Finally, time to relax and enjoy the last days of Indian Summer. Sliding into a rectangular basin full of clean, warm mineral water, my arms and legs titillate happily. As I lay my head back against the lip of the concrete tub to inhale the fresh, cool autumn air and take in the view of golden leafed oak trees and the Verde river meandering below the canyon. Undoubtedly, this is Nirvana.
This is my first time visiting Verde Canyon and I have no idea what to expect. Yet, one thing about nature are the many hidden gems and Verde Hot Springs in Northern Arizona is one of them. If you love off the beaten path excursions, then this adventure is a winner. This semi-private hot springs is nestled in a remote area of Verde Canyon, 2 hours south of Flagstaff, Arizona. However, getting to it, you may need a four-wheel drive vehicle. The rocky, dirt road dips and swells while passing through the now defunct town of Childs where there used to be a working power plant. Then stops at a wide, sandy beach with remnants of old camp fire rings and a swiftly flowing Verde River lined with high bushes and tall oak trees.
We park the camper underneath an oak tree and climb out of the truck. Just then, a dark-haired man in his early 20’s approaches us and announces, “Weather report says a major snow storm is due in 24 hours.”
Not hard to believe, considering it is late November. Therefore, not wanting to waste any more time, Mark and I follow the small wooden arrows staked along a narrow dirt trail that leads into the Verde river. Mark is ahead and walks into the ankle high water, then waits on top of rocks for me about a quarter of the way across. Walking into the shallow river turns out to be shockingly cold!
Upon reaching the first set of high rocks, I just stand still there till warmth travels back into my feet while watching Mark effortlessly trek through the icy water. Rushing out again, my feet freeze so quickly and my legs feel like lead weights as I slosh over to the next protruding set of rocks. Mumbling to myself to keep going because all this torture has to be worth it. Mark, on the other hand is already on the other side, grinning widely at me.
With one last effort, and only about ten more feet, I push myself onto the warm sandy shore. We walk together the last 1/4 mile to the hot springs via a narrow dirt path that follows the base of the canyon wall, back downstream. Concrete steps come into view that lead up to the thermal pools. Rumor has it that in the early 1900’s, the mafia built a hotel and brothel around these pools. Palm trees used to line the entrance next to the concrete steps. With only a hint of yesteryear left, today, we can still enjoy these spring fed pools.
The first pool we find is hidden in a small cave, the water looks murky and doesn’t look inviting. We move quickly over to another pool surrounded by 4-ten feet high concrete walls without a ceiling. One entire wall is a painting of a naked lady flying through stars, who’s long blonde hair flows behind her like a horse’s mane. We didn’t hesitate here. The water is deliciously warm, probably 100+ degrees. After awhile though, the walls feel confining and we gradually meander over to the third tub.
This last tub offers the best views of the Verde canyon and river. It feels like a little bit of heaven here. However, as the sun dips lower in the sky and shadows creep higher up the 1,000 foot canyon walls, we know it is time to leave. Yet, the thought of sloshing through the river again isn’t appealing. Reluctantly, we leave. At the river bank, I hold my breath and visualize a quick crossing. Again, it just doesn’t matter how quickly I move, my feet still freeze halfway over to the closest high ground and my dance across the river is same.
The next morning, we awake to gently falling snow. The best seasons to visit are May through October if you want to cross the river without freezing your toesies.