Sometimes Don and I take short day trips or overnighters to scout out new campsites. We just pack a lunch, load up the dogs into the truck and head into the wilderness, exploring old logging roads, etc. On one such trip, we had a very interesting experience, which to this day Don and I talk about because it was so surreal. We were exploring a side canyon outside of Payson, and followed a side road about 1.5 miles up until it dead ended. Unfortunately, the terrain was quite steep and we didn’t find any good campsites along the road, so we decided to stop for lunch. Don unloaded our dogs, who were happy to get out of the truck and staked them out alongside the road while I made lunch.
Not too long afterwards, just before noon the dogs started barking at some hikers that were coming up the road. They really surprised us as we were way out in the boonies in an area where you wouldn’t expect to see anyone. As they approached our truck, I was able to see that one of the hikers was a young woman, possibly in her early 30’s. She was walking alongside a much older man with a leather tanned face who appeared to be in his 70’s. He was wearing a straw cowboy hat, and was carrying a walking stick. Because of the age difference I assumed they were Grandfather-granddaughter.
They stopped just before reaching our little roadside camp, a little apprehensive about walking past the juggernaut of barking puppies. The young woman asked if it was okay if they walked through, and we told them that our dogs were all staked out, and if they stuck to the middle of the road they would be okay. As they passed through, I remarked that we didn’t expect to see anyone in such a remote location, and the woman replied that they were just on their way up to visit some old Indian ruins at the top of the mountain.
Don noticed that my eyes instantly lit up when the girl mentioned the words “Indian ruins”, and knew that meant an overnight stay so I could explore the area. It was such a hot day, we asked them if they needed any water, and the girl said she still had quite a lot left in her bottle. As they passed through, the old man smiled at our dogs, but said not a word………. As the terrain was getting quite steep, the young woman took a hold of the old man’s arm to help support him in a very tender gesture as they walked on up the road. We were parked on a hair pin curve, and about 25 yards up the mountain the road stopped and turned into nothing more than a very steep trail. I remember thinking that the old man, although appearing quite feeble, must have had a very strong constitution to walk uphill over a mile and a half from the main road.
It was at this point that I grabbed our binoculars out of the truck so that I could watch them make their way up the mountain trail so I would know which way to go when trying to find the ruins. We had a good vantage point of the trail so I should have been able to see them - but as I searched up and down the trail, I could see nothing with the binoculars - it was like they disappeared into thin air……….. Anyway, we had decided to offer the hikers a cold soda on their return trip, but as midday turned to late afternoon, we saw no sign of them, and figured they must have taken another route back to the main road. The next day as I made my way up the mountain to the Indian ruins, the mystery deepened……..
We stayed overnight and I got an early head start because I wanted to make the hike up the mountain before it got too hot (mid - 90’s). I took my fanny pack (which holds two water bottles), walkie-talkie, new airhorn for emergencies, a lightweight folding chair, and camera. As I followed the trail up the mountain, it became steeper and steeper, and I finally reached a point where it dead ended at some power line towers. Out of breath, I stopped for a short break, drank some water to keep hydrated, and took some pictures before trying to make my final push to the top of the mountain.
The only way for me to continue up the steep slope was to use my hands in a four point stance on very slippery shale. With great difficulty, I finally made it to the top, and I remember thinking that there was no way that old man could have climbed up the final 100+ yards to the top. They must have taken another route………
Once at the top, my efforts were rewarded as I found the ruins which consisted of several rock wall fortifications – so cool!! I walked around exploring the ruins, watching where I stepped and trying to be very respectful. I know it may seem silly but I asked permission of any spirits who might guard this sacred place if they minded if I took a few photos.
The fortifications were quite extensive, and covered about ½ an acre. I even found a couple of pits which I imagined the Native Americans may have used for cooking or storing food. When exploring ancient or historic sites I follow 1 basic rule: Touch nothing, and take only photos!
Before leaving the site, I thanked the spirits for their hospitality and then walked around the perimeter of the ruins looking for an easier way down the mountain. After an exhaustive search, I didn’t find any other way down, so I had to slide down on my butt on the loose shale. On the way back down the trail, I kept checking for side trails the mysterious hikers could have taken - but the terrain wasn’t even climbable.
By the time I made it back to camp, I had convinced myself that we had imagined the two hikers we had encountered the previous day. I told Don about how difficult the climb was and how it would have been impossible for the old man to make it to the top. Later that day before we left, we both looked for alternate routes up the mountain, but couldn’t even find a deer trail up the steep rocky terrain. Either we had imagined the two hikers or we had made a side trip into the twilight zone, where one encounters ghosts or mere shadows of a distant time……………………
The backside (Northern Face) of the mountain I climbed.