Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Mineral Creek Falls- Gila National Forest

Last fall, we visited Carbonate Creek,one of  four major arteries ( Sawpit, Carbonate, Mineral and North Percha Canyons)off of FR 157S( the North Percha Road).  This past Saturday, we decided to check out Mineral Creek.Over the years we have visited this area, which we collectively refer to as " the creeks," and each individual creek multiple times.  They've been like good friends to us over the years for camping and hiking.
Carbonate  Creek was in very rough shape(see my blog from last October). The old road/trail was mostly obliterated by flooding past the first stream crossing.  At Carbonate, I'd say more than 75% of the trail was gone, at Mineral Creek, it was the reverse. Probably only about 25% of the old road was washed away. It's very overgrown at this point, because it's no longer being used by any vehicles, but still navigable and much easier walking overall than  Carbonate.
 Even though we've  made the hike up Mineral Creek many times, two things made it special this trip. First, this was our very first time visiting in the fall.Second, my wife decided to come with me all the way to the big falls.
  We parked at the little camping area near the confluence of Carbonate and Mineral Creeks making our way up FR 157S to where Mineral Creek flows over the road. If you go, it will be virtually impossible to keep your feet entirely dry on this hike, especially if you are going all the way to the big falls.  As we got onto the road, with its eye-high grasses, we were greeted by brilliant red sumac growing along the hillside. Walnuts, Oaks and Box Elders were in good color as well, although I wouldn't say the area had " peaked" yet. At the lower waterfall, the road was washed away, except for a narrow strip, just wide enough for foot travel. There was a large log jam right below the falls as well, which was suspended several feet above the stream's current level ; one of the many testaments we saw along the way to the tremendous amounts of water that have come down this little stream in the past two summers.

Water was running down the trail from two different springs as we walked further on. I'd seen one flowing before, about six years ago, but the other was new to me. I looked for another I'd seen flowing back then on the north side of creek, but couldn't find it. I looked again, but couldn't  find anything that would give me a clue to where the cave is. I've had one person who's been there tell me that it's in the vicinity of a fence that crosses through and on the north side of the creek,but with only that to go on it seemed pointless to search around in the brush for its hidden entrance.
 We gazed up at the large natural arch high on top of the ridge on the north side and spied two smaller ones as well. There may be a third one as well, but it's hard tell if the large hole, lower down on cliffs actually goes all the way through.
    The fire had burned here,mostly on the south side,but in a few spots, it had crossed the road and the creek. A fence that runs along the south side of the road had posts that were charred on one side.  The understory of shrubs and dead and downed wood had been completely eliminated in the  burned areas, now replaced with weeds, wildflowers and grasses-which is a good thing for the forest.


 When we felt ourselves going uphill, we knew we had passed the fork in the road, and backtracked to find it and walked down to the creek. It was still kind of hot, especially for last week of October, and I'm tired of the search for the  supposed continuation of the trail up on the sun baked hill side( see my other two blogs on Mineral Creek for more on this subject). From there we made our way carefully up to  the falls, past deep pools that were inviting us for dip. We declined,but had it been just a little warmer, I'm sure we would have dove in. For the most part the trip was easier than the first time I bushwacked up there. The creek bed was wider and much of the streamside vegetation had been uprooted and washed downstream. There was one little difficult stretch that had to be climbed to avoid  a very deep pool, which,  had it been summer probably would have been more easily and enjoyably waded through.
 Near the falls were a very few  maples in their autumn brilliance- an added delight to our journey. The falls had a more prodigious flow that my previous trip, but it was hard for me to imagine the volume of flow that broke off the top 10 or 15 feet of a tree that I photographed on that earlier visit.

   It was all beautiful. My favorite of all the hikes I've made to this canyon. It was a little sad as well. As with my hike up Carbonate Creek last year, I couldn't help feeling that this may be my last time to visit this canyon. I'm obviously one who's always looking for new places, and it seems I've gotten the best out of these ones.  An inner voice was telling me move on. Who knows, though. I've never seen them in the snow.

Gnarly old alder tree



Jimmy said...

Hi Devon!
Thank you for your awesome blog. My girlfriend and I have been wanting to explore this area, and we're wondering if FT 157 is doable in a passenger car during the dry season? Any information would be greatly appreciated. Thanks again and happy trails!

Devon Fletcher said...

If you go slow, I would say yes. The hill down into the Carbonate Creek valley is a little scary and may have some vehicles without much clearance scraping bottom,but I think you'll be okay. The creek crossings are usually not much to worry about either. Once you reach the old house and log cabin at North Percha Creek,it's time to turn around. FR 157 is definitely a 4WD, high clearance road from that point on.