Maxwell Trail, April 22-23, 2006
The Maxwell and Tramway Trails take off northwest of Payson from Forest Route 81E. An azcentral.com article recommended these trails for a "less crowded, more intimate look" at West Clear Creek. We met two fishermen on our way down and didn't see another soul for the rest of the trip.
The trail begins by threading along a narrow shelf that drops 700' to the canyon floor. The towering sandstone spires and dense forest cover contrast sharply with the classic high desert environment on the west end of the creek.
Take note of the "double portholes" across from the Maxwell Trail outlet -- it's not easy to spot the trail from the opposite direction.
After a dry spring, the water was relatively low. Although there were numerous pools, many of them were a little skanky, but there were notable exceptions.
There is a faint trail that crosses back and forth across the stream, so we barely got our feet wet. Excellent campsites abound on gravel bars and stone shelves above the river.
About 3/4 mile downstream, a sizable canyon enters from the north. Just this side of the canyon, there is a large campsite under a rock overhang. There are countless petroglyphs at the base of the cliff, so it looks like this shelf has been a popular camping spot for many generations.
We should have passed the tramway -- an overhead cable that was part of a tram system used to stock the creek from the 1940s through the mid-60s. But there was no sign of the tram or the trail, although we did find loops of heavy duty cable on the south shore.
About two miles downstream, the trail disappeared and serious wading would have been required. We decided to backtrack and camp on the gravel bar by the first deep pool.
The return trip was easier than expected and only took us about 40 minutes. We profited by exploring the tip of the peninsula overlooking the confluence of West Clear Creek and Willow Valley.
This is a wonderful area that we will undoubtedly revisit in warmer weather.
P.S. Gourmet coffee has arrived in Payson. The Roadrunner is on the east side of 87 just south of junction with 260, and the Espresso Cafe is on the west side just north of the junction. The Roadrunner has outdoor tables and the Espresso Cafe is open on Sunday. Full story with photos at http://www.desertlavender.com/west_clear_creek/maxwell_trail.asp