By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 2/18/2020
Posted: 9/11/2010
Topics/Keywords: #VerdeHotSpring #FossilCreek Page Views: 2002
I find a new, better campsite at Verde Hot Spring.

Long-time readers of my blog know that I often camp at Verde Hot Spring, and also that many of my camping experiences there have been less than ideal, marred mostly by noisy campers who imagine that their love of eardrum-splitting hip-hop is exceeded only by my own, and that 2:00 am is the perfect time to enjoy it.

So when my new friend, Ron, asked for an "isolated" camping experience, I didn't plan to take him to Verde Hot Spring.

However, he did like the description of Fossil Creek. So that's where we headed.

Since Ron lives in Phoenix, the shortest route was up I-17 and through Camp Verde. We spent the drive chatting and enjoying the scenery. Then we traveled the rugged 17 unpaved miles of Fossil Creek Road to the Child's Power Road turnoff, and I began looking for isolated camping spots.

Purple Mountain as seen from Child's Power Road.

We pulled into an unmarked road—well, "road" is too strong a word; call it a "vehicle trail"—which challenged even my Expedition's 4WD. But it got us to a place where a tent could be pitched, and I figured the trail would discourage anyone else from joining us. But just as we got out to check out the creek, a big-wheel ATV did enter the area; and though they turned in the opposite direction, we no longer felt so "isolated". Even so, we followed a path to a lovely spot along Fossil Creek—a creek possessing an infinite number of lovely spots—and got in a few minutes of swimming before a family of six emerged from the same path. Fortunately, by that time, we were ready to leave anyway and had put our clothes back on.

So the search continued.

All the other "isolated" camping spots were already occupied. Homestead…Sally May…Mazatzal…and almost before I realized it, we were crossing the ridge that separates the Fossil Creek valley from the Verde River valley. I began selling Child's campground, the nearest to Verde Hot Spring.

"And if that doesn't work out," I said, "we could come back and pitch camp here…or here…or here," pointing out dusty trails around hills that would keep us far away from noisy fellow campers.

"But these places don't have toilets," Ron pointed out. This was his first Arizona camping trip and he'd expressed concern over scorpions and rattlesnakes, as well as the idea of having to dig a pit toilet for truly isolated camping. So we descended the perilous, unmaintained road into the campground.

Which was, of course, already pretty well populated. I've always tried to come in on Friday evening to beat the rush. My favorite spot was always beneath a cottonwood alongside the river. Although the Verde River at that spot is wide and slow-moving, it could be counted on to provide beautiful reflections of the mountains on the other side and a little coolness at the end of a hot day. Also, it wasn't too far from the remains of the old Childs Power Plant where the trailhead to the hot spring is located.

But for some reason I had never explored the part of the campground at the other end, away from the power plant. I did have a feeling, though, that if privacy were to be found anywhere here, that would be the place. And so I headed the Expedition downstream.

We had a close call beneath an overhanging cottonwood branch, but managed to squeak past without actually scraping the SUV.

And then we found it: An unexpected spot where the river narrows to a mere 20 or 30 feet. The compression created a rapid, so that instead of quiet water we would be camping alongside a rushing stream.

The Verde River, narrowed, rushing past our campgound.

Between the distance from the bulk of the camp, the surrounding trees and bushes, and the rushing of the Verde, we would be safe from anyone's hip-hop, grunge, punk or even flute solos no matter the volume. We couldn't see anyone else, yet were just a short walk from the pit toilet.

It was not only perfect for Ron; it was perfect for me. This was the camping experience I'd always wanted here. And thanks to Ron, I'd gotten the extra motivation I apparently needed to discover it.

Ron and Your Blogger in camp.

There was a perfectly flat and level spot for the tent just a few feet from the water's edge. There was a shaded spit where we put the camp chairs. There was a nice fire pit, though we had agreed we'd rather watch stars than sparks and so brought no firewood.

Since this was at the point the Verde compresses, from the camp chairs we could look out over the wider, upstream section.

The wider, upstream section of the Verde.

We even had bushes of fresh fall flowers decorating the place!

Fresh fall flowers adorned our weekend home.

After setting up camp, a chore that took less than 20 minutes to accomplish (including inflating the air mattress and dressing it in bedclothes), we decided to walk further downstream to see if there were any additional campsites I hadn't known about. In fact, there were two, not as nice and also vacant. The trail continued for a ways past a small waterfall, then lost itself in jumbled rocks.

Ron on upstream Verde trail. Ron, enjoying nature.

As it turned out, I was the only one who got into the rushing water when we found a spot shallow enough to do so. The current was so strong that I couldn't stay; it had gone past "Jacuzzi" all the way to "liquefy". But even there the scenery was so delightful we just sat for awhile to appreciate it. (Ron is one of the few camping companions I've had who is able to sit in silence and listen to what nature is trying to say.)

Downstream of our camp: A wild child of a river.

By the time we returned to camp, it was late enough to leave for the hot spring if we were to be able to enjoy the scenery along the way. We packed sandwiches for dinner into my pack and set out for the one-mile hike. As we passed through camp, I noticed that most of the sites consisted of just one or two tents, and the place was generally very quiet, which was a good sign.

The sun had already gone behind the mountain by the time we arrived. Ron and I ate our sandwiches, then stripped to join the other nude bathers in the spring, only about five other people. We quickly got to know each other, as tends to be the case when everyone is naked. Of particular interest was Allan, a "working archaeologist" who was employed by a company of contract archaeologists. These are people who are employed by companies who want to build and have discovered some kind of paleo-American remains at the nascent building site. The archaeologists come in, extract and identify the remains and thoroughly document them and the site, so the building can continue. I mentioned to him that my daughter, Karen, intended to get her doctorate in archaeology, once the glamour and excitement of being a waitress at Macaroni Grill had subsided. First, though, she has to get a student job doing archaeological grunt work. Allan agreed, but mentioned there's lots of those jobs out there; and he recommended she locate a nearby contract archaeological company like his to do one and be paid for it. So, that's good news!

We all enjoyed the show of stars in the moonless night for a few hours at the spring, include a rare conjunction of Uranus and Jupiter that made for a startlingly bright combination. Eventually though Ron suggested we go back and I agreed. At camp we enjoyed a snack—Ron ate cookies; I had some grapes—and then went to bed, where we fell sleep to the rush of the Verde a few feet away and the slow wheeling of stars seen through the top of the tent.

In the morning, we were able to sleep late thanks to the trees that shaded us from the early morning sun. And when we did wake up, this was the view from the tent:

A tent with a view.

This is definitely a spot to which I will return!