By Makarand Gawade, Staff Writer
I must admit that Fossil Creek is one of the most beautiful places I have been to in Arizona! I traveled to Phoenix for the first time in March 2014 for a Thunder-preview weekend. When I landed at Sky Harbor, I was depressed to see arid mountains all around; I had never experienced such dry weather and barren terrain. However, I must mention that over a period of last two years, I have fallen in love with the valley of the sun. To date, this place has not stopped surprising me, be it the red rocks in Sedona, the majestic Grand Canyon, the miraculous Antelope Canyon, or the beautiful Pine trees and four inches of snow around Flagstaff! In the last year, I developed a deep passion for hiking, and did a number of scenic and refreshing hikes around Phoenix area. Last week I hiked with few T-birds in Fossil Creek in Northern Arizona, and believe me, that place is a hidden gem. The emerald green mountains and aqua blue water basins with multiple water falls make this place really special in the middle of the dry desert.
There are a few ways to access Fossil Creek. You can get to this trail through the town of Strawberry (approximately 90 miles north of Phoenix) or through Camp Verde. The route from Strawberry is closed until further notice. The west entrance to Fossil Creek is open from Camp Verde via FH 9 (Hwy 260) and FR 708. From Phoenix, drive on I-17 towards Flagstaff, take exit 287, turn east on State Route 260 towards Payson, and travel about 10 miles. Between mile 228 and 229, take Forest Road 708 (Fossil Creek Road) which will intersect SR 260 on the right, indicated as Fossil Creek/Verde River. From this point onwards, there is very rough dirt road for about 14 miles. I strongly recommend driving a high clearance vehicle to reach the trail head of Fossil Creek.
An interesting story about Fossil creek is that it used to be a hydroelectric power station for small communities since early 1900s. The steady water flow was harnessed to operate electrical turbines. The Arizona Public Service decided to shut down the plant in 1999 and did not recommission it, which actually helped this place to become a popular tourist destination. Some of the attractions at Fossil Creek are multiple hiking trails; swimming holes; water play; unique rock formations; great scenery; and wildlife viewing.
We hiked to the water fall of Flume trail. It is around ten miles to and fro. The trail commences by crossing a shallow creek. It then follows the old Flume road gradually gaining about 1900 feet in elevation over 4.5 miles.
From high up on the slopes, one can see lush green mountains and beautiful water falls. Along the way, there are a number of fascinating canyons and scenic spots where you can take pictures. This hike is indeed lucrative for avid photographers. Overall, the hike is medium to high in difficulty level. I would call it a bit difficult because the total length of the hike is ten miles, and especially now that the temperatures are rising, it can be really taxing on the body. Do remember to carry at least a gallon of water, energy drinks, protein bars, and peanut butter sandwiches. The total hike can take approximately five-eight hours depending upon the fitness level of the hiking members. Please count in at least one-two hours extra for rejuvenating in crystal blue waters at the headwaters under the majestic waterfall.
For this hike, I believe, it is best to have a buddy accompany you, because of the remote location and long distance. A partner or group can help you navigate as well as assist if you get hurt. I would strongly recommend familiarizing yourself with the trail map, checking the weather, and packing accordingly. If you wish to hike this trail in the near future and are looking for a buddy, look no further than the writer of this article!