By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 2/18/2019
Posted: 9/19/2010
Topics/Keywords: #Arizona #Metaphysics #VerdeHotSpring Page Views: 1253
I return to Verde Hot Spring for the last time this sumer, and learn that timing is everything.

So, I'm spending this weekend, my second in a row, at Verde Hot Spring. In many ways it hasn't turned out as I expected…but since it never does, I don't know why I bother expecting anything! In any case, I really wanted to be here for the last weekend of the summer. (Tuesday will be the official switch to Fall, not that it means much here in Arizona.)

Timing is everything.

I was supposed to go with Mike, an online friend I've known for a couple of years, who's been after me to take him camping. I had tried before, but something always came up. This weekend it looked like it would work. He had no other plans, he said, and looked forward to leaving with me Friday right after work.

So I packed the car Friday morning; drove into work and when I was done headed straight for Mike's. He wasn't home, so I waited. Two hours later I received a text message on my phone: "The server's down! They're making me work late! Go on and leave without me!" And that was that.

Now, because I was leaving two hours later than planned, I figured the Universe had something in mind for me. I headed up towards Camp Verde, arriving around sunset. I had hoped to have already set up camp by then; this was the first domino to fall differently due to Mike's cancellation.

I stopped at Burger King for some take-away dinner, then drove a couple of miles into Camp Verde to pick up groceries for the trip. When I went to pay for them, I discovered I had left my credit card at the Burger King. Fortunately I had enough cash on me to cover my groceries. But I had to drive back to the Burger King, where the lady at the window apologized profusely for forgetting to return my card—and that was fine, with no harm done, except it was now even 15 minutes later than it would have been. Another domino. Now when I turned onto unpaved and unmaintained Fossil Creek Road it was full-on dark.

That's not inherently a problem. I know the road well, having driven it dozens of times. But I really wanted to get the same campsite I'd gotten for last weekend's trip with my friend, Ron, and I felt the later I arrived, the more likely it would be that someone else had gotten it.

Which, when I got to the unofficial campground near the decommissioned Childs Power Plant, I discovered had happened. I had missed getting the spot I wanted by such a narrow margin, the guys who did get it were still setting up.

So I took the next spot upstream from them. I could still hear the sound of the Verde where it narrows and tumbles through a rapid, but instead of the sound filling the air, I had to listen for it. Still…at least I could hear it. And I still assumed the Universe had made an effort to place me here for some reason.

Although dark it was still early after I had set up camp—which, after all, only took me a few minutes—so I headed out to the hot spring, covering the mile in about 25 minutes. I was hoping the place wouldn't be crowded, but when I got there no fewer than 20 college students were milling about the pool. They were from Northern Arizona University. Often college groups are rowdy; but at least these were really nice kids. None were smoking, and there were only a couple of beer cans around. The group was just leaving, and they took their cans with them (I did have to mention it to them but got no attitude in return).

Which left me alone in the spring for the next two hours. I watched the half moon rise and arc over the sky, followed by the cartoonishly-bright conjunction of Jupiter and Uranus. Then the moon completed its path across the narrow canyon sky and the stars came out in force. By now I was so wrinkled I could have held a three-day rain, so gathered my stuff and walked the mile in the dark back to camp, with only crickets and the occasional squealing bat to keep watch.

I slept like a dead man until sometime after 9:00 am. And here's something interesting. I have sleep apnea, and at home sleep with a CPAP machine to keep me breathing. Without it, my breathing periodically stops and I usually have dreams of suffocation. I can't bring a CPAP machine camping with me, as there are no reasonably-priced batteries that will power one all night. But this night, I didn't have any dreams of suffocation and awoke rested and refreshed. I couldn't help but wonder if this was an effect of the detoxification procedures I am undergoing?

In any case, once I got up I figured I would take the usual pictures of my camp—especially since this was my first time in this particular site.

My camp site on the Verde River.

There is a fire ring in the site but I don't bother with a campfire; I'd rather see the stars.

The view from my tent: note the bird standing on a rock in the river.

A bird in its home on the Verde River; the view from my tent. My camping crates make the experience an organized one.

I mentioned that it only took minutes for me to set up camp. That's thanks to my packing system, which basically involves these three plastic crates.

The red crate holds my tent, including the poles and fly. It also holds my camp flashlight and LED headlamps. I so often arrive at camp after dark that this is the most sensible place to keep them for when I'll need them most.

The middle, teal crate, holds the air mattress and pump, plus a comforter I put on the air mattress (making it even more comfortable to lie on), and the fitted sheet that goes on top of that, and the flat sheet that goes on top of that. The sheets are flannel, by the way.

The blue crate holds three pillows and two sleeping bags. The sleeping bags are unzipped; I use them as comforters. There's also a small fleece blanket in the blue crate I can use as a head blanket in case of very cold weather.

In the car is yet another crate, smaller, containing paper plates, bowls, cups, and plastic knives, forks, and spoons. That crate also contains some light cooking gear and non-perishable condiments. But on most trips, like this one, I don't bother cooking. Instead I bring a couple of pre-made sandwiches from the supermarket, and eat cereal and fruit for breakfast.

I took my time over breakfast and, around 3 pm, filled my CamelBak with water and my dinner sandwich and a banana, and headed once again to the hot spring.

The trail, which leads past the old Childs Power Plant, winds along a fall of cottonwoods, which used to drink the water the power plant diverted from Fossil Creek, but have since died. These were massive trees and campers are still whittling away at their remains to make campfires.

Fallen cottonwoods near Childs Power Plant.

Late summer is a special time in the wilderness because you can see that the plants, apparently realizing that the season is nearly at an end, work overtime to get in as much living as possible. Plants don't have retirement communities; they keep at it until it's over. Case in point: The profusion of prickly pears ready for harvesting (or procreating).

Prickly pears, late summer.

While spring features bright, light greens of baby leaves, late summer takes on a more reserved but no less intense tone. The cottonwoods that line the river are especially vibrant.

The cottonwoods lining the Verde River are deepest green.

Most of the trail is on the old, barricaded, Childs Power Road. There are two uphill climbs on the way, and two on the way back; but the steepest by far is the first hill on the way.

The first, steepest hill on the trail. The sandal in the road.

Considering the amount of foot traffic, there really isn't much trash. Of course some people (like myself) do pick up what they find for later disposal. Sometimes there's humorously odd stuff. I have seen underpants and a bra, not at the same place. And this trip I passed a sandal. Just one—I looked. I left it on the chance its owner might come back for it.

You'd have to have mighty tough feet to navigate this trail barefoot.

I didn't traverse this trail completely alone. An eagle, riding the canyon thermals, kept an eye on me.

Verde River eagle.

When I got to the spring, there were just two guys there, obviously a couple, nude sunbathing. I didn't disturb them, and soaked for a bit. Eventually they left. It had been hot but once the sun dipped below the western ridge, leaving the hot spring in shade, it cooled nicely. I was just nibbling on my sandwich when two couples arrived. I assumed the foursome were friends. One of the women introduced me to all of them, reinforcing this impression. They were: The woman, Jen; her date, John; the other woman, Tara, and her husband Zach. Jen and John were around 30 years of age; Tara and Zach were around 40. All kept their bathing suits on, though I was soaking nude.

Considering that I have a daughter named Jenny, a son named John, and a grandson named Zach, the names were easy to remember. The only one I had to work at was Tara.

It also did not escape me that having a set of such familiar names qualifies as a "coincidence", which the Universe uses to mark significant events. If Mike had come with me, we be here together now, talking, and probably not paying much attention to the newcomers. In fact, given that they were couples it was odd how much attention Jen paid to me, including me in her conversation with John.

It turned out that the two couples were not together; they had met on the trail and only coincidentally arrived at the same time.

Jen actually looked very much like the actress, Jennifer Aniston. Jen had not known John long. In fact, this was their first date, and she announced how pleased she was that she had broken with her previous pattern and not gone to bed with John, whom she'd met at a bar one week earlier, already. However, she also announced how horny she was. And she introduced herself to me, complete with handshake, twice in five minutes.

She was smashed. She and John had apparently been working on a bottle of wine during the walk to the spring, and it was half gone.

John was painfully thin and tall, with a bent-over frame found in people who were embarrassed by their height while growing up. However, it is also sometimes seen in people who are trying to protect their hearts from further heartbreak. John had an ex-girlfriend who was apparently an evil bitch who had turned on John shortly after the birth of their son, for no apparent reason. The baby was now 13 months old and the center of John's world, difficult as it was for him to spend time with the boy when his mother was so uncooperative.

The sun edged behind the western wall. I got a last picture of the Verde River below winding its way downstream before it became too dark, then returned to the warmth of the pool.

The Verde River at sunset.

Jen was a conversation-monopolizer. She was clearly brilliant, with two degrees (though no direction; she still didn't know just what she wanted to do with her life) and a family that seemed above reproach at first until it became clear that nothing Jen had ever done or accomplished was good enough for them. She also completed John's sentences, and mine, though we'd just met and she didn't usually guess correctly what I was about to say. That didn't stop her, however, from believing she had guessed right and then drawing conclusions from her incorrect assumptions.

The hot water and the wine got to her and she decided to follow the trail into the river to cool off. John offered to accompany her but she insisted she could do this on her own, and climbed out of the pool. John followed her with his eyes until she was out of sight, then said, "She's really something, isn't she? I really like her."

"That's nice," I said. "This is probably going to be a very revealing first date. Camping trips do that. They really let you see more into a person than if you just do dinner and a movie."

"I hope so," John replied. "I really love camping, and I love this place so much. I've been here several times. And Jen is an outdoorsy girl, she goes hiking everywhere, so we could make a good team." He then told me about his ex-girlfriend, who, he said, was a terribly negative person who could find fault with a sunny day, as he put it. She had begun complaining about his habits, his person, his family, his job; and when he shook it off she upped the volume, becoming so strident and shrill that, one night when she demanded he leave, he did. The next day, when he thought she should have cooled off, he found instead she'd gotten a restraining order barring his return to the home he'd been paying for.

"Luckily, I had my tent and I like to camp. So I've just been camping ever since."

When Jen came back, her bathing suit top was gone. "I need help on that trail," she said. "It's too steep without a flashlight."

"We can use my headlamp," John offered.

"I hate headlamps," Jen announced. "They don't cast shadows. Give me something I can hold. I have a flashlight in my pack." She had trouble finding her pack, but John was endlessly patient and seemed not to hear her comments about the inadequacies of his camping equipment.

Tara and Zach were ready to return to camp, but now that it was dark they were a little concerned about being able to find their way. I was ready to go, myself, and offered to lead the way. We were just getting out of the pool when Zach and Jen returned from the river, and Jen was shouting. "I will ask them!" she cried, and turned to us, her exposed boobs bouncing with intensity. "Do you think John is over his ex? That he willever be over her?"

"Iam completely over her!" John protested, not waiting for our vote. "I only see her when I visit my son! He's only thirteen months; he can hardly come to my house on his own!"

"You see her every week!" Jen shouted.

"Because I seemy son every week!" John insisted.

"So, you're not over her!" Jen concluded triumphantly.

"We're going back to camp now," Tara announced; and we grabbed our stuff and practically ran to the trail back to camp.

When we reached the campground, Tara and Zach showed me where their camp was, and where Jen and John's was. As it turned out, the three of us were all on the river's edge, in a row: Tara and Zach, Jen and John, and me furthest downstream.

"I hope they're going to get back all right," Zach said with concern in his voice.

"I'm sure they'll be fine," I assured him. "John's been here before, he said. And he's very nurturing. And Jen's very drunk."

Tara laughed. "A winning combination!" she laughed.

It was only a little before 10 pm but I found I was ready for bed. I got into my tent and lay quietly for a moment looking at the stars glittering through the mesh at the top of my tent, before falling sound asleep to the quiet shushing of the river a few feet away.

I awoke to hear my name being called quietly. "Paul! Is that you? Paul?" I sat up in bed and looked through the mesh window of my tent. In the darkness I could make our John's tall, skinny frame.

"John?" I asked, to be sure.

"Yeah, I'm sorry to bother you but I wonder if you have a first aid kit? Jen fell and hurt herself on the way back and she's bleeding."

I do have a first aid kit. I grabbed it and started over, before stopping suddenly. "Oh," I said. "Let me get my shorts."

"Don't bother," John said. "We never got dressed after leaving the spring." And sure enough, now that I looked, I could see by the starlight that John was naked, too.

My campsite was closely surrounded by cottonwoods and other bushes that blocked out sound. As I made my way to John's camp, I became aware of the thump of a stereo playing not too far away. "What time is it?" I asked. "It's supposed to be quiet time at 10pm, not that anyone obeys that."

"It's quarter to four," John replied.

Jen was just this side of unconscious, making odd little non-sequiturs and seemingly unaware that she was bleeding from several locations. Fortunately John had several spare towels, so I had him wet one with bottled water and gently dabbed the blood away. It wasn't as bad as it seemed, two scratched knees, a scratched boob, and a small scratch on her cheek; some antibiotic ointment and three large bandages and one small one patched her up pretty well.

"What happened?" I asked.

"I mi' a have had a liddie much wine," Jen slurred, after which her eyes closed and she snored. John and I managed to get her into the tent.

John's shoulders sagged. "So much for getting laid tonight," he said. We left Jen in the tent and he offered me a beer. I was surprised he had any left but took it. We each sat in a camp chair at his dying campfire. He sipped his beer and shook his head.

"I really like her…" he said, his voice trailing.

"…but you're starting to realize what a job you'd be taking on with her." I finished.

"You're old," John observed. "What do you think? Should I try to hang on to her? I don't have much invested yet but, man, we share so many interests! And she's fun!"

"Is it fun when she puts you down?" I asked.

"Aw, she don't mean anything by it," John said defensively.

"Is that what you thought about your ex-girlfriend when she put you down?" John looked startled, and I added, "See, I was paying attention." Then I added more: "And let me guess, your mom also put you down, right? You never could do anything right by her."

John's jaw dropped; I could see it in the glow of the embers.

"People have a tendency to make the same mistake over and over," I explained. "And it's usually trying to recreate a pattern set in childhood. In my opinion, Jen is a very, very smart and capable person. But she has serious self-esteem issues from her own childhood, as I think you do, and I would strongly advise that you not start any new, serious relationships until you've dealt with those issues. Otherwise, your next relationship will be just like the last one: a disaster with probably another kid."

Another figure entered the ruddy circle. It was Zach, who took in John and I sitting naked in the camp chairs. "Good God, guys, don't either of you ever wear clothes?"

John and I just laughed, and John said, "I hope we didn't wake you."

"You?! No, it's that asshole with the truck across from me. Right against that cliff wall, see? The cliff reflects the music right at our tent and we haven't gotten a bit of sleep in the past six hours."

"Did you ask him to turn it down?" I posed. "No guarantees, but most people will if you ask."

I then stood, shook hands with both men, and returned to my tent. Now that I knew the music was playing, I realized I could hear it, even through the trees and over the rush of the river. I couldn't make out details, but I could definitely hear the base line go thump-thump-thump in the night.

Suddenly I heard a raised voice. "I will not turn off my goddamned music," a belligerent voice shouted, "and you can't fuckin' make me!"

Oops.

I took out my cell phone. It was now quarter past four. I was now riled up enough I wasn't sure I could go back to sleep. I lay and stewed for another ten minutes, when suddenly silence returned to the woods. The music had stopped, and all I could hear were the crickets and the river. As it should be.

In the morning, I awoke and had breakfast. John saw me stirring and invited me to join Jen and him in some eggs, but I begged off. Jen seemed much better and thanked me for bandaging her up.

Zach then came over, looking bleary. "I'll need a vacation from my vacation," he said.

"At least they turned the music off, finally," I pointed out.

Zach snorted. "Not exactly," he said. "That was that asshole's truck stereo, and he played it so long and so loud he ran his battery down. Can you believe the nerve of him, he was running around at 4:30 asking for a jump! I'm happy to say no one had any cables."

"I have cables," I confessed.

"You're tucked away in them trees," John observed. "He probably never even saw you."

I said goodbye to the four of them (Tara having joined her husband), went back to my camp, and took down the tent, packing all the components carefully in their assigned crates. I was about to leave when John came trotting over again.

"Man, can you believe it?" he said. "My battery is dead. Do you really have cables? I sure could use a jump."

"Sure, no problem," I said, though I had to shove the crates forward to get to the pocket where the cables are kept. John and Zach connected the cables while I kept the motor running; John's truck started right up and we put the cables back in the back of my SUV.

"Funny," I said. "I camped in the site I was in because I got here late because my friend had to work and couldn't join me. And because of that I was able to help bandage up Jen last night, and give you a jump this morning. It's all in the timing."

"There's no such thing as coincidence," Tara said, surprising me. It always surprises me when someone else turns out to know this.

Suddenly we were joined by a skinny, shirtless blonde man whose torso was covered by badly-executed tattoos. "Hey, I need a jump, too!" he said.

"Oh, you're the guy who ran his battery down playing music until almost 4:30, aren't you?" I challenged.

"Yeah, that's me."

I grinned evilly. "Well…I will not give you a goddamned jump." His mouth opened. "And you can't fuckin' make me! —Remember that next time you think everyone in camp wants to hear your stereo at four in the morning!" And with a cheery wave to John, Jen, Zach and Tara, I rolled out of camp.

Yes, timing is everything.