Water Wheel Falls
Trails: Water Wheel Falls
Distance: 2 miles
Difficulty: Easy (a little scrambling over rocks)
Trailhead: Water Wheel Day Parking
The morning started with me driving right by the entrance to the Water Wheel parking lot. I thought I could scoot in through the driveway at the other end of the lot but there was a Do Not Enter sign. Wellllll then I guess I’ll just keep driving and see what else is on this road before I turn around.
This is how we came to be at Second Crossing – a little parking lot, a bathroom, and a campsite right next to the East Verde River. The park bulletin board reminded me that we’re in bear country (black bears) and that there may be mountain lions lounging around. Uhhhh… Yeah, totally forgot those existed out here. Super. Luckily we create a medium amount of ruckus without even trying, so we should be giving enough of a warning to the wilderness that we’re out and about and won’t be startling anyone from their morning nap. But I’m always on the lookout nonetheless.
We meandered along the river until we came to an overlook at a bend in the river. I could hear what sounded like some rapids or a waterfall, so we explored as much as we could. After going up and over and around we found the rapids and saw a giant boulder wedged between the cliff sides that flanked the river. Rad! This is exactly why I love roaming!
Circling back to Water Wheel Falls (via AllTrails), I made in the correct driveway. The trail was pretty well worn where is ventures into the trees and along the river – I imagine there are quite a few people out here in the heat of the summer. We had to climb up and over a few large rocks and rock piles but basically a pretty easy hike. The hounds are getting much better at listening to me to slow down and wait for their turn to hop from rock to rock.
After a short bit the trail opens up to a large canyon type area – large rock surfaces, minimal plants beyond the cliff sides, and the river/waterfalls winding along. We had the place to ourselves. We peered down from overlooks, wandered to the water’s edge, hopped across boulders, and just generally soaked up the sunshine. By the time any other hikers came along we were ready head back.
I wanted to check out one other area for potential hiking opportunities before we officially started back home. The trail was open to hikers, horses, and dirt bikes/ATVs, and just after we stepped onto the trail several dirt bikes flew by. They were very respectful of our space but I decided that running into more of them was more than I wanted to deal with at the moment. So I let the hounds dawdle in the little creek for a bit, which Herc loved, before returning to the car. Just as I turned to start back I dropped my phone in the creek!! YIKES!! AHHH!! I snatched it out of the water and tried to shake it off, hoping with all hope available for its survival. How did I manage to drop it?! Why was I even fumbling with it over the water?! I’m always so cautious around water!! Ugh, definitely a sign to just go home. Somehow, beyond any of my understanding, it hasn’t shown a single sign of damage! Whew (knock on wood!)! But I am taking that incident as a sign to figure out some better options for carrying my phone, what I use for navigation, and what I use for taking pictures. Time to research!
Trails: Bursera > Gila > Lost Ranch Mine > Pyramid
Miles: 5.7 miles
Difficulty: Medium (some hills, but nothing rigorous)
Trailhead: South Mountain Park Trailhead Parking Lot, 15498 S 19th Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85045
A sort of sunrise hike… Sort of, as in I tried to make it to the mountain to be hiking during sunrise but life happened and I wound up watching it in my rearview mirror. Whoops! Nonetheless, still beautiful and still an excellent morning!
We began our hike from the South Mountain Park Trailhead Parking Lot off Chandler Blvd where you launch from the Pyramid Trail. Bursera starts at the first fork to the left – there is a post noting such. The trail wraps up the hill with plenty of lookout points that offer great views to the east, south, and beyond (aka great spots to catch sunrise – if you’re timelier that I was!).
I decided to cut across Gila Trail (5.7 miles RT) rather than National Trail (7.1 miles RT - this is the original route I found via AllTrails) due to the warmer than normal temps. Skipping the first little trail I saw that forked to the right – a super-short shortcut back (connects partway down Gila) – we continued on Bursera until we hiked down to a wash and back up. Just past the wash was the start of Gila Trail heading off to the right. From there we just kept to the right at any fork in the trail and made our way back to the parking lot (Lost Ranch Mine Trail to Pyramid Trail).
Despite a full parking lot, we saw very few people along most of our hike. When it comes to hiking with these two yahoos, a hike that gives us plenty of space and very few trail interactions earns an enthusiastic double thumbs-up from me!!
My best guess was that everyone chose the other trail option (continuing on Pyramid Trail) or we were all traveling in the same direction (counter-clockwise). It wasn’t until we hit Lost Ranch Mine Trail that we really came upon any significant number of folk – and normally I’d just insert a <shrug> here as I don’t mind meeting people on trails, and in fact it is often enjoyable – but we also suddenly encountered quite a few dogs!! Apparently everyone takes their dogs hiking at 9am!
We parked at the Blue Point Recreation area (Tonto Pass required) – same place we parked for the Goldfield Ovens, just hiking in the opposite direction. The hounds and I set out on the trail just as the first hint of light was starting to shimmer up from the horizon.
The grass and spider webs were covered in dew, the sunrise was golden, and we didn’t run into any other hikers the entire morning!
The trail meandered through the grass, past a few “campsites” along the edge of the hillsides, and then mostly through desert terrain until it arrived at the road and picked up on the other side. On the south side of the road the terrain had a bit more brush and trees the closer we got to the river.
Herc of course waded into the water – I swear he’d live in water if I let him! As we hiked along the river we found a few outcroppings of rocks that made perfect pit stops for watching the sun rise and enjoying snacks.
You can follow the trail all the way around the hills back to the Goldfield Ovens, but we just headed back the way we came. It was so lovely that I didn’t mind seeing it all again.
3.5 hours northeast of Phoenix is a section of land I could easily see myself driving right through without a thought of stopping to look around – from the car it looks fairly flat and somewhat monochromatic.
I would, however, be missing out. In a big way.
Thankfully the National Park Service has set aside this chunk of land as the Petrified Forest National Park. And SUPER thankfully they welcome dogs on all of the trails! <3
The petrified wood was fascinating to see up close -- so many colors appears from the minerals in the water way-back-when. And the rest of the landscape was equally as unique, though these pictures do not do it justice!!
There were several short hikes (about one mile each) and quite a few points of interest/scenic overlooks. We spent much more time exploring than I expected (in a good way!) and had to hustle through the last few points of interest, which was a bummer. However, I will definitely return!