Here in Gold Canyon we live at the edge of the Tonto National Forest, the fifth largest national forest in the country (almost 3 million acres). To give you an idea of its size, from the south to the north is around 175 miles, and from east to west is about 100 miles (one and a half times the size of Massachusetts!). The landscape includes Sonoran Desert in the south, and the piney forests of the Mogollon Rim in the north (where it abuts the Coconino National Forest), with an elevation that ranges from 1,300 feet to 7,900 feet. All manner of wild beasties live in the forest – deer (of course!) both whitetail and mule, black bears, coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, ring-tail cats (actually a member of the raccoon family; raccoons are here too), skunks, javalina (who came and ate one of my favorite cactuses this week, the stinkers), pronghorns, elk, bald eagles, roadrunners, falcons, owls, kestrels and many other bird species. And horses – but more about that in a little while.
Pretty much all the hikes my hiking buddy and I take are in the Tonto (it means ‘stupid,’ I’m sorry to say), and we haven’t made a dent in the available opportunities. We are pretty much limited to trails in the southern part of the Forest, though we have gone as far afield as Payson, about our distance limit to still leave time for a day-adventure.
Most recently we have been exploring hikes along the Salt River, which runs from Roosevelt Lake through Apache, Canyon and Saguaro Lakes, down to the Agua Fria and Gila Rivers. (Roosevelt Lake, 33 square miles, is the grandpappy of the Lakes, formed by Roosevelt dam, which was built in 1911. The downstream dams which formed the other lakes were built later.
All these lakes provide wonderful recreational facilities for nearby Phoenix and neighboring areas.) People who fly into Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport often get a birds’ eye view of the lakes:
Always nice to have a window seat, don’t you think?
Last week, in spite of 100 + F temperatures, we made two forays to Coon Bluff Trail, which is south of the Lakes on a bluff overlooking the Salt River. From the top of the bluff we could hear the traffic from Bush Highway, and could see Fountain Hills spread out to the northwest. Red Mountain was a near view to the west, and looking the other way we had a far distant view of Four Peaks over the river and beyond some nearer hills.
The Coon Bluff hike is a 4- mile loop, which should be a piece of cake.. We had trouble finding it on our first search – we went to the wrong parking lot. In spite of an early start on our second attempt, we felt we had to turn back before we completed the loop. It was our first visit to this trail, and we were not certain enough of the way to continue in such high heat. A return visit will be made when the temperatures permit! Here are a few photos taken along the way:
A balanced stone
Hiking Buddy surveys the countryside
Hiking buddy and I photograph Red Mountain
That settlement in the distance is Fountain Hills.
Okay, ‘where are the horses?’ I hear you ask. Well, they’re right here along the Salt River.
The theory is that they were brought to the area by Spaniards accompanying Father Eusebio Kino in the 17th century. Some escaped and have made their home here ever since.
In 2015 the US Forest Service announced a culling program of the horses, citing public danger. There was a huge outcry, and in an effort co-ordinated by the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group the tragedy was averted. Lawmakers and the governor passed The Salt River Horse Act which protects the horses, and assigns their care and management to the Management Group.
There are so many marvelous photos of these beautiful horses; the ones above are a paltry sampling. If you love horses, and want to see more of them, visit the Management Groups website and check out Wikipedia’s photo page. Pamela Rutherford made a lovely video of the horses, which you can see here. It is in two parts, the first of which is quite wonderful.
Nothing beats seeing the horses in person, though. We were lucky to see them on both our trips to Coon Bluff. The first time we saw them up close; they are not afraid of people, and while you can’t touch them (or at least shouldn’t try), you can certainly approach and speak to them. The second time we saw them from afar. We were on top of the Bluff, and they were little dark specks in the river below.
The Salt River, her lakes and her horses are just a few of the many delights The Tonto National Forest offers. August might not be the best month for tackling a hike in the south, but taking one along the river has its rewards:
(This post is dedicated to my pal Pumpkin Pammy.)