By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 6/19/2019
Posted: 7/22/2008
Topics/Keywords: #Arizona #Camping #Travel #UFOs #VerdeHotSpring Page Views: 1615
My new friend, Frank, and I visit the remote hot spring.

It's inevitable that, as I travel to campsite after campsite and see each of Arizona's natural wonders, great and small, I develop some favorites to which I want to return. One of these is Verde Hot Spring. Almost any excuse will do, as when my friend and rafting buddy Frank wanted a place to unwind after one of his grueling multi-continent series of flights. And so, back to Verde I went with Frank in tow.

This trip was originally scheduled for this past weekend. However, a couple of last-minute changes to Frank's schedule pushed it up to Monday; and since I wanted to go as badly as he did, I took the time off work to accommodate.

My daughter Karen still has my "good" camera on her increasingly-extended trip to Virginia, and I misunderstood Frank when he asked if he should bring his camera. So I just got a few cell-phone shots of the trip.

The first difference between this trip and the previous one was that, this time, it looked like rain. In fact, as I approached Camp Verde, a solid wall of water looked to be falling right where the SUV was headed.

Rain falls in Verde Valley

Verde Valley is what's called a "riparian" environment which means that it's a desert with a river in it. The area immediately around the river is green and lush, but with tough desert-friendly plants rather than the limp-leaved variety one finds along the East Coast. The soil also is different, tending towards being a shallow, water-resistant clay over bedrock. Thus, rains like this create danger of flash floods. The drive over unmaintained Fossil Creek Road would have to be even more cautious than usual.

Squalls over Fossil Creek Road.

Sure enough, the "surface" of Fossil Creek Road, such as it is, had been moistened enough for ruts from the previous vehicle to have formed and filled with rainwater. Dark thunderclouds scudded overhead, punctuated by Arizona's customary deep blue sky and a few high white nimbus. This is monsoon weather in Arizona's Rim Country.

The last time I passed this way, it was noon. Now the sun was lower, dramatizing the hills and formations past which I drove.

The lower sun dramatized the rock formations along Fossil Creek Road. Frank's rainbow photo--taken with his cellphone!

As I entered the Verde Canyon, the combination of low sun behind us and rainfall ahead presented a rainbow at every turn. I had to stop so I could take a picture of one, even though I know the problem with rainbows is that pictures of them seldom look as fantastic as the reality. That's why I never take pictures of them anymore. And promptly I turned a corner and was presented with one so spectacular that I had to break my own rule.

Verde Canyon Rainbow

The last stretch, Childs Power Road, was even more challenging than usual. There was a small landslide I had to dodge, and several times I came so suddenly upon washed-out sections that I had no choice but to plow through them. The Expedition, of course, was in four-wheel-drive so, other than the very butch splashes of mud now covering it, it came through none the worse for wear.

As I had hoped, being a weekday, Frank and I almost had the campground to ourselves. Better still, I was able to get the campsite I most coveted, the one immediately north to where I had stayed a couple of weeks ago. It was right on the river and sheltered by an old cottonwood. Although there was still some thunder and lightning, being that we were in a narrow part of the canyon I knew that any lightning would hit the canyon rim before it made its way to our campsite. So this was an ideal spot; and, besides, it wasn't raining where we were so we didn't dally and set up camp right away.

Better still, I was able to get the campsite I most coveted, the one immediately north to where I had stayed a couple of weeks ago. It was right on the river and sheltered by an old cottonwood. Although there was still some thunder and lightning, being that we were in a narrow part of the canyon I knew that any lightning would hit the canyon rim before it made its way to our campsite. So this was an ideal spot; and, besides, it wasn't raining where we were so we didn't dally and set up camp right away.

Paul and Frank in camp on the bank of the Verde River.

Three sites to the south of us was a young man and woman, both blondes, who'd set up their tent. We could barely see them through the trees (and then only by standing on the running board of my SUV) and couldn't hear them at all. But in the site next to ours on the north was a faded yellow pickup truck and a man sitting in a folding camp chair. No tent, no fishing pole, just the guy, sitting there. Once it was obvious we intended to stay where we were, the guy got into his truck and moved it to a site across from us, against the canyon cliff wall. He then set up his camp chair next to the truck and sat again in it, not fishing, just sitting there.

"Isn't that odd?" I asked Frank, indicating the guy. "Who's he talking to?"

"There's someone else with him," Frank replied. "I guess she's in the truck."

"A woman? You saw her?"

"I think so. It might be a kid."

I shook my head. "Naw, there's no way a kid would be sitting quietly in the truck. He'd be out playing and talking loudly. But I don't see a woman either. See? There's no one there."

"Maybe she's lying down," Frank suggested. "She could be napping."

"Then why is he talking to her?" I challenged.

"It's somebody," Frank insisted. "I saw another person with him."

"Hey, maybe it's Chucky," I said, referring to the maniacal puppet in the Child's Play movies.

We continued to ponder, sotto voce, what Truck Guy was doing there without a tent, while we set up the rest of our camp. There was a tree stump with a flat surface perfect for my camp stove, another for a table, and a fire pit that Frank, who loves to build fires, eyed hungrily.

Before making dinner, though, we determined to hike to the hot Spring while it was still light. Frank had a new hiker's GPS he was anxious to try out.

Each time you make the same trip, it seems shorter. Now familiar with the route, it seemed to me to take no time to walk along the river, climb to the closed-off section (to vehicular traffic) of Childs Power Road, and stroll (hike is too strong a word) the mile to where we must ford the river. Frank noted "way points" along the way, to ease our return—especially if it was dark by then. We also brought a flashlight and each of us wore CamelBak hydration systems, that is, a pack containing a liter-and-a-half of water from which we could sip at will through a long tube. This, plus the fact that the clouds covered the sun and made the day ten degrees cooler than on my previous visit, made our walk pleasant instead of grueling.

And since it was still light, it was easy to spot the break in the trees that marked where we must leave the road and head for the water.

After wading across, I couldn't resist soaking myself in the river while Frank adjusted his GPS. Then we walked back along the opposite bank to the remains of the old resort spa, which were just as I had left them. No one else was there, and Frank and I stripped and jumped into the main pool's 99° water, which was the absolutely perfect temperature.

The point of a hot spring is, essentially, a return-to-the-womb, complete with nurturing minerals which are absorbed through the skin. We let ourselves float, weightless, our muscles relaxing and our joints returning to their at-rest positions. For Frank, days of performing his duties as flight attendant over three continents fell away. For me, a stiff neck began to relax for the first time in a week.

Eventually, the growing dark and our growling stomachs demanded we return to camp and we did so, albeit reluctantly. Frank began a search for deadwood for the fire while I cooked dinner: shrimp sautéed in real butter with stir-fried broccoli, roasted peppers and mushrooms on linguini and drenched in Alfredo sauce. We also had small salads I had pre-packaged, and fresh apple turnovers for desert.

Truck Guy was now sitting in his truck, radio playing. I still couldn't see anyone else with him, and there still wasn't a tent. "I wonder if he intends to stay all night?"

"Maybe he'll sleep in the bed of the truck," Frank suggested.

"I hope so, especially if there are really two of them. It's just too creepy to imagine him and another person trying to sleep on the cab seat."

By now it was pitch dark. The rain had stopped but the clouds still covered the sky, blocking the stars. Frank and I stepped into the river ten feet away from the tent and washed with some bio-friendly soap Frank had. I didn't think it was necessary, myself. All the bathing we'd done guaranteed there'd be no body odor! I normally don't mind the slightly oily feel of my clean but soap-free body. However, Frank seemed to enjoy it so much that I asked to borrow his soap when he was through. And I must admit, I did feel better afterwards.

We were still in the water, enjoying the soak, when a noise drifted over the water.

"Do you hear that?" I asked Frank.

"What is it?" he asked. We'd been hearing distant thunder, but this was more like a moan. It came spasmodically, unh…unh…unh, but it wasn't until we heard the same vowels in a man's tone that we realized what it was: Blonde Couple was making love in their tent. If we'd been in our own tent, we would never have heard them; but the sound drifted freely out over the water.

And it ended as abruptly as it had begun.

"Straight people," Frank snorted with some derision.

"Now, now," I admonished. "That may well have been the most wonderful four minutes of their young lives."

The concert over, we were just returning to the fire when the unmistakable crack! of a shotgun echoed through the canyon. I jumped; birds frantically leapt from their night roosts; the bullfrogs held their collective breaths. Other than that, though, there was nothing: No screams, no pounding of feet. We waited in silence for the other shoe to drop, but there were subsequent shots.

"What the hell was that?" I asked rhetorically. And then added, "Where's Truck Guy?"

Frank peered through the darkness. "I can't tell," he said.

"Last time I was here, someone told me there was a firing range south of here, where the blast came from," I remarked.

"In the dark?"

"Maybe the shooter has night vision goggles," I suggested.

"Do you think he shot Blonde Couple?"

I shook my head. "There was only one shot. He couldn't have killed them both with one shot, and there were no screams."

"Hey," Frank said, "maybe Truck Guy killed the kid who was in the truck. Maybe the kid was bound and gagged and that's why he never said anything."

"No, we'd have noticed if Truck Guy carried a tied-up person past us to the firing range. Unless—" I paused for effect—"Truck Guy shot Chucky?"

Frank leered evilly at me. "And Chucky doesn't die!"

"I think Truck Guy is still in his truck," I said. "I think I see his silhouette behind the windshield."

"Maybe it wasn't Truck Guy shooting at all. Maybe Blonde Man shot Blonde Woman for being a sucky lay."

"Maybe Blonde Woman shot Blonde Man for coming too soon," I countered.

But we had no answers that fit the facts of one shot and no screams. And, after watching the fire die down, we crawled into the tent and went to sleep.

As on my last trip, I had very strange dreams. I don't know if it's because of the minerals absorbed from the hot spring, or the gunfire, or some weird energy in the place itself. But they must have affected Frank, too, because we both woke up and returned to the camp chairs outside the tent. There were still no stars visible. But something was visible in the sky above the opposite side of the river. At first it looked like a star with hair on top. But another, lesser light hung from a filament from it. And it was moving, irregularly. Frank wasn't sure at first if it was really moving or if that was an illusion, since it certainly was going no where quickly. We stood so that a tree branch marked where it was and waited. Sure enough, over a period of a minute it had moved through several degrees of arc.

Since it was clearly not an airplane or balloon or blimp, it was technically a UFO—an unidentified flying object. That doesn't mean it was a spaceship, of course; it merely means it was unidentified. But it was a hell of a thing to watch. I had the impression the dangling object at the end of the lighted filament was a sensor looking for mineral deposits, but of course that was just a notion I had with no evidence.

Bored with watching the UFO, we returned to our seats and, as I looked across the campground at Truck Guy's truck, it seemed to waver, rising and falling, becoming squashed and even lifting on one side and then the other. Frank at first agreed he saw it too; then it looked stable to him while continuing to shape-shift for me.

With no explanations and no apparent danger, we returned to bed.

Frank awoke around 5 AM and asked if I were ready to get up. As he is a competitive amateur body builder, I didn't punch him in the face. He let me go back to sleep while he spent a couple of hours exploring the river. Around 7, I did get up and made scrambled eggs with a dollop of ranch dressing for breakfast, which we topped off with peach yogurt and the last of the apple turnovers.

I was happy to note that Blonde Couple were both still alive, as they passed our site to make use of the pit toilet. And Truck Guy was still there, back to sitting in his camp chair with no book, or any other apparent reason for being there.

Since we didn't have anything left for lunch, we broke camp and drove back to Camp Verde over the roads which, while still rough, were already dry beneath the clear blue sky and steadily warming sun.

But now that I've been alerted to possibly psychic energies or activities in that campground, I can already not wait to return!