By Nash Wills, Co-Editor
Arizona is weird. Arizona is beautiful. Now those aren’t opinions, they’re facts, and whenever you blend the two together you know you’ve found something special. I’m not talking about your average run-of-the-mill tourist spots like Sedona, Antelope Canyon, or Horseshoe Bend. I’m talking about those spots you’ve really got to search for in order to find. Those hippie vortexes where the ball actually roles uphill when you drop it on a downward slope. Oh they’re out there, but you’ve got to put in some time for fate to eventually smile down upon you and place you at one. This past weekend, the stars finally aligned for myself and a few fellow T-birds. So we cleared our schedules, packed our bags, and headed up north one last time to discover a rarely seen side of The Grand Canyon State. Rumors told us stories of a promised land where fresh water boils out the side of a mountain into little pools. They also told us of old burned down hotels, power plants, and nudists…Our destination: The Verde Hot Springs.
Getting to the town of Camp Verde is easy enough. All you’ve got to do is take the I-17 north until you get to exit 287. It’s one of the few stops on the way to Flagstaff. Many a time I have stopped at that McDonalds or Taco Bell during a road trip up yonder way. Getting to the Verde Hot Springs is a different story entirely, though. Google Maps isn’t of much use. Instead, you’ve got to find some wonky old directions typed up on the Internet that say things like: “Continue on to the somewhat signed turnoff to the right;” “Follow the beautiful but bumpy & sometimes scary road;” or “It’s fairly steep and washed. You might just want to walk that section.”
Once you actually make it to the right turnoff, which is just after mile marker 228, you’ll run into a park ranger. He’ll be friendly and will ask you where you’re going. You’ll respond, “the Verde Hot Springs.” He will start laughing and say something like, “Alright well you’re just gonna take this dirt road for about 20 miles until you get to a fork where you’ll go right and then eventually run into a cattle guard where you’re gonna need to assess if you should walk the rest of the way. You’ll know once you get to the campsite because of the naked homeless guy running around.” Everyone will then laugh together, but you’ll drive off wondering just what you’ve gotten yourself into.
The dirt road into the mountains really is beautiful. So is the campsite. We ended up getting stuck in the dirt with Alex’s truck, but someone with a Hemi was kind enough to eventually tow us out. Making it to the actual campsite is just one leg of the journey, though. After you’ve settled in, it’s time to begin the mile-long trek to the hot springs. The hike isn’t too bad. Along the way you will pass by forgotten sheds, forgetful people, and not enough signs. Eventually you’ll get to the river, which you have to cross, and if you’re lucky like we were, you’ll run into your first nudist here. Ours: a twenty-something beatnik with only a ukulele covering up his you-know-what. As he’s crossing the river we ask him to play a song for us, but I don’t think he gets it.
The river is actually swifter than you’d expect. We almost lost Melissa and a couple of dogs to the current, but all’s well that ends well. Mike tried crossing a few hundred yards back on his own and we still can’t find him…
If, like me, you have never been to a hot spring before, then you too would probably be expecting something stereotypical. A beautiful natural blue hole in the ground, perhaps? Steam rising from the surface, enticing you to immerse yourself? The Verde Hot Springs couldn’t be further from that idyllic image…
The current springs are all that’s left of a once swanky and famous hotel that operated from the early 1920s up until 1962 when it tragically burnt to the ground. In the 1970s the remnants of the getaway fell into the hands of some Bohemians and apparently became somewhat of a thriving nudist commune. When the state government found out that a bunch of squatters were living on the land for free, though, they deemed the area “unsafe” and had it bulldozed down to the foundations. All that’s left now are two pools that were built into cliffside. The main pool is deep and remains a steady 98 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s out in the open and allows for scenic views of the river and surrounding mountains. There’s a nice spot where you can jump out into the cold river and climb back up the banks before sprinting back to the hot springs. The other pool is definitely different. Burning a little hotter, at around 104 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s walled off for some reason and completely covered in graffiti on the inside. While you’re splashing around, be sure to not only absorb the geothermal warmth, but also the nudist mantras coming at you from all directions.
If you’re feeling extra adventurous, like we were, you can plan a nice day trip to Winslow, AZ for the next day. Winslow is literally nothing more than a dot on the map, but it has some great little creeks that meander through beautiful canyons. Kayak rentals are done mostly through the barter system. We found some guy who we referred to as Farmer Bob that had a bunch of kayaks sitting out in his front yard and a sign with his phone number on it. We gave him a ring and he rented us a few vessels for $20 a piece.
As someone who is leaving Arizona in a little over a month, I can say without hesitation that I am going to miss the hell out of this state. There is really nowhere else where the topography and geography of the land changes so quickly. I feel as though you could spend an entire lifetime exploring this beautiful country and still not have enough time to see and do it all. My advice to those I’m leaving behind: plan trips, search for those secret spots, go camping, and get out there. Time is finite and precious. Take every chance you get to step outside of the Thunderbubble and enjoy this land while you can, because you never do quite know when you’ll be back.
Feature photo courtesy of: aquariansunrise.com