By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 4/25/2019
Posted: 10/5/2008
Topics/Keywords: #Arizona #Camping #FossilCreek #VerdeHotSpring Page Views: 2868
I decide to brave the crowds on an off day, and instead found the solitude I'd hoped for.

I really needed to get away and be by myself this weekend. Nothing was wrong; it's just that I had spent the four previous weekends at home with the family and needed some "me" time. I intended to go to Lockett Meadow on the San Francisco Peaks north of Flagstaff; I've never been there, and it's supposed to be lovely and I thought the trees might even have turned color. But the weather forecast predicted rain and possibly snow up there; so by the time Saturday morning came around I had decided to visit my old favorite, Verde Hot Spring, where rain was less likely and the temperatures wouldn't be so low.

Most of my camping gear is now pre-packed in a couple of plastic crates that makes loading the car a cinch and even makes setting up camp easy, since the stuff is packed in the crates so that each item I remove is the one I need next. I loaded most everything on Friday evening and just added my clothes and a few groceries Saturday morning. I also took the camera my son gave me to replace the one my daughter "borrowed" for the vacation from which she never returned.

The last couple of weekends I went to Verde Hot Spring, other campers included rowdy teenagers with music blasting basically all night. That was before Labor Day and school returning to session, however. This time, though there were plenty of campers present, there seemed to be more families than groups of unsupervised teenagers. So I had my fingers crossed.

I could, of course, camp at one of the other sites along Fossil Creek Road. But I do like soaking in the Spring. So, here I was.

It took less than fifteen minutes to set up camp to my satisfaction, even to unfolding a couple of chairs: One to sit in, the other to stand by the door of my tent to make it easier to get out. (The tent uses flimsy fiberglass poles that are useless as far as grabbing onto for support is concerned.) I was in a riverfront site, one I'd used before.

My car before I set up the tent, showing a few neighboring tents already set up.

I then sat down to relax when I noticed the camper who was setting up camp next to me. I noticed him because he was having trouble putting up his tent, and he seemed to be alone. So, of course, I offered to help.

His name was Alberto, and he had arrived with a 5-person tent, which takes two people to assemble. But he was camping alone, he said, because his boyfriend hadn't taken the time to camp even once in the several years since they bought the tent. So Alberto had decided to go alone, not realizing putting up the tent would present a challenge.

Boyfriend? I had ambiguous feelings. On the one hand, it's always nice to meet another gay guy. On the other hand, my straight friend Jack from work already thinks that Verde Hot Spring is populated entirely by gays, which is totally not true. It's just that I tend to write more about them.

Anyway, for the two of us, erecting his tent was no problem at all. We got it up just as it starting sprinkling. "Thank you so much!" he said. "I don't know how I would have managed this if you hadn't been here."

"Not to worry," I said. "What are we here for, if not to help each other?" English wasn't Alberto's first language—he'd mentioned he'd been born in Mexico's southernmost state, Vera Cruz—and he looked as if he'd never heard the phrase before. I left him silently mouthing the string of words as if trying to memorize it, and got into my own tent to take a nap and enjoy the sound of rain on the outside and the knowledge that I'd bumped into another member of the family in the middle of nowhere.

When I awoke the rain had stopped and I decided to walk out to the hot spring. Just before I got there, I passed two large groups of people leaving. Another family left just as I arrived, leaving one old guy and Alberto, who was soaking in the enclosed, hotter of the two pools. I lowered myself into the cooler pool and closed my eyes and relaxed, feeling very pampered.

After an hour or so, I was so relaxed I couldn't have tensed a verb. I was alone, and the sun was setting. I had no flashlight but didn't mind. There was still plenty of light, though it was fading fast. The only startling thing on the return was when I nearly stepped on a rattlesnake. I had let myself wander near the edge of the abandoned road that serves as trail and the sudden rattling was my only warning. As usual when I encounter rattlesnakes, though, I had already walked past it and out of range before my brain recognized what I had heard.

For dinner I set up my camp stove and poured a small bag of frozen Shrimp Alfredo into my frying pan, set the flame to low, and covered it, stirring every few minutes. In about 10 minutes, it was done and delicious. The bag claimed to hold two servings, but they would have been very small servings about the right size for an America's Top Model contestant. It held one serving just the right size for me.

For desert I had a banana and some green grapes. I do like to eat healthy.

The clouds began to part, revealing brilliant stars hiding behind them. There was no moon, so the sky was particularly black and the stars particularly bright. No TV! No computer! No phone, although there is cell phone service at the campground. But mine had run out of charge; so it was turned off and charging in the car. Not even the loud conversations of the family campers, carried on the night air, was annoying. I went into the tent to sleep, and did so quickly, despite being roused once by a couple of guys passing by when one suddenly cried, in a panicky voice, "Dude! Look up! Where's the moon?!" I was so drowsy I didn't even bother to speak up and explain that the moon revolves around the Earth and spends half the time on the far side, where we can't see it, even at night. Instead I left him in peace, to go on to his life where, undoubtedly, he would eventually vote for the McCain/Palin ticket on the basis of Palin's promise to return the moon to the United States where it belongs.

I awoke around 8:30 am—another luxury!—to find the Verde River absolutely still, a perfect mirror of the sun-drenched opposite bank and the shadow of the mountain to the east of me which kept my side of the river in shade.

The Verde River, flowing so smoothly as to make it a mirror.

Breakfast was cereal with banana and milk, and a few more green grapes. I toyed with the idea of returning to the hot spring, but I knew I hadn't brought anything for lunch, having intended to leave before then. And since it would take an hour-and-a-half to return to the main road, I figured I should get started. So I broke camp, making sure that my neighbor Alberto could take his tent down without help, and left the campground.

After nearly jouncing my teeth out on the first six miles (Childs Power Road) I turned onto slightly-better Fossil Creek Road and then decided to actually get a look at the creek itself. That required climbing down about ten feet of boulders from the road to the creek bank, but it was worth it.

Fossil Creek: Looking upstream Fossil Creek: Looking downstream

It looked like a really nice place to take Zachary in the summer when splashing in the water would be a refreshing way to play.

As the landscape opened up I had to get a panoramic picture, even though I've been along here so many times there can't be many views I haven't already photographed.

Panorama from Fossil Creek Road

Finally, I got to the main road, turned toward Camp Verde—and realized I had a flat tire. I quickly pulled to the side to avoid damaging it further, and opened the rear hatch of the SUV, because I would have to unload most of my camping gear in order to get access to the jack and the spare tire.

Fortunately, the crates made unloading a fairly simple job. But I must admit I wasn't looking forward to the actual tire changing. On previous cars I've owned, tire changing was a simple affair; but on this one, the spare is suspended beneath the chasis on some kind of Rube Goldberg contraption. I've done it once before—well, actually I watched while my daughter Jenny did it—and knew it would be a hot, dusty, greasy job.

Once the back of the van is cleared, you have to open a panel (which comes off and conveniently serves as a knee pad), to remove the jack, and then use a couple of parts of it to crank the spare tire, which is attached to the bottom of the vehicle, down to the ground.

That much I could do. But detaching the tire from the cable that supported it was another dealio. The tire had to be lifted at an angle while the cable terminator was held at a different angle to allow it to pass though the hub hole in the middle of the wheel. This required more hands than I owned. I recalled that it had taken Jenny and me working together to do it at home.

At what couldn't have been a better-planned time, I heard a car pull to a stop behind me. I looked, and who should have arrived but Alberto, who had apparently left shortly after I did. "What's wrong?" he asked. I explained about the tire, and between the two of us, we got it free. Then, before I could stop him, he began jacking up the car. I felt a little guilty because I could do this part, and it was my car and my responsibility. On the other hand, he was a lot younger and probably more able than I to do the job, so I allowed him to finish.

In fact, it was only minutes before he was done, with the flat tire—which looked to me like it could be repaired—in the back of the SUV, along with my camping gear. "I just can't thank you enough," I told Alberto, wondering if I should offer him a few dollars, except that I had no cash on me and doubted if he took credit cards. However, he quickly quashed my doubts.

"Not to worry," he said, with a wide grin. "What are we here for, if not to help each other?"

I could hardly argue with that!