Having made our way up the “unmaintained” road from Sheep Bridge on the Verde River, we pull onto FR 18. The road immediately becomes particularly crappy. It is mostly grey rocks in a grassy pinion pine forest. There is much ecological transition here. It is an odd mixture like pinion high grass land with stands of saguaros and other cactus mixed in. There are occasional fascinating patches of blooms.
The psychedelic purple burst of the hedgehog cacti constantly catch our attention.
We are on our way to a riparian forest along a meandering creek. It is Monday and we should have the 4 mile trek to the Verde River and trail #11 to ourselves, both days. We are running late and may not make that goal, but how much disappointment can it be to be camped part of the way in the middle of what promises to be a paradise?
Scouting for Security:
We have to leave the truck in an out of the way spot. I am concerned about leaving it where it could be vandalized. Most of the crowds are gone today. The plan is to pitch our little dome tent next to the truck to make it look as though we will be back anytime to our campsite. However, when we arrive, there is no place to pitch and anchor the tent. It is all rocky. There are few rocks at hand to tether the tent to. Another plan dissolves.
There is a hill here, a steep slippery slope that looks a tad treacherous to us to drive down.
This also, looks like it will be lousy when we return in midday heat at the end of a long hike. The trail is relatively level along the meandering creek after that. We read the warning online. We could do it, but the sense of the unknown sets in. I would feel better with someone else in a backup vehicle. To ere on the side of caution….
We have just set our packs on our shoulders, when we hear the sound of ATVs coming up the hill. Nude but for packs and shoes, we wait, covered by the truck sitting in front of us. We want them to know our presence, but not see that we are leaving the truck. We figure that the odds of others out here are small and the possibility of those others being dishonest much smaller still. It is no longer the weekend with wandering crazies. This encounter also lets us know that there is one less encounter on our journey. A few minutes earlier and we would have been caught by these people, nude on the sloping jeep trail.
We begin walking down the steep hill being careful not to slip on the loose dry material under our feet. About half way down, we realize that we have been mistaken. We could have gracefully traversed this hill with little problem in the 4×4.
Still, the decision is to press on, leaving our other belongings to the protection of the Gods and chance.
At the bottom, we encounter paradise.
The water is running well. It is a clear stream slowly meandering through a canyon of various geology.
This canyon is filled with many varieties of mature trees. In many places the root’s coverings have been eroded. Left are thick roots which have attained the bark of the rest of the exposed tree.
Some of these act and look like legs. These webs of root make a thick and intricate web under the soil.
Many still hold onto the rocks which once anchored them, the soil now washed away.
There is evidence of flooding piled up here and there.
This has been a road, a jeep trail for many years, which leads to the Verde River. Still, it is used, although there is a great deal of technical challenge. Much of the road is directed straight down the stream bed, sometimes climbing out to a smoother surface through the forest and small meadows.
It becomes evident that the width of the bed is often created by the width of the vehicles.
The floor, a mass of water washed round pebbles and rock, not far under the surface, is easy to maneuver through.
We have the option of sloshing through the streambed, or casually walking down something akin to a two track country lane created by vehicles. The lane is pleasant and easy walking, but the bed is raw, real and nature teaches lessons there.
We find ourselves at the confluence of the Middle Red Creek.
Exploring off of our path, we find doubts as to if we are still on the same stream course. It is untouched, small fish congregate in the slower pools.
Assured that we have not lost our intended course, we continue. Colorful rock outcroppings pop out, beaches, gravel banks, channels lined with reeds, clean distinct smells, shade and sun delight our senses. There are always a small waterfalls, or a rapid here and there. With our goal out of the way, we take our time savoring this place.
At one point, the creek drops out of sight.
We think that perhaps this is the point marking the last mile and a half that I have read about, but in a few hundred feet more, around a bend, it reveals itself to us once more.
We stop for a break and a snack, and to sit. We note that it is now 3:30. We need to make camp no later than 4:30. We don’t know how far we have come, and what is ahead. The vegetation appears to be transitioning into a lower desert, which harbors scorpions and ants more typically. If the end of the water comes soon, it is a mile and a half to the river, exposed and in a hurry. We decide to backtrack a short distance and tomorrow take our time returning. We had spotted a very nice camping area there…we’re tired.
The sun is still shining down, heating our chosen spot, but soon the cliffs will block this. We pitch the net tent without the shelter of the tarp. We can observe the stars this way, and the weather is guaranteed to be clear. There will be little moon to steal the show.
Walking down to the creek along the lane that our camp is just off of, we sit and place our feet in the cool water, sitting on large river rocks. We need to filter water. The ultra-light filtration setup is slow. I look around as I await the filtered flow into the bottle. This place is so very beautiful.
We enjoy a dinner of vegetable spaghetti, garlic sauce, and zucchini re-hydrated in our cups. Naked, the net tent looks safe from bugs. We crawl in. The stars come out. We listen to the creek. We are asleep.
I awaken with a start. There is someone outside shining a flashlight on us. I sit up and begin to grab my axe, when I realize that I am in a vivid dream. DF asks what’s up. “ Oh just some guy with a flashlight.”
We smell a wild animal near us, just around dawn.
The next morning:
The sun comes out from behind a cliff. I wake to lay on my back in no hurry. Above me I count seven different types of trees through the net. Eventually, it is warm and inviting to climb from our rest.
As we sit back inside of the net, going about our morning’s activities, the sound of a vehicle penetrates the forest. Soon three jeeps lumber by on the road near us. We drape what lies handy over our “offending” parts and wave back as the parade passes. Soon we are again alone.
I decide to stroll to the stream and enjoy a refreshing bath.
My bare feet are compelled to stroll further down the road on the way back. The canyon morning feels very alive on an absolutely naked being. I listen to unusual bird calls, mixed with the familiar. They have been harping for a while. Having heard them, I knew dawn without opening my eyes. Oatmeal, banana and strawberries greet my return. This day is unfolding well.
As we walk back upstream, DF asks me if we are “on a mission.” I hadn’t noticed my quick pace. The stream is broad and easy to slosh through. I move back to get next to her and take her hand. We adjust our pace together.
DF has told me that she would like to do morning chi gong when she finds the right spot. A while upstream she announces that she has found it. It is along a smooth gravel bed. I place my pack down. The slope keeps it erect, providing comfort and support for my back . DF places her feet in the stream and begins her practice. I sit and cross my legs, yogi style. There is a fun rock wall on the other bank. I close my eyes and just be. The eyes open, they close, this is peace.
We encounter pieces of trash, a can here, a wrapper there. DF, the naturist that she is, finds a new use for her backpack’s waist strap pockets.
All along the route, there have been many tracks. It seems that just about all species have been represented, but not human hikers. Curiously, we have seen little wildlife. Perhaps they hear our sloshing, perhaps it is just chance.
In spite of our efforts, like so often happens, the return trip seems quicker.
We have arrived at the road out. We decide to just follow the creek upstream some more, find a good spot and have a full meal.
Soon, a sheet of conglomerate rock becomes the creek’s bed. It has fascinating color on the water smoothed surface.
It leads us to a fine campsite, shade and a larger slab of it where the current has dug a channel through it. This will be our spot. We strip completely and wander about.
Eventually, a vegetable soup is re-hydrated and we add herb de Provence and allspice to liven it up. There is still more of the bread that I made to compliment it. Being alive here is so good.
We have discovered that our spot at creekside is below a fine camping area. As we sit, we hear a jeep. DF says that someone has gotten out of the red vehicle that we see, crossing the creek downstream. We don’t see him out again. There is a chance that they will come and want to park in the adjacent campsite. We make a plan, a pact. If they do disturb us, she will cover her nipples and we shall put our legs together, according to Arizona state law, legally inoffensive. Then, we’ll ask them if they want us to cover ourselves. If not, then we are freed. We have been out here long enough to completely divorce the idea of the foolishness of clothing. It just isn’t natural. They continue, there is no need to invoke our preparation.
DF finds a couple of nice white rock specimens. Having passed up other compelling rocks because of the weight, we decide to take these with us up the hill. It will be one last exertion.
When we arrive, the truck is intact and not on blocks. We disrobe the backpacks and suddenly feel light and energetic. There is a butte above us and someone has driven up there at sometime. We explore. It is a flat table top. We can’t see down into the canyon to know how far the trees meander upstream through the desert, as hoped. Perhaps we will know from Google maps. There have been campfires here before. We see car tracks, but DF points out that plants are now growing out of the firepits. It has been awhile.
It takes an hour and a half to drive the next 30 miles. Along the way, we see a group of horse trailers. A big smile and wave from a large mustache under a cowpoke hat greet us.
We take a break below the main road, at a turn off. DF is standing in the middle of a wash as two forest service trucks surprise us on the main road above. We laugh that we may have been caught minding our own business after all of this trip by them. If you are under a small cliff, where while camping in the wild, there is a common practice of conducting toiletries without walls, there IS a reasonable expectation of privacy. Accidents happen, people are happened on to.
In the Phoenix area, we adjust the tire pressure, gas up and find a quaint restaurant called “Uncle Sam’s.” It is a red, white and blue themed Americana place, serving hoagies, grinders, pizza etc. It is filled with overweight unhealthy people. The menu expounds owner’s political opinions of the mess that the country is in and the evils of Obamacare. The simple veggie grinder cost as much as a fresh sushi meal, but it is filling.
We have already traveled 90 miles as we finally leave southern reaches of the Phoenix freeway sprawl. I am very tired. We have gone 130 miles of hard driving on back-roads the last few days. The couch is so welcome when we finally get home.