Hiking (if you can call it that) in the Agua Fria National Monument
Today was not a good day for a hike.
I went to bed last night to clear skies, the kitchen countertops spread with prepartions for an early start for our outing. Even a simple day hike requires a lot of work beforehand when I’m packing for myself and four kids. Food, of course, plenty of water, a change of clothes, a beach towel for everyone, maps, guidebooks, binoculars, first aid supplies — it was all ready. I’d even made muffins so that our breakfast would be hearty but quick.
I woke up to low, grey clouds which blotted out the sun. Still, I had hope that all my preparations the night before were not in vain. Anyone who has lived in Phoenix for long realizes that 80% chance of rain means that reality will be in that dry 20%. I kept expecting the morning sun to warm and for those clouds to blow away, leaving a clear, beautiful day for our trip. It never happened.
But, I’m hardheaded.
We headed north of Phoenix on I-17 to exit 256, Badger Springs Road, which is just north of Sunset Point. Semi-recently, I had seen a kiosk erected, along with a dirt parking lot. I thought, “Must have been a new trail put in.” Well, it turns out that it, “Must have been a new National Monument put in.” The Agua Fria National Monument, in fact. 71,000 acres of scenic semi-desert grassland, riparian area, mesas and canyons, and over 400 archaeological sites.
In my trusty hiking guide, the very valuable 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles — Phoenix, the Badger Springs Wash Trail looked perfect for my crew. Relatively flat, relatively short, running alongside a creek, with a big scenic payoff as the creek empties into the Agua Fria River. Another plus for a mom with four kids is the well-maintained pit toilet near the trailhead. The book also said that trail usage was “light,” and I favor hikes where we don’t encounter other people. (It turns out that we saw four other parked vehicles, observed three other moving vehicles, and encountered one other hiking couple on the trail. All of that on a rainy, winter weekday. Doesn’t sound like much, but to me, that’s crowded.)
After about a 45 minute trip in the truck, we pulled into the National Monument. We had to travel about a mile down dirt road to the trailhead. It was a spooky mile. There had been a fire in the area about 2.5 years ago, and the desert is slow to recover. Dead, dying and blackened flora was interspersed with the normal winter hibernation of most of the other plants. It didn’t bode well.
The good news was that, in the end, we all agreed that this would be a perfect hike when the weather was warm. Trouble is, the weather was not warm.
For about the first 1/10 of a mile, all of us were eager to hit the trail, even though the wind was blowing, and rain was intermittent. We oohed and ahhed over the unusual conglomerate boulders (and possibly petrified wood boulders) and the crossbedding in the stone along the trail, all the colors made deeper and brighter with the sheen of rain. The boys scrambled up rocky outcroppings and collected sturdy sticks for swords. Even 22-month-old Audrey, who would normally be content if I carried her for the entire length of a hike, was eager to walk by herself.
But then… the light rain started to seep through our jackets and doubled-up shirts. Even our hats were pretty well soaked through. Added to that, a stiff breeze and a few missteps in the rain-swollen creek led to some really unhappy hikers. Exept Grant. Eight-year-old Grant is my most willing, energetic, happy hiker, all the time. He always has to be called back from forging too far ahead on the trail, and never complains of tired feet or scratchy bushes. Contrast that with six-year-old Wesley, who was a sorry sight with his runny nose and frequent whimpers, lagging behind.
About 6/10 of a mile into the first leg of the hike (which only totalled 7/10 of a mile), I made a decision that we had to turn around. Bummer. We were literally just around the corner from the confluence I was so eager to see (Grant had scouted it out and saw it), but my heart went out to Wesley, who was completely miserable. Audrey was OK, Ethan was OK, though I could tell that he wasn’t totally happy, as he started getting snippy with our dog, whom he had on a leash.
So, we got back to the truck, extracted ourselves from our wet clothing, wriggled into the dry stuff, sat in the truck and ate an early lunch as the rain picked up. As much as I hate to leave things unfinished — I hate the feeling of “so close, and yet, so far” — I admitted to the kids that it was a good thing we turned around.
We drove back, the kids happier than I, but all of us pleased to be watching the rain from the inside of our vehicle.