1. The road is EXPLETIVE AWFUL. I truly can't believe anybody has dragged a 2wd anything down there, and if they have, they should seek psychiatric care immediately. It must be in worse shape now than when Joe wrote the original description. I enjoy 4-wheeling, and this road sucked more than any road before it. Be forewarned!
2. The descent is a royal PITA. Dirt, loose footing, exposed sun, basically no redeeming qualities at all. Except that it's over quickly.
3. Once at the bottom, the opportunities for camping are very limited. Find a spot and go with it. Our spot was great (see GPS track), and there's some flat ground at the hanging gardens and one place between the two. Other than that, your options are basically slab rocks.
As is typical in my life, this was a last-minute plan concocted over a delicious beverage late on Thursday night. Options ranged from Calloway to Tramway, Cabin Loop to Reynolds Creek. It wasn't until Jonathan's phone call at 8:30 Saturday morning woke me up that I knew he had decided he wanted to go to the hanging gardens.
I'd never been, and while I put a few things in a pack, I tried to scan some HAZ triplogs. Time didn't permit printing a map or anything like that, so I just decided to go with the flow and assume he knew what he was doing. We stopped at Wally World in Payson for some inflatable pool floats, which are an absolute necessity.
After consulting the HAZ page in the parking lot, I took a couple of phone screenshots so I would be able to find the TH. I really can't emphasize enough how miserable the 6 miles of driving on the 142 roads are. It took more than an hour to reach the end and we were very happy to be on our own feet at that point.
The trail down was easy to find, well-cairned, and easy to follow. It's just a dusty, hot, irritating, slide of a trip down the hill. Luckily, it only took half an hour and the sounds of rushing water quickly erased the memory.
Heading downstream, we encountered the first pool we couldn't wade through and inflated our tubes to float our packs across. Turns out this little 50-foot pool is just above the White Box, a spectacularly beautiful huge pool that goes on seemingly forever in a tight little canyon. As we swam past the rope swing, we were very intrigued, but continued on with our destination in mind.
The going was slow. But beautiful. The weather was perfect. Warm and sunny, with just the right amount of cold water to keep us refreshed. As we continued, I looked at the GPS and realized that we were making very slow progress. Late afternoon shadows filled the canyon and we began to wonder if we should just set up camp somewhere and make our way to the gardens in the morning. That would have been a fine idea if in fact there was anywhere even remotely camp-worthy. But there wasn't.
At one point, I examined the maps on my GPS and decided that there were a couple of areas with potential coming up. I talked to Jon about it at one point and estimated about 1200 feet down-canyon would be our next best hope. We agreed, and sure enough only about 30 yards ahead we passed a beautiful large, flat, gravelly shelf on the left bank and decided that was the spot!
After hanging all the things that got wet (but weren't supposed to) in the trees to dry, we decided to proceed downstream to try and find the gardens before dark. We made it! Jon set up his tripod and proceeded to capture some really nice photos in the waning light of the day. My waterproof camera apparently has lost it's seal and the lens began to fog up. I was really bummed since I couldn't take any photos of even half-decent quality. It's then that I realized that Instagram filters have nothing on an old-skool foggy lens! Pumpkin kids and their modern technology!
Headed back to camp for dinner and the night, but returned to the gardens in the morning. I brought my phone this time to try to get some real photos, but the morning sun was harsh and photos were tough. I hiked uphill to find the source of the spring, and it was rather unremarkable. The entire hillside is basically just a muddy seep about 100 yards up from the creek. The Columbine and bamboo reeds are plentiful and beautiful, but there was no amazing spring spouting from the rock. It just basically goes from dry ground to wet ground, and then wetter until there's gurgling water flowing down toward the fall. I was glad to have explored it anyway!
Back at camp we packed up and started heading back. I must've gotten tired on Saturday, because the swimming was going really slow. I know it's upstream, but I didn't really sense enough of a current to think that's what was slowing me down. Anyway, we did ok on time, and stopped to play on the rope swing in the white box. It's really an awesome place. I'm glad it's such a pain to get to.
Got to the exit point, and I cleaned the gravel out of my shoes and headed uphill. It was slow and hot, but I just kept going, knowing I had an icy cooler in my truck at the top. Only took 30 minutes up, same as it did to get down.
After a snack and some vitamin water, we headed back out on the road from hell. After over an hour we finally made it to pavement again, and cruised down to Pine where we stopped at the new "THAT Pub and Brewery" (formerly the Rimside Grill). Same owners, new name. Their brewing operations aren't up and running yet, but they will have an AZ Trail Ale. I hope it tastes as good as the name!
Apparently I'm getting back into a life phase of poison ivy allergy because I've got some spots along my legs, arms, and neck. Not too bad, but apparently I need to keep an eye out for this in the future. So much for the years of getting to ignore that!
So yeah, great overnight. Great experience. Amazing place. #$%^& road to get there!
After bone-jarring, expletive-filled, rock-on-metal 1:05, 6-mile drive to TH...
Started at 2:10p, arrived at creek at 2:40 (0.36 miles)
Between 2:50p and 3:50p, basically lost GPS track in the White Box
5:00p found a suitable camp spot (1.71 miles)
Set up camp for about 30min and then headed down to find the Hanging Gardens
Arrived at gardens at 6:10p (2.24 miles) and hung out taking pictures until dark.
Back to camp for dinner, drinks, and sound sleep to the noise of flowing water, frogs, and crickets.
Breakfast, and another visit to the hanging gardens in the morning.
Broke camp at about 10:30a
Arrived at box around 11:30a. Played for 20 min or so. (Rope swing!)
Departed exit point at 12:05p.
Lost the cairns for a while, still arrived at 12:35p.
Another miserable, hellish 1:10 to get back to hwy 260.
||Wildflowers Observation Isolated
|Pretty dry, but some stagnant water at the bottom. Would rather hike down to the creek than rely on it!|