Fossil Creek A Big Splash With Intrepid Hikers

COVER STORY

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Fossil Creek is a lush, riparian wilderness at the bottom of a canyon in the Coconino National Forest.

"Lush, riparian wilderness" does not do the bubbling, merry waters justice.

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One of the falls on Fossil Creek. This one is about .5 miles from the old Irving Power Plant.

With blue skies above, there is nothing to stop the river from beckoning to hikers, photographers, swimmers, and birders to revel in its beauty.

Fossil Springs has become a hotspot for hikers. Tonto Rim Search and Rescue has made 11 rescues to the area this year.

A few years ago, I saw tired, hot, dusty Boy Scouts lugging their packs up the trailhead from their overnight at Fossil Creek.

The hike is eight miles. Undulations in the terrain make the descent 1,900 feet. The temperature can change about 10 degrees from the top to the bottom.

"Is it worth it?" I recall asking one flush-faced lad of about 12.

He broke into a big grin then said, "Yeah."

Fossil Creek is another of those "must-see" destinations I heard about while I was still commuting up the Beeline to work nine years ago.

That was before Northern Arizona University scientists and students partnered with Arizona Public Service to shut down the Childs-Irving Hydroelectric Facilities and unleash the water.

The restoration of the river to its native bed, and native fish to the water, began in 2004.

Officials expect the project to continue over the next few years, as they remove the power plants and pipeline.

No fishing is allowed until the populations of speckled dace, chub and sucker take the opportunity to populate the creek.

Meanwhile, there are holes to swim in, wildlife to admire, respect and identify, trails to hike and breathtaking vistas to photograph.

But, it is the prospect of swimming that draws many people from Camp Verde, the Valley and the Rim Country.

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Mary Smith, who recently hiked Fossil Creek for the first time with the Payson Packers said, "I just loved it down there. The water was so inviting! I did wade in hiking boots up above my knees to take the picture of the falls."

The plunge is worth the drive.

The laughing voices of Deedra Wayland, Andi La Valley and Rachel Weatherly stopped singing so they could shout excitedly, "Look there's the creek!"

We passed the first bridge on the Strawberry side of the road. A few minutes drive farther took us to the swimming hole we had scouted the week before.

Cool water at the end of a hike is pure pleasure in my opinion.

A rope attached to a tree for the daring to take a swinging plunge into the water completes the fun in my mind. (Always check the depth of the water and make sure there are no boulders, trees or other potential hazards lurking under the surface before leaping or swinging into the water. Always.)

A good definition of relaxation

We had the morning to ourselves to have a splashing fight, see who could swim up stream against the current, explore the rippling water downstream and admire the dragonflies -- they were scarlet in color. I never knew dragonflies came in scarlet.

By lunchtime, a couple of water dogs and their human companions had arrived to take their turn on the rope swing.

We decided to check out the water under the bridge on the way home.

When we got to the bridge, tubers were floating lazily in the cool water on one side. Children were sliding down the short, natural-rock-slide, directly under the bridge. Stalwart campers, who had crossed the water with their gear, were nestled in their tent under the leafy boughs, not three feet from the creek.

The only mar to the day was the distressing amount of broken glass bottles and cans irresponsible people had left behind.

Pack it in. Pack it out.

One of the Payson Packer hiking groups has a few Tonto Rim Search and Rescue members, so they decided to spend a day bagging trash in Fossil Creek this past week.

"Since there was such a large amount of cans, we bagged them separately and dropped them off at the Humane Society," Mary Smith said.

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Friends Andromeda La Valley, Deedra Wayland and Rachel Weatherly take an after-lunch swim.

For more information

Websites that have detailed information and maps of the Fossil Creek area:

Coconino County Forest Website:

http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/coconino/recreation/red_rock/fossil-spgs-wild.shtml

Fossil Creek Watershed and Riparian Restoration:

http://www.watershed.nau.edu/fossilcreekproject/fossilcreekinfo.htm

Trail details: "Fossil Creek hike is a descent to paradise," by Monte McCord, Roundup outdoors writer, Friday, May 25, 2007 at www.paysonroundup.com.

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