Fire restrictions for Kaibab Forest would kick in on Friday, making campfires illegal, so I drove the kids up on Thursday after work and we found a small site off of FR 150, south of Williams, and after quickly setting up camp we made our classic hot dogs over a small, crackling fire. It was a pleasant evening in the open pine forest so I let the kids stay up until the stars sparkled high above. When they tired out and piled into my old tent I stayed up a short while, reading on a nearby cot, before ensuring our fire was out cold and turning in myself. We had a big dayhike tomorrow and we all needed our rest.
Sycamore Canyon cuts a deep channel into the Colorado Plateau, draining a large area down towards Sedona and Oak Creek. There is a fantastic loop that dances along the edge of this canyon that I had visited three years ago. If you stick to the main trail its only about eleven miles, a perfect distance for the kids, especially because most of the route is flat and shaded. I woke the kids before dawn, we ate and broke camp, drove another mile down FR 150 to one of the trailheads, and started up the trail with the morning light.
There is only one elevation bump worth mentioning on this loop - KA Hill, a squat little thing that rises about 500' above the surrounding forest. We tackled this first and the kids made fast work of it. There was a partial view north to San Francisco Peaks, the highpoint of Arizona that I have yet to visit. We paused at the peak for a promised snack before tumbling down the steeper east side, trotting easily down the switchbacks, and then re-entering the flat forest below.
Miles passed by slowly. We crossed a road and an open meadow, checked out some old cabins and a sawmill site, followed the start of Sycamore Creek and looked for water without success. The pine forest was hot and dry and the fire restrictions seemed, if anything, overdue. Eventually we did find a large pond, complete with lily pads and singing frogs, and I gave the kids some time to hunt around for the croaking.
Our creek opened up in a grand fashion and we stopped for a long break on the rocky lip. Halfway seemed like a good time to break out lunch - Uncrustables and Gatorade for the kids, sardines and crackers for me. The Sycamore Canyon Wilderness stretched out below us, looking rugged and tempting, and I wondered how difficult traveling the bottom was. There's no good way down from this far upstream, too many rocky cliffs to navigate, and the nearest access was miles to the southeast, far out of sight. One day (during a less-dry year) I'd love to explore that area.
With lunch out of the way we continued along the trail, now heading west up another fork of the canyon, one that would eventually lead to Pomeroy Tanks where the Jeep was parked. Water was becoming an issue. I had brought over a gallon for this trip and we were going through it quickly, and while I did have a water filter, things were drier than expected. Should have tanked up at that pond with the frogs instead of playing with kids. I left the kids and jogged over to check out Double Tank to no avail. Between the dry afternoon temps and the intermittent climbs along the canyon rim the kids began to complain, rightfully so, and my usual tricks of sweets and promises of ice cream were running thin.
At three we reached the Forks, one of the main attractions of the loop, and we stopped to watch some rock climbers and dole out the last of the water. There were less than two miles left to walk along Pomeroy Tanks, a pleasant shaded stretch of trail. With the water gone we headed off, light packs and semi-happy stomachs, and pushed for the Jeep. Pomeroy Tanks was pleasant and didn't seem to last long, and the exposed stretch north of Isham Spring in full sun seemed to last forever. Eventually we reached the Jeep and the two gallons of ice water that waited for us and there was plenty of celebration.
All three kids fell asleep before we got off the dirt roads, and I had to wake them up for ice cream in Prescott, and they fell back asleep for the rest of the drive home. This hike was definitely at their upper limits. The shade and pleasant scenery wasn't enough to offset the hot, dry weather, and I should have carried more water or, perhaps, some cold treats to perk them up. Still, we enjoyed this simple loop, and I'm tickled to start sharing some familiar landscapes with them.