22 adventurous hikers gather at the Parsons Spring Trailhead.
[photo by Tom Kuhn]
On a spectacularly beautiful and crystal clear spring morning, twenty-two
Motorola Hiking Club members and guests gathered at the Parsons Spring Trailhead
at the southern end of Sycamore Canyon for a group picture. The time was 10:00
AM, and the temperature stood at a balmy 75°.
Tom Kuhn, from Arizona Highways magazine, was our group photographer,
taking several pictures of this anxious gathering of hikers; eager to explore the canyon
that lay stretched out behind us. Tom joined us at the trailhead, having spent the past
several days hiking and exploring in this canyon wilderness in preparation for his upcoming
feature article “Hike of The Month” in the December issue of
We wish to acknowledge and thank the following (listed in alphabetical order)
for their participation in this May hike: Nicole Goslar, Tony Grundon, Lee
Hamel, Chris Harman, Laurie Jacobson, Glenn Kappel, Anatoli Korkin, Natasha
Korkin, Adam Kostewicz, Tom Kuhn, David Langford, Yu-Ling Langford, Tim McAlpin,
Melinda McClelland, Joe Michalides, Chris Midgett, Joyce Parrish, Chuck Parsons,
Kathy Robertson, Marnie Shepperd, Jessica Thomas, and Mike Wargel. Our friendly
and eager four-legged friends in attendance were Adam’s Boris,
Melinda’s Bailey and Cinder, and Laurie’s Spackles.
Starting the descent into Parsons Spring.
With our group pictures out of the way and a soft, refreshing breeze blowing up
from the canyon below us, we made final preparations for our descent into
The trail dropped rather steeply for about 250 feet in the first quarter mile,
before depositing us on the canyon floor of this riparian paradise.
We are privileged to enjoy the beauty and serenity of a true rarity in
Arizona — a free-flowing stream that flows year round, at least from our
destination of Parsons Spring four miles upstream to its junction with the Verde
River, roughly a half-mile southwest of the trailhead. Much of this trail has
been rebuilt in the past couple of years and is now considerably easier to
follow, since quite a bit of it had been washed out or obliterated by a massive
flash flood that ripped through this canyon in the spring of 1993. Evidence of
the enormous and frightening powers of these devastating floods would be seen
later on our hike.
Although life threatening and destructive in excess quantity, evidence of the
life-giving and life-sustaining powers of a year round water source surrounds us
in this green and lush environment.
Huge, towering sycamore and cottonwood trees line both sides of Sycamore Creek,
competing for space and growing to enormous sizes with a plentiful and constant
source of life-sustaining water.
This canyon is also a prime habitat for bird life, with food and shelter in
Although we heard a number of them, we were able to positively identify only one.
Marnie spotted a Black Phoebe on a boulder in mid-stream.
Hikers stretched out along the trail.
Onward we trek through this canyon of sycamores, surrounded by high walls of
gray limestone. Before long, we reach the first of six stream crossings,
increased from the original two crossings before the old trail was rebuilt and
realigned. This crossing was pretty easy, with a path of stepping boulders
providing a dry crossing over water averaging about a foot in depth. Such was
not the case just a few short weeks ago, when we had to postpone this hike
because of high water levels in the canyon. Heavy rains and fast melting snow
resulted in a rapid rise of water level, covering the crossing boulders at all
of the crossings, which would have forced us to wade across in fast-flowing and
frigid water up to our knees or higher. One false step, and the unlucky hiker
would be plunged into the ice-cold waters of Sycamore Creek.
One area of no small concern for us was the presence of rattlesnakes in this
canyon. In addition to being a prime habitat for birds, Sycamore Canyon is also
an ideal habitat for rattlers, as well. The pickings are prime for these
slithering critters of the venomous variety in the dense undergrowth along both
sides of the creek. Tom Kuhn had warned us to be watchful for rattlers along the
creek, noting that “upper Sycamore Creek is lousy with them.”
Luckily for us, we would not be hiking in the upper creek area today. Perhaps
some other time, when the temperatures are on the cooler side and the
rattlesnakes are all tucked away safely in their burrows, sleeping away the
winter months. In the meantime, we would just be cautious.
At one point about three miles into the trail, I received word from Anatoli over
his Motorola TalkAbout that he had spotted a diamondback moving rapidly through
the brush on one side of the trail. He estimated it to be about four feet in
length, just your average garden-variety Arizona diamondback rattler. However,
as word of the snake spread among our hikers, who were by now stretched out over
some distance along the trail, it began to mysteriously grow in size, until it
became a true legend among snakes. What started out as an average four-foot
rattlesnake, would eventually become a twenty-foot monster of anaconda
proportions, six-inch fangs dripping with venom, a two-foot rattler that could
be heard for 100 yards, and large enough to swallow a man whole! Fortunately, we
did not lose a single hiker or dog to this giant. Joyce, our resident
diamondback expert, couldn’t wait to catch a glimpse, but the snake soon
Hikers gather on a rock ledge overlooking Sycamore Canyon.
At Summers Spring, about a mile and a half into the trail, Tom Kuhn decided to
split off from our group and do some bushwhacking in the hillsides above the
trail, thinking that the main trail was still washed out and hard to follow
along much of its length from here to Parsons Spring.
We would not see Tom again until we broke for lunch at the spring around noon.
I knew better, having been
told earlier by one of the Sycamore Canyon district rangers that most of the
trail had since been rebuilt. I believe Tom was just in the mood for some
serious bushwhacking and wanted to check out some new territory. I have done my
share of bushwhacking with the King of Bushwhackers from the hiking club, Ted
“Hacksaw” Tenny, and had no desire to join him, nor did any of our
hikers, who decided to stay with the trail until it ran out.
So onward we marched through this magnificent shaded canyon, the limestone walls
rising ever higher on both sides of Sycamore Creek, as we penetrate deeper, and
gradually giving way to red rock sandstone walls quite similar to those found in
the Sedona area. Our newly rebuilt trail is in excellent shape, well laid out
and realigned higher above the creek in many places to avoid future flood
damage, as we make a few more stream crossings on our journey to Parsons Spring.
Kathy and her friends were one of the lead groups on this hike, and she kept
those of us in the rear posted on the stream crossings as they came up and would
notify us when they finally reached Parsons Spring. At several points in this
area Marnie, Joe, and I noticed strange fossil-like markings in the limestone
bedrock near the creek, perhaps evidence of ancient marine creatures forever
captured in bedrock, when much of Arizona was covered by an inland sea many
millions of years ago. Hard to imagine, but much of the Southwest was then
covered by this ancient sea.
From time to time we would stop along parts of the trail that traversed smooth
rock ledges that took us right up to creekside and peer about four feet straight
down into deep, clear pools of water and watch small fishes darting about above
thick mats of emerald-green algae covering the bottom of the creek. Melinda and
several others were heard to remark that this would be a great place to stop on
the return trip and relax for a bit, with tired and aching feet dangling in the
cool, inviting waters, not to mention a good place for the dogs to take a swim
as well. I swear I saw her two labs, Bailey and Cinder, vigorously wagging their
tails in anticipation at the mere mention of a swim. They were ready to dive in
Melinda, Bailey, and Cinder at water’s edge.
We were seeing more late spring wildflowers lining the creekside now.
Globemallow was growing in abundance along much of the creek, its tall stems of
bright orange blooms waving in the gentle breeze.
There were a number of Perry’s Penstemon, scattered yellow columbine, and
desert star-clusters of white daisy-like flowers.
Hedgehog cactus, with their spectacular magenta
blooms, were seen from time to time along the trail.
Even the lowly thistle was
sporting colorful pink-red and prickly sharp flower heads on four-foot stalks
reaching for the sun and moving to the call of the winds blowing through the
Pushing ever forward, we eventually came upon a large clearing with a sandy
beach, ideal for swimming, and stopped to watch a group of young people gathered
on a rocky cliff on the opposite shore. One of the guys looked like he was
getting ready to dive in and did just that after a few minutes. Below them, a
beautiful Siberian Husky was paddling about happily in the clear, cool water.
After watching a couple more dives, we decided to move on in search of Parsons
Spring. We were also getting hungry for lunch.
Somewhere beyond the three and a half mile point and the sixth and last creek
crossing, the trail began to slowly disappear on us, becoming more and more
vague and forcing us to start doing some bushwhacking of our own. Pushing
through the undergrowth, we were eventually forced to go around what appeared to
be a large pile of brush. After we dropped down a bit and scrambled over gnarled
tree roots, we were now in a dry creek bed and turned around to get a good look
at the obstacle blocking our path.
In front of us stood an enormous brush dam about ten feet high, filled with
entire trees, logs, stumps, brush, and all manner of debris crammed tightly
together and forming an almost perfect dam. This was no doubt created in large
part by the flash flood of 1993 and since added to by the periodic floods that
sweep through this canyon. Looking up at this massive pile of debris gives one a
real sense and appreciation of the awesome and sometimes terrifying powers of
nature. Any living creature that would have been here, where we now stood gazing
in awe, just prior to the wall of water from that flood hitting, would have
surely perished in a matter of seconds as the explosive power of that wall of
water bore down on them, wiping out everything in its path as it tore violently
through the canyon, uprooting tall sycamores and moving boulders hundreds of
pounds. In fact, near one of the crossings we saw stark evidence of just that
phenomenon, a boulder about two feet across and weighing at least a few hundred
pounds wedged neatly into the fork of a tree about five feet off the ground.
Placed there by some merry pranksters? Perhaps, but I doubt it.
Pushing on a bit further, we soon catch up with the bulk of our hikers, who by
now were sitting in the shade on rocks and boulders and enjoying their lunches.
Sycamore Creek at this point had degraded into a dry streambed, as we were now
actually above Parsons Spring without realizing it. From the description of the
spring in an earlier trip report based on a 1998 visit, I was looking for a
large marshy area full of cattails. Dave said that he and Yu-Ling had explored
several hundred yards ahead and saw no more signs of water. Tom Kuhn, arms
covered in scratches and bleeding in several places from his close encounters
with catclaw and other nasties on his bushwhacking expedition, soon arrived to
join us for lunch and explained that we had passed the spring about a hundred
yards back. He would take us there after lunch.
Meanwhile, Laurie announced that she was heading back to replace one of her
tires that she noticed was slowly going flat back at the trailhead parking area,
probably victim of a sharp rock. Anatoli, Natasha, Glenn, and Lee joined her, as
they made their way back to the trailhead.
The rest of us finished our lunch and
wrapped up conversations, as we made preparations to return as well, reluctant
to leave this beautiful canyon of towering sycamores. On the way out, Tom
pointed out the true Parsons Spring, a relatively nondescript large, shallow
pool of moss and algae filled water. There really was no obvious flowing spring
at all, and most hikers probably pass right by, just as we had, without ever
realizing it. In truth, this and Summers Spring are the only reasons Sycamore
Creek flows year round on its journey to the Verde River.
We soon found ourselves back at the clearing by the creek, where we had earlier
watched the cliff divers. They were still at it, canon-balling off the cliff
into the deep waters far below. Melinda, along with her eager four-legged
friends Bailey and Cinder, and Adam were all wading around in the cool, inviting
water along a sandy stretch of beach opposite the cliff divers. Mike and I took
some pictures, and eventually we all prepared ourselves for the final leg of our
return trip to the trailhead.
Clear, cool spring waters flow next to the trail.
By 3:00 PM we were all back at the trailhead parking area, tired, hot, and
thirsty for something other than water. Laurie and company were all long gone by
now. The skies were still a clear, azure blue and the air remained crystal
clear. It had been a perfect day for hiking this canyon wilderness carved deep
into the Colorado Plateau. We cleaned up, took of boots and messaged tired and
aching feet, and enjoyed ice-cold sodas and tea, while talking about the hike
and bidding good-bye to one another, in preparation for the return trip back to
the Valley of the Sun. We determined that this would now have to be an annual
Glenn, Joe, Marnie, and I drove back together in search of a good Mexican
restaurant in Cottonwood that Glenn had heard about. However, it seems that the
serpent world was not quite done with us yet, as we ran across a dead four-foot
gopher snake, crushed in the road by a careless motorist. Marnie, the lover of
all living things great and small, not even excluding the slithering and
writhing variety, insisted that we stop to at least remove the dead snake from
the roadway to keep it from repeatedly being run over.
Glenn, sensing the urgency in her voice, stopped and got out with her, as she
found a stick and gently picked up the expired serpent, depositing it in its
final resting-place under a bush by the roadside. I’m thinking
there’s not too many people that would go out of their way to perform that
deed. Good for you, Marnie! You are indeed a good shepherd. As an added bonus,
it wasn’t too long before we spotted another gopher snake in the road, this
time a live one, slithering along on its journey to the opposite side of
the roadway. Why does the snake cross the road? Sorry, that is another story for