Monday, July 6, 2020

100 Miles of Dirt - Verde River Hot Springs and Bloody Basin Road

Verde River Hot Springs Resort Ruins
So it's a rare thing when Paul and I both have a full day off - no working from home, no classes to teach, no trucks to fix...

But Thursday was one of those days.  So we decided to again do a little something that both of us have done SOME of, but neither of us have seen ALL of.  We decided to head up to Dugas Road and off-road in to the Verde River Hot Springs, then head South to Bloody Basin Road, check out a bunch of cabins, and then home.

What a day - a very LONG day...but worth it!

Our day started out at roughly 7:30 a.m. when we left the house in the VooDoo Blue FJ. After a quick stop at Starbucks (because AZBackRoadsGirl loves her green tea in the morning!) we turned on the 50's tunes, and headed North up the I-17 to the musical tunes of Neil Sedaka, Elvis Presley, Pat Boone, and many others!  It was a relatively unremarkable ride up - we stopped at Cordes to get cookies (I know, how does the Girl Scout Cookie Mom forget cookies from the roughly 4 cases she still has at home?) and to top off the tank because we knew we were looking at about 87 miles of dirt road run today and wanted to make sure we were good to go!

Side note - I had to laugh because during this huge COVID-19 mess, I, like a good citizen, wore my mask into the store to use the restroom and then get cookies.  In the bathroom there are signs posted everywhere about washing your hands.  Note you have to hit the button on the toilet to flush it (the auto-flusher wasn't working), the sink was a manual lever you had to pull up and push down to turn on/off.  The soap dispenser required touching, and the paper towel dispenser also required touching.  Lesson learned here?  Always have your hand sanitizer with you!

Paul's Beast - the VooDoo FJ
We settled back into the truck and went the roughly 3 miles up to Dugas Road, and turned off.  As soon as we hit dirt, we stopped and aired down the tires.  Paul told me there were a few rocky spots, but other than that, the trail should be fairly easy and low key.  He forgot about the tight shelf road...that will come in a bit.

We drove across Little Sycamore Creek and through a lovely little ranch area that looked like some kind of old ghosttown - would have been fun to explore if it had been abandoned.  Lots of neat buildings...but we had a long drive ahead of us, so on we went...

There were SO many Golden Agave/Century plants in bloom this weekend.  The blooms were such a bright and shocking yellow...they were everywhere up off Dugas road - but the forest was dry - tons of yellow, dry grass.  We talked about the fire danger, and how many of the National Forests were closing due to fire danger and COVID.  In fact, coming up to Sunset Point, the entire East side of the I-17 was scorched - it was sad.  I know that fire cleanses the forest and rejuvenates the landscape - but these fires are man made and threatened homes and lives.  Be careful people.  It only takes a spark...

Ridge at about 7000 ft elevation
We stopped and took some pictures once we reached a ridge - it was absolutely beautiful - the temperature had dropped 15 degrees or more - there was a slight breeze - the views were stunning!  We continued to climb up into the "mountains" (I say mountains, but to a Colorado/Wyoming girl, these are hills).  And then there it was.  A shelf road.  A tight one - no room to pass, and occasionally required careful tire placement.  In true Paul fashion - before I could even squeak, I heard "Breathe baby, breathe - just look at me - don't look at the edge.  We've got this!"

And he was right.  After a slight hyperventilation moment, I settled in and while I didn't look down, I was able to enjoy the switch backs and some of the fun sights.  The worst part of the trail all day was on the switchbacks - it's a place where Paul has shredded a tire before.  But he navigated the boulders like a champ - and we dropped over the steps like they weren't even there.  Gotta say I'm always impressed with my guy's driving abilities - and his truck.  He makes it look easy.

The old Datsun
And then we came around a switchback and Paul pipes up "there's the old Datsun."  I was like "what are you talking about?"  And there it was, an old Datsun sedan that had gone over the edge, being held up by several trees.  Made me feel better about the switchbacks.  If we roll down the mountain, those trees are pretty strong!  (Note to self - stop with the extreme worst case scenario planning Bobbi - WTH?).  And also in true Paul fashion, he scales down the side and goes poking around the car.  I stayed with the FJ.  You know, in case it decided to drive away on its own...

We continue through the shelf road, and come up to the "T" in the road that we plan to take south AFTER we go to the hot springs.  Right there at the "T" is a newer Chevy truck - we aren't sure why it's there, but we continue on - until we hit the locked gate.

The abandoned Chevy
Now we've been having a lot of bad luck with locked gates lately.  We are less than a mile from the hot springs and we can't get in.  Sign says there is a camera.  So we turn around and head back to the "T" in the road because we figure we will try coming in from the southern route - which has traditionally been gated for the last few years, but we figured we'd give it a try.  This is how we went from 87 miles of dirt to more than 100...

At the "T" we stop to look at the truck because we notice bullet holes in the side mirrors.  The truck has clearly been abandoned.  The Forest Service has put an abandoned notice on the window.  The radio has been stolen, as has the battery.  The truck is a bit of a mess, but has clearly been there for a bit.  But there's nothing of interest, so we take off south towards the big power lines, which is where our turn off to attempt another route to the hot springs is located.

Houston Creek
On the way, we pass this beautiful little area on Houston Creek - it's all lush and green - Houston Creek is running - its quiet and gorgeous.  It would be an absolutely lovely place to camp...and still nobody on the trail.  Not a soul.

We make it to the turn off, and we start heading in towards the Verde River again.  We follow the massive power lines for a ways while Paul explains about the voltage, the insulators, arcing, etc.  Most of it is over my head, but I enjoy listening to the explanation of these enormous power structures that I see all the time but have never much thought about.  A short shelf road and a few rocky spots later, and we get to the gate.  It's open.  Paul gets out to see if it's been forced open or purposely unlocked.  We weren't able to tell, but because it was open, we went in...and in five minutes or so, we are at the Verde River.  We were at a wide portion of the river, but we weren't sure of the depth, so Paul goes out to see how deep it is.  He makes it across with the water only being thigh deep.  But I'm not overly comfortable with crossing the river, then knowing we have to cross it again further up.  So we park the truck on a little trail, eat some light lunch, then start hiking up the trail towards the hot springs.

Now - note at this point - I've not been drinking much water today, and I only ate veggies for lunch - no meat or anything substantial.  It's hot out.  And we are bushwacking our way up to the hot springs on the west side of the river.  We come to a point where we can no longer go up the river and we HAVE to cross.  I'm starting to over heat, and I realize my blood sugar is dropping (thank you hypoglycemia).  I didn't pack any granola bars, and only two bottles of water.  I change from my hiking boots to my Teva's (for water), and tentatively put my toes in the river (which felt nice after the little walk).

View of the Hot Springs Resort from the
former footbridge footing
So Paul coaxes me across the river - with the patience of Job - and makes me sit down and drink one of the bottles of water.  He hikes ahead a bit to see where we are, and comes back like 4 hours later (it was actually only 8 minutes - he timed it - but it felt like forever - and all the animal noises.  I'm certain they were eyeing me as food.  LOL).  I'm feeling better - there's been a nice breeze, and Paul tells me that after a 4 minute hike we will be able to see the old resort across the river.

Paul in the "swim hole" - aka the Verde River

As we hike up what is clearly part of the Verde flood plain, we come upon a couple of cairns, and we take the little trails to what is clearly one side of the old footbridge across the Verde.  We can see the resort!!  Now I'm excited and I can't wait to get over we continue up the east side of the river, and we come upon this HUGE swim hole right next to where we cross the river.  The river crossing, by the way, is ankle deep and maybe 15 feet across.  Total breeze.  But we decide to swim for a bit - cool off and enjoy the solitude of being the only two people up there for miles and miles.

Paul in one of the hot spring pools
After we've both cooled down, we hike over to the hot springs - which smelled - not like sulfur, but something else.  It wasn't pleasant.  We investigate the caves, the two soaking pools, and we hop in for a quick soak - but not for long.  The water is hot, and the weather is hot - not the best combination.  And we are both wanting to go back and swim in the swim hole.  We take our photos - laugh at some of the "art" and sayings painted all around, and head back and jump in the swim hole.  

After a nice, cooling swim, we discuss our route back - and decide to go up to the Childs Power Road  that heads to the old Childs Hydroelectric Power Plant which we saw bits and pieces of as we hiked up to the hot springs.  It's an easy walk up a road and down past the plant - but the plant is fenced off, so we weren't sure if we would be able to get down to the dispersed camping area (where Paul originally crossed the river and where we intended to cross back).  The fence was down at the Childs Plant, so we got to see some of the plant up close, although it is boarded up and you cannot get in.

Childs Hydroelectrical Facility Building
The Childs-Irving Hydroelectrical Facility was named an Historical Mechanical Engineering Landmark in 1971 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places 20 years later.  It was decommissioned in 2005 and no longer produces power.  Much of the complex has been removed in order to allow Fossil Creek and the Verde River to return back to their natural habitat.  Built in 1908 by Arizona Power Company (the precursor to APS), the complex provided power to mining communities in the Bradshaw Mountains and Black Hills.

The Verde River where we crossed (on foot) by the
Childs Dispersed Campground
Paul and I cross the Verde River at the Childs Dispersed Campground (closed) and got back to the truck, realizing that it's 5 p.m. already, and we still have more than 50 miles of off-road trail to complete - with a couple of stops along the way.  We start heading out - still haven't seen a single person since we turned off the highway - and we head South on FR57 towards Bloody Basin Road.

As we make our way down towards Bloody Basin Road, we stop a few times to look at cabins, or another abandoned car complete with some sort of nest in the engine compartment (a Kia Sorento??  How did that even get out here...).  The closer we get to Bloody Basin Road, the faster we can go as the road goes from a two track jeep trail to a well graded and maintained ranch road.  We go through places like "Yellow Jacket Canyon" - which we decided to avoid due to - well - yellow jackets. 

One of the Cabins
And then Bloody Basin Road came in to sight, and we knew any difficult driving was over.  We've both been down Bloody Basin Road numerous times - but there were some cabins we wanted to explore.  Arizona has a number of old ranch cabins that are out in the wilderness that owners, hikers, horseback riders, and the like leave stocked and ready for visitors.  People are welcome to stay there - you take what you need, leave a little for the next person, keep the place clean.  Many of these cabins run in lines along what would be a cattle or sheep herding operation - and are spaced fairly regularly.  Bloody Basin Road has a number of these - and we visited quite a few.  Some are easier to get to than others - some are blocked off and there are no trespassing signs (we stayed away from those).  I'm not giving any additional information as to the whereabouts, but I will post some pictures here of our find.

Another dilapidated cabin

Bloody Basin Road is the only place we saw signs of humans the entire day on the dirt - one side by side, one pick up truck, and one cattle trailer/truck.  It was a perfect day - just how we like it - me, Paul, an FJ and nature.

Final cabin of the night

As we were heading out of the Agua Fria National Monument area, we found Bloody Basin Road blocked off.  We skirted the barriers and read the signs on the other side - Bloody Basin Road/Tonto National Forest is closed due to extreme fire danger and COVID-19.  We came in through Prescott National Forest, and of course had no idea when we had moved into Tonto - but we took only pictures, left only footprints - so we were good.

As soon as we saw pavement, we stopped to air up the tires.  And we were starving for something more than just veggies and cheese - so I started looking for something to eat on the way home.  It was 9:20 on a Thursday.  I suggested RockSprings Cafe - closed.  Then Chileen's - closed.  Denny's in New River?  Closes at 10 p.m.

So we went to In-n-Out, ate in the truck, then scooted on home...we were exhausted.  It was a long day - but it was amazing - Paul, a VooDoo FJ Cruiser, 100+ miles of dirt, a hot spring, and several historic cabins!  No better way to spend the day - gotta love Arizona!

Me and Paul - Verde River Hot Springs Resort Ruins

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