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This time, we are exploring the foothills of the buttes and mountains to the North of the hot springs.
It is spring and it has been very dry. As we drive down the Interstate there are clouds of dust and the tornado-like vortices if dust devils out on the vast playa. Where Sandhill Cranes gather by the thousands during monsoon rains, the winds of drought have parched the lake-bed.
There is a front that is creating high winds with gusts up to 40 mph. It is a chilly wind, but we are safely packed away inside the four-runner, warm and naked. The winds will be a problem tonight and some of tomorrow, but we are on our way to the hot springs to camp and soak, anyway. We are hoping for a windbreak from the forest of tamarisk and mesquite. We know that any chill can be nullified by slipping neck deep into hot mineral water.
We stop at the familiar gate. Plants everywhere are swishing back and forth in the winds. DF puts on a shirt to open the combination lock and hold the gate open for the truck to pass through. The breeze is steady and then an occasional gust will sting a bare body.
It is Friday and less populated. Under some old twisted mesquite, we are able to find a cozy shady place to nestle. Bushes provide the windbreak that we have been seeking. I unload and we erect the tent that we call the bigtop. It is only 3 meters square, but we can stand up in it, set up a twin sized mattress and spend time on a soft woolen rug with candelight.
Having marked our territory with folding chairs, we are off to explore the far foothills of the nearby mountains. These have been a curiosity for several years.
I have looked the area over using Google satellite. I have an idea where to go. Where I find what I thought to be the turn off, there is a very fine looking ranch house. My memory clogs and we decide to drive further. Perhaps the road is on a different bend.
After a time on this dirt road, I look at the Arizona Map book. I can find no reference of the back-road, but up toward Fort Thomas, there is a “Day Mine Road” that appears to get generally into the area that we are after. We are headed to the foothills of the range of buttes that we see from the hotsprings. These are the magical ones, that light up in rich colors, as we drum at sunset. Why, because it is out there.
This takes us through a creosote forest. This forest is only about waist high. Creosote dominates the entire area except for a few pockets. There is that sense of wide open spaces, and today, every bush is a mass of yellow flowers. This mass reaches to the colorful buttes which are rising up to a turquoise sky.
We notice a massive set of bright yellow rock formations down the hill in a wash.
Soon, an offshoot road appears to head that way. What the heck, we’ll try it.
We find ourselves just upstream from the monumental rock formations. I find some solid purchase amongst the soft sand wash and park. We get out and there is a chilly breeze. DF covers with a stretch top and we make our way to the rock formations a couple of hundred yards downstream. There the wind is broken by the terrain. The top comes back off.
The place is enchanting, a surreal looking alien planet spot.
We begin to take pictures of each other nude on another world.
We discover that the bright yellow tint to the rocks is a very healthy covering of lichen.
It is all photogenic.
This rock formation shows us evidence of the torrents that roar through this wash during a heavy rain.
As tall as me, there are heavy rocks stuck in trees having been carried down the draw in deep powerful water.
Back in the truck, we wander on. The next thing that catches our eyes is a peak. Again, there is an entity for our curiosity to follow. We follow the trail to a circle turn and I park.
The wind continues to blow and across this ridge. It is chilling. The sting is almost a burn, but strangely giving a sense of heat. We refuse to allow it to dress us, and decide take a quick nude stroll to investigate the hilltop.
Here, there is an unusual rock consistency. It is like shale and upended, by some ancient push.
These pieces standing on end on the top form a natural appearance of a fort with parapets. We photograph and survey. The vista impresses us. The entire Gila Valley is in view. Mt. Graham towering in the Pinaleno Mountains southeast.
The hills around Aravaipa Canyon are southwest and to the north. We have come much closer to those colorful buttes.
The hour is getting late and we have a hot springs going to waste. We head back to our base, passing a corral and a requisite water tank. I realize that the trough is an old fiberglass Jacuzzi tub.
The main road runs along where the dry creosote foothills meet with the verdant floodplain of the Gila River.
DF decides to take a picture of the green treetops. We stop in the middle of the road between two distant curves, blind to approaching vehicles. She gets out, snapped by the current of wind through the river bed. She is unconcerned about any possibility of traffic discovering her. The odds are slim here and even slimmer that someone would be upset to see her. Then again, it just doesn’t matter to her that someone might see a fellow human being taking pictures happily in her natural outfit. She focuses on her task, comfortable in her skin and alive in the awareness of its reaction to the nature around her.
Back at base, we park and head directly and immediately to the hot pool in the double Olympic sized cement pond. It is Friday and still early for the weekend crowd. We discover that for the moment, we have paradise all to ourselves.
There is still a hard wind going in and out in intensity. When we step into the hot waters, there is felt a tingle from the contrast. Still, we both agree that the hot tub isn’t as hot as usual.
After soaking, and being overwhelmed by the shear wonder of the mineral waters, we begin to open our eyes and take note of our conditions. The wind from the west is blowing waves, even whitecaps, which find their way over the shallow wall which separates the new hot water from the 85F waters of the pool.
When this wind disappears, we will soon find everything heating up to its full potential.
We manage to get out. We are reluctant, but our hunger drives us to leave the peace and solitude. It can be at times defined as quite a struggle.
I sit playing gentle guitar as DF heats up our soup in the communal kitchen. We look for the ducks and the bats, but see no murmuration . However, the tree above me is filled with starlings.
In an instant, they are all alight and streaming in the hundreds. Their masses of silhouetted individuals are having their dance. All in shifting unison, the mass is twisting and amazing me once again. If you haven’t seen this phenomena, go to Youtube “starlings murmuration”…now!
After eating, we gather around the fire-pot that sits next to the pool. A stack of perfect mesquite wood pieces, maybe half of a cord, has been stacked next to the old boathouse. The sun has been long gone and the fire is warm. We have our towels and terry bathrobes, ready to slip out of them and then slip into the hot waters.
As others gather, the conversation is fun and comedic quips add laughter. There is a story about falling asleep with a wrongly set timer for a bag of popcorn in the microwave of a hotel and falling asleep. Smoke alarms blazed as the place was evacuated in the middle of the night.
I meet a man called Bob, who had given erroneous directions to another camper. She ended up in the sandy river. He ended up embarrassed, but willing to good naturedly take a number of jokes at his expense.
Bob has an extensive knowledge of the area. He tells us how to get to the road that we were looking for. There is another fit of laughter from various quips questioning the directions. We decide to give them a try the next day, anyway.
Eventually, as I pump Bob for information about future explorations, DF heads into the darkness disrobes and slides into the hot pool of water nearby. I follow very soon. I place my robe and towel on a handy hanger apparatus. I’m immediately hit by cold air across my disrobed body. In an instant, I’m wanting to waste no time getting in the pool to warm up.
There are several nude figures in the pool. They are white people, their skin reflecting light as naked ghosts. A cluster of women are around the stair step and handrail that is used to help get in. They are conversing. The chill has given me no patience to stand awaiting their attention. I take a step and excuse myself. They politely move. I sink into the water to my knees with no intended grace, just relief.
I then wonder what has happened to DF. Suddenly, I become aware of a person below me. I’m about to step on DF. Her deep suntan has made her nearly invisible in the dark waters.
There is only starlight, no moon. The Milky Way is thick and we sit gazing at the heavens around us. I see a short movement. It is a shooting star. Moments later, I comment again, another one. In response to my exclamations, a voice comes out of the darkness and tells me that there is a meteor shower tonight. Perfect, no moon, dark skies and a hot tub to lunge in.
We lie about, enjoying ourselves, falling into an overwhelming peace and wonderment. I place my head back, across the short ledge that separates the hot pool from the swimming pool. I stretch out and float limp in the water, until I notice that someone is snoring…me.