exciting. Sure, it was green with wintertime growth, and the north side of the valley does tend to have more trees and green than the south side, and it was still desert. Further out is where it got exciting. Skull Mesa, which had to be less than 4000', had a lovely dusting of white. There are trails that dance that high from here, longer treks that would wander into the snowy regions. With the trail conditions and limited range of my kids, though, I'd have to be content with only imagining such hikes for today.
Dropping down Dragonfly Trail was even sloppier than Spur Cross, though at least we were completing the loop at this point. We bumped into one other family here and wished them luck on their ventures. Noah was very concerned with telling them just how messy the trail was today, partly helpful and partly obvious. Thomas and Noah alternated leading while I carried Charlotte, who was more than happy to have an extended break from the mud.
When the trail began to switchback down into a tributary of the creek the rocks showed up, which worked great to knock the clods off our boots. I demonstrated the art of cleaning boots to my boys, who ended up reverting to a more brute clomping method. Free of the sticky clay we trotted down and Thomas almost stepped on a baby rattlesnake. The poor thing had been injured, possibly by that last family, so we paused to talk about being careful to wildlife while I carried him off the trail and into a sunny, protected area. Little guy was moving slow, either from the cold or the injury, and I'm not sure he made it through the day.
With that excitement passed it was time to dance along the creek, which was absolutely lovely after the exposed desert section. Trees and grass grew tall around the trail, which was packed and easy to walk on, even if it was more mud than not. We found a cave and other distractions along the way, and the boys tossed a few rocks into the creek, and eventually we found our way to the second crossing, which was only minimally easier than the first one. Still took the kids over one at a time - water couldn't have been more than a foot deep, I just didn't want to explain soaked kid to my wife.
Getting back to the parking lot meant a little bit more playing next to the creek, a quick jog up to the road, and then a roadside trail that wound through cholla. By now the crowds were awake and this trail was hopping, mostly with people interested in the Jewel area, and they eyed my mud-caked kids with concern. I didn't tell them not to worry, that the rough sections were further up the trail and likely beyond their range, deciding to let them figure it out on their own.
As soon as we reached the vehicle I made a dad-flavored decision and stripped all of them down to their shirts and underwear. There was no way I was gonna let that amount of wet mud in their seats. We headed out, warm air and a kid podcast on, and all three fell asleep in minutes. Spur Cross may be a long drive from our home in Gilbert, yet it was totally worth it for today's adventure.