Canyon Creek, a real fisherman’s paradise, originates at a spring in one of the many canyons that, when viewed on a topographical map, resembles a ten toed dog paw print in the mud made by a giant canine. The top of the rim is at 7600 feet above sea level and the sheer, solid rock walls drop 1000 feet to their base, in other words, straight down.
The trick is to get down to the creek below when considering that you are only three miles away from your destination, that is, as the crow flies. With the help of the Valentine Ridge’s gradual decline, we near the edge of the rim, where there is a sharp, hairpin curve and then down we go. This dirt road is in pretty good shape most of the year, but becomes a little ragged during heavy rain and snow storms. The view out the cars passenger window, you find yourself looking down on the top of forty foot pine trees that appear to be forming a natural guard rail should your vehicle suddenly leave the roadway.
Canyon Creek’s spring water is supplemented by rain storm run off and snow melt along with additional similar creeks increasing its flow. With this pure, cold spring water supply, it was chosen as a perfect environment for a trout fish hatchery at it origination. The fish hatchery was built at what is called Upper Canyon Creek. Nestled at the base of the Mogollon Rim, it makes for a picturesque backdrop for camping, hunting, hiking and most importantly, fishing.
My first trip to Canyon Creek was with my wife Carol, son Jeremy and nephew Brad. We were traveling in our 1990 Mazda 929 which is another story for another time. In a nut shell, it was totaled, purchased at an auction, repaired and then sold to me by our friend George. It was a great, luxury road car in its prime with the engine in front and real wheel drive. It was a real comfortable ride all the way to the Young road turnoff. This was where the pavement ends and the bumpy, dusty dirt road begins. Just before the descent from the top of the rim down to Young Arizona, we turned due east and follow the small road cut through the pines on the top of Valentine Ridge. At the end of the ridge, we make the sharp hairpin curve and start the steep downward decent. I told Carol and the boys to enjoy the view and I will watch the road. My common saying for this is “You Look, I’ll Drive.” Nobody ever disagreed with this arrangement.
As we head down, Carol commented on the steepness of the grade off the side of the road creating a spectacular view looking down on the tops of the pine trees and the Valentine Canyon below. I reminded her that the trunks of the trees make a good guard rail, but she wasn’t amused as she was clutching the arm rest and overhead hand strap. Well, maybe not that extreme, but she was leaning to the left.
As we continued on the winding trail down into Valentine Canyon the road flattened out into rolling meadows divided by Canyon Creek. There were some camping areas on higher ground a good distance away from the creek. The little hike from the campground to the creek keeps picnickers from invading the stream beds with all of the camp gismos and kids throwing boulders in the trout pools with loud screams of jubilation during the biggest splash contests. You might ask how I would know how they would act like if the stream was more convenient to the campgrounds. Well, I have to admit that in my younger years I have been know to hurl a boulder or two and that, yes, on occasion, still try to skip a flat stone across a waterway or lake, but I would make sure there would be no fisherman near by. We pulled up to a small parking area with a log pole fence separating the parking area from the meadows edge. As I was the only one fishing interested in fishing, I quietly opened the trunk of the car and assembled my fly rod and put on my fishing vest. Carol and the boys were going to sit in the car for awhile, taking in the view. With my gear in place, I crossed over the fence and heading to the creek. It was almost too perfect with the green grass split with the trout waters winding through the meadow and gray, billowing clouds popping over the edge and the rim above. I thought a little rain shower might be nice. Those of us that live in the Valley looking forward to any rain we can get and even celebrate the event.
I spotted the perfect pool to start the art of fly fishing. With my hand tied brown wooly worm secured gently between my thumb and forefinger, I crouched down and slowly made my way toward the brush at the waters edge. Trout can see you coming so being stealth is critical. Downstream I could see some spooked trout heading away from my position evidenced by the “V” w ake they were leaving on the water surface.
Just as I prepare to cast by fly over the water, there was a flash of lightning followed immediately by a crack of thunder. Worse yet, came just a few drops of rain which wasn’t bad but they were shortly followed by a flurry of snow flakes. Snow! Today! How much? When will it stop? Here we are in the bottom of a 1000 foot canyon in our two wheel drive, Japanese Luxury Car. So I did an ·about face” immediately headed hurriedly for the car without even one cast into the water. The boys had gotten out of the car to enjoy the white flakes. I yelled for them to get into the car as I broke down my fly rod, ripped off my vest, slammed the trunk of the car and jumped behind the steering wheel, almost in one fell swoop.
A little U-turn had us heading up the now wet and muddy road. The mud was turning reddish in color and started to get a little slippery. Carol asks •How are we going to get out of this canyon?” I told her we didn’t have to worry how we were going to get out of the canyon. We just need to worry how we were going to get around the next corner and then the next corner and so on. She wasn’t amused. After we got out of the canyon and on the pavement Carol made a strong statement about our next car was going to be four-wheel drive. I told her “No Way!”
My next adventure to Canyon Creek was with Ken Pavkov, his son Richard, and my son Jeremy in Carol’s new Ford Explorer with four-wheel drive. We were on a one day, high country adventure. Our first stop was at Willow Springs Lake where we wanted to give the canoe a try. The boys enjoyed paddling around the lake in the canoe we had with us while Ken and I tried our hand at fishing from the shore. Not much activity here, so we set out toward Canyon Creek.
Before long were heading down the now infamous switch back and hairpin curves winding down toward the grassy meadows. It was late autumn and the road down to the fish hatchery and upper Canyon Creek was closed for the winter. We parked near the locked gates and hiked down to the creek. It was an easy hike going down. We fished the pools with a little success. When you are fishing in an area where you are completely surrounded by shear cliffs and beautiful ponderosa pines, fishing becomes secondary. Catching fish was just an additional bonus. Anyway, that’s what we say when we don’t catch anything. Ken thought he was close to catching the biggest creek trout he had ever seen. It was nestled in clear pool under the large trunk of a fallen tree. You don’t get too many chances once the fish become aware of your presence.
After several hours of fishing, we all met up at a bend in the creek where it came close to the road near. It was a beautiful stretch of water where we fished until the sun started to set behind the rim of the canyon and then worked our way back up the creek to the trail leading up to the car. The Richard and Jeremy beat us back to the car. Hiking in that elevation slows us more seasoned fishermen down. We had to take a few scenic pullouts before we got to the top. That’s another excused we to help catch our breath. If we had a camera, we would call it a Kodiak Moment.
We packed our gear and headed out of the canyon. This time we were not too concerned about getting out. Carol’s Explorer worked like a dream, canoe trailer and all. Halfway back to Payson, we spotted several elk standing on the side of the road. We that it would be great if we could take a picture of them, standing there in all their glory. I made a U-turn while Ken got the camera reading. We passed their location and saw them still standing there waiting for us. One more U-turn and we were heading back to them. There was a fair amount of traffic so would could only slow down for just long enough for Ken to get a quick shot off. All the conditions were just right as we came upon them. Ken squeezed the shutter release, flash goes off and the elk head off over the hill. Secondary to getting the picture, we helped sending these giant creatures back to the forest. Elk are very dangerous in our high country this time of year. When they get hit by a car, it can be real serious.
Back at the Mesa. Ken gets his film developed. No elk in the picture. but he has a great shot of the trees. It was a great day in the mountains anyway.