Arizona AdventuresVolume 1

Hiking to the Grail Tanks (Uphill both ways.)

By November 23, 2020No Comments

It was another cold and wintry day. After a good mornings work, sons, Chad, Jeremy, and I decided to take a break and go for a little hike. The daytime temperature was rapidly climbing into the forties. That’s good when you compare it to the temperatures the night before. Inside the cabin the back room where the boys slept was probably in the 65 degree range. Where I was sleeping near the front glass wall was in the low thirties with the outside temperature in the low twenties. It was cold but can get a lot colder up hear in the “White Mountains.”

We decided to head over to the old railroad track bed and explore the forest to the west. It has been almost twenty years since the Indians decided they did not want the sight seeing train traveling on the Indian reservation anymore, so they demanded the removal of the train track and all the trestle bridges on the route. Originally the train was used to haul timber to the lumber mill at McNary and then lumber to distribution centers throughout the eastern and northern Arizona. It also was used by the cattle industry to move the cattle to lower elevations after the fall round up. That is another story for another time. It is about Cowboys and Indians except rather than fighting each other as depicted in the Westerns, they are working together and actually the Indians are Cowboys too. Its final use was the old sightseeing train powered by a steam fired locomotive. It that would pickup passengers in McNary and make a round trip through the pines, aspens, oaks, junipers, meadows and around the mountains. There were also adventure stories for the passengers and of course, a hold up pulled off by bandits dressed in the western garb and handkerchief mask. Boy, did I get sidetracked {pun intended). My train of thought is having trouble getting out of the station. I better get back on track before I run out of steam. So to get back on track, let me see, oh yes, we were heading west to the RR bed. This bed of cinders is now us used by hikers, dogs, horseback riders, bikers, ATV enthusiasts and wild game. We prefer seeing the later. When you hit the RR bed, you can head south toward Pine Top Lakes which is about three miles or north toward Sponseller Siding where they would load the cattle. We headed north until we hit the drop in the RR bed where the old trestle bridge would carry the trains thirty feet above Elk Springs Draw at its deepest point and spanned approximately fifty feet. At this point we would drop down into the draw and head west to the grai I tanks which were actually pools of pond water supplies by seeping springs, rains and snow melts. There is water there year round although this time of year is it real hard or as Thumper says in the movie “Bambi” “The water is stiff”. This stiff water was at a point in the draw that is surrounded by jagged rock cliff on one side and a steep, pined covered mountain side on the other. In the summer it is alive with pond critters and in the winter, everything is dormant. On this trip we did see a lot of turkey tracks in the frozen mud . No telling when they were here last.

After the boys checked the condition and thickness of the ice by using the gravitation pull of large boulders dropped from the highest point of the cliff, it was deemed safe to do a little ice skating. Little is actually accurate, as the ice sheet was only about thirty feet long and twelve feet wide at its greatest dimensions. Sneakers, our most commonly used hiking shoes, glide gracefully over the ice, but steering sucks. Anyhow, a good time was had by all.

Leaving the ice rink behind, we headed further west toward the next big meadow the draw winds through. What a perfect place for elk. We crossed the upper end of the grassy meadow as we kept our eyes peeled for elk or deer antlers. You usually find discarded antlers in the lower elevations after they are shed for the winter. But occasionally there may been early fighting amongst the great bull elk or the deer bucks, and a rack is lost prematurely in the higher elevations. As we climbed out of the meadow near the southern edge of the ponderosas, I spotted something in the mud that looked out of place. It was a point form a bull elk’s rack and measured three inches long. In today’s market, a full rack is worth about $200.00 or more depending on it sized, shape and condition. What I had in my hand is worth about thirty-seven cents, but you know me, I put it in my pocket and for future use as a knife handle or maybe a replacement handle on the old Weber, or maybe ….. Well was sure the perfect use would come to me in time. It was time to head back to the cabin. Unfortunately, the route we took is uphill all the way back. At this elevation it is great exercise and at times, even downhill feels like uphill.