Our destination is the ‘ol hot springs on the Verde River. The plan is to spend three days with a couple of side excursions into Fossil Creek’s sweet riparian area.
I am gambling, but thinking that odds are in my favor. After being extremely sick the week previous, I figure that I’m left with just a little recovery to deal with. The hot springs and subsequent skinny dipping in blue green waters in the mountains near here will be my healing.
I pick up DF at her seminar about 2:30 and we make our way straight to the highway. It will be a four hour carnude, before we get off of the interstate.
We spend an hour, just to get through the sprawling monster of Phoenix. There, the discovery of a shutdown of 10 lanes of freeway requires an urban detour. We stubbornly refuse covering up, even with the busy traffic, pedestrians and the stops at multiple intersections. Covering up, just in case, feels like a true bother. I watch the other people. After miles of suburban city, I don’t think that any of the thousands noticed us. Perhaps a homeless man looking down into the truck looking for spare change might have noticed the lack of pockets, discouraging him.
Our tank needs to be filled in Camp Verde when we escape the Interstate. After hours in desert and sprawl, there is contrast of fertile green things here. The Verde River flows through. The town pops out around it in the riparian forest.
I pull into the bustle of a gas/convenience store on this Sunday night. There are a half a dozen trucks with weekend revelers, which are wrapping up festivities and readying for work on Monday morning. Pickup trucks are filled with water toys, quads, bikes and camping gear. The logos on t-shirts voice variously messaged attitudes for others to identify with. People seem to be seeking some sort of high life “kool.” I can easily fit in here, slipping on a camouflage kilt and black t-shirt, as I go to look for a suitable soda pop. We make sure that we are properly nude again, before we leave the parking lot.
Elevating out of the lower desert, it is pleasantly cool. I have been assured that there is a better maintained dirt road for an hour more. It runs into the mountains and back down into another section of the Verde River.
We find our turn off and pull through a cattle guard. I slip out of the SUV to tend to the 4×4 lockers to help stabilize slipping on the dirt road. I figure that the cars up on the highway might see at most, a flesh figure at a glance. Perhaps I am being brazen, but too tired would be the more fitting motivation. I obviously am feeling the need for more illness recovery time.
With the Forever-runner in 4×4, we are off. Our backs are to another version of the same magnificent orange sunset, this time from a more elevated angle. The dirt road is reasonably wide, but it is an endless washboard. Even in 4×4, I can feel the SUV drift from time to time.
This last leg of dirt can be seen heading far into the hills ahead, a brown slit in the distance. When darkness comes, the end could be after any of the next corners. I’m probably better off for the night. In my worn down state, it is better to take things as they come, than to be frustrated by a speculative goal of what I see ahead.
Fossil Creek is a day use only area. Over the course of the next 45 minutes, a half a dozen last minute partiers in white trucks and jeeps pass by on their way home. Most, or everyone, should be gone by the time we arrive.
Before we find our intersection, a deer and what appears to be just the shadow of a black fox, bolt across the road. Here, the road splits. One leg goes to Fossil Creek and one down to the river. It is dark and as quiet as I remember it, but it feels incongruent to find a stop sign in this remote spot.
I remember the last of the ascent to Childs power plant as being scary. I’ve been up and down on The Road of Death in Bolivia and the Amalfi Coast in Italy, and I remember this as just as hazardous. A friend has told me that it has been fixed.
There has been a major reconstruction and I’m relieved in this darkness. A ditch on the uphill side is keeping the road at a reasonable slope and width. The only hair raising jolt comes when I’m heading up a grade. As we creep by, a skunk is scurrying up that ditch with its tail in the air! It may be thinking that we are chasing it. The windows go up quickly. Luck is on our side, as I slowly pass just a few feet away from it, holding my breath.
A few more minutes ahead, the road looks washed out. It is so bad that I stop and back up to see if I have taken a wrong turn. I creep down this one last steep bumpy challenge wondering what I might be getting us into. We soon find ourselves relieved and in a green riparian forest. There are dirt trails wandering in every direction.
It has obviously just rained very hard here. Humidity creeps into the windows sticking to our skin. We feel it all over our bodies. It is good to not be dressed. With open windows, a little movement in the air makes a cooling difference that clothing would just trap in its fabric.
We swish through a couple of deep mud holes, sliding and glad for 4×4. The soil here is from deposits from the river, the sandy loam gathers its finer particles in the mud ponds and it gets to be deep. When we park, instead of burly rubber off-road spikes, we will discover that there is only a thick brown tread of mud.
I find a spot where the recent torrents have washed around an area a little larger than our tent. That will be a safe spot. If the rain returns the little canals will direct the flow around us. I park among the trees.
There needs to be a camp set up, but I’m whipped. The illness and exhaustion demand that I rest. I roll into my seat and lay there to cope and maybe get a little sleep. I’m feeling a little guilty about not providing a shelter for DF and making her wait, but my misery and exhaustion are just too much.
DF makes some notes of her own while I sleep:
After driving 5 hours we rode through the dark final destination and looked for a camp spot to settle. Jon passed out. So what is there to do in the dark? I brought out a lamp and read. I too slept for one or two winks. I watched the big moon rise about 10pm.
I played with a new light. It attaches onto my finger. I point my hand and it shines blue light. It is fun. Some of the leaves pick up the light and some don’t. Those that do, have glowing blue highlights. It is like the Avatar movie, other worldly. Water glistens on leaves everywhere. These droplets are blue. Before the moon arose, the stars sparkled in the dark skies, which are as clear as any that I have ever seen. Jon comes back from the dead in the night and we set the tent, mattresses and coverings for a serious sleep.
In the night, I hear a turkey gobble. The ravens caw as if they are always busy. I watch the full moon rising again, as I take a little walk.
In the morning, it appears that it will be overcast all day. As Jon sleeps in, I make sandwiches and prepare for the hike. I take a quiet walk along the riverside. He eventually comes around, crawling out of the tent. Jbee must be really sick, he’s sitting around wearing clothes!”
Jbee toughs it through:
I am able to get up and enjoy camp after a couple of hours of extra rest. I passed out, or laid sick through the night and into the morning. I had desperately gotten up in the night shivering with fever and soaking wet. DF had been understanding and supportive.
I’ve slept in, resting a bit better during the morning. I focus on setting myself up to walk the mile to the hot springs. As I squeeze out of the door of the tent and stretch upright, stumbling into the daylight, I’m stunned by the dramatically different world before me. The air is clean and helps clear my head.
I had last been to this new campsite around 25 years before. Today, there are tall cottonwood trees lining the river. A plethora of species has matured. The open field is more a forest. There is grass anywhere that the red soil isn’t exposed. It is more a jungle than the few small mesquite trees and scrub that I knew before.
I am determined to make this a place of healing. I spread my lungs and work to breathe, I rest, I pray, I eat what will get down; I look for positives in the moment to drown out the misery. I psych myself.
About 11am, I’m ready to make the hike. This whole time, there has been no one but us. We anticipate that that will continue.
There are no clear directional signs available, only a sign that points down a path through some woods, which then peters out.
I read on the internet that we may expect to find the old road that leads through what was once the town of Childs. If we follow it, then there will be a nebulous trail through the brush to where the river must be crossed.
We are in overgrown brush, not far from camp. It doesn’t look well frequented. The overgrowth and being nude make the travel a more complex set of moves.
Wandering, we find our way up to the fence that encircles the power plant. The plant has a 1920’s sort of style about it.
It sits in empty ruins.
We come to the huge rotting stumps of the old trees that I used to know.
My last time here, we simply wandered across an island, heading directly to the springs. The foliage was low and if we kept to the general direction, we could find a bit of a trail through it. The river was shallow enough. Today, a couple of decades later, it is all new, another world entirely.
We follow a path that runs next to the water. Red reeds and dry grass mix their colors with the muddy brown that is the river.
Contrast comes from the florescence of the green in the trees, a sort of winter with summer effect.
Eventually, just as we’re about to turn back, thinking that we may have missed the route, I see and old road that wanders up the hill. It must lead to the main street. Everything leads to that main road.
After wandering through piles of old metal rubbish. At the top of the hill, there is a rusty steel sign with the words “HOT SPR.” welded through it.
We walk off down the better maintained route.
Eventually, the obvious gets our attention. It is a boulder with a large white cross and green arrows. It points down into the riverbed, across bedrock, through trees and across a field of river rock.
There is a pond here, now. Where the river used to meander, a major flood has cut through. We make our way across the flow caused by a shoot in the river, which empties the pond.
I finally see something familiar. I recognize a rock outcrop. I remember where a huge tree used to live. We would swing from its thick arms with a rope. We could then jump off into the depth of the river.
The trail is worn, but my memories begin to bring me back. The soggy mud baths have been washed away. Now, there is river.
We come to a spot with a low wall, where a building once stood.
There is a flat place to camp.
I remark about how the trail has eroded, it is quite thin in places.
Before long, we are walking down the concrete stairs at the pools.
The place has been painted through the years. It has acquired a richer thicker tint. The old roofless building has acquired a rainbow.
There are many hippie slogans setting the tone of peace and freedom.
It is quaint.
Some of the original paint is still in place. I recognize a small Alice among her mushrooms. She dates back to around the late sixties.
There is a large concrete slab that once supported a bridge across the river. I lay down there in exhaustion like a slab of dead meat for two hours. I’m lucky that the sky is so overcast. I’d have baked in the sun’s shine.
After the rest, I make my way into the building. The waters rejuvenate me. I sit, I reminisce, I read the enduring hippie legacy on the walls.
It is peaceful here. The tranquility of the surroundings never fail to have their effect.
The larger trees near the river appear as fluff. Their canopies meet the rugged mountains and buttes, which shoot up in burgundy iron-like color. This is contrasting with verdant grasses and small trees. The river flows slowly, consistently into a valley that promises to wander for many miles in the distance.
It is natural here. All it takes is to sit for a few moments, naked and secure and just notice….
We are getting set to go, when we hear possible voices across the river through the trees, on the distant road. Then, again, later, further upstream the same sounds repeat. We anticipate visitors.
As I am putting on my shoes, a smiling middle aged woman with her grown son and two happy dogs arrive. Pleasantries are exchanged. They’re clothed, we’re not. There is nothing unusual here. She politely asks if the dogs can be off leach. We’re on our way anyway, no problem.
A Return Walking Nude through Town:
We decide to walk through the remains of the old town on our return. I’m looking at images in my memories of the homes that once stood on these river rock and concrete foundations. They are all that is left.
There is a hum from the transformers here, a ghostly remnant of the former glory. It is otherwise dead and quiet.
I reflect back to when us city kids, just couldn’t fathom how cars driving through at midnight might be disruptive to a sleepy little town where people work and not much happens, but routine.
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