7) “Job Springs”
– Jan. 13 – 17, 2014
I know what happened, now all I have to do is write it down. An incidental advantage of procrastination is the added time one receives for past reflection, allowing the writer to view a number of recent events as a cumulative whole, rather than in linear form and always rolling from left to right like an 8-bit gaming character in a consecutive series of “and then…” moments (and then we left Scottsdale, and then we went to Arcosanti, and then we drove to Prescott, and then we went up to Jerome…). The disadvantage to this accidental approach is its reliance on memory, to both allow access to all pertinent details and to also not cloud or confuse those details.
Let us move forward to Friday January 17th, 2014. The first mechanic shop by any description that we passed was a Napa Auto Parts store. We noticed it first because it was just barely off Highway 260, maybe a couple buildings in from the highway, on the main street through a town called Camp Verde. A friend we had made from Santa Fe – Andre, who sold organic honey at the farmer’s market – had mentioned Camp Verde to us, and had told us to find the hot springs there. So passing through Camp Verde anyways, coming north on the 17 toward Flagstaff, we decided to check it out. Internet searches, we discovered, were of little use in locating the Verde Hot Springs. The best source was from somebody’s blog dated 2011, where they had added a handful of photos along with the most minimal of details in how to get there. The bloggers had found, as we would a few years after them, that there was very little information available the whereabouts of these hot springs, even among the locals of Camp Verde.
As soon as I approached the mechanic at Napa Auto Parts, stating, “I just came from…”, he quickly finished my sentence for me with, “Fossil Creek Road, Verde Hot Springs”. I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised. He added, “That’s where I make all my business, Verde Hot Springs. We call it Job Springs“. Something Andre had not mentioned to us about Verde Hot Springs was the act of getting there. After our recent find of the Montezuma Hot Springs we had been asking around to anyone who might know, “Where can we find more hot springs?” Thus, Andre pointed us towards Camp Verde. The first person we asked about the hot springs when arriving in Camp Verde – a gas station attendant – did not know about any such thing. He was a local, and this was a small town, and he didn’t know anything about any hot springs.
The next day, we arrived at Montezuma Castle National Monument, remarking to each other about the coincidence of just having come from the hot springs near a Montezuma Castle Hotel in New Mexico, and now here we were in Arizona only a couple weeks later, at a different “Montezuma Castle” and inquiring about different nearby hot springs. This “other” Montezuma Castle we had just come to now is perhaps the better known of the two: a pueblo village which had been built into the side of a cliff almost a thousand years ago. We asked the woman at the Visitor’s Centre if she knew anything about hot springs in Camp Verde, to which she replied, “There are no hot springs in Camp Verde”. Her tone had become ominous, as if we had just asked a munchkin about seeing The Wizard. She did elaborate, after a bit of prodding on our parts, saying that if we drove far enough out Fossil Creek Rd., toward Payson, we would eventually find Fossil Creek Springs, but they were not hot springs, just natural springs, and very much in the middle of nowhere. She warned us about the two and half hours it would take to travel the 25 mile dirt road, a road that teetered on the edge of a cliff for that entire duration, and which was comprised largely of clay, so as to wash away easily under any amount of rain. She described the peppering of lost cars we would see at the bottoms of these cliffs, adding that if we made it out of the wreck, AAA would not come to our assistance. Not on Fossil Creek Rd.
The third and final person we asked about Verde Hot Springs knew all about it. His attitude was completely different than the woman’s at the National Monument, and unlike the gas station attendant, this third and final person did know about them. He was probably the owner of a cafe we stopped at to use WiFi, and his demeanour was casual when describing to us the directions, which began with, “Turn right onto Fossil Creek Rd.”
Whoever first called it a “road” must have been feeling generous that day. We turned right, off Highway 260 heading east, onto Fossil Creek Rd. Something about the mixture of responses we had received allowed us to rationally ignore the National Monument worker’s attempts to deter us from such an adventure. The bloggers from 2011 had mentioned that the washboard road would “only get worse”, but that ultimately the experience was totally worthwhile. Their photos showed it to be a beautiful place, and the very posting of those photos were testament that they had indeed made it back out, alive. As is often the case, the lesser travelled road brings higher and greater rewards. Andre had recommended it, and the cafe owner had described its whereabouts calmly, without warning. So we turned right onto Fossil Creek Rd., leaving any pavement behind us for what would be the next three days.
We had gone prepared, filling up our gallon water jugs with fresh drinking water, filling Midge to the brim with a full tank of gasoline, and having enough food to eat for days. Further, the very fact that we have condensed all of our necessities down into a single car and a tiny 13′ camping trailer, means that anywhere we go, as long as the car and trailer are with us, we have everything we need. At any given time, despite our small cargo size, we could literally disappear from all traces of society and get by perfectly fine with all essentials for at least a week, so with a little bit of forethought we could extend that time period much further.
The entire trip would look like this: about 17 miles down Fossil Creek Rd. from the highway; then make a right and continue down Childs Power Rd. for another 8 or so miles (a strange name but explained by a tiny and possibly abandoned power plant called Childs Power Plant at the end of the road); from the camp sites at the base of the Verde River, get out and walk to the right for more than a mile, past the power plant; look for little stone inuksuit (I just learned today that inuksuit is the plural for inuksuk!) to guide you off the main path toward a narrow part of the Verde River; walk across the Verde River with near-freezing water pushing at you with strong current up to almost your waist; when you reach the other side of the river, turn left and walk about a quarter mile to Verde Hot Springs.
The Verde Hot Springs Hotel was created in 1922 and operated until it burned down in 1966. There was apparently a cable car that would bring people across the Verde River from the main “road”, but even the act of simply getting to the one end of the cable car would have been a task in itself. I seriously doubt that road has either improved or declined since 1922 until now; the static definition of its rocky density seemed to transcend time. The Verde Hot Springs Hotel was purportedly built by the Mafia, and Al Capone had done some hiding out there for a period of time. After arriving at the location myself, I can not think of a better hiding place.
Kat and I drove down Fossil Creek Rd. for about two hours, and for the most part I had to disagree with the bloggers’ statement about it “only getting worse”. The dirt road started out rather severe, with rocks and bumps and uneasiness the whole way; it didn’t take long before we were following it along the edge of a cliff; and if it didn’t get worse it, neither was it getting better. After almost two hours of me averaging maybe 10 miles an hour, and only spotting one car hopelessly abandoned at the bottom of one of the cliffs, we made it to the right-hand turn onto Childs Power Rd. This is where it would only get worse.
The hills got steeper, both the ups and the downs. I had to consider the hills where we were driving downwards before I drove down them, because sooner or later we would need to turn around and drive back up them. Some of the “ups” were getting harder and harder to manage, and this only made me more aware of the hills we had come down. Had any of them been steeper than any of the hills we had just barely made our way up? Eventually it was about 4pm and I was confronted with an added challenge to all of the stressful driving that was now starting to wear on my ability to concentrate after more than two hours: the sun was starting to set over the mountains. I seemed to be driving straight into the sun for much of the final stretch, and so at some turns I would be confronted with its light right in my eyes while at the next turn it would be gone and the shadows in contrast seemed too dark to focus on. Spotted at the bottom of an indeterminable cliff was a second lost car. AAA was not coming to their assistance.
We had driven about 23 miles in about two and a half hours, and with only 2 miles left to go, the road got worse. I stopped the car and got out and ran for some of the distance on foot, meticulously judging the ground I was contemplating driving across. We didn’t have a Jeep or a pick up truck or an SUV or anything like that. This was a Toyota Yaris, not really intended for towing anything at all, and not really meant for off-roading of any kind. I had to make a judgment call, and running back to the car, decided that this would be as far as we would go, at least with the trailer.
One might be surprised what the Yaris is actually capable of, and having found some of its ultimate limits less than two months ago in New Mexico, I felt I had a pretty good grasp on what to expect and what not expect from it from that point forward. Towing the trailer is fine enough on a paved road, but it seriously hinders the Yaris’s ability to grip to dirt roads with any effective force. With the sun slowly setting behind the mountains, and the final two miles in front of us seeming to be too much for us to handle, we discouragingly called it a day and decided to sleep where we were, at the top of a final peak before the final two miles which was a steep switchback all the way to the bottom and to the Verde River. This happened to be on the night of a full moon, and being more than 20 miles from any artificial light, it is incredible to know the true luminescence of a full moon over land. Shortly after the sun set, the moon rose from the opposite side of the sky, and for the entire night it appeared as if the entire wilderness was lit up like a parking lot. Seeing outdoors with no flashlight or any artificial light at all was done clearly and easily. Kat made a fire pit and we lit a fire, and then fell asleep early.
On the 16th in the morning, we left Emma, the Cadet, at the top of that final peak, and us and Midge made it, eventually, down the steep path of rocks, the last two miles, almost, to the Verde River camp grounds. We parked about a quarter mile from the bottom in a makeshift sort-of parking area, because of some final rocks in the road that I thought might be the death of Midge, where there was one other vehicle already parked, and we walked that last quarter mile. I had some dishes with me that I was going to wash in the Verde River and then walk them back up to the car before we began our true hike to the hot springs, and since I had forgot the dish soap back at the car I washed the dishes with my shampoo, in the Verde River which turned out to be basically freezing. I think only its momentum as a powerful river kept it from literally turning to ice. This was January though, and at this point I figure it could only get warmer for any other time of the year. Before we reached the bottom with the dishes though, a large dog was suddenly running at me and barking, who turned out not to attack me though, and when we saw the dog with his owner later he appeared friendly.
We followed a footpath to the service road that was down by Childs Power Plant, a building that was maybe the size of a large house and may or may not have been operational. At some point I dropped a running shoe of mine (I had been carrying extra shoes in addition to the sandals I was wearing). I figured I would find the shoe on the walk back eventually. The service road ran for more than a mile down to a point where it led into the water as a boat launching area, and was as rocky and unmaintained as anything we had recently driven through. We missed the turn off to the area where people walked across the river, marked by an inuksuk, because of its miniature size and inconspicuous presence. We had passed only one other pair of hikers along that road, and when we asked them about the turnoff, one of them literally said, “You can’t miss it.” Exactly those words. The marker was a small piling of rocks maybe a few inches high, surrounded by other ordinary and unintentional piles of rocks. When we backtracked and eventually found the marker, it became clear that there were other similar markers leading us to the Verde River, to a crossing point that was maybe only twenty feet across from one bank to the other.
I think I mentioned that the Verde River was basically freezing cold. It was basically freezing cold. There was a powerful force to it that made it hard for me to walk through, and the temperature, which was basically freezing cold, was numbing my legs completely. The rope I had brought which I intended to tie across the river to help Kat and then the both of us on the way back, was slightly too short (we now carry two of these ropes instead of just one). I made three trips across the river because of the amount of stuff we were carrying, none of which we really wanted getting wet or have swept away.
The last quarter mile after the river, to the left, seemed easy in comparison to everything leading up to that point. The Verde Hot Springs are a construction of probably cement or concrete walls which trap the hot spring water that flows out of the earth there. There is a larger outdoor pool that is too deep to stand up in, and a smaller pool the size and depth of a hot tub, and this smaller pool lies inside of four cement walls but with no roof and an open doorway. There was also a very small third pool outdoors the size for one person to sit in, but which seemed stagnant and unused. Apparently people used to come here for drunken parties years after the hotel burned down and would graffiti the four walls and the stairs and general area of the hot springs, but over the years the crowd sort of shifted into a more peaceful, hippy gathering, the graffiti shifting with it for a more positive atmosphere. When we found it, there was a woman there with a dog who was just leaving. When we told her about how we would have to drive back up to the trailer to sleep at night, she offered us an extra tent for the night so we could hang out with everyone at the camp ground (about a dozen people). Then we met Mark, who somebody later referred to as ‘the cave man’ on account of him having literally been living in a small cave in the hot spring area. There were two small caves right by the hot springs, and Mark had been living in one of them for the past eight days and cleansing his body on a diet of lemon juice, water, and maple syrup (I don’t remember the reasoning for the maple syrup). He was interesting to talk to, and told us there were bats living in the same small cave he was living in, and before long we was off on a hike. He was going to write down some names of other hot springs for us, but we eventually left before he got back from his hike.
Another thing about Verde Hot Springs is that it seems to be unofficially a nude experience. It was surprising how many people we saw at these springs considering (a) it was winter, (b) how hard it is to get to, both by vehicle and by foot, and (c) that we only stayed there for a few hours at the most, and most of the people there, though not all, went nude. Even much of the peaceful loving graffiti encouraged it. We met another man shortly after meeting Mark who was also on a cleanse diet, living for a week on apple juice, apples, and grapefruit. It was such a serene place and a great reward for the difficulty in getting to, but before long we were going to have to make our long trip back to the car and then back to the trailer, and I wanted to build in some extra emergency time to make sure we get back before dark. (While considering the tent we could borrow, we decided that there were too many things we needed back up at the trailer, so we opted out on a night at the camp ground to get back to Emma for some dinner and blankets and such things we had not brought down to the river with us). On the way back across the river, the current almost swept Kat and I away, and did succeed in removing permanently and forever one of my sandals. I now had one sandal and one shoe, and luckily they made a left-and-right pair. I walked about a mile wearing one sandal and one shoe, until eventually I did find that other shoe I had dropped along the way, picked it up, and put it on.
After a second night under a full moon sky, we woke on the third day and focused on getting out alive. We both knew the road coming in was not easy and the thought of having to make it back out on that same road rarely left my thoughts. It felt good to finally get it out of the way, and because the road turned out to be a little bit easier on the brakes for the drive back, and I a little more confident in my ability to successfully navigate it, we made it back to the pavement of Highway 260 in only an hour and a half (an hour less than the time it took going in, cutting the travel time almost in half).
I agreed with the mechanic that if the only damaged accrued was the severing of the wire under the car that powered the brakes and running lights to the trailer, then we made it out from Verde Hot Springs a lucky couple. He told me then that he had seen all sorts of disasters from cars towed out from Fossil Creek Rd., including cars that had torn out their transmissions and even their whole engines. But even a dangerous road can be driven carefully, and with some judgment and knowledge of our actual abilities in such a setting, the severed wire was the only damage done, costing us about $24.
We had left Dave and Sandy’s house before all this, on Sunday January 12th, and arrived too late for a tour of Arcosanti, so we slept in their parking lot and waited for them to open at 9am the next morning. Arcosanti has been called ‘an urban laboratory’. It was conceived around 1970 by a Frank Lloyd Wright protege, architect Paulo Soleri, as an antithesis for urban sprawl and city planning as we know it. Entire city overhauls would be expensive and chaotic, but Soleri imagined future cities modelling themselves in such a way as to eliminate the need for vehicles within city centres, mixing all zones of activity into centralized clusters to create the possibility of pedestrian mobility. For further travelling or for travelling from cluster to cluster, there would be train systems to replace highways. The city design even considered that some clusters could be made buoyant and would float on water. More than forty years later, very little of his dream has been realized, and Arcosanti has been existing at less than five percent of its perceived design for years. Arcosanti was to be a prototype to demonstrate the possibility of such a revelation in our approach to co-existing with our natural habitat while maintaining certain comforts and luxuries, and perhaps it still has time become that demonstration, although it would appear that before being able to demonstrate its ability to change our city infrastructures there must first be a desire for that change. Sadly, decades after its groundbreaking, and with the recent death of Soleri in 2013, that desire for change has not yet magnified into any significant action.
It is possible, if one applies to their 5-week program to study Arcosanti and its ideals, to live and work within Arcosanti, but even today there are only about one hundred occupants at any given time; the full potential for a complete prototype would house and employ five thousand people. After such a length of time, it is understandable for Arcosanti to have lost its momentum, but enthusiasm and perseverance are the only things that could still save it from total obscurity. I would gladly live at Arcosanti, and maybe one day I will make it happen. As for Arcosanti‘s present day role, it appears that drumming up popular interest and selling it to the mainstream audience is their weakest skill. They need money to further the experiment, and they need interested people en masse to receive that money from. What they are rich in, though, are solutions.
We drove to Prescott that night after spending the day at Arcosanti. Waking the next morning, we left the trailer behind in a parking lot, at the suggestion of others, to drive up to Jerome. Jerome is dubbed ‘Arizona’s most vertical town’, built on the steep side of the Mingus Mountains at an elevation of about 6,000 feet above sea level. It’s a modern day ghost town with about 300 residents, most of whom seem to own shops to sell “Jerome” paraphernalia to more than a million tourists annually, but in its heyday, the town used to be the second largest city in Arizona, when copper was discovered and mined out of its hills in the 1800’s up until the early 1900’s. Notorious for fast money, it was home to many brothels and prostitutes, and dozens of tough-guy cowboy saloons that stereotype the Old West. The road up was steep and windy, although we hit it in good weather on a warm sunny day with no ice or snow on the roads, so while we left the trailer behind in Prescott, we could have after all managed to bring it with us. If we had have brought the trailer with, we would have gone down the other side of the mountain through Clarkdale and Cottonwood; since we did not bring it with, we went back the way we came at the end of the day to collect the trailer. Back at the parking lot in Prescott, we retrieved Emma, and drove to Camp Verde at night to seek out some hot springs the next morning.
We paid Napa Auto Parts roughly $24, and vowing to give old Midge and Emma a little break from dirt roads for a while, drove to Sedona and found a quiet place to sleep.