By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 2/17/2020
Posted: 8/15/2010
Topics/Keywords: #VerdeHotSpring #Perseids Page Views: 4206
Michael and I spend a weekend at Verde Hot Springs to enjoy the Perseid meteor shower.

The annual Perseid meteor shower was to peak Friday morning at 2:30 am, and Michael and I had intended to be in our tent at Verde Hot Spring (or, rather, the nearby Childs Campground) watching them. However, a very full dance card on Thursday (our anniversary) forced us to listen to reason and sleep at home Thursday night, not leaving for Verde until Friday morning. Still…we wound up seeing plenty of falling stars.

Michael has no classes on Fridays this quarter; and I had arranged to take the day off. So we decided to wake up when we woke up, which turned out to be around 8 am. We then had to pack the car…except, I wound up doing that as Michael suddenly felt the need to wash dishes and laundry.

But we made it to the campground by about 2:30 pm, where we found our friend, Eddie, and a couple of other guys with him, already there.

I knew one of the guys: A fellow named Gordon, who I'd talked with several times before. He was one of those people who, like Eddie, frequents Verde Hot Spring enough to be thought of as a regular. The other guy, Robert, was a friend of Eddie's from Prescott, who had come with him to have a camping experience, something he'd wanted to try for some time.

As early as it was, we were too late to grab the prime campsite, and had to settle for second-best, which wasn't quite as level as I'd have preferred. Still…we were on the bank of the Verde River, and the nearest paved road was some 20 miles away.

The Verde River in this section is about a thousand feet higher in altitude than Phoenix, and therefore some 10-20 cooler. But Phoenix was about 108 (according to my phone) so it was still too darned hot. We tried sitting in the shade of the cottonwoods, shifting with the sun as the day passed, but the flies were relentless. I don't remember flies ever being a problem here; but they sure were this day. Michael broke himself a willow branch and used it to switch them away. I was too lazy to do that and just swatted at myself, scratching my ankles with the toes of the opposite foot.

Let me describe Gordon. He's about six-one, with blonde hair going to gray, and claims to be 46 years old. He is slim and muscular, and was wearing swim trunks without shirt or shoes. He is also, so he had told me on previous visits, straight, with a coterie of girlfriends and an ex-wife.

One of his girlfriends left him and is now dating his stepfather.

Where is Jerry Springer when we need him?

Gordon was monopolizing the conversation, which was interesting because it meant Michael couldn't. Gordon was a font of trivia, which he would introduce with, "Didja know…?" Such as, "Didja know that there are 11,000 fuckin' species of ants in the United States?" The fact that we hadn't been talking about ants, or any ant-related subjects, seemed to be irrelevant. It also didn't discourage him, since he jumped from subject to subject as nimbly as a ballet dancer on stage, from ants to plants to flowers to bees to pollen to trees to birds to ant-eating birds and back to ants.

These aren't subjects in which I'm knowledgeable; so I didn't really have any contribution to make. But when Gordon announced that he is diabetic, I, of course, wanted to educate him about toxins, since that's what's going on in my life right now. However, every word I said—and I mean that literally—brought forth a rebuttal that made it impossible for me to get a single concept out.

"We're surrounded by toxins—" I started to say, but he interrupted.

"Not 'surrounded'. Oxygen isn't a fuckin' toxin. Fuckin' nitrogen isn't a toxin."

It also appeared that the F-word was Gordon's only adjective and adverb, and one he sprinkled liberally into everything he said.

"Uh, right. But they carry plenty of toxic molecules. And these come in two types: water-soluble, which the body quickly disposes, and—"

Another interruption: "Not if you have fuckin' kidney disease, or even fuckin' scar tissue in the fuckin' ureter."

It was clear that, in a battle of two know-it-alls, he was going to take first prize. So I gave up. I decided to soak in the river, whose water this time of year is generally about 70. Eddie decided to join me.

The water felt wonderful, and it was even better to be away from the flies…and Gordon, who I decided had the charm of one. The water was still somewhat muddy from the monsoon rains of a week or so before, but I didn't intend to go snorkeling so that was no problem.

"So," I mentioned to Eddie after we had waded and swam a ways upstream, "it appears Gordon doesn't take in new information very well."

"Not when he's been drinking," Eddie agreed.

"He's been drinking?" I am quite naive in these things, I admit it. If I have two drinks, I fall asleep. So I really have no experience in seeing what my friends, or people in general, look or act like when drunk.

"Oh, yeah," Eddie acknowledged. "Since we got here. What did you think was in that huge coffee mug he's been guzzling from?"

I shrugged. "I kind of thought it was coffee…"

Eddie left after awhile but I remained in the river until the sun sank beneath the hills lining the valley. When I returned to camp, Michael was ready to take a turn and I happily got back in the water with him.

Hunger made us return to camp. As it got dark the flies lost interest and it cooled somewhat. Michael and I had decided not to cook on this trip. We had some chicken/pecan/cranberry salad from Fresh & Easy that we unwrapped and ate.

Gordon was still enraptured by his own stream-of-consciousness monologue. Now he was talking about his physical ailments, which included neuropathy and diabetes, two conditions that frequently accompany one another.

"I've had to fuckin' fire six doctors," he announced. "I had to fire them. What's the point of going to a fuckin' doctor who knows less about fuckin' medicine than I do?"

"You've been to medical school?" I asked, a little impishly.

"Hell, no," Gordon replied. "I never even went to fuckin' high school. But I can fuckin' read."

Gordon's speech was deteriorating; it appeared he was continuing to drink. But then he said something about needing to take his insulin. I suddenly recalled that low-blood sugar is often mistaken for inebriation. Gordon stood up and almost fell over. I ran over to steady him, and assisted him to his truck, which involved avoiding fallen branches and muddy ruts in the dark. Trembling, his hands managed to break the lancet device for drawing a drop of blood so he could see exactly how much insulin he needed. "Fuck it!" he managed to say. "I only need the insulin if I eat. I won't fuckin' eat, and that'll solve that problem."

"I think you also need the insulin if you drink," I pointed out. He stared at me, then repeated, "Fuck. What's the point of camping if I can't drink?"

But he wouldn't take any insulin (and without the blood sugar measurement, I can't blame him) and I never did see him eat all weekend.

I got very sleepy. Eddie was tired, too, and announced that he was going to take a "nap" and about 1:30 would get up and go to the spring, if anyone wanted to join him, to see the falling stars from there. That sounded good to me, and I crawled into our tent and closed my eyes. Sometime later, Michael must have joined me.

I awoke in the night, 2:45 am according to my cell phone. Camp was very quiet. I could see Eddie's silhouette in his hammock through the tent window, and had to assume Robert was in his tent. Gordon had a bed in his truck, parked behind Robert's tent. So, apparently, no one had made the night trek to the spring.

But I could see the stars overhead. When I erected the tent, I knew it would not rain so I did not put on the fly. Thus I had an unobstructed view of the moonless, star-studded sky. And, as I looked, I saw ephemeral streaks far, far above. They were the Perseid meteoroids, remnants of the Swift-Tuttle comet, kissing the upper atmosphere before coming to ashy ends.

The Milky Way was almost directly overhead, and the streaks coming from it were very dim; I wouldn't have been able to see them if I hadn't been wearing my for-distance contact lenses, which I'd kept in.

The Perseids are a meteor show that comes along every year at this time. They are remnants of the Swift-Tuttle comet, just chunks of dirty ice and frozen gases, that break away from the comet each time it approaches the sun. Since the comet intersects Earth's orbit, every time Earth reaches that point in its orbit, it intersects thousands of the frozen snowballs which then flame across the sky as they heat up in our atmosphere. The Perseids, named because they appear to radiate from the constellation Perseus, were first reported about 2000 years ago by Chinese astronomers.

Meteor showers occur at various times throughout the year, always on the same dates, with different names depending on where they "seem" to come from. Many people, such as Michael and I, will drive hours to get far enough into the country to watch them, even though what we are watching, which beautiful, is, after all, destruction of a sort. Even then, though, nothing is wasted. Something like 12 tons of cometary dust is estimated to enter our atmosphere each day; that dust eventually makes it to the surface where it turns into plants, which turn into animals, which turn into us. From that sense, even a fiery end is really a beginning.

On a normal (non-meteor shower) night, if you stare at an unobstructed sky, you can see about four falling stars every hour. In 2009, on the peak night of August 13, there were an average of 173 every hour. This year was a little less, only about 142. And the peak was last night. Still, there were plenty to be seen. And, as with all meteor showers, the rate is greatest in the pre-dawn hours, since the side of the Earth nearest to turning into the sun scoops up more meteors as the Earth moves through space.

I tapped Michael, who as it turned out was already awake. "Can you see all those?" I asked.

"No," he said softly. "All what?"

"Those faint streaks."

"No," he replied. "But I've seen several big streaks." And, just then, a huge, bright fireball tore overhead.

"Cool," I said, approvingly. I watched the show for awhile, then let myself go back to sleep. When I woke up it was morning and I was alone in the tent, Michael having preceded me up.

Childs Power Plant, circa 1930.

After breakfast we all headed for the hot spring. Robert had never been, and since Eddie and Gordon left ahead of us I led the way, explaining the sights—the old, now decommissioned Childs power plant; the village where the workers used to live with their families, now only foundations; the old stables where they kept their horses for riding the lines. There's little left of these things now, but I like to envision them as they once were: Kids playing, mothers reading while waiting for time to cook dinner, the men on horseback making sure no lines had snapped in the most recent monsoon rain.

By the time we reached the river crossing, we were hot enough to want to soak in the river to cool off. There's a pond just upstream of the crossing, and we swam there. We were in no hurry because we knew that work awaited us at the spring. But eventually we could tarry no longer, and continued on the trail past the crumbled remains of the old resort.

I didn't bring my camera, because I've taken so many photos of the trail to the spring and of the spring itself. But I couldn't help but picture how the place must have looked in its prime.

Built in 1922, it was said that Verde Hot Spring Resort was very popular, despite its remote location. It was supposed to have been a favorite hangout of Al Capone's. But it burnt to the ground in 1962 and was never rebuilt. Talk about falling stars!

All that's left now (besides the rubble) is three pools, one of which is unusable. Of the other two, one is a smallish cement tub, big enough for three or maybe four people, in an enclosure whose roof lasted until 2002, when the spring flood waters rose so high as to tear it off. And the other is a larger soaking pool, with room for maybe twenty close friends (but more typically holding five or ten). Both pools were coated with a thick layer of algae.

By the time Michael, Robert and I arrived, Eddie and Gordon had already drained and cleaned the smaller tub, which was refilling as they drained the larger tub. I joined them in it and was handed a brush with which to scrape the slimy green tendrils away. Robert got in, too, and filled a bucket with the displaced algae which he handed to Michael, who slung the contents over the deck into the river, and then handed the bucket back to Robert.

The interior of the big pool is native rock, even though the deck looks like that of a normal swimming pool. Now I was sorry I hadn't brought my camera; I had never gotten a picture of the exposed pool interior. But here's a picture from a previous trip, to give you an idea of how it looks when it isn't empty.

Main pool at Verde Hot Spring.

Other than developing a bit of a sunburn (and we all were, except Eddie, who couldn't be any more tan), Gordon seemed to be fine now. If he was drinking, I couldn't tell. His speech was clear and he was doing a very competent job of cleaning the pool.

In fact, we were done pretty quickly. The stopper (a small bowling pin) was put back into the drain; and Eddie reminded us the pool would take almost three hours to fill.

So, it was back into the river, where the muddy water would protect most of our bodies from the sun. Only our heads and shoulders were exposed. Every now and then fish would discover us and start nibbling; but all we had to do was change locations and we'd be safe for awhile.

Eddie and Gordon had remained on the deck, so it was just Robert and Michael and me in the river. "So, what's the deal with Gordon?" I asked Robert. "You're a neighbor of Eddie's; I didn't realize Eddie knew Gordon so well."

"I don't think he does," Robert mused. "I've never seen him at Eddie and Carl's apartment, but I understand he has been there." (Carl is Eddie's partner, who had plans of his own for this weekend.) "I also heard that, when Eddie and Carl's friend Tristan went camping with them, sometime during the night he and Gordon 'got together'."

"But I thought Gordon was straight," I protested.

Robert shrugged. "That's how he introduced himself to me," he said. "But, ya know, there's straight and then there's 'straight'."

Eventually the pool had filled and we soaked for a little while; but, frankly, soaking in 102 water when the air is 104 is less fun than you'd imagine. Again, Eddie and Gordon left ahead of Michael, Robert, and I; when we left, we stopped again at the pool by the crossing and soaked in the cooler water for literally an hour, maybe two, while chatting about metaphysics, medicine, Robert's life in Prescott, and ours in Mesa.

Back in camp, I doled out Michael's dinner and mine (turkey and muenster sandwiches, intended for lunch but suitable for dinner as well), and we sat.

Gordon was having his usual train-of-thought monologue, which somehow made its way to his ex-girlfriend who was now dating his stepfather. "She was the best fuckin' thing that ever happened to me," he said. "But I could not fuckin' live with her."

"Why not?" I asked, just to create the illusion of being part of his "conversation".

He shook his head. "I was tweaking," he said. "We were tweaking." (For those who don't know, "tweaking" is a behavior pattern typical of methamphetamine users, sometimes used as a synonym for methamphetamine use.) "Coming down. Making no fuckin' sense. And she said somethin' that fuckin' pissed me off. So I pushed her. Hard. And she fuckin' hit the floor. And that was it. She left then, and fuckin' never came back. It was over between us."

I didn't really know what to say, but was curious. "You said you were married, before. Was violence what ended that, too?" To be honest, Gordon had shown no tendency towards violence in my presence. He was certainly strong, but I didn't feel threatened by him.

"No way, man," Gordon said. "That was the only time, and that was when I quit doing meth. Cold fuckin' turkey. I never wanted that part of me to come out, ever again."

"So, what happened with your wife?"

Gordon compressed his lips into a tight line. "She was LDS," he said, referring to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. "I wasn't, and her family hated that she married me, and were always fuckin' tryin' to break us up. Her brother was the sheriff of that county, a fuckin' little Mormon county. I had two sons and a daughter. One day, deputies come and arrest me…for fuckin' child molesting!"

At this point, Gordon had our full attention. And, in a rare moment of lapsed self-absorption, he realized we were all staring at him.

"Well, I didn't fuckin' do it!" he cried. "I ain't no child mo'."

We continued to stare.

"Okay," he admitted. "I like men. Older men. But I was molested, when I was a kid. By a fuckin' Mormon, wouldn't you know. And there's no way I'd ever fuckin' molest a kid. Ever."

Robert blurted, "Then they found you innocent, right? I mean, they can't arrest you without evidence."

I sighed. "Sadly, they can. There have been a number of similar cases."

"You got that right," Gordon growled. "My ex-brother-in-law was the law in that county. It was his word against mine. He caught me in a park blowing some dude. Well, to the Mormons, that made me gay; and all gay guys are child molesters, so that was all the evidence he needed. My sons wound up in foster homes, and there's an injunction against me even contactin' them. I can't so much as send 'em a fuckin' postcard."

"And your daughter…?" I prompted.

"My ex-wife, she fuckin' married a cop. Well, I figured, at least my little girl would be safe." Gordon laughed bitterly. "So guess what. He's been raping her. My little girl! And my ex-wife, after fifteen years, now she wants me to take my daughter. Fifteen years! The bitch wants me back, too. I would take my little girl…but I ain't takin' that bitch back. I don't know if she could've fuckin' said anything in court to change things, but fuck, she never even testified in my defense."

Michael asked, "You're getting your daughter back, then?"

"It depends," Gordon responded. "Things are a little rocky with my new girlfriend. And I gotta fuckin' patch them up, somehow, so I have a house. If we break up, I'm back to living in my truck, and they'd never let me keep my daughter like that."

"You don't have your own apartment?" I asked.

"I used to make seven grand a week," Gordon said, grimly. "Top-notch contractor. Owned my own three-hundred-thousand-dollar house. But it's fuckin' funny. When you're a registered sex offender, no one wants to hire you. And you can't even apply for jobs near schools, or community centers, or anywhere kids hang out."

If Gordon had been a little more inclined to listen, I might have pointed out that this is the primary crime of demonizing homosexuality: Men who are really gay are so closeted, even to themselves, that they marry women and father children but cannot completely repress their natural behavior. I could have pointed out that his use of the F-word several times in every sentence probably didn't serve him well in court, or in trying to ingratiate himself to potential employers. Or, I might have suggested that a tendency to drink and use drugs had undoubtedly contributed to his inability to bounce back from his misfortunes.

But Gordon wasn't a listener. He was a victim, one of his own making, and from my point of view, his prognosis didn't look good.

"They fuckin' destroyed my life, man, those fuckin' Mormons." He took a long sip of God-knows-what from his "coffee" mug, and his voice broke a little as he added, "And I don't fuckin' know how to build another one."

Falling stars, indeed.