With uncomfortable summer temperatures in the Phoenix valley, Katie and I decided to take advantage of a long-standing invite from some of her relatives up in Show Low, a small town that sits above the Mogollon Rim and is surrounded by pine trees and mild temperatures. The drive was a small adventure, three fidgeting kids mostly getting along as we climbed past Sunflower and Rye and Payson on our way to Show Low. We got there late, crashed, visited the next day and checked out the town's festivities, enjoyed a small cook-out, spent a second night there, and before heading out on the last day I decided to take the kids for a few hikes. It's not often that they get to enjoy pine trees and mild temperatures.
Our first hike was the simply-named Rim Interpretive Trail. It's less than a mile, located right off of 260, and seemed flat enough to let Charlotte travel on her own two feet. She had no hesitation or problems, and the sight of my three little hikers tromping down the dirt path was quite inspiring.
The hike was interesting. It followed an irrigation ditch for a short time (which was quite dry) while maintaining a respectful distance from a local youth camp. There were a few plaques that talked about the history of the land, and land usage, and how water was important. I was much more interested in the tall pine trees than the plaques. It felt delightful to walk in the shade, with the heady smell of pine, and almost no thorny plants to watch out for. With the exception of a few little cacti hiding under grass or behind bushes, this area was incredibly friendly for small hikers.
Of course, hiking with kids is not always forward momentum, especially with a new hiker. Charlotte wanted to check out every stick and rock. I frequently had to tell Noah and Thomas to slow down and let her play. We weren't in a race and these hikes are for the kids (and this one mostly for her), so we let her set the pace and, as cheerfully as possible, played in the sand with her.
Eventually the forest thinned as we approached the Rim itself. I was initially apprehensive, picturing the edge of the rim as a sudden drop that the kids would wander towards in a dangerous manner, and quickly saw that there was nothing to worry about. There was no boundary, no fence or rail, because there was no need. The flat ground slowly sloped downhill over scattered boulders and manzanita. In fact, I'd wager that the only reason there was a vista here was due to natural thinning of the trees. My awkward hikers were in no real danger of falling off a rim.
Our trail began to get a bit lazy here. It wound around, swelling in places to support small look-outs and (maybe) campsites, even climbing around some of the rocks. The four of us also got lazy and wandered. I stayed on the rim side, making sure I was between the kids and the slope, and they spread out and played. The boys chased sticks and rocks and Charlotte followed the boys.
The temperatures were cooperating nicely. There were plenty of clouds in the sky (and a decent chance of rain this afternoon) which kept things cooler than yesterday's highs. Granted, I'll take a ninety degrees in Show Low over the hundred-plus furnace of Phoenix any day, but the cloudy skies kept things right around sixty or seventy. This little hike was really turning out perfect.
The asphalt showed up halfway through the loop, an unwelcome intrusion to what had been a perfectly fine dirt path. A few more groups showed up to, which meant I had to corral the kids off to one side repeatedly to stay out of the way, especially for the pet owners. Charlotte and Thomas had a bit of fun chasing bugs though I could tell she was getting tired. She finally broke with the parking lot in sight. I wanted her to finish the hike on her two feet, even if she may not remember it, so we stopped for her, comforted her, and then I held her hand for the last few hundred yards. One of the three exhausted for the drive, now I just had to tire out the boys.
I drove a few miles up 260 to our second hike, a little loop along a bluff overlooking a meadow. The setting less scenic than the first walk, with gas stations and highway noise echoing up the valley as a constant presence. Even the first leg was a straight, paved walkway over a stone bridge, looking more like a one-way street than hiking path. With Charlotte in the back carrier I let the boys dash down the walkway ahead and check out the bridge and creek, burning some of that youthful energy.
As soon as we crossed the bridge the fork for the loop showed up, one leg going up the bluff and the other staying along the base. We headed up the bluff. The path was narrow, only wide enough for a single hiker, so I sent the boys ahead and followed them. They were a little hesitant at first, with the hillside dropping away to one side. Eventually they got the hang of it and began jumping ahead, playing with sticks and chatting as kids do.
Charlotte and I hung back and enjoyed the greenery of real leafy forest. She was surprisingly wide awake - had expected her to snooze after the first hike. Oh well, more chance she'll fall asleep on the long drive this afternoon. We chatted a bit about the real forests of the Midwest and I tried to guess at the vegetation here.
Our path barely summited the bluff, which was a mild hundred feet high anyways, before plunging back down to the meadow. Along the way I began to notice a few odd things along the trail: random markers, cement pads, even some foam rectangles. It seems this area is used for a lot of things, including Frisbee golf and scout camping. Personally it seemed painfully close to town for camping, with so much awesome forest surrounding the town and the constant hum of cars on the highway below. Anyways, once we reached the bottom it was an easy trot back to the bridge.
Once we reached the stone bridge I called the boys over to the side and we tried an alternate crossing method. They've spent most of their lives hiking in the desert, figured that running water would be a nice treat. They loved it. We spent ten minutes hopping rocks, throwing rocks, splashing in the water, and only moved on when Charlotte started to get jealous. There was no way I was going to let her get soaked before handing her back to Katie.
On the short drive back to the cabin both boys were quite verbal with their complaints about the long hikes. I tried to convince them that two miles (each hike was about a mile) is nothing, that they've done twice that distance in much tougher terrain, yet they were not accepting that. Well, hopefully their complaints meant they were exhausted and the drive home would be painless (it was).