My father called it Indian Summer, that special time of year when fall has begun, but despite getting shorter the days are still hot, and the sky remains the brightest of blue. When something in the atmosphere can’t decide if it is time yet to move on. Those days we are teased with the idea of autumn as the morning air starts to have a cool, crisp bite that stirs a wild energy within. When a restless and energetic air urges us to begin to venture out once more even though it feels at times as if summer may never end. The days the landscape continues to show all the glory of it’s greenery but tempts us with just a smattering of the brilliant red, orange and gold hues of fall for which we long.
This is how I felt this weekend. I woke early on Saturday morning with a burning desire to get outdoors and commune with nature. I suddenly felt like a caged animal, as if I needed to escape the confines of the climate controlled, air conditioned indoors and hit the trail in search of change.
I am not sure exactly what change I was seeking. If it was the change that comes with the beginning of a new season, or if I was seeking to change the complacent and somewhat inactive behavior to which I have become accustomed as the oppressive Arizona summer draws to an end. Maybe it is a bit of both.
With my energy and excitement I woke Ryan. I proceeded to urge and encourage him to get up and get moving. This was a feat I feared might be impossible, but to my delight he seemed to be feeling the need for some activity and change as well. Or he at least had a strong desire to humor me.
Achilles and Daisy felt it too. The wild energy in the morning air. They were bouning around us in circles as we started our day, begging and pleading with us to go on an adventure. And so we did.
We ventured out on a day trip in search of fall. We had to be back in the Valley early to celebrate our new Son-in-law Ron’s birthday, so I didn’t think we should attempt to tackle weekend traffic on I-17 to go to Flagstaff or Oak Creek Canyon. Instead we headed northeast past Payson to Horton Creek.
Horton Creek is one of my favorite day hikes for escaping the summer heat. The trail is well marked and follows alongside a small spring fed Creek with several little waterfalls that make a nice place to cool off and relax. While I have never experienced the glory of autumn color at Horton Creek, I knew the potential it could have as the Creek is lined with cottonwood, sycamore and box elder. There are also scattered oak and maple on the hills beside the creek. Alas it was still a little early in the season and too warm still to catch the main event, but the opening act of virgina creeper clinging to the trees in all it’s scarlet glory didn’t disappoint. It gave a glimmer of what is yet to come in the next couple weeks.
Hundreds of people made the trek this weekend in search of outdoor adventure and the hope of seeing a stunning display of autumn color. In fact, I don’t think I have ever seen so many people on this trail. While I tend to prefer the solitude and relaxation offered by more isolated hikes, it was nice to see so many people of all ages enjoying being outdoors, detached from their electronic devices, exercising and breathing fresh air.
Catching fall color in Arizona can sometimes require great patience. It comes on a whim, sometimes as early as the first weeks of October, while other years it may linger in the wings until late November. It is also not the endless display of color you will find blanketing the land in New England or the Pacific Northwest, but for desert dwellers a short day trip or weekend getaway can offer a small glimpse of what it might be like to live somewhere that has actually has four distinct seasons.
Horton Creek Trail #285 is in the Payson Ranger District of the Tonto National Forest, Northeast of Payson. From the town of Payson, take Highway 260 Northeast toward Heber/Showlow through the town of Star Valley. You’ll turn left when you reach the turn off for Tonto Creek Road and Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery. The trail starts from the Upper Tonto Creek Campground and the parking area and picnic area site is clearly marked.From the parking area, you will walk back across the bridge toward the campground, and the trailhead is clearly marked.