Stories From The East Verde River



Part 1

The major drainage for the Rim country west of Tonto Creek flows to the east fork of the Verde River, cutting its way through mountains and mesas to join the Verde River about 35 miles from its headwaters, as the waters flow.


Water from the Phelps Dodge pipeline adds to the flow of the East Verde River when the gates at the Blue Ridge Reservoir are opened.

Not only is the scenery magnificent but so are the multitude of stories that have accumulated during the 135 years of exploration and settlement by Whites.

I have always wanted to hike the length of this wonderful river, but instead let's fly over it in a helicopter.

We begin on top of the Mogollon Rim at General's Spring, named for General George Crook who diverted his military trail away from the edge of the Rim at this point to camp at a water source. Here along a marshy area are the river's headwaters, which promptly go underground to resurface a mile down the canyon.

At the edge of the Rim we see the misty form of the Mazatzal Mountains far to the south, but just below our helicopter the trail drops drastically into the canyon.

Some of the forest is scarred here where firefighters back-burned to keep the 1990 Dude Fire from crossing the river and heading west.

At this point in 1868 an Army commander named Thomas Devin built a switchback trail for his invading troops. In our day it is called the Devin Trail, and leads down on the east side of the river. His chief packer, John Baker, was killed by Apaches right here, and was buried in an unmarked grave. The soldiers trampled their horses over the burial so Apaches would not locate it and dig up the remains. They often spitefully disfigured corpses, believing a person enters the after-life in that same physical condition. The cavalry detachment then named the volcanic cone on the edge of the Rim to the west Baker's Butte in his honor.

Later, in 1871, as General Crook and his aide, John Bourke, explored the Rim for a military trail, they were attacked at this same spot by a band of Apaches and almost killed in the skirmish. Gun power exceeded bow and arrow power, and the attackers escaped into the forest and over the side.

In modern times, 1964 to be exact, at this location the Phelps Dodge Mining Company brought an underground pipeline over the Rim. It was designed to drain water from their newly constructed Blue Ridge Reservoir along East Clear Creek, and into the East Verde at a point two-and-a-half miles down the canyon. On our way down the canyon let's hover above the site of the fabled Railroad Tunnel. We can see the tailings up a side canyon, left from that 100 foot dig into the side of the Rim. Right about here springs forming the headwaters of the East Verde River begin to surface. There are small pools at first, but soon the water becomes deep enough to harbor native-born trout. Moving downstream, water is coming in from both sides of the canyon, some seeping, some running full blast, and the river is picking up volume.

At a mile-and-a-half from the General's Spring we find a major flow of water coming in from the east bank of the canyon. In fact, two large springs emerge here joining forces to flow through the Pieper Fish Hatchery.

In the 1930s, during the Great Depression, Elmer Pieper, and his wife, Jo, took advantage of this location to build large ponds to hold this spring water. They raised trout and sold them to Phoenix hotels, while they began raising a family. The venture didn't last long, for life proved too rugged for the young mother and she wanted to be in town for her children. The remnants of their buildings and the ponds, now overgrown with vinca, remain to whisper the story. From our air-view we can see the Rim Trail leading down the canyon from the fish hatchery. This trail along the river was used from time immemorial by prehistoric native people, carrying on trade between the Hopi villages and the desert people. During the first half of the 20th century local ranchers drove herds of cattle to market at Winslow using this trail. About a quarter mile below the old hatchery is the Washington Park Trailhead. This can be accessed by auto from Forest Road 32 below the Rim, and is the departure point for hiking up the canyon.

The next mile south along the river contains trees that usually grow only at higher elevations, like blue spruce and fir.

Now we have come to the place where the water from the Blue Ridge Reservoir exits the pipeline and enters the East Verde River. When the pumps are on, this added water more than doubles the East Verde flow.

Editor's note: Tracking history can often be a tricky thing. Stan Brown freely admits that he is not immune from making mistakes. If anyone finds inaccuracies in any of Brown's articles, please contact him directly at (928) 474-8535, or write to us at

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