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I am writing this up more for the exercise than for providing a wonderful “Trail” review as this was, as it aptly defined itself at the east warning sign, a “Primitive Road”.

One of the side effects of LD’s new work from home job is she gets “Cabin Fever” and needs to get out and about to recover from a week of spreadsheets, faxes and (in the words of her boss) “Third Party ****roaches”. To be forthcoming, we have run the Hades out of the back roads between Heber and Alpine based from our home in Show Low but we have spent very little time on the trails here around Phoenix (Four Peaks and Crown King, Bushnell Tanks and Sycamore Creek being about all we have run). So with the little bit of discussion we read about Fossil Creek we decided to throw the gear in “OSO” and see what we could see.

For the purpose of this I will begin in Pine since we live on the east side and who really needs to know how to drive the beeline to Payson. Still being unsure, and always defaulting to over cautious, we made the last possible fuel stop which was a small “two pumper on the right just a you enter Pine. For the location, fuel was “reasonable” and pretty close to the price here in the city (3.59/gal) and, unlike many small towns; the pumps were fully electronic and accepted Credit/Debit at the pump. (That the sticker indicated the Department of Weights and Measures had not tested the pumps since 2006 was simply an interesting small town aside). It seems the locals in Pine have forsaken full size transportation for ATV’s as we had the only enclosed vehicle at the pumps until a Ti FJ rolled in and the Blonde-ish woman driving ducked inside the small snack store for something other than gas. The FJ wave we gave was not returned. With “OSO” filled to the teeth and the extra 5er in the back (we need to get a rack…soon) we made the 4-mile drive into Strawberry and made the left on Fossil Creek Road.

The first 5 miles are all pavement winding through roadside summer and “Retired Here” residence homes and a forest of ‘For Sale” signs with arrows pointing up (or down) some small, dirt spur road into the trees. The pavement ends with the classic yellow “Primitive Road…Caution…Use at your own risk…This surface is not regularly maintained”. Only good things could lay ahead! We have traveled many roads that began so sublimely in the north east part of Arizona to find that later in the road, it was so significantly “…not regularly maintained” that ruts, washouts, mud holes and fallen Ponderosa pines made the road nearly impassible. Hopes of finding any of this were at least partially dashed when we passed a Hyundai Tiburon going the other way. While I know from experience having driven a brand new 1995 Mercury Cougar (rental…tip, never buy from a rental company) over the “Class 2.5-3” route which spans the back service trail between Alta and Park City Utah, that many things are possible, the “kids” in this car had no such insanity obvious.

A few miles more and the dust had cleared so we stopped and snapped a couple pics.

Where we were…
Were
Where we are…
Are 1
Are 2
Where we were going…
Going

There were, on this end of the trip, some pretty wonderful views.
Vista 1
Vista 2
Vista 3
Vista 4
Vista 5
and some late spring beauty...
Flora 1


Finally arriving at a parking area, we pulled in and took a stroll down to Fossil Creek. The area was mostly inhabited by people in swim trunks/suits splashing about in the foot deep flow of cool, spring fed, river. LD’s reading had mentioned that this was a hot spot for “skinny dippers” but we saw nothing to indicate this.
Fossil 1
Fossil 2
Fossil 3
Fossil 4
Fossil 5
Fossil 6

As the road continued through a twisting series of hairpins and switch backs that had the “spotter” watching the road ahead for oncoming traffic and the “renegade” rocks that had dislodged from the hillside and were strewn all about the road; we rolled still further down in elevation. The road to this point was still mostly hard pack and roughly 1 ½ to 2 vehicles wide with wider places to let the opposing flow of vehicles pass. We saw no other FJ’s on the trip and only one Jeep as the rest were basically pickups and passenger cars. As we reached the bottom and crossed over Fossil Creek I hoped we could get a run down to the power plant.

The Childs-Irving Hydro electric power station, owned by APS, built in 1908 to harness the waters of Fossil Creek for power is no longer in service. Decommissioned in 1999, APS has begun a program to “deconstruct” the power station to return Fossil Creek to a more natural flow. Because of this deconstruction, the route to the power plant was closed on this trip to my personal dismay. Though APS planned to be complete by 2004, at a cost approaching 14 million dollars…it appears they are behind schedule and no doubt over anticipated expenditures.

From here forward, if I were an easterner who had never seen Arizona’s high desert landscape, I might talk of the beauty and solitude exemplified in the wide expanses of amber grasses and white sedimentary soil. But I ain’t so there was not much worthy of comment for the next hour plus of the drive. The road as we descended into the Verde Valley was probably the worst, nothing to impede any vehicle but a Lamborghini or Ferrari, but heavily wash boarded and strewn with baseball sized rocks. Our only stop along here was to answer the pleading question of a woman and her dog that had struck out from the Camp Verde side on a “day of exploration” in her Ford Taurus. After the hour or more she had been in this section of “not much to look at” she was concerned about proceeding into more lackluster driving scenery. We assured her that if she gave it another 45 minutes it would get better and she could then get out and play with the dog in the creek. She was visibly relieved. We LD and I both wished as we drove on that we had told her about taking the 260 back to Camp Verde once she made Strawberry. Somehow I think she will ask for a better route home when she reaches that end.

On leaving the Seattle Espresso at Warner and McClintock at 7:30am we were now rolling the blacktop of Camp Verde at precisely noon. Though we had packed a trail lunch, it didn’t seems fitting to eat in a parking lot in Camp Verde so we opted for some local flavor at the “Verde Café”. The food wasn’t good though it wasn’t bad either…think “Denny’s” without the national ad campaign but with the local “color” of small town regulars that the staff all knew by name. Yep, Mayberry without Andy, Opie Barney or the simple storylines covering life, love and morality of living in a small town.

From here we needed a new plan, the sign on the main road read “Montezuma’s Castle National Monument -6”. And so we now had a new destination, with some reluctance on LD’s part.

I have been to the site before when I was very young, about the time the last native resident was packing his ladder to leave. Well almost. LD, being from Montana, had not been but was not sure she was missing anything. Rolling into the parking lot at the visitor’s center which was a hive of out-of-state RV’s and handicap licensed vehicles did not boost her enthusiasm. With a mild grumble, we parked and she offered no more dissention.

Montezuma 1
Montezuma 2
Montezuma 3
Montezuma 4
Montezuma 5
Montezuma 6
"Wet" Beaver Creek below the ruins

Funny how memories are effected by age, it has been 36 years since I was last at this site and my memory held images of long hikes down dirt paths canopied by Cottonwoods and Arizona Sycamores to get to viewing areas that looked up at the cliff built ruins. Reality, a five-dollar per adult entry fee and an easy 100-yard walk down a concrete path and whala! At least I recalled the tree canopy correctly. As we stood in the shade of the Sycamores, with the sounds of Beaver Creek behind us, looking up at the ruins built 6-7 centuries ago LD offered “I’m glad you talked me into this.” Honestly, to appreciate such things requires a bit of personal transposition of your modern mentality to the time when what you are looking at was a hive of human activity. Hearing the creek a hundred yards behind us and then looking at the ruin another 100-yards up the face of the cliff and knowing they hauled every necessity of life up vine tied, hand made ladders just to live in the protection of a sedimentary cliff. Sort of places the “not so interesting” Fossil Creek Drive in a different perspective.

By 2 o’clock we were on the road and rolling south on I-17 for home. But for the ADOT closures that meant not arriving home until 5pm it was all very uneventful.

In summary, The Fossil Creek loop is better as a there and back from the Strawberry side. It will not challenge your FJ or your driving in any fashion but there are some stunning vistas, a cool 72 degree stream and, hopefully, someday a stop where the Childs-Irvine power plant existed where you can read a landmark telling the story of Arizona’s early quest for electrical power. If you do exit the west end, don’t miss the chance to see one of America’s truly unique man made monuments to survival.
 
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