PAYSON, Ariz. - The last day of school was the logical time to hike Horton Creek. It meant hitting the trailhead at 4:30 p.m. and earlier in the summer than usual.
Horton Creek usually offers a summer oasis because of its shady trees, cascading water and beauty. But in late May it wasn't too cold or too hot. Math wizard Dennis Williams didn't count the waterfalls along this trip, but he did notice that they were there in large numbers.
The flowers, while not as abundant as the middle of the summer, were out in colors - Texas bluebonnets, daisies, pink wild roses and the always-lovely yellow columbine.
This entire hike is beautiful because of cascading water and large trees. However, the best part comes at the end. It's like a Hitchcock movie that is beautiful along the way, but leaves the best for last.
The gem at the end of the trail is Horton springs, where the water comes out onto a hill filled with moss that in turn flows into the creek.
The good part about hitting the trail this late in the day is that there is more shade along the trail and it's not as hot. The drawback is there is not as much light for shooting flowers or the spring. The other drawback is day hikers want to get out by sundown or turns in the trail could be missed - not to mention the possibilities of going off one of the cliffs. Camping overnight in this area is a good option for those who have time to spare.
Horton Creek is an eight-mile hike and rated as moderate. Those wanting more can use the Horton Creek Trail to connect into either the Highland Trail or the Derrick Trail.
Horton Creek is a better hike earlier in the summer before the heat hits. This creek is known for its butterflies and flowers.
Horton Creek's cascading water did not disappoint. Less than a half mile into the hike, the creek appears and there are several short side trails that lead down to the creek where hikers can relax on large rocks all day to watch the birds, dragonflies and butterflies.
Hikers can park at the Tonto Creek Campground, walk across the road and bridge, find the trailhead across from the campground host's home and then cross down to the trail. There is a restroom in the parking area.
Some hikers turn around after seeing the streambed because it appears dry, but less than a half mile into the trek the water appears.
Those wanting to talk during the hike may have to speak loudly in places because of the mild roar of the cascading waters. Oaks, cottonwoods and sycamores offer plenty of shade on most of the trail.
The trail eventually goes up as hikers follow an old jeep trail. Just before getting to the spring, hikers go up the old jeep road seeing the Mogollon Rim straight up ahead of them. This is an awesome sight but keep your eye on the trail because this is the area of the trail most likely to spot rattlesnakes.
The trail leads right up to what appears to be the end of the creek, but don't stop here or you'll miss the gem known as Horton springs. Go 100 yards east and find the spring in the form of a mossy green waterfall. It's fun climbing to the top, but be careful on the slippery moss.
The only mile markers are at the beginning and end of the trail. The hike goes up about 1,380 feet in elevation starting at 5,480 feet so bring lots of water.
Famous author Zane Grey had a lodge three miles east of here and used the terrain in some of his novels.
For more information, telephone (928) 474-7900 or log onto www.fs.fed.us/r3/tonto.