Three day digital detox itinerary in Tonto National Forest of Arizona

If you’re like me, every once in a while you just feel the need to disconnect from all things digital. No cable news, no emails, no social media. Unplugging from it all can for a day or two can really help us purge some bad energy and replace it with good. img_2930

On the first weekend after the calendar said it was Spring in 2019, I found myself needing one of those “digital detoxes” that have become the thing to do. 

I got a tip from a neighbor about Seven Springs Recreation Area in the Tonto National Forest, about an hour north of my home. So I packed up my camping and hiking gear and a few other essentials and headed for the hills. Read my campground review.

Full disclosure: I didn’t set out for this to be a digital detox. I love showing off cool pics on social media as much as the next guy. I just wanted a weekend to myself in the outdoors.

Upon arrival at my destination, I was quick to find out this little haven had everything I needed for a digital detox:

  • No wifi
  • No cell phone signal (not even 1G)
  • No electricity (except for the outlet in my car)
  • No running water (except the nearby creek)

My smartphone was totally useless as a communications device. However, it did allow me to grab some decent pics to share in this post. (Keep scrolling for some cool pics.)

CCC campsite in Seven Springs Recreation Area.
The campground offers semi-primitive amenities: vault toilets, a concrete picnic table and the fire ring you see here. No electricity, running water or cell service.

My three-day digital detox itinerary

Friday: Get out of town

  • 4:30 p.m. – load my stuff in the car
  • 5:15 – pick up a few essentials at neighborhood grocery store
  • 6:45 – arrive at Seven Springs Recreation Area and set up camp
  • 8ish – cook up a couple brats on the camp stove
  • 8:30 – dinner under the stars to the sounds of a flowing creek and nearby campfire chatter
  • 9 – crawl into my sleeping bag and lights out

Saturday: Relax, hike, relax

  • 6 a.m. – wake up and see my breath, check my pulse. Yay, I didn’t freeze to death!
  • 6:05 – lay there for a little longer, read, check out the trail options on my topo map
  • 6:30 – crawl out of the sack and look around
  • 7:30 – boil water for my instant coffee
  • 7:45 – make scrambled eggs and Spam on the camp stove
  • 8:00 – eat breakfast, finish coffee, relax a little bit
  • 9:00 – hit the trail (see hiking description below)
  • 11:30 – reach my turn around point, chill on a large boulder in the creek and down a snack
  • 1:30 p.m. – return from hike and locate two trees about 10 feet apart near the creek
  • 1:45 – set up hammock, climb in and chill in a light breeze with the sun beating down on me (creek emits a gentle rippling sound)
  • 2:15 – switch positions hammock
  • 3:00 – crawl out of hammock and put it away
  • 4:00 – gather wood for campfire
  • 5:00 – start fire, add wood
  • 6:00 – cook sweet potato and hamburgers over the open fire
  • 7:00- dinner while observing a spectacular cotton candy sunset on the skyline
  • 8:00 – bedtime

Sunday: Ruins, kayak, superbloom

  • 7 a.m. – wake up and make the coffee… and breakfast
  • 8:00 – pack up camp wait for dew to dry off of tent before packing up camp. More time down by the creek.
  • 10:00 – pack up camp and head for Bartlett Lake
  • 10:30 – pit stop at Sears-Kay ruins site (details and pics below)
  • 11:30 – arrive at Bartlett Lake Flats parking lot, fill up inflatable kayak
  • 11:45 – paddle out of a small cove, into the light breeze, and across the main channel
  • Noon – find another small cove to cruise while observing birds, fish and geckos
  • 12:15 – get all excited when a bald eagle makes a half dozen fly-bys near the yellow cliffs overhead; admonish myself for leaving camera and smartphone in car
  • 12:30 – paddle back to the starting point. Pack up and start heading home
  • 1:00 – stop and take pics of the magnificent wildflowers
  • 1:10 – repeat
  • 1:15 – repeat
  • 1:30 – begin the drive home in no hurry
  • 3:00 – Unpack stuff, catch up on hundreds of texts, emails and posts

Enjoyable hike on Cave Creek Trail #4

As I looked closely at the details of the topo map while I planned my hike first thing Saturday morning, I could see that the trailhead (beginning) was just a few hundred yards away. The trail is labeled Cave Creek Trail #4.

Turns out it’s a fairly popular trail. Dozens of hikers had parked their cars there and got a good jump start on me. I met many of them during my hike. The trail hugs the creek from which it gets its name fairly tightly and even crosses it a few times.

The trailhead is just on the other side of this creek crossing. The last thing I wanted to do was get my feet wet before starting out on the trail, so I practiced my tightrope walk on the little curb visible along the right side of the pic.

During my hike, the trail edges and hillsides were painted with green plants and flowers. I enjoyed the tree canopies and blooms, but what I liked most was the twenty minute break I took on a large boulder in the center of the creek with cooling trickle of water rippling by.

flowers line several sections of Cave Creek Trail #4.
In Springtime, flowers line several sections of Cave Creek Trail #4.
Poppies and cactuses dot the hillside along Cave Creek Trail #4

Cave Creek Trail #4 is relatively flat and easy to navigate, winding in and out of a varied landscape:

  • high desert
  • dense woods
  • cliff edges
  • boulders
  • flowing creek

Apparently, I could have hiked about ten miles one way into an area known as Spur Cross. Instead I turned around at roughly the 4-mile mark and traced my footsteps back to the campground.

Exploring Sears-Kay Ruins

On the drive toward Seven Springs Friday evening, a sign caught my eye: Sears-Kay Ruins (right arrow). Duly noted. Daylight was fading and the GPS told me I had about 30 minutes more to drive. I’m not a fan of setting up camp in the dark, so I resisted the urge to check out the ruins – for about 36 hours.

On my way back toward town, I kept an eye out for that sign. I love visiting ancient ruins sites and have made several long drives to see a few of them, yet somehow I had never heard of this ruins site.

All ruins sites are not created equal. My favorites are the dwellings built into the side of a cliff. These were laid out on top of a hill with a spectacular view of the surrounding area.

Although the Sears-Kay site lacks some of the charm of other ruins sites I’ve visited, the location, planning and construction was impressive. Thankfully, the site is protected by the National Forest Service and is open to the public at no charge.

Sears Kay ruins site in Tonto National Forest
Over a dozen ruin sites like this one cover the top of a hill in Tonto National Forest.

While atop the ruins site, I had the opportunity to observe a tour guide with envy while he got paid to do my dream job – show people some interesting places around Arizona and spout out all sorts of useless facts. As I trailed along behind guests from Iowa on their way back down the hill, one proud tour guest whimsically announced to his girlfriend that she just walked naively by some javelina scat. She wasn’t impressed with his newfound knowledge of Arizona biology.

Kayaking adventure at Bartlett Lake

Last year I picked up an inflatable sit-on-top kayak online and put it to the test on flat water and rapids around Arizona. The best thing about an inflatable is I don’t need a rack to transport it. It’s also super lightweight and easy to get from the parking area down to the water. You can see the kayak in this post if you’d like.

Anyway, the place I camped required me to purchase a Tonto Pass, which also happens to be required for entry to one of my favorite lakes in Arizona: Bartlett Lake. I took a planned detour about 20 miles off the most direct route home and found myself at the Bartlett Flats recreation area. It’s designed mostly for day used but some people find places to pitch tents or open up their small pop-up campers.

I found a cool little cove with a place to park and left my car there while I took a spin in the kayak. Due to extremely high water levels and tons of debris in the lake from higher than average rain this winter, there were few boats on the lake. This made it a perfect opportunity to be a little more adventurous with my small craft.

I paddled out of the cove and across the main channel to another cove. There, I maneuvered my inflatable into a slight breeze. When I reached the narrowest point of the cove, I laid the paddle across my lap and let the gentle wind push me back toward my point of origin.

This was about as relaxing as the hour-plus lounge I had in the hammock 24 hours earlier. About 15 minutes after I began to drift, I saw a large bird swooping and soaring along the massive yellow cliffs that rose from the shoreline. It didn’t take long to confirm this was a bald eagle, with its white head and tail. Unfortunately, I left my smartphone and camera in the car so as to avoid water damage and have no pictures of this amazing part of the experience.

Soon after, I paddled back across the channel and found my launch point. After deflating the kayak, and packing it away I headed toward home.

Catching the epic wildflower bloom of Bartlett Lake

On the way to the lake, I couldn’t help noticing the magnificent blooms of poppies, lupines and other colorful flowers poking up along the roadsides. Many carloads of people with cameras and smartphones were evidence that word of the super bloom had gotten out.

Who am I to pass up a once in a decade opportunity? The amount and timing of rain and snow in preceding months created the perfect conditions for a magnificent and memorable bloom. I pulled the car over a few times to snap a few pics of my own.

Poppies and lupines at Bartlett Lake
Poppies and lupines practically glow in the sunlight. The mountains surrounding Bartlett Lake rise up in the background.
Another dazzling display of wildflowers near Bartlett Lake in what some observers refer to as Super Bloom 2019.

What was the end result of my digital detox weekend in the hills? Serenity – lots of it. It was just what I needed. And it triggered a yearning for more. I bought a new tent this week. It’s smaller and easier to set up. I’ve been scouting out more places to go for the next several weekends. You can bet my outings will result in many more blog posts.


  1. The superbloom has been phenomenal here in the Sonoran Desert! You captured the beautiful blooms very well.

    Tonto is always there for us to enjoy! Thanks for showcasing it!

    1. Thanks for the encouraging words.

      I can’t get enough of Arizona this year. Just returned from Madera Canyon. What a gem! Blog post cometh…

  2. Sounds like a nice trip. The wildflowers are gorgeous. I’ve rarely seen the desert bloom like that.

    I used to do week long camping trips and this was before computers and cellphones. I just liked the quiet. I’d always camp and hike where there was no one else.

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