In the ever-present struggle to find a reasonable hike for my boys there was one option that was simultaneously filled with potential and unknowns: Coon Bluff. This small hill sits near the confluence of Salt and Verde River and is in an area known for wild horses. It also has few official trails, mostly dead-end, and is close enough to the city for me to be worried about troublesome youths. On one warm summer morning I decided to risk it, though I made sure that we'd have cell reception along the way.
There was only a few cars in the parking lot when we showed up. Curious, I decided that we should check out the river first, so we headed down the short walk to the bank. There was some fisherman and a photo shoot to avoid so we headed off to the side and found a quiet little set of rapids. The boys were instantly enamored by the rushing water and nearby rock climbing. It was a neat area, if one looked past the graffiti, foul smell, and piles of garbage, so I put on an excited face and together we explored the riverside.
After thirty minutes of meandering I led them back to the parking lot and the landward side, where the side of Coon Bluff rises, and we followed a horse path up the hill. This was definitely a wild horse path, piled high with manure and loose rock underfoot. Thomas did not enjoy the tough footing or the warmer temps as we moved away from the river. When we reached the top and was greeted by a barren landscape, a humble scene compared to the lush growth we so recently enjoyed, I began to wonder if this section of the hike should be cut short.
My decision was cemented when Thomas had a full meltdown on the exposed landscape. I had no idea what was going on with him, we weren't going to see any wild horses, and it was oppressively hot up here. I checked the map and decided that we would try something a little fun instead.
The original plan was to play by the river, then make a half-circle along the ridgeline of the bluff, and then drop down the far side by a campground and loop back. Maybe three miles, most of it on the hot bluff. There was a wash that cut this loop in half that we could follow down to the river and we were a few hundred yards from it. A cross-country, definitely off-trail, opportunity to let the boys have some fun. Seemed much better than cooking on top.
When we reached a tributary to the wash I told Noah to lead the way. Thomas quickly got in the game, both of them picking up sticks to prod along, and I dutifully followed. When we reached a tricky spot we talked it out and if they started hauling up in the wrong direction I would correct them. For the most part, though, they chose well and we had a great time following the wash.
There was some thorny parts to deal with at first, where all of us had to get down and crawl under Palo Verde trees and avoid catclaw. Things opened up after that and we enjoyed easy sandy travel in the early morning shade. Near the bottom the wash got more serious, with huge boulders choking up the way with five-foot drops, and I had to hop down first and then lift them, one at a time, down to the bottom. It was still fun and I made them solve the problems on how to continue.
Too soon we reached the bottom of the wash. A giant sycamore sprung up and blocked the way forward, and while I was trying to figure out how to climb down it I noticed stagnant black pools of water underneath. It was time to turn west and follow the river back to the parking lot. The boys hauled up a sandy crack and we were came out on an outcropping overlooking the gray-green waters and a few kayaks below.
The rest of the hike was pleasant enough, just not as fun as watching kids solve bushwhacking problems. Trail was obvious and they trotted quickly down, pausing to admire the huge sycamores above. Things get so cluttered near water in the desert. It distantly reminds me of cedar swamps of Michigan, only it doesn't smell as good or feel like home. Eh, suppose all of this was better than that exposed bluff above. We continued along the shore until we were almost at the parking lot.
Feeling that the hike was almost done I tried to come up with a few delays, ways to stretch out this morning. We stopped for snacks at cement picnic tables and then we talked to an old man walking his dog. I showed them how to skip rocks (got a lot of work left there to do) and we waved at passing kayakers. When we finally got back to the van they both instantly fell asleep and I drove home in well-earned silence. This area turned out to be much more enjoyable than I expected, especially once we got away from the well-trod paths.