By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 2/20/2020
Occurred: 8/22/2010
Topics/Keywords: #FossilCreek #Zachary Page Views: 4690
I take Zach and his friends on a camping trip.

I promised my grandson, Zachary, to take him camping this weekend and I did. He wanted to bring a couple of friends, Lakota and Josh, and I said, all right. So it was four of us, one 59-year-old and three 11-year-olds, who headed north for a weekend of swimming in Fossil Creek. Dear gods, what was I thinking?

I shouldn't have worried. The boys were on autopilot pretty much the whole time. It was the usual drive up past Payson and Pine and into Strawberry, then west on Fossil Creek Road. We stopped briefly so the boys could see the canyon where six cars have crashed, and continued on our way.

Josh, Lakota and Zach at the Six-Car-Crash Canyon.

We passed the Fossil Creek Bridge about a mile, and then into one of the dispersed camping areas, one called "Homestead".

I wouldn't let the boys swim until we first set up camp. I put up my tent next to the car, while they put theirs up about 30 feet behind mine, in a little copse of juniper and pinion trees.

Papa tent. Little guys' tent

The path…or, a path…to the creek behind us wasn't hard to find, but the campground was a good 50 feet above the creek, and the trail was steep. That didn't stop us, of course.

Zach on the path to Fossil Creek.

By the way, for most of our visit, we were the only people there. I kept an eye out on the boys, of course; but all three were good swimmers and they knew to keep in sight of me. So I was able to get some scenic shots in.

A side stream pours into Fossil Creek. A cascade pouring into Fossil Creek.

The boys came running when Josh got himself a little banged up on some rocks. There was a small puncture that wasn't bleeding, and a scrape on his stomach. He insisted it didn't hurt, so I took him at his word, promising to put a band-aid on the puncture when we returned to camp, which looked to be shortly as ominous clouds were building up overhead.

Lakota, Zach and Josh in Fossil Creek. The steep trail back to camp.

When we heard a crack of thunder, I announced it was time to go, and the boys didn't argue. They scampered up the trail to the campground. It took me a little longer.

Once at the tents, with the lowering sky grumbling overheard, I passed out "Lunchables" for dinner (campfires are not permitted here) and bottles of water. Josh's injury was not serious but I bandaged it up anyway. The boys retired to their tent to eat and play with their iPods, while I sat and ate in the rising wind, waiting for the rain.

There was a camp across from mine, but no one was home. It consisted of two tents and a table. One tent was sturdily erected; the other was a little dome tent without stakes, and the wind had picked it up and placed it in the branches of a nearby tree. This had happened before we returned from the creek, so there's was nothing I could do about it.

As I sat eating, a red truck pulled up and two guys got out. One was older, with a paunch and a neatly-trimmed white beard, while the other was slim and good-looking, somewhat younger. Although the older man had been driving, it soon became evident that he'd also been nipping at the beer…or something, speaking too loud and oddly emotionally for a man his age.

"Fossil Creek…I LOVE you!" he screamed at the top of his lungs. He then spotted an eagle overhead. "I WISH I HAD WINGS!" he cried. "How wonderful the world would be!" I wasn't sure why he needed wings, since he was flying already. But, whatever.

I could also hear pretty much every word the two of them spoke, even at normal tones, perhaps due to some amphitheatric aspects of the rocky hills on either side of us.

With a cap of roiling grey clouds overhead, nevertheless the sun poked beneath them in the West, creating a partial double rainbow in the East. I called for the boys to run out and see, and perhaps due to my recent YouTube viewing of a video made by some guy who was totally blown away by the double rainbow he was taping, mimicked some of his words. "Boys, come here!" I called. "It's a double rainbow! Oh, my God!"

The boys did run out, but the younger guy across the way obviously heard me as clearly as I could hear him, and burst out laughing. "Oh, my God!" he quoted the video. "What does it mean?"

A double rainbow! Oh my God, what does it mean?

They also appreciated the sunset in the other direction.

Sunset opposite the double rainbow.

But then fat raindrops began splattering down, and the boys got back into their tent.

Zach, Josh and Lakota in their tent.

Zach knew the rules, but I repeated them for the others: If you have to pee during the night, take a few steps away from the tent and pee into the bushes. If you have to go to the porta-potties (located at the entrance to the camping area), do not go alone, wake one of the others, or me, to go with you. Don't wander away. Wake me if you need me for any reason.

I then got into my own tent, with the gentle splattering of rain against the nylon walls promising to lull me to sleep. It was only 8 o'clock.

I was just dozing when a shout woke me abruptly: "FOSSIL CREEK, I LOVE YOU!"

It was beer guy from across the road.

At least he isn't getting into a brawl with his companion, I thought.

I was just falling back to sleep when the same voice cried out, "A twister! It's a twister! We're all gonna die!"

Of course I stuck my head out into the night. The clouds were dimly lit by what I knew was a three-quarter moon above them. There was no roar; no lull; no siren—nothing to indicate a tornado.

"Shut up, Rich," came the voice of the younger man from the opposite camp.

"It's a twister! A twister, I tell you!"

There was a pause, then the younger guy's voice started singing. "Bah-bah-bah, bah-Barbra Ann. Bah, bah, bah…!" The older guy joined in. And the only thing that came to my mind was, how in the world had the younger guy, who I guessed was in his 30s or 40s, ever even heard of the Beach Boys' song?

This punctuated inebriation continued until about 11 pm.

Now, I had expected the rain to blow over. But it didn't. In fact, it got harder, which was a mixed blessing because when the tent walls were being whipped by the wind and pounded by the rain, I couldn't hear Rich and his younger friend, Bob, singing or declaring their undying love for Fossil Creek. I wasn't worried about the boys because I knew their tent was secure, plus they were sheltered by the ancient and sturdy trees around them.

But then drops of rain started getting into my tent. It's been about two years since it rained on my tent, and it was waterproof then. But clearly, waterproofing isn't forever. I wasn't being soaked, but I kept having to shift position to avoid the increasing and erratic falling of drops onto my blankets.

And it rained all night.

I awoke—if I ever really got to sleep—about 7 am. The boys were still asleep. The rain had finally passed, leaving a bright blue sky with a few puffy white clouds. Raindrops adhered to every surface, glittering from the trees and cactus around me.

I was tempted to walk over to Rich's tent and shout at it that there was a twister, but he beat me to it by getting out…of his truck, where'd he spent the night. His tent was the little one and he hadn't even tried to sleep through the rainstorm in it. His companion, Bob, had spent the night in his tent. I decided, what the hell, and walked over to introduce myself.

"I'm Paul," I said, offering my hand. The younger took it and shook back.

"I'm—" he started, but I interrupted.

"You're Bob," I said, and then, offering my hand to the older man, "and you're Rich."

Rich looked puzzled. "Have we met?" he asked.

"Not exactly," I admitted. "But there's some kind of amplifying effect here, and I could hear every word you guys said until you went to sleep at 11." I smiled. "You even had me looking outside for a twister."

Rich looked embarrassed, but my smile, I hope, made it clear I didn't intend to shoot them. And we got to talking about other places the boys might enjoy swimming.

Sally May trail head.

"Fannie Mae," suggested Rich.

Bob nodded. "Sounds like a place you can bank on."

However, it soon turned out that the real name of the spot was Sally May, with an additional local name of "Skull Creek".

As soon as the boys were up and breakfasted on bananas, apples and strawberries (plus a donut or two), we left our tents up to dry and hopped in the Expedition to find the Sally May trailhead.

Which turned out to be just a mile or so away, off Fossil Creek road onto Childs Power Road, the road I take to get to Verde Hot Spring.

We parked across the road from the trailhead, next to a couple of porta-potties. The "trail" was mostly just a descent to a lovely stretch of Fossil Creek, including a pool, a natural water slide, and even a rope.

Lakota, Josh and Zach at the Sally May section of Fossil Creek.

Water parks have only existed a few years, relatively speaking; but natural places like Fossil Creek have existed forever and little boys evolved to make the most of them.

Zach and Josh let Lakota have a turn on the rope.

When they got tired of swinging on the rope, the boys discovered a natural waterslide.

The boys make use of a natural waterslide.

I didn't let my fine digital camera get into the wet little hands of the 11-year-olds, but I did go swimming, myself. The water in Fossil Creek is about 70 year-round, so it's always perfect. And I love that it's so clear and obviously unpolluted.

Josh, Zach and Lakota swimming in the clean, clear waters of Fossil Creek.

Then came the climbing, as the boys scrambled over the granite formation that I assume gave the place its original name of Skull Creek.

Josh, Lakota and Zach bouldering.

Zach had been talking up Fossil Creek Bridge, where I took him in June, and the boys wanted to spend a little time there. So we returned to the camping area to break camp—our gear was still wet, so we had to stuff it in the back of the Expedition, to be dried at home—and then drove to the bridge. I was able to park close to it, as between the early hour and the storm the night before, very few others were there yet.

The boys survey the swimming hole at Fossil Creek Bridge.

I warned the boys we could only stay about an hour-and-a-half, to enable us to get back to Mesa by 2 o'clock, as I had promised Lakota's father. In that, as with everything else I'd told them on this trip, the boys were agreeable.

The pool at Fossil Creek Bridge is about 25 feet deep, making jumping and even diving off the rock walls a safe thing to do.

Zach cliff jumping into Fossil Creek.

By the time another 90 minutes had passed, the boys were actually ready for lunch…which we were to have at Burger King in Payson, an irresistible lure. So it wasn't hard to load them into the car for the 7 miles of unpaved road back to Strawberry, then the 17 miles of well-maintained highway into Payson.

Ordering lunch wasn't as bad as I was afraid it might be, as everyone was clear as to what he wanted. I did talk Zach into getting just two orders of chicken tenders instead of the three he wanted. And then, sure enough, after he'd eaten them both, he was still hungry.

"I'm sorry," I said.

"It's okay, Papa," Zach replied. "But you should know that, through the years, I have learned exactly how much I need to eat."

Through the years…all eleven of them. And, indeed, a lesson many adults haven't learned.

Anyway, this turned out to be a fun outing for all, including me. So I don't expect it will be our last.