As we continue our helicopter ride south along the East Verde we listen for the stories that its many places have to tell.
Just before reaching the Second Crossing a gravel road takes off to the left, and a small sign points to Cold Springs. This is an invitation to experience one of the best swimming holes in all of Arizona. You can drive a quarter mile to a locked gate that prevents further motorized traffic. A parking area is provided, and the half-mile hike down to Cold Springs is worth the effort. Here Ellison Creek is flowing in from the east, having come from up under the Rim. To hike further upstream one has to enter private land, but no need for that.
This is the place! The water cascades down a rock trough and fills a large pool before meandering through the rocks toward the East Verde.
In recent years the trough has become quite rough, but 30 years ago it was smooth enough to make a wonderful slide. Many an hour was spent wearing out the seat of denims sliding down that trough and being plunged into the cool depths below. We could even sit two astride at the top and plug up the water flow until the trough was empty. Then we would jump out to let the water race down again. What delightful sport!
Ellison Creek rounds the rock hill and joins the East Verde River in a 300-foot descent. The twin streams of water pour straight down about 25 feet to a rock ledge where the water pools. There a moss-covered grotto has been formed under the fall before the water spills again over the ledge another 20 feet into the channel below. This box canyon has been the goal of many hikers and swimmers, and unfortunately too many people lacking wisdom have died jumping from the cliff into the pools.
Within yards of where Ellison Creek joins the East Verde, the river streams past the Water Wheel Campground. One has to look carefully in the overgrowth to find the old waterwheel, but it is still there not far from the river.
The fellow who established this spot while working a mining claim was James "Dave" Greer. The heyday of his activity took place in the 1930s, when like many other Rim country folk he sought to make a living from mining during the Great Depression. The gold ore was taken from the hill that separates the Waterwheel Campground from the Second Crossing.
Dave Greer was an uncle of Payson's Oscar Greer and a brother of former Payson Justice of the Peace Calvin Greer.
Oscar recalls youthful days along the East Verde when he and his sister lived with their dad, Albert, and their uncle Lon (William Elonzo Greer) in a cabin downstream from the waterwheel.
Dave had built a two-story cabin near the famous waterwheel, that had a big kitchen, living room and a homemade Murphy bed that pulled down from the wall. Visiting family members slept upstairs.
Greer's plan to process his gold ore was worthy of Rube Goldberg.
There was a waterwheel down in the creek to which he attached cut-down milk cans. As the cans dipped into the stream they turned the wheel and lifted the water to the top where they emptied into a funnel.
From there the water flowed through a pipe to an iron tank, and thence into a sluice box.
The gold ore was placed in the box where the heavy metal caught on the ridges of the sluice and was harvested. Oscar Greer remembers seeing a soda pop bottle full of gold nuggets, each about the size of the end of one's little finger. To crush the ore, Dave Greer brought water in a culvert from the top of the box canyon on Ellison Creek. This water powered the large waterwheel that in turn ran the ore crusher. A college metal-working class in Phoenix had built the waterwheel.
In the late 1940s the Greers retired and sold the claim to Clifford Wright, the son of Grant Wright who was mining at the Second Crossing.
Eventually, like his father, Clifford lost his mining claim for lack of production. The iron tank and cast iron crusher were taken without permission and sold for scrap in Phoenix. Uninitiated campers still wonder at the old waterwheel, when they come across it in the undergrowth.
At this point the East Verde River swings away from the Houston Mesa Road, cutting its way through the Diamond Rim before crossing the road again at the First Crossing. Settlers gave the name "Diamond Rim" to the small rim rock that runs parallel to the Mogollon Rim. It reaches its high points at Diamond Point and Diamond Butte to the east of here.
The Diamond Rim marks a point where the river leaves the pine forest and enters the scrub oak and juniper of a lower elevation.
Just as today's Rim dwellers have to cross the Diamond Rim to get from Payson back to their cabins, so the pioneers without the means of modern roads had to negotiate it to get to their homesteads.
Diamond Gap is the name given to the place where the East Verde River cuts through the Diamond Rim. It was the natural route for the ancient trading trail of prehistoric people, and likewise for the route of today's Houston Mesa Road.
The river swings westward for almost half a mile, forming what has been called The First Crossing (out from Payson) as it moves into Beaver Valley. The Houston Mesa Road, paved in recent years, now has a modern concrete bridge over the East Verde, but before that it was a slab crossing much like today's second and third crossings. For most of its history, however, the first crossing was soft and one had to ford the river on its gravel base. One could often see a great blue heron standing on its stilts up stream at this point. So often in fact we always looked for it.
Next week, Beaver Valley.