Numerous creeks fight their way through the Mogollon Rim, draining south and west towards the desert lowlands of Phoenix. One of these, Wet Beaver Creek, is not only protected by a wilderness boundary, but it also once supported a thriving native population whose ruins you can still visit today. On a warm March weekend I decided to take my kids up to this area, more on a whim than anything else, for an overnight adventure.
Our first visit was to the park at Montezuma Castle. The kids were riled from the long drive, the parking lot and visitor center were packed, and it took a slew of promises and threats to keep them from creating havoc. As we paid and forced our way through a small crowd (this was before we realized how serious Covid-19 would become) I hoped that they would appreciate the maintained ruins. They didn't. They ran and shouted, played and conversed, and showed little interest to the old dwellings. After walking the minimal loop I rounded the monsters up and we returned to the Jeep.
Next up was the more remote and less-visited Montezuma's Well. This was my first time here and, beyond knowing that it was free admission, I didn't know what to expect. A steep and short stairwell led up to the rim of giant sinkhole, complete with cliff dwelling nestled in the shade, and we all found it much more impressive than the 'Castle'. Plus, there was a spur trail that led to the bottom of the well. All four of us were pretty happy with this destination.
Now it was time to camp. I drove us out towards Wet Beaver Wilderness and found a dead-end forest road near Walker Creek, a small tributary of Wet Beaver Creek. It had a few campfire rings and some nice flat spots for the tent, plus trees for my hammock. We worked together to set the basics up, and then I tasked them with finding firewood while I worked on my hammock and dinner. Aside from Charlotte falling into the shallow wash and soaking her jeans, it was an easy, typical, camp setting.
We had a difficult time waking up the next day. It was cold and cloudy, gray skies threatening un-forecasted showers, and by the time we ate and packed it was already mid-morning. I debated an early bail. After all, the kids had gotten there camping adventure in, why not leave now and relax at home all afternoon? Instead we saddled up for a long hike, shoving extra snacks and water into my pack to keep them fueled up for the planned seven mile trek.
The first two miles were dreary and boring, flat trail interspersed by rolling rocks that kept toppling over my clumsy children. When we reached the junction with Wier Trail and the wilderness boundary I called for a quick break. I wanted to check to see if the next few miles would even be worth continuing on, or if we should go play in the water for a few minutes here before turning around. The topo map promised a steeper canyon and some hills ahead, so we pushed on. I'm glad we did.
Once in the wilderness, Bell Trail quickly climbed up the side of the red rock canyon and played along a steep grade, weaving in and out and offering great views at the river below. I kept close to Charlotte, fearful of a misstep or trip leading to a long tumble, and also made sure that Noah and Thomas were within a short dash. They were thankfully sure-footed along this section, realizing how exposed the trail was.
Few groups passed us. I have heard that this trail is a popular and raucous summer spot, and would not be a great family hike, though with the relatively cool temperatures (too cold to swim, anyways) and cloudy skies that was not a concern for today. When a group got close my kids know to step aside and let the faster hikers through, and I made sure they stepped into the hill and not off the cliff.
Soon we reached the focus point of the hike, a lip of rock that juts out over the creek, which seemed like it could make for a nice cliff-jumping spot, as long as you ignore the questionable depth of water underneath. Maybe it's a good spot for belly-flops. We stopped here for a long lunch, sandwiches and juices, while Noah plotted questionable methods to continue the hike up the opposite bank. There was no way - an in-and-out hike, 3.5 miles already, this was already a very long day for their little legs.
The hike out was still fun, enjoying the exposed trail and views from a different angle, especially as the sun began to slowly break through the cloud layer. There were a few more groups on the trail now as people began to wake up from lazy Sunday mornings and explore a warming wilderness. I gave my kids a few extra breaks as they got tired and, even though I refused to carry a complaining Charlotte, held her hand to make sure she didn't trip over any rocks on the way out.
Five hours after starting we returned to the trailhead, mildly excited to start the long drive home. I had a small horde of family podcasts to pass the time and some snacks to keep me awake once they drifted off. This was by far our longest hike, 7.5 miles, and that exposed sections and the rocky terrain was not easy for them. All three of them are turning into real hikers, and I hope we can keep up this momentum when the warmer temperatures return.