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A Million Little Pieces Of My Mind

Maybe My Last Weekend In Verde

By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 4/19/2021
Posted: 8/11/2008
Topics/Keywords: #Arizona #Camping #VerdeHotSpring Page Views: 517
The crowds at my favorite remote hot spring are quickly diminishing my enjoyment of it.

This past weekend marked my fourth time camping at Verde Hot Spring. Sadly, it will be the last weekend I do so. This gorgeous, remote spot has become a weekend party place for rowdy teenagers and twenty-somethings, to the point that no one else can enjoy the place on weekends. Too bad. Still, that didn't stop Michael and me from having a very nice campout with our new friends Eddie and Carl.

On my last trip to Verde, Eddie told me that his birthday fell on August 9th, and he wanted to be there on it, and that it would be cool if I could be there, too. I had been wanting to bring Michael to Verde, so I planned doing that for the same weekend. And, since Eddie's birthday fell on a Friday, that meant getting off work early to get out there before it was too late to get a good site, since I knew the primitive campground that services Verde Hot Spring fills up quickly for the weekend.

On Thursday, however, a glitch came into our plans. Carl, Eddie's partner, had a model railroad exhibition on Saturday that he needed to attend as a presenter. (He is one of the few enthusiasts in Prescott with an M-scale model railroad setup.) But I, as an unrepentant fixer, offered to go to Verde by way of Prescott, where Eddie and Carl live, and to take Eddie there with us. Carl could then follow along the next day, after his exhibition.

So that's what we did.

However, we did not arrive in Prescott at 2 pm as I had hoped. I left work at 11 am as planned and got home at 11:30 (as planned). The SUV was already packed with everything but the food, which Michael was supposed to put into a cooler while I was at work. However, he hadn't. He also hadn't showered or dressed. Actually, he hadn't quite gotten up yet. So I packed the cooler while he showered and shaved, unfortunately forgetting two important items in the process: Eddie's birthday cake, which I had bought and frozen the night before, and the loaf of bread that was supposed to contribute to Saturday's lunch.

However, it could have been worse. I've forgotten lots more important things than that! But, by the time we left it was already 1 pm. So we arrived in Prescott about 4.

I'd called to let our friends know, of course. My GPS brought us almost all the way to their apartment complex, inexplicably stopping about a quarter-mile early. We had an interesting exchange on the phone as I described where in the complex I was, while Eddie tried in vain to spot our SUV. "I'm in front of building B," I said.

"So am I," Eddie replied. "But I don't see you."

Eventually we figured out that I was in front of Building B in a completely different apartment complex. But we were nearby, and soon I was introducing Michael to our new friends. We all loaded Eddie's share of his and Carl's camping gear into the SUV, and Carl's model train setup into his and Eddie's truck. Then we celebrated Eddie's birthday with ice cream cake, and said goodbye for the evening to Carl, and Eddie got into the SUV and off we went.

As is common this time of year, there were a number of rainstorms and we passed through all of them. By the time we got to Fossil Creek Road, it was pouring. A truck headed back to the main road stopped us; the driver rolled down his window. "Be careful of a washout about five miles from here," he said, pointing behind him. "My truck got caught in the current and it almost slid me off over a cliff!"

We agreed to be careful, as we also noted that his vehicle didn't seem to have four-wheel drive or even adequate clearance for this rough, unmaintained road.

The wash he must have been describing was actually more like ten miles down the road. Already in four-wheel-drive, I gunned the engine and plowed through it without incident, as I did the other two washouts we encountered. We became concerned over Carl's ability to make the trip the next day, as his truck was not equipped with four-wheel-drive. But the washes usually dry up quickly, and all we could do was cross our fingers for him.

Eddie, switching to a saw after getting tired of chopping.

We made it into the campground around six o'clock or a little later. The place was thoroughly soaked, with gullies filled with rushing water and great pools occupying the centers of almost all the (most desirable) riverside sites. The best we could find was an upper site near the cliff wall, but (on the plus side) directly adjacent to the trail to the hot Spring. Michael and I set up our tent while Eddie set up his a few feet away. Then, while Eddie began chopping wood for a campfire, I set up the kitchen, since I was making dinner that night. Soon we set down to a nice meal of shrimp Alfredo in linguini with carrots, broccoli, and mushrooms (one of my favorite camp meals).

Eddie's tent to the left, ours to the right.

The rain had all but stopped long enough for us to set up camp and cook. It began to sprinkle again, though, after dinner. Since Eddie had the biggest tent, the three of us took shelter there, lying sideways on his queen-sized air mattress and chatting like ten-year-olds. (I'm pretty sure straight guys would not be comfortable doing this, but for us it was no problem.) Michael and I presented Eddie with his birthday present (MP3s of every single 'Weird Al' Yankovic album, since I knew Eddie was a fan), plus a signed copy of the book I co-wrote, The Sun City Cannabis Club.

Suddenly music blared from a site across the dirt road from us. Partiers had arrived! Why people would come to a remote, pristine place like this only to drown out the sounds of nature with The Grateful Dead is a mystery to me. Michael and I went to bed in our own tent grumbling over the excesses of youth. Michael wasn't sure he'd be able to get to sleep, but I knew I'd have no trouble. Voices and music at a steady volume don't keep me awake; the only thing that does that is voices raised in anger; and, fortunately, that was not happening.

I slept until the sun heated the tent interior to the temperature of a pottery kiln. Michael and Eddie were already up, chopping and sawing chunks from the already-downed trunks of cottonwoods that had died when the flume from the nearby Childs Power Plant was decommissioned. I turned on the stove to make breakfast, and realized I had also forgotten to bring butter in which to cook my special scrambled eggs. I was forced by necessity to fry up the bacon first, then to cook the eggs in the bacon grease. It was different than I had intended, but pretty good if I do say so myself.

Me fryin' up some bacon.

After breakfast, I relaxed while Eddie and Michael continued their attack on a stubborn cottonwood log. Of course, only one person can cut the same log at the same time.

Eddie saws cottonwood trunks while Michael poses. Dead cottonwood near the cliff wall.

I was using a camera I had just purchased from Wal-Mart. It was meant to be a replacement camera for until my daughter Karen brings back my good camera, which at this point may not happen before the Sun goes nova. Unfortunately, the camera only took a few shots (and not very clear ones) before going dead. So now I have to take it back and hope for a refund. I did get an interesting composition of a dead cottonwood near the cliff wall before the canera died, though.

Around lunchtime a forest ranger truck pulled over to our campsite and stopped. The ranger complimented us on our keeping a clean and neat camp. "We want it to be nice the next time we come," I shrugged.

"Too bad not everyone is as enlightened as you," the ranger replied. "Just last week I had to cite a group of twenty-somethings for cutting down a live, 300-year-old juniper for firewood!"

My jaw dropped in astonishment. "But green wood won't even burn!"

The ranger shook his head. "They didn't know that. They don't come here to enjoy or learn about nature; they just want to party where their parents can't check up on them. And this site right here, is suffering from overuse. It's very likely that a decision will be made soon to make this area available only for day use. People will still be able to camp along Fossil Creek, but not here."

"Too bad you can't just fix up the hydroelectric plant building for a camp host," Eddie suggested.

"We've had camp hosts," the ranger said. "They were all disasters. One of them decided to let all his friends live here without regard to the five-day limit. Another went around with a firearm, threatening people who made too much noise or didn't follow his rules. So you see, we're between a rock and a hard place. We want people to be able to enjoy this beautiful spot. On the other hand, we can't allow it to be destroyed so that no one can enjoy it. And that's what will happen if a decision isn't made to change the way it's currently being managed."

We hung around camp until Carl called Eddie to let him know he was finished at the model train exhibition and was on his way out. Eddie warned him about the rough road and Carl promised to be careful. Fortunately, there wasn't a cloud in the sky so we had some hope the road might be a little easier to navigate than it had been the day before. Eddie opened up all the windows in his tent to air it out; and then, knowing it would be at least two hours before Carl arrived, Michael, Eddie and I started out for the hot spring.

We hadn't gone far (it's only a mile hike) before heavy cumulonimbus clouds began rolling over the canyon rim.

Eddie and Michael strolling to the hot springs.

The rains of the day before had certainly taken their toll on the Verde River. Usually green in color (hence the name), it now looked as brown as the Colorado, thanks to all the rain washing mud and dirt into it.

The Verde River had been turned brown by the rains washing mud into it.

I have now made so many trips along this trail to the hot Spring that it seems short and I never miss the turnoff, which is marked by a cairn of stones.

When we reached the Spring, we saw to our annoyance that there was already a group of young people there, none of them naked, which meant we had to keep our own bathing suits and shorts on. These were some of the partiers from the night before. Three of them worked together in a pet store near ASU, as we learned from Tom, a visitor from Sweden, whose nipples were both pierced. Tom told us he kept over 150 snakes as pets in his home. He also had dozens of other exotic animals, but the snakes, he assured us, were the least trouble. "You don't even have to feed them live rodents," he added, as if that were a selling point. "You can get frozen rodents to give them now."

"Can we get a snake that would eat our cats?" I asked, still annoyed that one of them had broken an antique record I'd paid $40 for and couldn't replace. Tom ignored me and began promoting the desirability of keeping certain lizards as pets. "You can buy one of these for under $50, and just $250 would set up a terrarium suitable for keeping it healthy and happy. And they're very long-lived; your pet might well outlive you!"

"I'm not as old as I look," I replied, frostily. "Besides, why would I want it to outlive me? If I've kept something around that many years, I expect to be buried with it!" I noticed Michael looking somewhat apprehensive. He knows all about those Egyptian pharaohs who had their whole families killed and buried with them.

Meanwhile, a young lady with blonde hair (not that there's anything wrong with that!) had just heard the news from another camper that Russia had invaded Georgia. "Oh, my GA-WD!" she exclaimed. "You mean, like, we're at war?"

"Not the Georgia here," her boyfriend explained. "The Georgia there."

"I knew that," she said in a petulant voice. Then, pursing her lips as if she'd eaten a lemon, she asked, "How long before they invade their Arizona?"

"We should just float the river back to camp," one of her friends suggested, perhaps to change the subject. Or perhaps not.

"That's a good idea," one of the others agreed. "As long as we don't have anything electronic with us." Each member of the group announced he or she possessed nothing electrical that immersion in the river could hurt. Finally, it was the blonde's turn. "No, I don't have anything electronic with me," she said. "I didn't bring anything but my cell phone."

"I have a gun," one of Tom's co-workers said, and I wasn't sure if he was asking if it were electronic, or offering to put the blonde out of their misery.

"It should be okay as long as you take the bullets out of it," one of his friends advised.

And then the group was gone, free-floating down the river back to camp, leaving our group and one other guy, a regular I recognized named Neil, to enjoy the Spring in peace and quiet. We ditched our shorts and expressed our gratitude that the group had left so soon.

Suddenly, the clouds broke open and it began to rain, first a few drops, then a downpour. Michael and Eddie put their stuff in the little cave near the spring to keep dry. I had already arranged my things, with my CamelBak protecting my shoes under it, my keys and the cheap camera stuffed into the shoes and protected by socks.

Suddenly Eddie gasped. "I left my tent wide open!"

"Maybe Carl is already there," Michael suggested. But I didn't think so. In fact, after a few minutes the storm began to abate and then, suddenly, I knew: "Carl just arrived," I said. Later, when we compared notes with Carl, we found I had been exactly right. He arrived just as the last drops were falling. He didn't get there in time to prevent things getting wet, but by a miracle they hadn't gotten too wet.

As soaked as we wanted to be, we slipped our shorts and shoes back on and made our way back to camp. Eddie and Carl greeted each other affectionately (they've only been together about three years) and we learned that Carl had gotten a flat tire on the way to camp. Fortunately, he had a spare and was able to change the flat. "But now, I don't have another replacement if I lose a tire on the way out." So we agreed to follow them when we left, in case there was any problem.

The kids who decided to float back to camp arrived after us, which surprised me. One of them had managed to lose her wedding ring in the river, and the blonde was concerned that this meant her friend was no longer married and so insisted they try to look for it in the green, opaque water. However the others, including her own boyfriend, voted her down.

Her boyfriend turned out to be helpful to us, in that he had in his car an electric air compressor and offered to inflate Carl's spare tire (now on the truck) to its proper pressure. Carl accepted.

The music was louder than it had been the night before, making the campground sound like the dance floor at Studio 54. The saving grace was that the music itself wasn't too bad. In the afternoon it was mostly the Grateful Dead and Bob Marley, moving forward in time as the evening progressed, through Rob Zombie but fortunately stopping short of the rap era.

This was Eddie's night to cook and he made absolutely delicious pork chops. I had brought some ears of corn which I cooked, while Carl made mashed potatoes. (You haven't lived until you've experienced sharing cooking chores with someone else on a two-burner camp stove.)

After dinner, Carl and Eddie and I took a few steps up the trail toward the hot spring, just to get away from the noise and light of the campground party. Thanks to the heavy undergrowth we didn't have to go far; the leaves of the bushes absorbed both sound and light. With the ghostly skeleton of the abandoned power plant to one side, we looked at the stars, found our favorite constellations and enjoyed the sound of the rushing river which the underbrush couldn't mask.

"There're lots of spirits around here," Carl remarked. I nodded, as I've known that since my first visit. But it was cool to be with someone else who was also open to such awareness. "I think there was a death near where our tent is. Well, not right there," he amended, "but that was caused there, and happened elsewhere, as if the person staggered off to die."

"You can move your tent nearer ours," I offered. And for awhile it looked like we would do that; but in the end it was deemed not worth it for one more night. Besides, spirits were far less of a problem than the dance music, which showed no signs of dying.

Suddenly, above the music, was the crack! of a pistol, followed by echoing up and down the canyon. That was followed shortly by a second shot, then a third.

"Well, no one screamed," I said. "So he must be shooting across the river."

"Alcohol and guns…this will end well," Eddie predicted.

There was a fourth shot, then a fifth. But the fifth wasn't as loud, and there were no further shots. After a minute, Carl said, "Sounds like he had a misfire."

"Too bad," I joked. "After seeing him in his skimpy shorts at the spring, I'm pretty sure he has nothing else to attract the ladies."

"Certainly not a brain," Carl agreed.

By one o'clock I was too exhausted to be kept up by mere partying. I said goodnight and went to bed. I'm told Michael joined me soon thereafter, but I don't remember it.

I've said it before, but the real trick of happy camping is a good air mattress, a comfortable pillow, and opened sleeping bags strewn about as comforters. I awaken with a backache almost every morning at home, but never in camp.

Same as the day before, it was quiet in the morning. The partiers weren't sleeping in; Eddie announced that they had actually left. Which was fine with me. I could feel that the average IQ at the campground had risen.

I was dismayed to find that Michael had tried to sleep in the car. This was after he'd gotten up sometime in the early morning to go to the pit toilet. He decided he'd awakened me to do so and didn't want to wake me up again when he returned. In point of fact, he didn't wake me up when he left (regardless of what I might have said or done!) and he probably wouldn't have awakened me afterwards. If the world comes to an end while I'm asleep, I will never know it.

Eddie, his couple's primary cook, made scrambled eggs, hash browns and bacon for breakfast. Because his recipe is different than mine, they tasted different though equally delicious.

After breakfast we decided to strike camp first, then go swimming (in Carl's case, fishing). So we did so, moving our vehicles into the site abandoned by last night's party-goers, which was on the river's edge. While Carl set up his fishing gear, Eddie led the way to the "swimming hole", a spot in the river that was deep enough to actually swim in. It was also around the bend from direct line-of-sight to the campground, and therefore suitable for skinny-dipping. The path was now composed of thick, sticky mud that clutched at my beloved Tivas. Suddenly, the soles pulled out. After ten years of use, I'd blown out my sandals!

The three of us wiggled out of our shorts but, of course, left our sandals on, even me, since busted sandals are still better than bare feet against the rock-covered bottom of the Verde River. The current was much stronger than it had been when I swam here with David two weeks before; and the water was higher (though not as high as it had been the day before). Eddie demonstrated swimming in "Nature's Lap Pool", paddling furiously while remaining in exactly the same spot. We found rocks to prop ourselves against, and let the current hold us there. We watched as a hawk flew close to investigate us, and grinned at the hornets that came to drink by standing on the water as they sip. We heard Carl call triumphantly, "I got a large-mouth bass!" And Michael got sunburned to a crisp.

We hated, hated to leave. But we all agreed it would be wise to get off Fossil Creek Road before the afternoon rains started, and storm clouds were, once again, starting to fill the sky. I decided that, instead of trying to return through the mud, that I would swim to where Carl was fishing, and let Michael and Eddie, who preferred to walk, bring my clothes there. That way my shorts wouldn't get wet (although they were already quite muddy from when I took them off without removing my sandals).

But when I got to where Carl was fishing, I noted two things. 1) The water was shallower than I expected, meaning I would have to walk, not swim, to shore; and 2) Next to Carl, was a tent and some people I couldn't make out clearly but who looked like they might include a kid or two. So I had to wait out in the deep water until someone could bring me my shorts, which of course then got wet after all. On the bright side, the water washed the mud off them.

When I stepped out of the water, there were no kids after all; but who should I find sitting on a camp chair next to another man, other than Truck Guy!

Truck Guy is this person I had first spotted almost a month earlier, who drives a pale yellow truck and seems to spend all his time at the campground, despite its five-day limit on camping and the fact that he doesn't seem to actually own a tent. His companion quickly introduced himself (he lives just a few blocks from Michael and me) and recounted how he had decided he would outwait the party-goers no matter how the hell long they stayed. Now they were gone, and he was looking forward to one peaceful evening before returning to Mesa.

It was more difficult to get Truck Guy's story, because his English wasn't very good. He had a thick Mexican accent, but was able to explain that he couldn't stay at the campground all the time, because he had "animals to feed" back in Camp Verde. But whether that was his job, or they were his pets, I couldn't determine.

I changed into my last remaining dry clothes (ironically, my bathing suit) and backed the SUV out of the site, letting Eddie and Carl get their truck ahead of us. The road was still dry; in fact, it was dusty in places. The washes weren't running, and in almost no time we had reached pavement and turned toward Camp Verde. Our cell phones now working (they work in the campground but not on Old Fossil Creek Road), we called Eddie and suggested we meet at Camp Verde's Dairy Queen, as it was now late enough for an early dinner, and we hadn't really had lunch.

That gave us time for a last conversation as well as an assortment of hamburgers, Blizzards, cherry- and chocolate-covered cones, and (in my case) a strawberry shortcake ice cream sundae.

And as Michael and I left our friends at the place where the roads to Phoenix and Prescott diverge, it occurred to me that there was irony in the party kids who couldn't wait to get to Verde campground so they could act as they imagine adults act: drinking, staying up all hours, and firing guns into the air; while Eddie and Carl and Michael and I, from ten to thirty years their seniors, had spent the weekend at the campground acting as we recalled kids act: Fishing, eating ice cream, skinny-dipping, looking at stars and laughing at our own jokes.

How many years will it be before those party kids are camping and complaining at the noise the next generation of punks is making?