By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 6/17/2019
Occurred: 6/29/2008
Topics/Keywords: #Arizona #Camping #FossilCreekRoad #Photography #Travel #VerdeHotSpring Page Views: 2341
A look at the primitive art to be found at Verde Hot Spring in Fossil Creek Wilderness, Arizona.

This weekend's adventure was a solo camping trip to Verde Hot Spring, enhanced with a determined yet wrong-headed GPS, a new route, a car turned into a bedroom, a couple of treacherous trees, and a totally excellent digital camera.

Originally I intended to leave after work on Friday. The problem is, the Expedition hadn't been pre-packed. And by the time I got it loaded to my satisfaction I didn't really want to drive the long and rocky unpaved road to my destination—partly because of the inherent danger, but mostly because I wouldn't be able to take photos in the dark.

So I left surprisingly early (for me) Saturday morning. According to Google Maps, from my location in Mesa, the fastest route to Verde Hot Spring is through Payson, not Camp Verde as it was when we lived in Peoria. But I didn't intend to bring a map. Maps are so last year. Now that I have a GPS, all I needed to do was input my destination and I would have a handy electronic guide to hold my hand, virtually speaking, the whole way.

Unfortunately, Verde Hot Spring wasn't actually in the GPS' data bank. That's not surprising, since no roads actually go there—you have to hike the final mile. So I went to Google Earth, located the spring, and input its latitude and longitude into the GPS.

I was quite surprised to find that the GPS still wanted me to drive on I-17 instead of going through Payson. This happens sometimes; when it calculates it might have competing routes that differ in calculated driving time by less than a minute. In this case, though, the route through Camp Verde was 50 miles further than going through Payson. So I set out in the direction of Payson, anyway, knowing that eventually the GPS would figure it out.

The trip to Payson went smoothly, thanks to the fact that I was traveling alone: I could play anything I wanted on the CD player…even Carpenters. And I could sing along, too, at the top of my lungs. So I was in driver's heaven.

North of Payson

I don't remember ever remaining on AZ 260 north of Payson before. My first thought was how unlike most people's idea of Arizona, that area is.

AZ 260 north of Payson: Doesn't look much like Arizona!

The GPS had finally, grudgingly admitted that I was on a possible route to Verde Hot Spring, and guided me past the entrance to Tonto Natural Bridge State Park (where I hope to go in the next week or two), and the little towns of Pine and Strawberry.

It did not direct me in Strawberry to take Fossil Creek Road, however; and although I noticed the street sign and although the name sounded faintly familiar, I remained on AZ 260.

Happy horses in their meadow.

Suddenly, the GPS' Irish accent warned me I was to make a left turn ahead. I wasn't sure where, as there was no sign of an approaching road. "Turn left!" the device ordered. Where? There was only something that looked like a tractor entrance.

The GPS wanted me to turn HERE??!

It seemed navigable, though; so I turned onto it. In less than half a mile, the "road" had degenerated into a slight indentation in the grass that grew between a field of stones and boulders.

The GPS wants me to drive HERE??!

I'm neither a complete idiot, nor a slave to my tools.

I turned around and returned to the main road, and continued in the direction of Camp Verde, even though the GPS kept imploring me to "turn around at the first opportunity." It really wanted me to drive into that field!

Fossil Creek Road

Finally, just a few miles shy of Camp Verde, I came upon an actual sign advising the turn-off to Verde Hot Spring. It was Fossil Creek Road (the other end of it, obviously) and was the way we had gone seven years or so ago when Michael, my daughter Dottie, her then-infant Cailey, and Michael's and my grandson, then-toddler Zachary, had gone this way.

So even though it was not the most efficient way to the Spring from Mesa, now that I was here, it would do.

This road also warned that it was "primitive" and not maintained.

"Primitive Road: Caution. Use at your own risk, This surface is not regularly maintained."

But that's why I have four-wheel drive!

The western end of Fossil Creek Road is (as I later learned) more open and expansive than the eastern side. It is equally spectacular as a road, however—meaning, that if my Mom were still alive and taken on it, she would have been crying out, "Jesus, Mary and Joseph, we're all going to die!" pretty much continually.

"Jesus, Mary and Joseph, we're all going to die!" The GPS let me see around cliff corners, which was convenient.

One of the nice features of the GPS, is that when I am driving a tight, narrow, mountain curve, I can tell from the GPS' display just how tight a curve it will be. That lets me adjust my speed accordingly, and gives me better insight into how to deal with any possible oncoming traffic. There wasn't much on this road at this time, and what there was, was mostly kids and their parents on ATVs. But I appreciated the bird's-eye-view the GPS afforded me.

The century plants were blooming enthusiastically all along my route.

Many century plants were in bloom.

There was a 3300 acre wildfire in this area last year, which was contained on July 21, 2007 and burnt itself out. From high above the burn area, I could see the destruction which, fortunately, was limited. It's the gray area in the photo below.

Finally I got to the turnoff for Childs Power Road, onto which the GPS agreed I should turn.

Childs Power Plant is no longer in operation, but the spider web of power lines it once energized still festoons the canyon.

Power lines once energized by Child's Power Plant now drape uselessly.

At The Campground

Regular readers as well as frequent hot spring goers, know that isolated hot Spring are nearly always "clothing optional". The campground toward which I was headed, associated as it is with the hot spring just one mile away, is frequented by, shall we say, "free sprits" as often as not. Whether clothes should be worn in camp is apparently an on-going controversy, as can be deduced from this sign seen just before the last bend before arriving at the campground.

I had already decided that I would camp as close to the northern end of the campground as possible. That's the end closest to the trailhead for the hot spring and would save me a few steps. Since my last visit, a number of great cottonwood trees had been cut down, making the area somewhat less attractive though possibly safer for bonfires. But I did find a break in younger trees and a campsite right on the river. To get to it would require my backing between two rather closely-spaced trees, but I was pretty sure I could make it. After all, I used to back 53-foot trailers into tight spaces!

An SUV ran through it.

And I succeeded, though I had to fold the side mirrors inward to pull it off. It was very tight, and I patted myself on the back for having thought to back in to simplify leaving, as well as to make possible sleeping with the hatch opened, facing the river.

An open hatch would let me watch the river as I went to sleep.

Yes, I had decided to make this as simple a campout as possible. No tent; I had the air mattress, pillows, and comforters right in the back of the van.

Comfy mattress, comforters, and my own bed pillows: Home away from home. My lunch.

And no cooking; I had an ice chest with water, Diet Rite, bananas, raspberries and blueberries, and several sandwiches pre-made at Basha's. After parking, there was nothing to do but look at the view and enjoy my lunch.

Wilderness! How I love it. That's what I was thinking as my cell phone rang.

WTF? I thought as I flipped it open and held it to my ear (yes, I now think in text messaging abbreviations). "Hello?"

"Hi," said an unfamiliar voice. "I'm Greg from the Hair Club For Men, and we wanted to let you know about a new—"

"Do you know where I am right now, Greg?" I interrupted.

"Oh, is this a bad time? Because I can—"

"I am eating a sandwich on the bank of the Verde River, some fourteen miles from the nearest paved road. The sun is shining, birds are flying low over the water occasionally diving for fish or darting higher to catch a bug. I am a mile away from an undeveloped hot spring where I plan to soak later on. And I can't figure how on Earth there can possibly be a phone signal here."

There was a pause. "Wow," Greg said. "Now you've ruined my day."

The evil cell phone tower that brings Hair Club For Men to the hidden reaches of the Verde River.

"Cool," I responded. "Then we're even." And I hung up.

But I was just joking. Greg hadn't really ruined my day. I began scanning mountaintops and, eventually, found the one with the cell phone antenna on it. I now knew how I could receive a call. I would just never know why anyone would go to such expense to make it possible.

It was about 100 in the shade. I should probably have just soaked in the river. Who needs hot springs when the air is hotter than the water? But if I was going to soak in a river, I could have stayed home and soaked in the Salt. So off I set, water bottle in hand, to re-visit the Spring.

Day Hike to the Resort

The boardwalk runs past the old power plant.

The trail runs right by the old Childs Hydroelectric Plant. This project was built in the early years of the 20th century; its first generator went online June 18, 1909 (three years to the day before my mother was born). The project was managed by Mrs. Iva Tutt, an engineer and businesswoman from Los Angeles:

After her marriage, she moved with her husband to a ranch in Montana, but she hated ranching and felt starved in the wilderness where her abilities languished. She moved to Los Angeles and invested her savings in an electric light plant in Long Beach. Finding no one to her standards of competency to manage the company, she took the presidency of the company and superintended the plant. Her husband soon followed her to Long Beach and became secretary of the company. Iva's shrewd business ability paid off handsomely and she sought another venture in which to invest and engineer the concept of the development of natural resources.

When I first visited here seven years ago, the plant's flume was still running. Now it is not.

In 1991, Arizona Public Service filed its application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to re-license the Childs-Irving Power Plant but environmental groups requested that APS analyze and consider decommissioning. APS decided to decommission the Childs-Irving plant and restore full flow of Fossil Creek's waters to its streambed. APS felt that because of the stream's unique qualities, decommissioning the plant was a rare opportunity to return the area to its original condition.

And so a wooden foot-bridge guides visitors safely around the deserted building to where a riverside trail leads in the direction of the Spring.

RIVER X ING TO VERDE H. SPR. 1 MI.

As I discovered later, it's probably easier to simply take the road out of the campground and then walk around the gate to the Childs Power Plant road (which is closed to vehicular traffic), especially at night. But during the day, the river walk is very pretty. Grasses, ferns and flowers grow on either side of the trail, and cottonwoods grow along the riverbank, providing a picturesque frame for the water beyond.

The Verde River earns its name.

It's easy to see how the Verde River gets its name; verde meaning "green" in Spanish.

Unfortunately, the stroll along the river lasts just a few hundred yards. All too soon, it changes to a short scramble atop a rock outcropping, and then a sign—unreadable because it's bent over, face down—marks the spot where the hiker must climb a short but steep trail leading to the road atop the bluff.

Most of the hike will take place on this road. There will be no vehicles, making it a safe walk; and the view of the river below is spectacular. You'll pass an old corral on the right, and the road rises and falls with the landscape, until finally there's an eroded path from it to a rocky stretch at the end of which are trees with a cut leading to the river beyond.

As plain as this is to see in daylight, I later discovered it's impossible to make out at night—and there's no sign that I could see.

Update: There are rock cairns at the point of the road you get off, the opening of the cut, the far side of the cut, and the point on the river beyond where you cross. I wasn't looking for them and so didn't see them on this trip.

Now, I mentioned that it was 100. I had brought water, but not enough; I drank it all and I was still very hot and thirsty. As if placed there by an angel, I spotted a gallon jug half-filled with water, just sitting to the side of the trail. Someone had probably gotten tired of carrying it. They might even intend to retrieve it later. I didn't care, I took several deep swigs, even though the water itself was at air temperature—that is, 100. I was still thirsty as I strolled through the break in the trees.

The river crossing.

All I had to do was walk across. Which I did, to place my towel and camera down. I then immersed myself in the cooling water, letting it pour over me until I no longer felt prostrated by the heat.

Me, down by the riverside.

There was a largish pool adjacent to the crossing, with water deeper than I am tall. I swam there for awhile, too busy enjoying the cool to even take my clothes off.

A fresh creek poured noisily into the pond and I was still thirsty. So, yes, I know about giardia blah blah blah but I drank. As the Irish say, "Eat well, exercise, and die anyway." Our species could never have survived these hundreds of thousands of years if we were as flimsy as the water bottlers would have us believe.

When I was finally cooled off enough, I picked up my stuff and continued up the final leg of the trail to the remains of the old resort.

Remains of the Verde Hot Springs resort.

The deck, shown above, is pretty much all that's left of the thriving resort that was built in the 1920s and burned down in 1962, except for the disproved but undying legend that it was one of Al Capone's favorite spots.

Panorama: The remains of a private cabin, the public pool, and the view

Given that there is no longer any commercial maintenance, it should be a given that non-commercial decorating would have taken place. I was fascinated by some of the expressions on display.

"If you have the strength to carry it here full, you should have enough intelligence ti carry it out empty! Thank you!" The Verde Hot Spings Pool, 1922-1962 "End Civilkization Now/Walk Slowly/Back To Your Caves"

The water is a comfortable and non-challenging 99 to 104, depending on which pool you pick. There is a faint smell of hydrogen sulfide, not nearly as strong as in some hot springs I've visited.

Me in the main soaking pool at Verde Hot Springs

4-Wheeling

After a brief soak, I decided to go back to camp. And that's when I knocked the side mirror off the Expedition.

Back in camp, I began to realize that the car was very exposed where it was, hot, and it would get hot quickly again in the morning because it was in the open where there was no shade. Also, I had now seen that the campground wasn't very crowded and there were other riverbank sites available under sheltering cottonwoods. So I decided to move.

Of course, I had backed into this site specifically to make it easy to leave. What I hadn't anticipated was that the soft sand would make it impossible to do so, even with four-wheel drive. I kept getting stuck. I backed up twice to get a running start, but to no avail. On the third try, with plumes of brown sand flying into the air on either side of me, I hit a pocket in the sand which threw the Expedition against one of the trees, snapping the passenger-side mirror off.

Finally, in desperation, I plowed through a stand of reeds, going around the pesky trees, which freed the SUV and earned applause from onlookers. But the damage to the mirror was done.

Oh, well. That's why God created Duct Tape.

River Crossing

Where I finally camped: On the bank of the river, sheltered by cottonwoods.

I found myself a lovely site right on the river, next to a young man and (I think) his friends and family. He went by the name of Shooter, and while the rest of his companions noisily roamed the campground, he remained quietly fishing and wondering aloud how the heck those two guys managed to get their truck across the river where they had set their camp.

I was curious, too. Directly across the river from my site, on a stony beach, was a truck and open campsite of a couple of 50-something guys. So I waded over to introduce myself and find out. They were my age and at first I assumed they were a gay couple. But no; their names were Erik and Rick and Erik's wife was hosting a bridal shower which was reason enough to drive him into the wilderness with his buddy.

They had not crossed the river. They had driven on a completely different road, coming northward from Carefree, through Bloody Basin. They had never even heard of Verde Hot Spring; they'd expected to be alone at the river so they could do target practice (what Shooter called "plink shooting"). They had an arsenal with them but when they came to the riverbank what should they find across from them but a village of tents, with families and couples and a few singles. Obviously, they would not be able to do much shooting.

(I was particularly grateful they had made this decision, as they both, but particularly Rick, were thoroughly snockered. They were drinking beer and Jack Daniels, in case the beer didn't do the trick; and in the course of my 20 minute visit with them, Rick rose from his chair and introduced himself to me, complete with handshake, three distinct times.)

This did solve one mystery, however. When I had gotten the latitude and longitude of Verde Hot Spring for my GPS, I had gotten the coordinates of the spring itself—on the west bank—not the campground, on the east bank. The GPS, knowing there was no bridge, had tried to put me on the same road Rick and Erik had used (and had taken them four hours to drive).

So I returned to my vehicle, had dinner, and was trying to decide if it was too early to return to the spring when a commotion came from across the river. A Jeep had arrived via the same road Erik and Rick had used, and the driver was investigating the best route for crossing the river. This excited Shooter no end. "If he makes it," Shooter vowed, "I'm gonna do it." Shooter had a four-wheel-drive truck that already looked like it had survived being bombed in Iraq, so I had no doubt he was serious.

"Why would anyone want to cross the river?" I asked. After all, the road on the other side probably went right only to the ruins of the old resort; and there was perfectly good camping right here.

"Aw, you know," Shooter shrugged. "Boys…toys…"

I knew from wading across, that this section was not a good place to cross. It was shallow, yes; but the rocks on the river bottom ranged in size from stones to boulders. It was the kind of place that would have broken wagon wheels in years gone by. Nevertheless, the Jeep's driver got out, very carefully stepped where he intended to drive, noted the presence of potential problems, and then…gunned the engine and plowed across the expanse in a way that left no doubt he would succeed, which he did.

"Wow!" I blurted, impressed in spite of myself. "I have got to get me one of those!"

The Jeep guy didn't intend to go to the hot spring, and he didn't intend to camp. "Then, why did you come here?" I asked.

"This is Arizona," he pointed out. "How many fordable rivers do you suppose there are?" And he charged up the hill in his Jeep, no doubt looking for other challenges.

Night Hike

By now the sun had set and the sky was rapidly dimming. I brought a fresh water bottle but not my camera, since I knew I wouldn't be able to take any pictures anyway, and strolled off once more for the spring, stopping first on a hunch to hide my car keys on top of the front passenger side tire, rather than just keep them in my shorts pocket as I had planned to do.

Instead of taking the trail past the power plant, I just walked up the steep road out of the camp (which was still not as steep as the trail) and then turned left onto the private power plant road that serves as part of the trail. In no time I had come even with the place where the trail merges with the road. It's not as pretty a route, but I think it's faster and easier.

Even in the dark, the road "glowed". I've noticed this before: onoe you let your eyes adjust, roads and well-traveled trails seem to glow in the dark, making them fairly easy to follow—usually easier than with a flashlight. I passed the corral, and a low spot on the road I remembered. But I apparently missed my turnoff. I could hear a rushing creek I remembered swimming by that afternoon, but I couldn't see it, of course. At this point, an island in the middle of the river splits it. My goal, failing to find the cut in the trees, was to walk down right at the upstream end of that island. But I couldn't see anything; and frankly, a flashlight wouldn't have helped, unless it was of candlepower equal to one of the searchlights they used to illuminate the Hindenburg.

So, I just left the road and hoped for the best, heading for the sound of that creek.

The ground underfoot was rocky. I couldn't tell, in the dark, soft bushes from cactus. I slid once or twice on loose rocks, and thought, "I could actually fall and break a bone here." But nothing awful actually happened. Eventually, I made it to the pond in which I had swum that afternoon. Thank the Universe I had left my keys behind! They include the electronic remote-control lock thingie which shouldn't get wet. Now, from where I was, the only way to get to where I wanted to go was by swimming the deep pond.

By now, even though the air temperature was dropping, I was hot and sweaty enough to appreciate the immersion. I love night swims, especially in fresh water. (I read the book Jaws—never saw the movie, but I've never been able to feel the same about ocean swimming since.) And, of course, I had the pond and river to myself. Still, I didn't dawdle; and in a few minutes I had gained the crossing point at which I had been originally aiming.

The trail to the ruins of the resort wasn't hard to follow; it "glowed" even though it was heavily overgrown—more so than I remembered. But in a few short minutes I could hear muted voices and broke through to the concrete steps leading down to the deck.

The sky having long since faded to a star-studded black, I could make out four heads bobbing in the main pool but not what their owners looked like. "Good evening," said a male voice.

"Howdy," I replied. "So…what are we doing this evening? Clothing, or optional?"

A woman's voice instantly replied, "Optional!" and so my shorts came off, hung on one of the concrete posts, and I joined them in the pool.

My new friends were Aaron and Judy. The other couple, at the far end of the pool, quietly enjoying each others' company, were Aaron's friends Chris and Ashley. Chris and Ashley were completely absorbed in each other and I didn't really say or hear much from them. But Aaron and Judy were talkers, and we had a terrific conversation. Aaron called himself a "sawyer" which I gathered was the correct term for a "lumberjack". He was only 27, but was well-read and knowledgeable in topics ranging from ancient structures that align with various solstices and equinoxes, to the history of the area (even though he was originally from Houston, Texas). Judy was an ecologist and fascinated by the return of the Fossil Creek environment to its original, pre-power-plant, state.

After I mentioned that I was gay, Aaron shared with me a moment he'd experienced. "I was driving along a gravel road north of Strawberry," he said, "and I had to pee so I stopped—no place in particular. And I stepped off the road, and something was catching the sunlight a few yards off the road, from inside a bush. So I went to see what it was, thinking it might be trash and I could carry it away…but it was two crosses dug into the dirt. Like a cemetery, but the crosses were made of old wood. And the name on one of them was "Diane" something, and the other was "Ruby". Both women's names. And I realized, they must have been one of those lesbian couples that came out here a century ago so they could be themselves and ranch in peace. And I thought of all the things they had given up to be with each other, civilization, nice clothes, other people…and none of that mattered, because it would have been meaningless without each other.

"And when the first one died, it must have so devastated the other…and she must have made matching grave markers then, and gotten a promise from the county doctor or a neighbor to bury them together, when she went. And I stood there and bawled like a baby. I hope someday to have that kind of love."

The fact that his girlfriend Judy was with him seemed irrelevant. She was as moved by the story as I was, and as intimidated by the challenge. I addressed his experience. "'Life isn't measured by the number of breaths we take,'" I quoted someone, "'but by the number of moments that leave us breathless.'"

He put a hand on my shoulder. "You understand!" he said. And in that moment we understood each other.

After we'd soaked and talked for maybe an hour, another group approached. They carried lights and a cooler and spoke loudly, and Aaron and I agreed that the "energy" of the evening was about to change. Sure enough, the new group of about eight were already drunk and anxious to get drunker. Aaron, Judy and I edged away from them. One of them jumped into the deep pool, unexpectedly hit a rock with his foot, and fell so hard onto me I had to wrap my arms around his chest so he wouldn't fall further into the water. I helped him find his balance but I'm not sure he ever realized we had touched, or that I was even there. (He may be blogging this very minute that "hands came out of nowhere and steadied me." That is, if he can type.)

The new group immediately engaged in very typical young talk: They hated Bush but didn't seem to know why; they mentioned Al Capone's "famous" visits to the resort in its heyday; one woman went on and on about a "ghost" she believed had visited the hot pool on her previous visit. When they started considering the possibility that the Solar System is like an atom, you know, and maybe it is an atom in some large-scale Universe in which the whole galaxy might just be a molecule, I nudged Aaron and said, "You know, the average IQ in this pool has just dropped."

He and Judy laughed and agreed.

Aaron then mentioned that he was thinking seriously of doing a little pot, and what did I think of that? I told him I didn't mind, that I had just written a book on the topic with a friend of mine, but that my own personal experience with marijuana had been pretty abysmal. First, there was the time I nearly overdosed on a brownie and got sick to epic proportions ("A teaspoon per brownie? I used the whole bag, sorry, man.") Then there was the fact that, as a non-smoker, I spend the whole time fixated on not burning my fingers. Finally, there was the time at a party at my best friend's house where one of his guests offered to try "shotgunning". This is where one person inhales from the joint, then breathes the smoke into the mouth of the other…sort of a mouth-to-mouth resuscitation for the smoking-impaired. The fact that the person making this offer was not only a woman, but a rather creepy one at that, had pretty much doomed that attempt from the start. It was on the tip of my tongue to suggest that I might have more luck if Aaron try it, but I didn't. And so, once again, I did not get stoned.

We did remove ourselves from the noisemakers, though, and to the other end of the deck. Judy also did not imbibe, but Chris and Ashley joined us for the ritual. About that time a guy came along wearing a loincloth, although he wore it only moments before stripping even that off. Short, with a full beard and a ponytail, he had also brought a hand-carved Indian flute and some home-made coconut rum. "Just for sipping," he said. I sipped, and it was delicious. He then gave the recipe, which I will repeat here for posterity:

  • One bottle of the house brand rum from Wal-Mart, the large bottle, about $10
  • Pour into a bowl large enough to hold it, then add two cups sugar, stir till dissolved (takes seconds)
  • Add one bottle of coconut extract (or almond extract, or vanilla, or even cinnamon, though he doesn't care for that combination)
  • Use a funnel to return the mixture to the bottle. Drink whatever won't fit.

His name was Kent, and he had brought small plastic bottles of his concoction, which he shared readily. He then played his flute, and even the noisy people quieted to hear its haunting melody echo throughout the canyon.

About one o'clock, Judy decided she couldn't keep her eyes open, and Aaron offered to lead me back since I'd had a little trouble finding my way in the dark, so we left. Aaron wasn't kidding that he knew the place well; we unerringly returned to the private road and were soon back in camp. Aaron warned that he and his friends were planning to leave early in the morning and so would probably miss seeing me before they left, so hugged me goodbye. I continued on to the Expedition, which was just a dozen yards or so from their site, retrieved my hidden keys, lowered all the windows, crawled into my comfortable bed, and fell sound asleep.

Suddenly, I heard the noise of someone walking near the car. My eyes opened, and someone's face peered into the car. I said, "Hello?" and blinked—and the face was no longer there. Figuring I had been dreaming, I went back to sleep—and it happened again, with a different face. Four or five times it happened, until I finally stopped responding to the footsteps.

Who were these people? Ghosts? Aliens? Members of the RNC trying to find someone who would vote for McCain? I have no idea. Don't bother me when I'm trying to sleep.

Morning

Early in the morning, I came awake to the sound of a canyon wren, a distinctive falling arpeggio I never thought I would hear outside of Grand Canyon. I lay quietly, enjoying the song, when added to it was the sound of water pouring, and this sound came from nearby. I opened my eyes without moving—my head was already pointed out my open window—and about ten feet in front of me was one of the guys from Shooter's camp next door, urinating. I understand that he wanted to step out of his camp, but why he thought right next to my vehicle, with its open windows and me lying facing him, would be more appropriate I have no idea. He was totally oblivious to my presence, playing with his enormous member like a garden hose, lazily directing his pee in figure eights on the ground. Obviously there was nothing I could say or do to minimize this potentially embarrassing situation, but keep quiet. Even turning away would have drawn attention to the fact that he was not unwatched. Okay, maybe I could have closed my eyes. But I think when God sends a gift, it should not be ignored.

I did fall back to sleep for an hour or so, then was again awakened, this time by Shooter himself in his four-wheel-drive truck, thundering past my Expedition and into the river. Inspired by Jeep Guy the night before, Shooter had apparently been waiting all night to ford the river.

Shooter's truck crossing the water. Made it!

Figuring I was now up, I rose and helped myself to a nice breakfast of cereal, banana, blueberries and raspberries, and milk. Shooter returned and apologized for waking me up.

Somehow, Aaron, Judy, Chris and Ashley, who had slept out in the open, were still sound asleep through all this. I didn't wake them. With all my stuff together, I decided to head on out. The scenery looks best when the sun is still low.

With the early morning haze still in the air (not pollution—pollen!), everything had a magical touch to it. The profusion of century plants, from which the pollen came, made the whole canyon look like a giant's garden.

Pollen from blooming century plants brings a morning haze to the canyon.

When I reached Fossil Creek Road, instead of retracing my steps from the day before, I turned right toward Strawberry. On this end of the road, the open expanses of the western side were traded in for a more crumpled, tortured look. I saw more exposed rock and less vegetation.

Escarpments and exposed rock triumph over vegetation on the eastern half of Fossil Springs Road.

The battle between plant and rock hadn't been completely lost, however. Prickly poppies don't give up!

Prickly poppies.

I passed many other campsites, and campers enjoying various stretches of Fossil Creek. I passed another hydroelectric plant, this one with enough houses to support five or six families. And then, I was back on pavement—in "civilization"—in the town of Strawberry. In two hours, I would be back home, where I would not be shocked to receive a call from the Hair Club For Men, should Greg choose to make another one.

My weekend was over.