Icicle Creek Hiking

Hiking in the woods in the Icicle Creek drainage.

I really enjoy hiking — but with some limitations. I can hike all day on relatively flat terrain. If the hike has a climb, I prefer that the climb be at the beginning of the hike with the descent at the end. I’m easily winded on uphill climbs — and have been like that all my life, even when I was young and super slim — but have absolutely no trouble going downhill. On hot days, I prefer hiking in areas with at least partial shade. On cold days, put me out in the sun.

Icicle Gorge Trail

A few weeks ago, Kirk and I did the Icicle Gorge loop trail. That’s up Icicle Creek, not far from Leavenworth. The trail winds through forest and clearing, mostly following Icicle Creek. The water was still running pretty good, the creek fed by meltoff from snowpack and small glaciers up in the east side of the Cascade Mountains. It thunders through several narrow channels along the streambed — the gorge of the trail’s name.

Icicle Gorge Trail
The trail wound along the side of the creek, fringed with tall pines and wildflowers.

This was my second time hiking the trail. It’s just the kind of trail I like for a summer hike, with gentle uphill and downhill climbs, mostly in the shade of tall pine and other trees with a handful of open grassy meadows along the way. I’d done it the year before with my friend Alyse.

We got on the loop heading downstream first, crossing a footbridge at a narrow part of the gorge. From there, we headed back upstream. At first, we were along Icicle Creek, but the trail moves away from the creek, into the forest. At one point, it winds up to the top of a small hill with a monument that overlooks a bend in the creek. Then it descends back down to the creek, crossing Trout Creek not far when it meets Icicle.

Trout Creek
The trail crosses Trout Creek at a small footbridge in the forest.

We stopped along the creek for a snack of nuts and fruit and energy bars. The rocks there were worn by centuries of water flow, with some carved pockets filled with stagnant water. The sound of the rushing creek was oddly calming.

Swimming Hole
Just downstream from this bridge was a deep swimming hole just perfect for a refreshing dip.

The trail crossed Icicle Creek again at the Chatter Creek campground. There’s an auto bridge there and beneath it, a cascade feeding a deep swimming hole. We climbed down onto the rocks bordering the deepest part. A few people were farther downstream, at a sandbar that helped hold the water back.

I threw Penny in to cool her and pulled her out when she swam ashore; after that, she wouldn’t stay with us. (I had to put her on a leash a while later, just to keep her near.)

Kirk changed into his swimming trucks and wasted no time diving in. I was a little tougher to convince. I hadn’t brought a bathing suit. But after a while, I decided that the water looked too good to pass up. I stripped off my shorts and went in in my panties, tank top, and sport bra. The water was delightful — deep, clean, and refreshing. Probably the best swimming hole I’d ever been to.

Indian Paintbrush
Indian Paintbrush is one of many wildflowers we spotted along the trail.

After our swim, we got back on the trail and continued the loop. We were on the return trip now. The trail wound mostly through dense woods, coming very close a few times to the gravel road that led to the campground. I’d brought along my Nikon with its 10-24mm lens and took some photos of flowers and tiny waterfalls along the way.

We were back in the parking area about three hours after we’d started the hike. We’d walked a leisurely 4 miles or so. A great hike I’d definitely do again — especially on a hot summer day. Next time, I’ll wear a swimsuit under my shorts.

Icicle Creek Trail

Tiny Creek
We crossed this tiny creek on our hike. The forest was dense and cool.

On Friday, Kirk and I went out to Icicle Creek again. This time, we hiked a trail he’d done before, the Icicle Creek Trail. The trailhead can be found at the very end of the same road we’d taken to get to the Icicle Gorge loop trail.

This is an out-and-back trail that winds through dense forest, gently climbing and descending as it goes. Its name is misleading — it doesn’t actually follow the creek. Instead, it cuts through the woods, crossing a handful of tiny creeks, with the sound of Icicle Creek off in the distance. Eventually, it joins Icicle at its confluence with French Creek.

The walk was pleasant, although I regretted my choice of attire — shorts and tank top — because an overcast made it chilly down in the woods. Not exactly cold, but not warm, either. The kind of day when sunlight would have been welcome. I let the GPS in my phone keep track of our trail, but tucked away in the pocket of my cargo shorts as we hiked in a canyon, it had trouble keeping track of where we were. As a result, the track was jagged with its length likely overstated. At the end of the hike, it said we’d gone nearly five miles, but I don’t think we went much more than four.

Fishing at Icicle Creek
One of the campers was fly fishing just downstream from the French/Icicle confluence.

We saw signs of horses — there’s a horse camp and a horse trailer parking area not far from the trailhead — but no horses. No wildlife either.

The sound of the creek got louder and louder until we reached it. There are two campsites there, one on either side of the creek, and a family had set up camp in one of them. A man and girl were fishing in the creek while a woman and another child were walking creekside not far away. French Creek met Icicle Creek right there, with water rushing together from both creeks in a jumble of rocks.

French/Icicle Confluence
The confluence of French (left) and Icicle (right) creeks.

We hung out for a short while, then continued on the trail. A “Stock Crossing” sign marked where horseback riders could cross French Creek. There was a good, strong bridge a bit farther down the trail. I found myself telling Kirk about my horses and how Cherokee couldn’t be made to cross that bridge but Jake would have no trouble at all. (I miss my horses, but not enough to have horses again, despite the fact that I have plenty of room to keep them at my home.)

Kirk on a Log
Kirk clowning around on a log across one of the tiny creeks.

We didn’t walk much farther. Not only was I getting cold as the overcast continued to thicken, but I was concerned about the possibility of rainfall over orchard I’m under contract to protect. There was no cell phone service where I was and no clear look at the sky back toward Wenatchee. On top of all that, I had a meeting near home at 5 PM. So after only an hour on the trail, we turned around and headed back.

Kirk dutifully picked up a few pieces of trash — a beer can and a Starbucks cup (if you can believe that) — along the way. I think I’ll be bringing bags for this job on future hikes. I can’t believe how people can be such pigs.

Back at the trailhead, we loaded the Jeep back up and retraced our route back toward Leavenworth. We had just enough time for lunch at Sleeping Lady before I had to hurry home.

Would I do the hike again? Definitely. But next time, I’ll bring a change of clothes and a better lunch. I’d very much like to see what’s farther up that trail.

A Christmas Ski Trip, Day 1: The Road Trip

There’s nothing like a good little road trip.

(This story starts with a Prelude.)

I watched the weather pretty closely during the week leading up to my trip. We had some freezing rain here and I know they had some sort of weather up around Winthrop. But since I couldn’t change my plans, it didn’t really matter. I decided to bring all my gear — skis, snowshoes, winter hiking boots — so I’d be prepared for anything.

Packing Up, Moving Out

I packed the morning of the trip. There was no rush. I figured I’d leave by 10 AM and since I was up by 7 AM, I had plenty of time to pack.

I remember thinking to myself: I’m on vacation!

I tried to keep packing simple. Really. One bag for my clothes and a laptop. One bag for food, including snacks, a bottle of wine, and Penny’s dog food. Then the odds and ends: Penny’s dog bed, my skis, my ski boots, ski poles, my hiking boots, my snowshoes, my emergency road kit (jumper cables, blanket, water, etc.). I had to stop off at my shed to get my ski stuff and I almost forgot the boots. I also retrieved my daypack from my RV; I’d be using that to carry Penny around on the trails if the snow was too deep for her to walk in.

By the time we were ready to go, the Jeep’s back seat was full. I put Penny on her bed in the front passenger seat, locked up the house, and we hit the road.

It was 9 AM.

I wasn’t in a hurry so I made stops along the way. Caffe Mela for breakfast. (Not the best choice unless your idea of breakfast is a pastry. They do make an excellent eggnog latte, though.) Safeway to pick up a package of bakery cookies for a friend and his coworkers. Stemilt’s Bountiful Fruit store, where I bought 3 apples for the trip, including a 1.15-pound Honeycrisp. (Seriously: where else could you find an apple that big?)

I cut up one of the apples in the Jeep in the parking lot and munched on it as I continued north up route 97A. One more stop at Entiat to visit a friend who had to work that day. I brought the cookies into the construction office where he was overseeing a big park remodeling job. The guys were working on a rock retaining wall down by the river and he was there to inspect the work. The cookies were for him and his co-workers. I spent some time chatting with him and looking at the huge batch of blueprints for the park. Then, after a good Christmas hug, Penny and I hit the road, continuing up 97A.

The Photo Stops

The weather in Wenatchee had been clear with temperatures in the high 20s or possibly low 30s. But as I drove up the west side of the river, I saw low clouds up ahead. That’s a weather phenomena that’s pretty common here in the winter: fog. As the road climbed up toward the tunnel that would lead away from the river and toward Chelan, I stopped for a photo.

Up River Fog
As I climbed away from the river, I could see a fog bank off in the distance.

Tunnel to Chelan
Route 97A passes through this tunnel on the way to Lake Chelan.

I passed through the tunnel and into the hanging valley beyond. The area was familiar to me, yet strange. I’ve flown that way dozens of times in my helicopter, taking people to Tsillan Cellars Winery on the lake. But I very seldom drive that way. I kept expecting to see the lake revealed before me. It wasn’t until I began descending down toward the lake that I finally caught a few glimpses of it. The helicopter ride offers much more dramatic scenery.

There was a thin fog layer right over the water. It was probably about 10-20 feet thick and started at maybe 5 feet off the lake’s surface. To the east a thicker bank of fog hung over the town of Chelan. The sky and water were blue; the snow and ice and clouds were bright white. I could see for miles and miles, all the way uplake to the snow-covered mountains off in the distance.

I stopped for a few more photos, pulling down a street that hadn’t been plowed. My Jeep’s fat tires crunched in the icy snow.

Ducks on a Mission
These ducks were snoozing until I knelt down on the ground to put them in the foreground and the snow-covered mountains in the background. Then they marched toward me; I suspect they thought I was there to feed them.

Fog over Chelan
A layer of fog hung over the town of Chelan.

I drove into town. There were few cars on the road, few people around. Winter in a summer resort area. The road had patches of ice and, more than once, my rear tires spun as I moved away from a stop. Slow and easy; I was re-learning my winter driving skills as I went along.

The fog thickened as I followed the road through town and up toward the airport. At one post, visibility was down to less than 300 feet. Along the road I caught glimpses of the Columbia River far below me. Downriver, the sun was shining through the clouds. Up ahead it was cloudy and gray.

Marginal VFR
It was marginal VFR at the airport but no one was flying. The thick frost you see on the weeds is from freezing fog, another common weather phenomena here in Central Washington State.

Route 97A descended from the airport and joined up with Route 97 to continue up the Columbia River. It was a completely different day, with low clouds and a dismal winter feeling.

Refueling at Pateros

I didn’t stop until I got to Pateros, where I pulled over to top off the Jeep’s fuel tank. I took a short drive through town, getting as far as the Lake Pateros Motor Inn, where we’d stayed in back in 2008. I’d parked my helicopter on the lawn alongside the hotel in a spot that made it very convenient for the few cherry drying flights I did.

I stopped at the Sweet River Bakery, where my wasband and I had come for breakfast each morning during our 10-day stay. Back then, they made the best apple fritters. I ordered an eggnog latte and got an apple-cranberry fritter to go. I’d have it for breakfast in the morning.

We got back on the road, backtracking down to where route 153 turned west along the Methow River. I passed the farm stand with a cherry orchard I’d dried. It was closed.

A Drive Up the Methow

Along the Methow River
Snow, ice, river, sky, trees dormant for winter. I didn’t realize how much I missed winter scenery until I took this trip.

There was ice on the river — so much ice, in fact, that it looked as if I could walk across it. But as I drove upriver, the ice cleared out at the rapids.

The road climbed gently but persistently along the river. The amount of snow along the way increased as we climbed. Soon, we’d climbed away from the fog bank and the sun began to shine again.

It was a really amazingly beautiful day. I stopped for a few more photos. I wanted to remember this trip and the best way to do that would be to document it with photos to act as visual clues. Besides, it was just too darn pretty to pass up.

That’s another benefit of traveling alone; I don’t have to ask permission to stop so I can get out with my camera.

Red House on the Methow
At first glance, the reflection of the red house on the river was much more obvious than I was able to capture with my camera.

I passed through Methow and noticed a restaurant on the side of the road. I have vague memories of having dinner there and there being live music. But it was closed and quiet that Christmas Eve day.

Everything was quiet. I was just about the only car on the road. No traffic! How many other Christmas travelers could say that?

Carlton was a sign and nothing more.

The road twisted and turned along the river, crossing one bridge after another. I reached the junction of Route 20, where route 153 ended. A right turn would eventually take me to Okanogan — which I’d only been to by helicopter in a fly-by years ago. I continued on to Twisp.

The friend I’d visited at work earlier in the day had told me to stop at Twisp’s bakery and the health food store next door. I was hungry for lunch — it was nearly noon — but I didn’t feel like bakery food. The Grover Street Market had a lunch counter, so I went inside to see what healthy choices they offered. I wound up with a bowl of their Curry Stew, which was more like a soup and served so piping hot that I couldn’t eat it at first. It was tasty, with just enough spice to make it interesting. There was enough for two meals so I took half of it to go.

I didn’t visit the Cinnamon Twisp Bakery. I figured I’d visit it on my way back. (That turned out to be a mistake; it was closed on Thursday.)

I took Penny for a short walk through town. Not much was going on, although there were plenty of parked cars. It was sometime around then that I realized that plowing the roads in Washington was optional. All the side streets in town had a reasonably thick layer of icy snow on them. Not really slick — I think they spread gravel or something on them — but certainly not plowed to pavement. They apparently expect people to know how to drive in this kind of snow cover. And people do.

Of course, there were an awful lot of four wheel drive vehicles around.

Winthrop and Beyond

For some reason, I thought I had 20 or more miles to go before I reached Winthrop. I didn’t. It was just about 10 miles down the road.

I pulled out my driving instructions and followed them to Wolf Creek Road and, eventually, to the Chickadee Cabin Loft where Penny and I were staying. It was an upstairs studio apartment in a four-unit building. Next door was vacant but the two downstairs units, which were much bigger, were occupied. The place was at the end of a road in the woods but on the edge of a clearing. The roads weren’t plowed but the Jeep had no trouble getting us where we needed to go.

The “loft cabin” was nice, with a queen-sized bed, futon, TV with VCR and DVD player (and satellite TV), Internet access, kitchenette, and bathroom. There was even a sliding glass door leading out to a small balcony that overlooked a snow-covered meadow. All this was about 6 miles from town.

I unpacked the food and checked the cabinets. There was coffee and coffee filters and even sugar. All I needed was some milk and maybe some yogurt for breakfast. I’d get that in town.

We climbed back into the Jeep and headed into Winthrop. I wanted to find out what trails, if any, were open to cross-country skiing. I figured there would be some kind of ranger station with information in town.

What I found was the local office of the MVSTA. I parked out front and went inside, leaving Penny behind in the Jeep. I spent the next 20 minutes chatting with the two folks inside about which skiing trails were open and where I could get a lesson. It looked like Mazama was the place to be — 15 miles farther up route 20 was where there was more snow and most of the groomed trails. I bought a 3-day pass — in hindsight, two 1-day passes would have saved me a bit of money — and the woman behind the counter called the Methow Valley Ski School up in Mazama to see if they were still open. It was nearly 3:30 PM on Christmas Eve.

A while later, we were in Mazama and I was arranging for a cross-country ski lesson the following day. I brought in my skis and was told that waxless skis need to be waxed — something honestly I didn’t know. I paid for my lesson and a tube of ski wax.

I stopped in next door at the Mazama Store, a new agey market with lots of organic and overpriced food and other merchandise. (I do tend to tell it like it is.) I paid $7 for a quart of organic yogurt and $3 for a quart of organic milk. I also bought a fleece sweater that I wound up returning two days later. I do have to say one thing about the store, though: It has the largest selection of Lodge cast iron cookware I’ve ever seen under one roof. If Lodge makes it, the Mazama Store sells it.

By that time, it was after 4 PM and the sun was setting somewhere behind the mountains all around me. It would be getting dark soon. I loathe driving in the dark these days and had no reason to stick around Mazama so we headed back.

Along the way, I saw plenty of snow-covered fields with a thin layer of fog drifting over them. Advection fog? Radiation fog? I tried to remember what I’d learned in ground school about fog and came up empty. Fog was rarely an issue where I flew in Arizona; it was certainly an issue here in the winter time.

I stopped briefly in Winthrop to take Penny on a quick walk around town. I was curious to see what was open. There was a hotel with a restaurant in town and I walked up the steps to see if it would be open the next day for Christmas dinner. Closed. No big deal. I knew I’d be able to get Christmas dinner at the nearby Sun Mountain Lodge resort if I wanted to.

It was almost dark when Penny and I returned to our loft cabin. I put away the groceries and heated up some leftover smoked ribs for dinner. (I’d made them the day before on my Traeger just so I’d have something to munch while I was away.) We spent the evening relaxing, reading, watching TV.

A nice rest at the end of a long day.


A Four River Flight

I thoroughly enjoy a flight from Wickenburg to Chandler on a beautiful Arizona winter day.

E25 to CHD
Direct flight = boring flight.

I recently had to reposition my helicopter from Wickenburg (E25) to Chandler (CHD) to get some maintenance done. That meant a cross-country flight which, if flown directly, would take about 40 minutes and fly right over the top of Sky Harbor Airport (PHX).

But the helicopter was going in for a 100-hour maintenance and had 6 hours left before it was due. It seemed to me that I should try to use up as much of that time as I could.

Unfortunately, I did have a time constraint. I was meeting a friend at Chandler Airport at 1 PM. I had plans to spend some time with him and then another friend afterwards. And I even had a dinner date down in Tempe.

But as I loaded Penny and an overnight bag into the helicopter, I figured I had about an hour and a half to kill along the way. Why not take the scenic route?

I didn’t realize then that I’d be treating myself to a four-river tour.

The Hassayampa River

The Hassayampa River flows through Wickenburg, AZ, the town I’ve been living in for the past 15 years. Its name supposedly means “river that flows upside down” or something like that. That’s because although water flows year-round, it doesn’t always flow on the surface of the river bed where it can be seen. Instead, it flows mostly under several feet of sand in the river bed. So, when you drive over the bridge in town — usually on your way to or from Las Vegas, which is how most people know Wickenburg — you won’t see any water down there. Just sand. And tire tracks. And occasionally, some cattle.

River? What River?
If you know Wickenburg and the Hassayampa River well enough, you should be able to see where it “flows” on this Google Maps terrain view from the canyons near Box Canyon to just past Constellation Road.

Indeed, the Hassayampa River is so un-riverlike that it doesn’t even appear on Google Maps’ terrain view.

But it had rained a few days before — a constant, steady rain that had lasted for hours. Although it hadn’t been enough rain to get the wash that flows through my property flowing, it apparently accumulated in streams upriver from town. When I flew over the river two days later, I could see a small but steady stream of water.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

For some reason, I headed south from the airport — not east toward the river. I think my initial idea was to fly south to Buckeye and slip between the Estrella Mountains and South Mountain, approaching Chandler from the west. I also wanted to glimpse the roads I’d been on a few days before with a local Jeep group.

When I got to Vulture Peak, I decided to see if anyone was on top. So I started a steep 1500-foot-per minute climb, reaching the top in about 10 seconds. No one up there. I dropped down on the other side and followed some wash beds east past Wickenburg Mountain. And then I found myself at the Hassayampa with the water flowing by beneath me.

And I stopped thinking about Buckeye.

Instead, I turned north, passing to the east of Wickenburg and joining up with the Hassayampa River just past the bridges. The river’s flow wasn’t much to brag about, but it was something — a lot more than I’d seen there in a long time. I followed the flow, flying a lot lower than I usually do with passengers on board, gently coaxing the helicopter left and right as I followed its winding course. In the narrows past Box Canyon, in the place I usually refer to as “the slot,” the water filled the canyon, wall to wall. Beyond that, where the riverbed was wide and sandy again, the water returned to an ambitious trickle.

I flew past the nearly abandoned ranch formerly operated by the Gatehouse Academy as part of their treatment center for young people with addiction problems. I remembered flying by and seeing my husband’s old suburban parked in the lot the house. I remembered all the times I’d flown the owners out there with various VIPs. I remembered the time a cowboy and his dogs had chased off a herd of cattle closing in on me and my helicopter as it sat parked in a field. I remembered the Christmas day I’d flown Santa and a bag of toys out to the ranch and had wound up giving rides to about a dozen young men who had taken a detour from their lives into drugs or alcohol. Gatehouse was gone, closed up over the summer while I was away. Their properties in town were for sale and there was no sign of life down on the ranch.

Beyond the ranch, the river flowed in a twisting canyon. I stayed low, about 200 feet up, following the river on a less twisting path. I saw that the old mobile home at the edge of Jesus Canyon had collapsed into a million pieces and that someone was using heavy equipment on a patch of old farmland across the river. I flew over most of the goosenecks that the river had carved through the rock, admiring the tall saquaro cacti that covered the hillsides and marveling at how all that rain had washed the dust off everything below me.

Did I mention that the flying conditions were perfect? On the ground at Wickenburg Airport, there had been a bit of a breeze, but a few hundred feet up, any breeze was completely unnoticeable. It was smooth flying at any altitude I chose. And the cool air made the helicopter’s performance better than I was accustomed to. I had great speed, great climb rates when I wanted them, and great response to all my control inputs. Flying was effortless, leaving me to enjoy the scenery and the freedom to be able to move in any direction I wanted.

Although I could follow the Hassayampa all the way up to its source in the Bradshaw Mountains — which is something I’ve done in the past — I left it where the Williams Family Ranch sits on the side of a hill at the mouth of a tributary wash. It takes at least an hour to drive from the ranch into town on unpaved Constellation Road, but I could cover the same path in less than 3 minutes in the helicopter.

From there, I slipped between two rocky hillsides, following a canyon southeast, roughly toward Chandler. The terrain here was rough and unforgiving; an engine failure would have been a huge problem with absolutely no suitable landing zone. I followed wash beds and dirt roads, climbing with the terrain the whole time. Then the land dropped off in front of me and I descended down into the canyon where Buckhorn Creek flows. Although it was still wet from recent water flowing, nothing wast flowing that day. I followed the creek bed downstream, past where it met with Castle Hot Springs Creek. I began to see homes and then Castle Hot Springs with its green lawn and tall palm trees. A fifth wheel RV was parked on its ruined tennis courts.

And then I was at the shining blue waters of Lake Pleasant.

The Agua Fria River

Decision time. Which way to go? If I headed south, I could still do a route to Chandler that would take me between the Estrellas and South Mountain. But after passing the lake, I’d be spending much of the flight time over suburbia — subdivisions of houses on postage stamp sized lots, surrounded by tall walls to keep out the world. I hated seeing homes like that. I hated knowing that people lived like that when there was so much open land so closely. I hated thinking that people actually liked that way of life.

Without thinking nearly that much about it, I turned east. I flew low across the northern arms of the lake, mildly surprised that the water level was so low after all that rain. There were a few fishing boats on the water, but not many. I made a half-hearted attempt to spot some wild burros (donkeys), but knew I was probably going too fast — 110 knots — to see them.

Lake Pleasant
The northern half of Lake Pleasant is a series of “arms” where tributary streams and washes enter the lake.

A pair of C-130 cargo planes flew over the lake in loose formation about 3000 feet above me, heading northwest. The only reason I know their altitude is because a flight instructor on the practice area’s radio frequency announced them. The pilots didn’t say a word and were soon just a pair of specks in the distance, climbing over the mountains to the east.

Agua Fria River Near Lake Pleasant
The Agua Fria River where it enters Lake Pleasant. Indian Mesa is near the lake.

I headed toward the Agua Fria River arm and climbed steeply to take a really good look at the prehistoric Native American ruins atop Indian Mesa. I even slowed enough to considered a few possible landing zones. Then I pointed the helicopter’s nose up the river and continued on my way.

Agua Fria is Spanish for cold water. The river flows much of the year, but often not more than a serious trickle. That day, it was flowing much more than usual. It drains the mountains up I-17, past Black Canyon City. I didn’t want to follow it that far. I didn’t want to go that far out of my way. So I struck out to the east again, crossing over I-17.

New River

I picked up New River almost immediately, on the other side of the freeway. I realized that I although it was only a 20-minute flight from my home, I had never followed it upstream. Never. It was time to remedy that situation.

The river had a good, strong flow as it came through the canyon from the northeast. I saw a parking area with a bunch of trucks and empty flat-bed trailers. Although it was midweek, there were ATVers out and about. I saw a dirt road that generally followed the river — Table Mesa Road, according to the map — and wondered whether I’d see the riders along it.

New River
New River winds mostly east through a canyon.

I followed the river upstream, keeping a sharp eye out for wires. I wasn’t very low, but low enough that wires stretched high across the canyon could be a problem. The water rushed by below me. I looked for waterfalls, but didn’t find any.

I climbed with the canyon. The road meandered alongside the river, sometimes disappearing from view to the south before coming back. It climbed to a high point overlooking the river and there were the ATVers — about eight of them, parked at the overlook. One of them waved up at me. I waved back.

Other streams fed into the river as the main channel turned to the northeast. I needed to go south, so I chose a tributary canyon and followed it toward the south. It climbed steeply and widened, with a flat-topped mesa on either side. The water disappeared. The rock was volcanic — dark basalt. I started noticing rock walls alongside the east wall of the canyon. There were quite a few of them, hundreds of feet long, parallel with the top of the mesa at different heights. Fortifications from ancient indians who had likely made their homes atop the mesas. As I got level with the mesa tops, I started looking for rock foundations. But with all the jumbled rocks and yellowed weeds and cactus up there, it was hard to see any patterns at all.

I was surprised when I found myself at the broken mesa that I had dropped off two passengers for a camping trip years before. I had climbed to over 4,000 feet; when I reached the edge of the mesa, there was a 1,000 foot drop to the valley floor. I lowered the collective and began a steep descent, heading northeast again.

And that’s when my sister called. My new Bose headsets have Bluetooth, so I’m able to take phone calls while I’m flying. The music I was listening to stopped, the phone rang, and I touched a button on the headset cord to answer. We chatted. I brought her up to date with the bullshit being flung at me by the lying, cheating bastard I was still married to, the man who’d told me to my face less than two months before that he still cared about me. But I was descending down into a small canyon area northeast of Scottsdale. As I expected, my cell phone dropped the signal. The music from my iPhone resumed. My mood immediately lightened as I descended to follow one of the many canyons cut through the sedimentary rock that had been deposited into the valley millions of years ago.

I flew over an ATV speeding down the sandy canyon floor with two people on board. I wondered if they heard me coming before I flew over.

Then the canyon opened wide to the last river on my trip.

The Verde River

Verde River
The Verde River shows up as a blue line on the map, likely because it flows year-round.

The Verde (green, in Spanish) River flows year-round. Its source is up near Ash Fork. It winds through a narrow canyon into the Verde Valley, flows past Camp Verde, and then enters another long, narrow canyon. Beyond that, two dams create two lakes: Horseshoe and Bartlett. I reached the river just downstream from Bartlett Lake; I could see the dam off to my left.

I turned right, dropped down low over the river, and sped south. The river was wide here — about 50 to 100 feet across — and shallow. It was about ten past noon and the sun shined into the cockpit warming me and penny asleep on the passenger seat beside me. I followed its course downstream, gently banking right and left. At one point, I saw three wild horses standing in a row in the middle of the stream, drinking. The sun reflected off the water all around them, displaying them as silhouettes. One of them looked up at me as I flew over.

By then, I was getting back into civilization. The community of Rio Verde was to the west and the McDowell Indian Reservation was all around me. I crossed the Beeline Highway. I knew there were wires up ahead and I knew I’d have to talk to a few airport towers soon. The fun part of my flight was over. I was at the confluence of the Verde and Salt Rivers, on the eastern edge of Phoenix’s sprawl.

I climbed to 500 feet above the ground, tuned in the frequency for Falcon Field, and got ready to finish my flight.

Finishing Up

The last part of my flight required me to navigate through Falcon Field’s airspace, avoid Gateway’s airspace, and slip into Chandler’s airspace to land at the heliport.

I made my radio call to Falcon Field’s tower, requesting a transition through the east side of their airspace. When I released the mic button, all I heard was static and two men having a conversation.

It sounded like a flight instructor with a student.

Falcon Field is a class Delta airspace. That means I can’t enter until the tower responds to me, including my aircraft N-number. But the only sound on the frequency I was tuned into was the sound of a flight instructor and a student.

I checked the frequency with my cheat sheet and with the chart on my iPad. I was tuned into the right frequency. I banked to the left, beginning a circle just outside the airspace until I could figure out what to do.

It was pretty simple to me. If I couldn’t communicate with the tower, I could detour south, on the east side of Falcon’s airspace. I could then use my GPS to navigate the narrow space between Falcon and Gateway. Or I could call Gateway and get permission to transition through the north side of their airspace.

As I was thinking about this, the two men on the radio were musing on why no one was answering their call. “Stuck mic!” I wanted to scream into the radio.

And suddenly the static ended and the controller came on. He sounded annoyed. He identified the aircraft by number and told him to make a full stop landing because his mic had been stuck. Again.

The flight instructor responded. The mic got stuck again, but only for a moment. I seized my chance and made my call.

The controller’s voice clearly indicated his frustration when he gave me my clearance. He then started issuing instructions to everyone else who needed guidance.

I was glad I wasn’t the guy with the stuck mic. I knew that the ground controller would be giving him a phone number when he landed.

I headed southwest, giving Falcon’s runway plenty of space. Then I banked right. I pushed Go To, Enter, Enter on my GPS to get a solid pink line from my current position to Chandler, which had been programmed in since before I took off. I flew over roads and golf courses and canals and wires. And houses. Thousands of houses. No wild horses here.

Falcon cut me loose and I switched to Chandler’s frequency. I’d already listened to the ATIS recording on my second radio, so I knew the airport conditions. I asked for landing on the Quantum ramp. The controller cleared me for a straight in approach. There were no planes in the pattern. Just helicopters.

A while later I was setting down on one of the big circles in front of Quantum Helicopters’ hangar. R22 helicopters were coming in and spinning down all around me. As I was shutting down, my phone rang again. It was my editor, Cliff. He said he’d had a dream about me the night before and wanted to check in. Weird, because I’d been thinking about him earlier in the day.

I put Penny’s leash on and dropped her onto the pavement outside my door while I finished shutting down. My friend walked out to the helicopter just as I hung up.

I was done flying for the day.