By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 4/25/2019
Posted: 11/8/2009
Topics/Keywords: #Arizona #Camping #Photography #Travel #VerdeHotSpring Page Views: 4425
We go camping in November, yet do not freeze to death.

Previously, the latest in the year I've gone camping in Arizona was late October, and that was last year at Verde Hot Spring. Despite it being well after Labor Day, there was quite a crowd there, mostly pretty rowdy, then. Nevertheless, we had planned to go about the same time this year, as that's the way our friends, Eddie and Carl, celebrate their being-together anniversary. Sadly, Eddie's mom died a few weeks ago, so of course they postponed this year's trip, to this weekend. So, so did Michael and I. Even though I had some trepidation about camping in November.

The plan was for me to get off work early on Friday so we could get an early start. Of course, that never works out. In this case, it was the car that was the stumbling block. The registration was supposed to be renewed at the end of October, but this year an emissions test was required. Just before going in for the emissions test, the "check engine" light came on, so it failed the test and now we had to take it into the repair shop. They fixed it (for $307) but as Michael drove it away, the light came back on. So it went back in, and they fixed it again (no additional charge; these are good guys) and the light came back on again. So they took the car all day Friday and took it to Ford at their expense to get it fixed for realz. That was helpful, but we didn't get it back until about 5:30 pm, with the instructions to "drive it good for a couple of hours and bring it back Monday so we can make sure it will pass the inspection." Well, I had just the route.

Then there was the matter of our king-sized air mattress. It's really two twin mattresses with fasteners to either make it a high twin or a king. Somehow it got misplaced in the move and I couldn't find it anywhere. I found my queen-sized air mattress but it has a leak I haven't yet repaired. I also found my daughter's queen, but I thought she said it had a leak, too. I packed it anyway but planned to buy a replacement on the way.

The shortest route from our house to Verde Hot Spring is through Payson and Strawberry. It was dark by the time we left the house, and darker still after we got our friends a chocolate anniversary cake and a card, and had bought ourselves another air mattress and a couple of those cool LED strap-on flashlights. Fossil Creek Road, which begins in the village of Strawberry, turns to a fairly-well maintained gravel road just out of town. I knew that it climbs into the mountains and runs alongside sheer cliffs but we could see none of this because it was pitch black off the surface of the road.

We pulled into camp around 11:30 pm. I had mixed feelings about the fact that camp was very quiet. On the one hand, I was glad there weren't any rowdy partiers playing loud hip-hop on their car stereos like there had been last year. On the other hand, I was about to be the rowdy guy with an air pump filling up a mattress at 11:30 at night. All I could do was try to be quick about it.

I had a little trouble in the dark fumbling with the valve on the mattress, but it filled up okay and we decided to not worry about the rest of our gear until morning. So Michael made up the bed (with our new flannel camping sheets I had also bought on the way up) and we slipped it into Carl and Eddie's large tent alongside their bed, and went to sleep.

For about an hour, at which point I awoke to find the brand new air mattress was flat. I sighed and went back to sleep, and awoke again in another hour, aware that Michael had not put one of the comforters under us as I usually do, so that the cold of the ground was seeping through the deflated air mattress and one flannel sheet. Clearly, something had to be done.

All I could think of was to inflate Jenny's mattress, fingers crossed if it did have a leak it was a slow one, and then insert it under our new, deflated mattress so we maybe might not awaken our friends with the activity of unmaking one mattress and making the other.

Amazingly, they slept through the whole thing.

The result was a lot more comfortable and I slept soundly the rest of the night. Also, well into the next day: I didn't awaken until 11 am!

Setting up camp.

By then Michael and Eddie had already just about gotten our kitchen set up.

It was, however, too late to make the bacon and eggs we'd brought for breakfast, since it was now lunch time and we wanted to get to the spring as soon as possible. (Eddie and Carl would have gone earlier by choice.)

Art watches Michael get the kitchen ready for action.

So we each had a fresh glazed donut, and then Michael and I ate our subs purchased the night before from Basha's Grocery, and we set out on our way. This is a one-mile walk from camp; we left our vehicles behind.

The vehicles rested while we walked.

The Verde River is so-called because of its green color, which is visible even when it's mirror-calm, reflecting the fall colors of the cottonwood and aspen growing on its banks.

Verde River reflecting fall colors.

By this time last year, the leaves had fallen from the trees and the air was pretty cool. This year, most of the leaves are still on the trees and only some of them have changed colors.

But enough have fallen to expose the remains of the decommissioned Childs Power Plant, which has aged past being an eyesore all the way to a sort of ghost town sensibility.

The remains of Childs Power Plant.

Childs used to be a hydroelectric plant, sucking water from nearby (just over the mountain) Fossil Creek and using it to generate electricity, then pouring it into the Verde River. This extra water supported a whole grove of cottonwood trees for many decades and, of course, altered the local ecology. When it was decommissioned, it gave ecologists a chance to study how an area can return to its original state. This began, of course, with those extra cottonwoods dying. As they became dangerous, the Forest Service came in and cut down the trees. I assume they left the wood where it fell, knowing that campers would eventually chop it away for firewood. There's still plenty of it left, though.

Michael near a fallen cottonwood.

Is a field of fallen trees ugly? Once I would have thought so. But knowing why these trees fell, and watching how they contribute to the changing ecology by providing food and shelter to any number of other species, has changed my mind.

Site of a former cottonwood grove.

Another remaining component of the old power plant is the associated substation. Now, this is supposed to be decommissioned as well. But when you pass close by, you can hear humming from the wires; and every now and then some device powers up and runs.

The not-quite-dead switching station.

Similarly, I've gotten used to the power lines festooning the valley.

Power lines festoon the Verde River Valley.

The houses that used to be occupied by the APS employees stationed here, are gone but their foundations remain. It's easy to spot the location of the manager's house: The only one directly overlooking the river and the largest.

Foundations of the Childs Power Plant's manager's house.

The other houses were located in a row on the opposite side of the "street".

Foundations of employees' houses.

They must have kept horses up here, or perhaps mules, to assist in moving power line poles to locations where they were needed. The animals are gone but their corral remains.

Animal pen is now deserted.

I don't know where the kids went to school—probably at Irving Power Plant, about 14 miles away—but I can imagine kids coming home from school, saying to their moms, "I finished my homework. Can I go swim in the river? —Bobby's mom lets him go."

"Can I go swimming in the river?"

We soaked all afternoon, timing our return to beat sunset by about a half-hour. As is our custom, Michael and I prepared our meals separately from Eddie and Carl. They had stuffed pork chops cooked over the fire; we had chicken Alfredo. For desert we shared the Chocolate Glop Cake we brought for their anniversary.

We were visited by Ike, a tall, good-looking guy who makes jewelry and has traveled the world. He told some stories I want to share in a separate post.

After dinner, Eddie and Carl went with Ike to visit his campsite while Michael and I debated whether to go to bed early or return to the spring. We finally decided to go to bed.

We had rearranged the mattress situation. Eddie and Michael took the valve cap off the new mattress and refilled it, then refilled Jenny's mattress (which had lost some air by morning) beneath it. That made a normal-bed-height bed for us.

During the night both mattresses remained more or less full, but the top mattress slid sideways off the lower mattress so that Michael's part of the mattress was slanted toward the floor. In reaction he rolled toward my side of the bed, which had slid to the middle. Our combined weight then sunk a foot or two down, effectively pinning the mattresses to that position and us with them.

Good times.

In the morning the guys left for the spring ahead of us because they wanted to do some maintenance there. The most frequent users of the spring and the campground develop a feeling of ownership and, because no one "officially" maintains them, take on that job themselves. Even I usually pick up some trash on my way back to camp; but Eddie brings a whole trash bag and fills it on his return.

After Michael cleaned up the stove from the previous night's meal, he made breakfast, with a short break while I stirred the eggs.

The Author at the stove.

This picture isn't completely a lie, because I had cooked dinner the night before when it was too dark for photos.

And here's one of Michael faux-tending fire, which he had also done the night before.

Michael Faux-Tending the Fire

At the spring, Eddie was busily digging dirt and trash out from behind the enclosed pool, where it threatened the integrity of the wall; and Carl sat carefully inscribing a replacement legend for one of the posts that had become illegible with age.

The spring at daytime.

The guy sitting on the right is Geoff. The old man in the shadows across from him is his dad, who appears to be in his 80s. Nevertheless, the dad comes out here regularly, and in fact took Geoff's mother here when they were dating in the mid-'60s. He remembers one night when the river was running high, and Geoff's mother dropped her kerosene lantern into the water, which was instantly swept away. "It stayed lit for quite awhile," Geoff's dad recalled. "We watched it, lit, float for the longest time, before it finally disappeared."

The Verde Hot Spring Resort burnt down in 1962. The property was donated to the state, but the state has never maintained it. So visitors to the spring began to clean and decorate the facilities on their own. I documented the graffiti here in June of 2008. One of my favorites was this one:

Sadly, that was the one that had faded so badly it could no longer be read. Carl was working on a replacement.

Art's updates the graffiti.

We stayed as long as we could, but eventually my stomach warned that lunch could not be long delayed. So Michael and I hugged Eddie and Carl goodbye, said goodbye to the others, and returned to camp, packed, and set back out over the road—which we could now see!—to Payson.

We had a decadent lunch at Dairy Queen, then continued on to Mesa. After turning onto the Bush Highway (no relation to the ex-presidents), the setting sun gave me a couple more reasons to pull over and grab the camera. One was the glow on Four Peaks.

Sunset on Four Peaks.

The other was the canyon in the soft afterlight at Saguaro Lake.

The cliffs at Saguaro Lake.

Even though we live just 20 minutes, tops, from Saguaro Lake it was full-on night when we got home; and there was no argument that we would limit our emptying out the car to the actual food and dirty cookware.

We were both tired, dirty and sore…proof that we'd had a great weekend campout!