Without-Name Waterfall near Sears-Kay Ruin
Tonto National Forest, Arizona
March 9, 2019
Most of us hikers for the day met in the church parking lot and carpooled. I rode in the leader’s car, in luxury in a Lexus, a step up from my Toyota 4Runner. We went on Cave Creek Road a short ways beyond the turnoff to Bartlett Lake and parked in a small lot beside a fence with a horse gate, i.e., a bar that horses (and people) step over. A sign merely read “Trailhead.”
The “What Would Jesus Brew?” group joined the “Heavenly Hikers” and me and asked us to help them collect wild yeast today. We were each handed a plugged test tube with a pale yellow liquid inside. The broth and inside of the tube were sterile. The man handing out the tubes explained how to collect plant specimens and put them in the tubes but he failed to tell us that the broth was beer. If he had, we might have returned with no liquid remaining in the tubes. But with desired plant pieces in the tubes.
Both the trail and the waterfall had no names. Perhaps the reason the waterfall has no name is because it dries up for much of the year. However, after good rains water will fall off the rocks until the spring upstream runs dry. Arizona had just had some good rains and, with hopes in our hearts, we set out to find the hidden waterfall.
With two saintly groups from All Saints Lutheran Church escorting me on this hike, I felt as though I was ascending into heaven.
The leader had pre-walked the route, wrote that it was 3.6 miles round-trip, then got sick and sent his wife, who had never been in the area before, to lead the hike. He gave her a map, gave her some verbal instructions, and showed her which arroyo we were to walk down. She had no trouble leading us to the waterfall.
The hike was upside-down. We started from the highest point, worked our way down, then, later, slogged our way back up.
Knowing the sun and exercise would warm us we were wearing only light outer layers of warm clothing. But underfoot there was ice! on top of the small pools of water that had collected in boot and horse prints that had trod the trail while the mud was wet.
We soon saw one disturbing note. It was an invasive, exotic, bright orange African Daisy plant gaily waving its flowers at us as we walked past the lovely plant that did not belong in our desert.
Nearby, we enjoyed the beauty of a patch of Mexican Gold Poppies just beginning to open their petals for the day.
After a couple hundred yards we left the trail. We turned right onto a foot path that descended steeply to a dry, sandy wash. We slogged in that wash for almost a mile. At one point we took a pause to study a stripped-down, rusty sedan shell resting calmly on its back.
A section of cliff-like boulders lined a portion of the wash. The sandy area widened out and in one place we stepped down a check dam that had probably been erected by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the nineteen thirties when they were fighting the terrible erosion that existed across the deserts of the Southwest. The dam had done its job and now held silt that had backed up and filled the wash to the height of the little dam.
We met a woman coming our way. She said she had lived in the area for eleven years, had hiked to the waterfall regularly, and that it had more water today than she had ever seen. Not surprising, because she had moved into this desert area in the middle of a prolonged drouth* that maybe had now broken and maybe had not. Our expectations soared.
Eventually we arrived at the edge of the stream that we figured must come from the waterfall. There was a US flag on a hill across the stream from us and another one on a hill just south of us.
Someone had set stepping stones in the creek. However, their steps were wider than my hips and legs could handle at this time in my life. (All right, I’ll say it — I am 78 years old.) So I waded. Both crossings. The air temperature was probably in the mid 50s and the creek water did not feel much colder.
When we reached the lovely waterfall some people climbed the side hill and stood beside the top of the fall. I chose to stay near the bottom where I could see all of the falling water. For such a short waterfall (maybe 15 feet tall) it made quite a roar, a pleasing sound. Between the water’s falling roar and a slight, cool breeze, I could imagine that I was high up in the mountains somewhere instead of down on the edge of the Sonoran Desert.
Some people ate lunch, some of us ate snacks, and others ate nothing except the wonderful calm and scenery.
Soon, stomachs and other things drew us to our feet to hike back up to the vehicles. Once comfortably seated, the inhabitants of most of the vehicles continued on up the highway about a half mile and parked in the small lot for the Sears-Kay Ruin National Monument. We added another mile to our day’s mileage by walking up to and around the ruin.
Eight of us (out of perhaps 18) ate lunch together at the Ravens View Restaurant not very far back down the highway from the turnoff to Bartlett Lake.
We’d had a wonderful day of food for the soul and the stomach.
*Southern spelling of the word, pronounced with a whispered “th” at end of word. Non-Southerners spell the word as “drought” and pronounce it with a definite “t” spit out at the end.