Have you ever been in an old house walking on disgusting dirty smelly old wall to wall carpet; you watch it peeled back and discover the fine hardwood floors that had been lying underneath? Then you have the opportunity to dance on them? This day will be like that.
We have spent the night on top of a butte at a cliffside ruins in the high desert of pinion pine. This morning we are to make our way down to Sheep Bridge, a crossing spot on the Verde River. There will be plenty of water. We hope to find a private place of solitude down by the riverside, during our exploration. The crossing is known and popular. There is a hot spring with a steel tub. After our hike upstream, I figure that most people will be heading back to the city on a Sunday afternoon.
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I am dreading the long hard drive, as I place my hands on the wheel, beginning the journey. I remind myself to be as one rut at a time, stay flexible, alert to the task.
The route is seemingly filled with crazy people on quads and ATVs. We watch people driving too fast down slippery dirt hilly roads with family in the rear seats. They slide as they brake, swerving, about to go over a cliff and don’t even realize how close they are to calamity.
At the intersection, where we found “civilization” yesterday, we decide to stop. There are 12 miles left to go. Most of them are supposed to be on a bad road. It is time for a breather. We stand there nude, reading the sign about the Great Western Trail, which is a backroad system. This is a part of Arizona’s 800 miles of it. I try to imagine a trip like that….
I decide to pee. In moments, we hear another ATV coming quickly from the west. I step behind a bush, still urinating and DF scurries to the truck to sit down and close her door. Moments after it passes, a truck comes from the south. It turns, driving by us, thankfully not stopping to read the sign. There is more sound and a cloud of dust heading our way from the east. I step over to my open door for cover as yet another truck passes. Civilization is loud and dusty. We are so out here; how can there be this much traffic? Honestly, mostly, there isn’t much traffic, but the nature of the dust, sound, and danger make each encounter stand out large between the spaces like thunder. Like standing in the eye of the hurricane, you know that it is coming back. At any rate, there are too many occurrences for my senses.
It is Sunday, a weekend and nice weather. People are out here, mostly from Phoenix a city of over four million. We have two days of weekend and two weekdays for our short vacation. We have spent the Saturday in a remote, spiritual spot away from crowds. I figure that by the time that we arrive at Sheep Bridge, it will be afternoon. We can cross the river and take a hike upstream. The hike is to be an exploration to see if there are places to camp streamside, with shade and away from others. By the time we return to the bridge, I figure that most will have left to the cities for their work on Monday morning. It is a long drive home. They will need to leave relatively early. Well, that’s our plan.
On the way, we are delighted by the appearance of Tangle Creek, a riparian creek with tall trees. There is water here. If there is water here, coupled with the reports of the Verde River still being high from snow melt, there will be water other places. This could be a beautiful place of serenity and solitude, but today, there are ATVs and numerous tracks slashing down the sandy creek bed.
From here, the recently graded road gives way to a hellish dusty path of rocks, strewn like debris impersonating a road. It is mostly downhill. We have to move slower, so as to be able to stop without sliding in an emergency created by foolish drivers and their toys. The twelve miles are an hour’s drive. Part of the way down, I park at a pullout to let more air out from my tires for better traction. There are so many of these people here that I put on a kilt, so that I can concentrate on the air pressure, instead of listening for traffic and staying nude.
All of this difficulty, and then I’ll have to have to slap on a covering at the destination. At the bridge it very is crowded. I’m feeling surprised by what is there and disappointed. There is an ATV down by the river, which is drowning the rest of the area with loud Mexican music. I see the group crossing a knee deep section in their vehicles for kicks. We find a place to park right at the bridge among several other cars.
DF places a light sundress on her to cover and mentions something about others looking up our legs from below. That thought disappears with reassessment of our situation. It is a high bridge, and why care? I decide on a wrap at the waist and my shoulder bag with water and a water filter. We are set to hike. We look out across the thin expanse of the bridge. On the other side we see two guys jumping off of the large rock that anchors the remarkable bridge at the other end. It takes more than a second for them to reach the water; it must be 40 or 50 feet to drop. I hear the sound of the second one hitting the water. It doesn’t sound like a pleasant entrance.
On the other side, we come around behind the large red granite hill that anchors the bridge and there is no one. These people are here for the water and party atmosphere. There is no concern really, even if we do happen to meet anyone on the trail. The light clothing immediately disappears. We venture in and out of an overgrown riparian wash area, head up the hill and back down into another wash. This one contains a nice creek. We note a soak pond with large rock surfaces to sit in the shade of mesquite trees. It could be relaxing, but the Mexican music with thundering bass across the river has followed us. To find serenity, we will have to head upstream further.
The trail takes us into the desert, exposed to the sun. It is hot, 2:00 in the afternoon, the heat of the day, probably around 90F. This is the first 90F that we have felt this year.
The desert has many blooms and colors.
Like back home in Tucson, the drought has dried much of the spring flowers, but the cactus are presenting luminous blooms.
Occasional color can be found on the desert floor. This contrasts with the florescent green trees crowding the river bed.
On the satellite images there had been evident spots with sand and breaks in the foliage next to the river, but in the more recent edition, just out a few weeks, it shows that the vegetation has closed in. I had confirmed with a forest service representative that because of the lack of a major flooding event during the last years, the entire river is thick with vegetation. We are finding this to be true.
What looked like a slope into the river valley from the trail by satellite, is not that. There is a cliff and few places to walk without bushwhacking with power tools. We reach each succeeding ridge to look out and find these same conditions.
There is nowhere to reach the river waters. About three quarters of a mile down the trail the obnoxiously loud Mexican music finally dissipates, but this new frustration takes over.
After a mile and a half, where I had figured our chances were reasonable to find a secluded spot, we meet a couple with a teenage son. He, with his black t-shirt and red shorts, just down the trail, is our cue to cover-up. We decide to just walk off of the trail about forty feet to observe the river over a cliff. DF slaps on a shirt that she uses for sun cover. I set the bag to cover me to Arizona state statute’s requirements. We stand there ignoring our fellows, our butts hanging out and act as if we don’t see them. DF is still adjusting, her butt exposed by a camera strap. We aren’t fooling anyone. I glance over my shoulder as the father passes by. His wife is looking directly at us. They seem polite and friendly, she comments, “It is hot out here,” looking for affirmation. We agree. I suspect that she assumes that the heat is some reasonable cause to our lack of clothing. I ask them if there is any way to get down to the river up ahead. They have seen no way to get to the river, or a beach ahead. No luck.
It’s hot and enough is enough. That cool soaking pool is calling to us.
As we soak in the refreshing water, we are also bathed in Mexican music.
The redundant thundering bass is a dominate noise. We speculate when they will leave. We saw no camping equipment in their vehicles.
We agree that this is not a good place for naturism. We resolve, at this point, that we will not be returning.
When we round the large red rock again, we are hit by Mexican music full force. Below us, under the bridge another party is playing rock music at an equal volume. It is a duel. We are engulfed in a huge crescendo of the discomfort of the day. Bikini top girls with huge tattoos are standing at the riverside, beer bottles in one hand and hand signs in the other, wiggling in dance. We wait for a group to take photos of each other on the bridge. The situation is so ludicrous, that I begin to laugh.
We follow an older couple across the bridge, which have an overly friendly black retriever with them. The dog is obviously frightened by the height and possibly the music. If a dog feels this way, I wonder about sheep.
We decide to find a camping spot and endure the music. I have fantasies of shooting the sound boxes. The Mexican music finally leaves as we step off of the bridge. DF searching for a brighter attitude of the picture, comments that at least she enjoys the more familiar rock selection.
The truck takes us down a hill on the south side of the bridge. There are numerous spots under the river’s trees. There is loose sand, and fields of river-rock. Under those trees a solid silt has built up over the years, providing for a secure tent staking next to the truck.
The people on the other side of the river are crude, rude and obnoxious. It reminds me of days gone by, when the Vere Hot Springs became a known entity. It was a place where there was no authority, lawless but cooperative. Nudity was a part of the equation, something very cool. We had roped off a territory of freedom. We would post lookouts to watch for authorities. We were an outlaw club banded together. I can relate to the “get crazy” attitude, but back then, we didn’t have sound equipment that would send vibrations ¾ of a mile, blazing like cannon. It was quite different, tolerable.
We had seen no camping gear over there, and sort of cross our fingers hoping that they will eventually leave, as we go about our chores, gathering wood, setting up the stove and tent.
With the Verde Hot Spring of yesteryear in mind and angry frustration in my heart, I decide that dressing is not in the order of things. After all with the tolerance of all of this obnoxious boundary-less behavior, how could anyone object to a naked human body? It should help me to tolerate what is being thrust upon me.
The blaring rock turns into commercial country music, and the sun is now behind the mountains. They still haven’t left and it is a long way to Phoenix. I begin to set my resolve to listening to the party across the river behind the bushes, in acceptance on into the night. We have agreed to never return to Sheep Bridge and plan to endure. Apparently, these party people don’t leave on Sunday afternoons.
Two young women are taking a walk, staring at the naked guy across the river as they pass. There seems to be no end, now have voyeurs. Then there arises a ruckus. Someone is calling the girls back. As DF and I prepare diner on the tailgate, she in her sundress, the troop of off road vehicles begins to line up in a convoy, shouting and revving motors with all of the cultural finesse of a Mad Max movie. I look over my shoulder at four vehicles with all occupants sitting staring at me. There is yelling. I don’t know what they are yelling. I can’t understand a word with all of the engine noise and music. It seems that they are yelling at me. DF tells me that she thought that they were taking pictures of me. My impulse is to walk away to the front of the truck and keep my face and genitals from them. This goes on for too long, as I wait at my door weighing the option of putting on cover, contemplating how to address this intrusion. I manage to draw my line in defiance, but I am thinking about how to go on offensive. Finally, the band pulls out. Six vehicles sounding like a huge pack of choppers disappear from sight, leaving only a cloud of dust….
…It is quiet! It is amazingly quiet. The sun begins to set. Like a glassine mirrored lake, the color of the rock reflects on the river. We begin to take photos. It seems soo quiet and peaceful.
We sit down to a curry soup, and sensuously sip effervescent bubbles of seltzer water.
As dusk approaches, we decide to make a quick inspection of the mineral springs. DF reminds that we will need to get out of here early tomorrow, so we had better do this now. Grabbing flashlights, and a cover-up, we make our way down a path under the bridge. I had seen pictures of a tunnel through tall reeds leading to an old horse trough and don’t really expect much. As we approach the reeds, a huge burgundy rock is seen as one wall of the reed tunnel. This opens into wonderful grotto like area. The rock slopes down as a slab just right to undress on. There is evidence of the water seeping out of it and there is no old steel tank. Someone has created a river rock bathtub. The water is clear and inviting as it flows over the edge of the cemented rock.
I drop my foot in and the temperature is of bath water. We slide in. It is simply wonderful. All of the tension, abuse and stress of the day wash away in the soothing mineral spring water. There is only the naked two of us.
We imbibe. There are a few gunshots in the distance, as someone empties a clip of nine millimeter. Obviously, the gunslinger is just enjoying an unknown target and a sense of freedom. The weekend crowd has seemingly magically gone.
That evening we sit up later than planned. We wanted to get an early start to hike down Red Creek to the Verde River at a point upstream from here, tomorrow, but peace has found us. The night air temperature drops. I slip on my new camping jacket. It has been my dream jacket, an 800 goosedown Ghost Whisperer. At only 8 ounces, it is a piece of ultralight equipment that shaves ¾ pound off of my pack’s weight. It is a lovely silky feeling wrapped in it. It feels like just an aura of warm air around me. It is so feathery light and puffy. Maybe it needs a string to keep it from floating away?
We discuss the strategy for burning a slow piece of log by laying a quicker burning dry pinion pine piece over the top of it. It all smells so good. Thoughts are only in the task at hand. Warm Chia tea, thick like hot coco, a pomegranate/chia Cliffbar, and more seltzer treat us. We giggle at the occasional slaps of a fish jumping out of the water nearby.
Away from the fire, we gaze at the multitude of stars, watch the big dipper dip into the river, and the match of it all in its refection in the calm waters. There are rapids in the distance. At times, their sound grows louder, as if the current is rising, then it drifts off again.
When we crawl out of the tent, there is nobody anywhere. We have this whole playground to ourselves. This is even better that planned.
We gather up camp, looking forward in resolve at the hard drive ahead, but that hot mineral tub keeps calling us…then again…
…Okay, we don’t have to get to the Verde River upstream, achieving the goal, gathering bragging rights to the accomplishment of the trek. The journey is in the moment, right? It is the now, where we will be. Let time and goals go. We can camp anywhere along that creek and it will be a paradise. We surrender to the lure.
We park at the bridge once again.
We carefully climb down the slippery slope to the path between the grasses and into the reeds.
The air is delicious.
It is clear and perfect and calm.
This time, only a small bundle is in our hands and we are enjoying our natural state.
I’m reminded of the entrance of a Tiki Bar, tropical and cool.
The soak is wonderful.
We thank and send blessings to the fine people who took the trouble to defend this hot spring and created such a magical space for all of us out of rock.
It must have been a tremendous effort, given as a gift. If you happen to read this, thank-you, very much.
Strolling, now very peacefully and casually, we make our way back up the steep hillside. We look at each other, standing at the truck at the bridge, and know the look in each other’s eye. We are hungry. Why wait?
DF finds a nice spot on the concrete foundation of the old bridge to sit down in shade and spreads a cloth.
The concrete structure’s angles are akin to a sculpture. The surface is cool in the shade. The view is gorgeous all around. This is a wonderful place.
We still have fresh left overs. Fresh veggies, asparagus, assorted colored carrots, a yellow bell pepper and blue corn chips are dipped into a homemade green salsa and a leftover hummus, until we are full.
Before us is a beautiful bright yellow paloverde tree in full bloom. The drone of bees emanates through its foliage. We stroll over and read the plastic enclosed inscription and pictures explaining the origins of the bridge and its history.
We could spend a lot of pleasant time here…on week days.
Standing at the truck, about to leave, there is some noise. A pair of quads come around the corner and we quickly throw on cover. Me a kilt and she that sundress. The sundress has been a constant companion, but probably on her a total of 15 minutes during the trip. An older couple, he wearing a bandana and Westside Coppers sleeveless t-shirt, stop and then head down the hill to where we had camped. The other has run out of fuel in the middle of the road. As he reloads his tank with a red plastic gas can, she wanders by. “We’ve never been here.”
Like the changing of the guard I explain, “Well, the place is all yours. The mineral springs are in those reeds.”
“Oh good! I didn’t know there were hot springs here!”
We leave, stopping around the corner to undress. We probably won’t need any clothing until nightfall.
It feels less stressful on that road, as we climb out of the valley.