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Mogollon Meandering: A Creek So Clear – Invisible?

This is the fourth part in a four-part series about John Davis’ trek around the Mogollon Rim in Arizona.

In my hurry to begin this hike, I’d failed to pack enough food; and water was ever hard to find. So, by two-thirds the way to Mogollon Rim, I was feeling weak with hunger and thirst. Perhaps a mild delirium set in, for when I saw East Clear Creek in thick blue on my map, and knew I could reach it this day, I became giddy at the thought of finally jumping into clear, cool water. I fancied I’d wash my clothes on stream-side rocks, as I do every couple days on most backpack trips, and I even thought I might drink the water unfiltered (the filter clogged and broken beyond field repair), adding a little fuel-grade vodka, to disinfect it.

After a slow, weak hike beneath fickle skies (from sun to rain and many things betwixt today), I reached the edge of the plateau above East Clear Creek. Here, just east of Jumbo Prairie, grew big Ponderosa Pines amid luxuriant bunchgrasses, forming an idyllic scene and beckoning the weary hiker to stop. So eager was I for water, though, that I resisted camping here, and plodded down the steep ridge to the supposed creek. There I found a long wide strip of gravel and cobbles – the streambed, utterly bereft of water. “Who stole the water?!\”, I demanded, in my thirsty fury. I walked along East Clear Creek for a quarter mile or so, hoping to at least find a puddle; but alas, if any water was there, it was too clear to be visible. Up the north side of East Clear Creek Canyon I wearily strode, till I was mollified atop the next plateau by towering pines and a small stock tank less opaque than most.

After a scant (thousand calorie) supper and a few more pages of Larry Stevens’s brilliant guide to the Colorado River in Grand Canyon (helpful in most of Southwest), I prepared to sleep, in my tent for the first time this little outing. Suddenly, though, weather looked more than fickle. As I stepped out of my tent to brush my teeth, lightning strikes eastward flashed across the sky. So I prepared not just for sleep but for evacuation. My old tarp-tent, I soon realized, was no longer waterproof, so though lightning did not come too close, puddles did.

Last Day: A Sodden Trudge

I actually stayed fairly dry till late the next morning, when rain became heavy. For the next few hours, as I walked through Happy Jack Canyon and up the stream that drains from General Springs, I was in beautiful, relatively lush country (where the previous warm day, I’d have gratefully soaked in the stream rather than in the rain), but somewhat distracted by the challenge of keeping the cold rain from finding gaps in my rain gear.

Some of the forest in this area, just north of the Mogollon Rim, seemed largely intact. Somehow it had partly escaped, it seemed anyway, the usual degrading influences of logging, livestock grazing, and motorized recreation. I promised myself to return here in drier weather someday, to look for sign of some of the sensitive wide-ranging creatures that might find safe homes in this relatively wild part of the Mogollon Plateau.

The end of my walk was westward along the Mogollon Rim, on a remote road that really should be closed and converted to a hiking trail. Route 300 affords motorists and walkers dramatic views of the escarpment along the edge of the Mogollon Plateau, but needlessly fragments the habitat. That rainy day, only two cars passed me in the miles before I reached the car of my friend and fellow trekker Ed George. Not long before I gratefully shed my rain gear and climbed into Ed’s old car, I enjoyed one last fun encounter with wildlife: a young Badger, perhaps young enough she’d not yet met a person, emerged from the woods, and began foraging near the dirt road. I stood still so as not to bother her, and was amazed as she foraged closer and closer to me. She finally noticed me from about ten feet away, moved still closer looking at me curiously, then finally decided I was too big to be safe, and trotted back into the big pines of safety. I quietly thanked her for the visit and wished her a long happy life.

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