14 adventurous hikers gather at the Fossil Springs Trailhead.
On a typically beautiful Arizona spring morning in mid-May the following
fourteen adventurous hikers assemble for a group picture at the Fossil Springs
Trailhead, before starting our 1,500-foot descent into the Fossil Springs area:
Dan, Michael, Angela, Sam, Mike, John, Anatoli, Natasha, George, Tim,
Joyce, Chuck, Kathy, and Tim.
Under crystal clear, sapphire blue skies, with the temperature a balmy 75
degrees and a refreshing breeze blowing up from the canyon below, we start our
four-mile hike into the springs.
The time is 9:30 AM in Rim Country, Arizona, U.S.A.
Our trailhead starts out at an elevation of 5,800 feet, and we will descend all
the way to 4,300 feet before reaching our destination at Fossil Springs.
Most of our trail today lies within Fossil Springs Wilderness, 11,550 acres of
rugged canyon country carved into the southern edge of the vast Colorado
Plateau, an area we in Arizona know as the Mogollon Rim.
White water on Fossil Springs.
The upper trail follows a long abandoned jeep trail for the first couple of
miles, as it winds its way down past an old gravel pit through forests of pinyon
pine, juniper, scrub oak, and manzanita.
The trail is relatively smooth in places, but much of it requires carefully
stepping through a virtual minefield of rocks and small boulders, as we slowly
make our way down to the springs.
It isn’t too long before we catch our first sight of the elevated water
flume, built around 1900 to divert water from Fossil Creek for Arizona’s
first hydroelectric generator in Childs.
In 1916 the flume was extended, and a second dam and hydroelectric generator was
constructed two miles downstream in Irving.
Fossil Springs – a riparian paradise.
These two power plants were able to provide much of the electrical power needs
for the city of Phoenix in the 1920s, when it was a sleepy little town of only
Although still in operation, both plants are scheduled to be decommissioned and
eventually demolished, along with the seven-mile long flume.
The million gallons per hour of natural spring water, diverted these many years
for the hydro plants, will be rerouted back into the creek bed, and the Fossil
Springs area will be restored back to its original natural state.
It was also during this period, popularly known as the Roaring 20s, that the
Verde Hot Springs Resort was constructed about a mile upstream from Childs.
These were Prohibition times, when alcohol was hard to come by for most, but
with the right connections it could always be found in certain places, including
Verde Hot Springs.
Although the resort burned down in 1962, its two natural hot springs pools are
still available to hikers who are willing to wade the Verde River a couple of
times to reach them.
As we drop in elevation and become more exposed to the sun on much of the trail,
the air temperature begins to heat up, but a cooling breeze always seems to cool
us down just as we begin to get uncomfortably warm.
After about 3.5 miles we finally reach the canyon floor and Fossil Springs, a
lush green riparian habitat that supports over 100 bird species and more than 30
species of trees and shrubs, including towering cottonwood and sycamore trees
that line the length of the springs.
This is also an ideal haven for deer, black bear, mountain lion, javelina,
coatimundi, fox, coyote, snakes (including rattlers), and numerous other small
This is such an amazing contrast to all of the other areas we have seen on our
earlier hikes this year, where the land is suffering the effects of
Arizona’s prolonged drought, that it almost seems like another world, a
hidden little paradise unknown to most desert dwellers.
There are even a surprising number of wildflowers blooming along the springs,
including the spectacular golden columbine.
Since it is now a little past 11:00, we decide this is the perfect place to stop
and take a relaxing lunch break in the shade provided by an overhead canopy of
cottonwood and sycamore trees.
Some of our hikers have removed their boots and socks and are cooling tired, hot
feet in the crystal clear, cool waters of Fossil Springs.
A couple of kids are trying their luck fishing for the spring’s elusive
trout in a nearby deeper pool, while others are swinging out over the pools on a
long rope swing and dropping into the water with a loud splash.
This is one of Arizona’s few permanently flowing springs, where over one
million gallons of pure 72 degree spring water gush out of the ground every
Fossil Springs actually acquired its name from exposed limestone containing 350
million-year-old marine fossils, remnants of an ancient past when Arizona and
much of the west lay beneath a vast shallow inland sea.
Hikers stop to enjoy lunch and admire the scenery.
It is really tempting to spend the rest of the day right here, just relaxing and
enjoying the sights and sounds of nature, but we finally decide to move on and
follow the trail south for another half-mile to Fossil Springs Dam.
I was hoping to find some of the daring cliff divers, diving into the deep, dark
pools far below, that we had seen on our hike here last year, but today we would
only see a solitary couple sunbathing below us by the deepest pool below the
Last one in buys the beer, boys!
I had heard an earlier rumor over our TalkAbout radios about some nude
sunbathers in the area, which is sometimes known for such frolicking antics sans
bathing suits, but we would not see any of them today.
I think perhaps they heard the Motorola Hiking Club was in the area and decided
to suit up for us.
Darn! Looks like I carried my telephoto lens for nothing today.
After crossing the dam and heading back on the opposite trail for a short
distance, we come across several of our group, including Michael, Tim, and
Sam, swinging out on a long rope and dropping into a deep pool beneath a
sprawling sycamore tree at the edge of the springs.
Kathy is also in the water, but I did not get a chance to see her swing out on
the rope, and she did not seem any too willing to do a repeat performance for my
camera, so I settled on several pictures of the guys swinging out and dropping
into the cool waters.
As fun as all of this has been, we must think about starting our four-mile climb
out of this canyon and back to the trailhead.
We also have 1,500 feet of elevation gain ahead of us, and the day is only going
to get hotter.
We split up and head back on both trails on either side of the springs to the
About a half-mile from the dam Kathy spots a small diamondback rattlesnake
coiled up and sunning itself along the edge of the trail.
Several versions of this snake story resulted in a rattlesnake that was
somewhere between six inches and six feet in length.
The snake must have decided we were not suitable prey and soon decided to
slither off into the brush in search of something a little smaller and easier to
By the time we got back to the main trail and started the climb out of the
canyon and this lush aquatic paradise known as Fossil Springs, the temperature
had risen to 90 degrees.
Despite the unseasonable heat, we were fortunate enough to have a refreshing and
cooling breeze accompany us all the way back to the trailhead, becoming even
stronger as we neared the top.
The perfect summertime swimming hole.
We also took advantage of the plentiful shady areas along the trail, provided by
large pine and junipers.
Between the shade, cooling breezes, and plenty of water breaks, we all made it
back to the trailhead by 3:00 PM, despite the warm temperatures.
After cleaning up a bit and parting company, Anatoli suggests that some of us
meet in Strawberry for a few cold beers and something to eat.
Arriving in the picturesque little village of Strawberry, we pull up to the
Strawberry Sports Chalet.
This place must be popular with the local bikers as well, since we had no sooner
settled in at several of the outdoor tables, when about a dozen bikers pulled up
on their Harleys.
While quenching our thirst with pitchers of ice-cold beer, Anatoli and Sam
get into a deep philosophical discussion on the making of a good Russian vodka.
Most of us were unsure if vodka was made from potatoes or wheat.
Flowers and falls.
It turns out that both are actually used, but the very best vodkas are always
made with wheat, while the cheap stuff – pedestrian swill for the poor
pheasants – is typically made from the local potato crop.
As we dig into several plates of sizzling hot appetizers, including fried
chicken strips, battered and fried mozzarella cheese sticks, and mushrooms,
Anatoli is questioned once again about his survival experience with Candi Cook
last year, while hiking in the Four Peaks area.
Anatoli and Candi were on a routine day hike in the Four Peaks in April, 2001.
Their goal was to hike to the top of Brown’s Peak, highest of the Four
Peaks, and time permitting, climb at least one or two of the others.
The day had started out bright and sunny, without a cloud in the sky, but
unknown to them, a serious late spring storm front was fast approaching out of
As the front bore down on them, and the weather quickly deteriorated, they tried
making their way back down the trail.
Rain soon turned into sleet and then slushy snow, as the air temperature
With the storm fast approaching near whiteout conditions, they realized there
was no hope of making it back down the mountain and had to make some quick
Candi had a cell phone with her and was able to get a 911 call out with their
location, before the batteries eventually died.
They had no emergency supplies and no extra clothing with them, and soon
realized they would have to spend the night in the middle of a snowstorm in the
A lot of people might not have made it under such life-threatening conditions,
but Anatoli and Candi were seasoned and experienced enough hikers to keep
presence of mind, to not panic, and, above all, not give up hope.
That, perhaps more than anything else, made all the difference in the world for
them, as they survived a night that saw temperatures drop to the upper 20s and
resulted in a foot of fresh snow on the ground by early morning.
They were actually able to walk out and meet their rescuers early that morning.