By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 2/18/2019
Occurred: 10/20/2001
Posted: 9/14/2015
Topics/Keywords: #Arizona #FossilCreekWilderness #VerdeHotSpring Page Views: 1058
I take Michael, Dottie, Zach and baby Cailey to a hot spring.

A couple of days after my daughter, Dottie, came for a visit with her new baby, Michael and I decided to take Dottie, my new granddaughter, Cailey, and my almost-as-young grandson, Zach, on an expedition to a place I'd heard of but not yet visited: Verde Hot Spring, deep in the Fossil Creek Wilderness.

Fossil Springs Wilderness

I had gone online to find any hot springs that might be found in Arizona, and was surprised by how many there are. I shouldn't have been, of course; 10 million years ago, Arizona was a literal hotbed of volcanic activity. In fact, we have at least one volcano that is dormant, but not extinct: It could erupt again someday. The hot springs are a remnant of that activity. Michael and I had already been to the hot spring in Tonopah, which, while rustic, was semi-commercial (we had to pay to go in). But Verde Hot Spring, according to what I'd read, was in the middle of nowhere. Getting there would involve 14 miles on a dirt road, 5 miles on another dirt road in even worse condition than the first. And then…a mile hike, and a fording of the Verde River, and another eighth of a mile to get to the actual spring!

It sounded perfect.

I happened to be driving a rental SUV and it happened to have 4-wheel drive. So the stars were aligned, and the five of us climbed into the SUV…two of us, into child safety seats.

I'd memorized the directions, I thought; so when I realized I had forgotten to actually bring them, I wasn't too concerned. We headed up from our house in Peoria to the I-17, and then north to the town of Camp Verde. But that's where I ran dry. I remembered about the two dirt roads…but what roads? What names? Accessed from where?

I asked at the convenience store at the I-17 exit, but the best they could do was direct me to the Coconino Forest ranger a few miles east of there. Unfortunately his office was closed on Saturday. But when I spotted an actual gas station, not a convenience store that sells gas but an actual service station, I knew we were saved. And, sure enough, the station manager knew about the spring—not in any detail, but he knew that it was accessed via Old Fossil Creek Road, just a few miles further east.

And sure enough, Old Fossil Creek Road was dirt, and seemed to head in the right direction. So we headed out.

(In addition to forgetting the directions, I had also managed to forget to bring my regular camera. However, we had my video camera, and it has the ability to take digital still photos. They are 640 by 480 pixels resolution and in full color; and since that size fills modern color computer monitors, I decided to just rely on it to document our trip.)

The scenery was stark, tortured; this land was torn up 10 million years ago when the uplift of the Colorado Plateau ripped it apart and formed the Mogollon Rim that runs through Fossil Spring Wilderness. But it was also breathtakingly beautiful.

At first the road, though dirt indeed, wasn't that challenging. It seemed to have been graded not all that terribly long before, and the landscape on either side of the road was reasonably level if wild.

But then the distant hills became not-so-distant hills.

Fossil Springs Wilderness

The land had that dry look of so much of Arizona; yet it was really filled with plant life: cacti, of course; but also many wildflowers, yes even in October, and the inevitable pairing of junipers and piñons.

Junipers and Piñons pair in Fossil Springs Wilderness Junipers and Piñons pair in Fossil Springs Wilderness

And the road kept getting hillier. Note that these photos were taken within minutes of each other: The first one, above, was taken at 3:52 PM; the one below, just six minutes past six.

Fossil Springs Wilderness

16 minutes later, at about 20 miles an hour, we were driving on the edges of cliffs. As slow as I was driving, it was still terrifying Michael. The babies, on the other hand, seemed to find the jouncing comforting; and Dottie was just happy Cailey was asleep.

Fossil Springs Wilderness

We did see the occasional sign of man, such as the below "tank" of water. Meant for thirsty free-range cattle, these man-made ponds fill with rain water, or sometimes from trucks.

A 'tank' for cattle just outside the Fossil Springs Wilderness

And of course, that doesn't even touch the presence of high-tension wires. I must confess that I was put off by the power lines that festooned this otherwise untouched land.

Power lines festoon the Fossil Springs Wilderness Power lines festoon the Fossil Springs Wilderness

It was still fantastic and exquisitely beautiful.

So we made it to the right-hand turn onto Childs Power Road, and this road was far worse than anything we'd yet encountered. No longer dirt, in some places it was like driving on a stone trail and not a road at all. In my opinion, four-wheel-drive is a requirement for visiting this place. Still, it was lots of fun, if time-consuming.

So, with an abrupt turn and drop, we found ourselves at the end of the road, and in what, we saw on a sign, was Childs Campground. No charge, and no camp host, with the only limitation being that a maximum stay was 14 days.

The place was actually quite full. We found a spot to park, but if we'd intended on camping, we'd have been hard put to find a place. But where was the hot spring? I had to ask a couple of campers before finding one that could give directions. I was told to pass "the old power plant" and follow the trail. Sounded simple enough!

Apparently Childs had been a hydro-electric power plant; water from somewhere was gushing from a flume into the Verde river a hundred yards or so away.

Water gushing from the decommissioned Childs Power Plant, 2001.

Now, I had seriously underestimated the amount of time a 19-mile drive would take. I also underestimated how long the hiking aspect of this jaunt would take. For some reason, I had envisioned a fairly level trail, but this one was anything but level.

Me trying to find the trail in the Fossil Springs Wilderness

It was a little easier on top of the cliff, though even then the abandoned road we found dipped and rose rather steeply. But it was easier to try and spot our turn-off.

I remembered from the directions (at home) that we would have to cross the river. The trail, and now this road, followed the river. But I wasn't sure where the trail would leave the road.

Fortunately, a camper, a woman with a baby of her own, overtook us and I started chatting with her. She offered to slow her pace and show us the rest of the way. Which was fortunate; because when we got to the spot where we must leave the road and head for the river—well, I would never have found it. In fact, I have no clue how she knew where it was. But we headed for a stand of cottonwoods; took a trail right through it, and found ourselves at the river's edge. It was a spot where the river narrowed to no more than 30 feet wide or so.

The lady assured us the water was not deep. I had been hiking with little Zach on my shoulders, anyway; so I carried him across the shallow but swiftly-flowing stream, stood him up, and assured him I would be right back for him. Then I waded back, because Dottie wanted me to take Cailey across for her.

Me wading back for my other grandchild.

When I returned with Cailey (and Michael and Dottie following close behind), we found Zach looking concerned but not overly distressed. He was just worried that we might fall in the water!

Zach waiting for our reunion.

By now it was after 6 o'clock, and getting dark. But we were so close! There was no way we wouldn't make the spring now. The path to the spring, now that we were on this side of the river, was easy to follow, even in the dusky twilight.

It was a bit of a surprise to encounter a small group of teenagers who were heading back to the campground. The guy in the lead quickly assessed the makeup of our little expedition, and said directly to me, "Well—you'll be happy to know, no one at the spring is naked."

For some reason, I hadn't considered anyone might be. But Zach, who was walking at this point, cried, "NAKE!!" and in a flash, his clothes—all of them—were on the ground. We suggested he put on his undershorts, at least until we got to the spring. He agreed. And sure enough, in just a few minutes, we were at the spring.

There was a concrete deck, like around a pool; and there was a pool, filled with hot water that gushed from the rocks beneath it. The interior was not concrete, it was river rocks and in places about six feet deep.

I was getting nervous as it grew darker and darker, so I was glad when the adults agreed it was time to go. We'd explored; we'd found the hot spring; and we'd likely be back someday.

We let Cailey say goodbye to our companion's baby—they were close to the same age, and the woman was not going to return with us.

Cailey says goodbye to her first friend.

I needn't have worried; the return was much easier than the approach. Although it was very late by the time we got to Phoenix, we'd all had a great time, out in the country and fresh air.

And I do intend to come back here. In fact, I can see myself returning here time and again. It's just that kind of place.

But maybe not on a Saturday. Less crowd is always better.