Wednesday 20th September – Scam of the Century

Another morning of Dan snoozing and me building a morning fire. It was just too tempting to pile a few bits onto the warm ashes, blow on it a bit and have instant warmth. When Dan joined me and Cleo outside, we stood by the fire and nibbled on a small amount of cereal for breakfast, not needing anything much after last night’s big dinner. When Dan went into the van for the cereal, he came out with not only that, but an egg wrapped in alfoil. We’d been wanting to do an experiment with an egg and the fire for a while, wanting to know if it was possible to cook an egg in the coals. We nestled the wrapped egg into a hot spot and waited patiently for about ten minutes. When we unwrapped our package, we were surprised to find it had mostly worked! The egg had cracked but nothing much had leaked out, we had a perfectly boiled egg. It took us a while to peel it and it was a messy process, but we shared the egg before leaving camp. Science!

Having exhausted all our options in Flagstaff, I’d proposed a side trip down to Camp Verde. It was a town situated two thirds of the way back to Phoenix, but I was keen for a break from the cold nights and adventure beckoned. Dan drove us south on the highway and after a pitstop for fuel in Camp Verde and a (illegal) refill of water at the Clear Creek Campground, we pulled off onto Fossil Creek Road. We’d both travelled this way before and knew we had an hour of very rough noisy driving ahead of us.

Here’s where the scam comes in. When I’d been here before with Kevin in March of this year, I’d remembered seeing signs stipulating that permits were required for day use between April and October. My memory served me correctly and sure enough, the signs were present. We didn’t stop long at the top though. Surely no National Forest employees would venture down this terrible road every day to check permits. Considering this, I called the number on the sign and discovered no camping was allowed in the permit area and day use permits could not be attained on site, but had to be bought online in advance. I figured I’d do some due diligence. I went online as Dan bounced the Cabana down the rocks and ruts of Fossil Creek Road. Dealing with the atrocious website, I found that a permit was available for today so went through the agonising process of booking. The catch was that the permit had to be printed and we certainly weren’t going to do that. On top of that, it’s a matter of principle that we didn’t want to pay $10 for something we’d already experienced for free, especially when the Forest Service didn’t make it easy by providing permits onsite. What did any of this matter anyway, surely there wasn’t going to be anyone down there checking?! I went as far as the payment page, took a screenshot and ended my efforts there. If anyone asked, I could show the screenshot and plead ignorance.

After a gruelling hour of bouncing around, our ears were ringing as we rounded the corner to the entrance to the permit area. To our great shock, there were two forest vehicles parked at the gate with three official looking personnel. Ok then, maybe we’d have to pay the $10. When the lady came up to my window asking for my permit, I explained that I’d purchased one on the way down the hill and could only produce a screenshot. When she asked if I had an order number, I told her that I’d gone through the visa page but had been getting out of service as I neared the end of the process so wasn’t sure if it all went through. She took my phone then and walked back to her colleagues where they wrote some information down on a clipboard. A few minutes later, she was back at my window with my phone and a pink slip. Trouble?

She explained that they’d had a lot of counterfeiters, taking screenshots of the online page without an order number, but she’d let us through this time. She obviously believed my story. I thanked her and asked if there was any way I could check it had gone through properly, feigning complete innocence. She appreciated my concern, tapped my arm and told me not to worry. Thank you so much! We waved at the other rangers as we drove through the gate, totally scott free. Ha! Dan couldn’t believe my skills, putting it all down to my Aussie accent and innocent face. You can judge me, but it’s not about the money, it’s the principle of the thing! And it provides a challenge.

Another couple of miles down the road and we crossed a bridge that gave us our first look at Fossil Creek. The drive down into this valley suggests only that a desolate dry land would exist here, so the clear blue and aqua water below us was nothing short of an oasis. Dan was suitably impressed and so was I when we came to the Tonto Beach Day Use Area to find the carpark completely empty. Even though our permit didn’t allow us to stop here, we defied authority again and stopped to go down for a look.

Dan hadn’t been here before and neither had Cleo. They couldn’t believe the colour and depth of the water and I couldn’t believe we had the whole place to ourselves! When I’d been here last, there were cars everywhere and people on every piece of shoreline. I was beginning to like the idea of permit season!

The water was cold, but the weather warm so we happily jumped in, Dan doing so in style in the form of a front flip. We swam against the current in the short deep channel until we reached the small waterfall at its top. Here, we hung onto a tree branch that put us in the middle of the current, then let our bodies float back to our shore where the fish were hanging out.

What a gorgeous spot. This was our first excuse of a shower in five days too and we felt refreshed. Cold now, we climbed back up to the carpark to drive on to our hike.

Before the whole permit thing, we’d thought to do a small hike today, camp the night, then do a longer hike tomorrow. Since that was no longer an option, I suggested we do the shorter hike since it was more enjoyable and a more relaxing option after the pain we’d put our muscles through yesterday. Dan was happy with that and so was Cleo. There was hardly anyone at the Flume trailhead carpark either, except for a group of three older people who were keen photographers and head off on their trek the same time as us.

We’d packed a bag of snacks, water and beer and walked down to the start of the Flume trail for a look. The Flume was the longer hike we weren’t doing, but I wanted to show Dan a place we could do some free water solo climbing. This is where I’d been with Kev months ago and now that Dan was a climber, there was no reason for him not to get up the wall. The other group followed us over, keen to take photos of the area (and maybe us, but they didn’t say that). Dan carried Cleo across the river just above the waterfall then we walked past the waterfall for our first look at the climbing rock.

I pointed out the routes to Dan, trying to remember which were the easier cracks to follow. He was keen as mustard and took his shoes off. The water was so clear we didn’t have to check the depth before he jumped in amongst the fishies. He swam across the river just downstream of the waterfall, then got over to the opposite wall. He was on crack straight away and making his way up.

Dan got himself out of the water easy enough and got himself halfway up the wall, getting used to the idea of climbing with wet feet and hands. This was his first experience climbing on actual rock and to be deep water soloing wasn’t a bad start!

At the middle point, he stayed a while, trying different hand holds that would give him enough confidence to bring his feet up on the rock. I shouted encouragement over the noise of the falls and wasn’t sure if he’d muscle his way up it. After getting up half a body length, then getting back down to his rest spot, he got his determination on and made a couple of big moves to get over the crux. Woo! He’d nailed it! The last few moves were easy and soon enough he’d topped out. I celebrated on the other side of the river as he prepared for his jump back down to where he’d started. With my camera going, he plunged back into the clear water and swam back over to my side.

I jumped in to meet him in the water then swam over to take my turn. I tried a different crack off to the right and was surprised to find I remembered a couple of the moves. Two thirds of the way up, I found a bunch of dirty and loose rock. I tried a while to find something decent to hold on to but once I’d gotten enough dirt in my eyes I bailed, jumping off the wall. I swam over to Dan’s climb to give that a shot, but found my muscles in strong protest to pulling myself out of the water. We had done some hard climbing yesterday so I was fatigued. I didn’t mind not trying again, I swam back across the river and joined Dan on the opposite stack of rocks. We talked animatedly about the climb and I made sure he knew how impressed I was that he’d topped out first go. I’ll make a proper climber out of him yet!

We put our shoes back on and walked back up river to start our actual hike. We crossed at the causeway this time, where Cleo could easily walk across despite the current. I’d never started the shorter hike from this spot before, but we could see a trail meandering along next to the river so we tried that. The photography group weren’t far behind us and they seemed to know what they were doing so we had confidence.

For the next half hour or so, we switched between scrambling over rocks and through bush near the river and walking along the road. We were both happy to take the scenic route, staying close to the clear water and seeing all the different hiding spots people had obviously hung out at. There were rope swings abounds, but none stirdy enough to encourage us to use one of them.

Bush bashing over, we came upon the proper trail and enjoyed an easy meander through the shade of the trees, still within sight of the river in most places. It was nice to be shaded in the heat and Cleo was happier than a pig in shit taking frequent breaks from her chasings to drink from the blue water of the river.

After only an hour or so, we came upon the noise of the waterfalls and soon enough emerged at the pool at the base of the white wash. There were a few parties set up here, but again it was nothing compared to the crowds me and Kev had seen back in March. When we’d arrived last time, there were a bunch of young people jumping from the top of the waterfall into the deep pool. Now though, it was almost a place of quiet with only a few people in the water and others sitting in the shade of the trees admiring the view and enjoying their day in paradise.

We didn’t waste any time getting into the water. Leaving our stuff and Cleo sitting on the root system of a big tree in the sun, we jumped into the water and swam our way to the base of the waterfalls. They were as raging as they had been last time I’d seen them and rightly so since this river was spring fed. Underneath the falls, we looked up to see plant life hanging down and dripping water onto our heads. The noise between the wall of rock and the wall of water was incredible. We clung to the rock, swimming further towards the centre of the falls before we let ourselves get carried back out into the pool by the raging water. This was a beautiful place.

The area by the riverside was almost shaded now and after our dip in the cold water, we were ready to warm up in the sun we had left. We cracked a couple of beers and half sat/half lay on a fallen log in the sun enjoying the view in front of us. Many people admired Cleo, coming over to say hi and give her a pet. No such attention was afforded to us. Like careless parents, we let her run free. She could hear a squirrel taunting her and she was off behind the rocks where we couldn’t see her, presumably looking up at the impossible target and waiting for it to fall into her jaws.

Thinking we should give Cleo a fighting chance, after downing a couple of beers in the sunshine, we climbed to the top of the falls for a look at the spot I’d jumped from months ago. At the base of the rocks, I could see the taunting squirrel. The cheeky bugger was sitting right at the tip of the rocks, squeaking and carrying on to make sure Cleo knew he was right there, out of her reach.

We lifted Cleo up past a vertical section of rock and hiked up together. She immediately stuck her nose in every hole she could find, but the squirrel had long since barrelled his way underground. We took a quick look at the falls from the jumping spot but neither of us were in the mood to take the plunge so we climbed back down.

We’d enjoyed our free time at the falls so were happy to start heading back. Cleo again provided the entertainment, jumping off into the scrub instead of following the path. When we peered through the forest canopy to try and see just what she was after, we both spotted a group of brown fluffy animals with long bushy tails. I said monkeys and Dan just laughed. We got glimpses of them as they jumped through the trees away from their assailant and ended up figuring they were from the possum family or something like that.

We took the easy way back to the car this time, taking the path back to the road, then meandering along the corrugated mess. We met the photographers on the way, still taking their time making their way to the falls. We were back at the car around 4pm and already had a plan for what to do next. We’d been in and out of the water all day, but it was time to get in and soap ourselves. We drove back to Tonto Beach and, with the carpark still empty, walked down to the river with soap and scrubbers in hand. It was Cleo’s turn first and she conceded after not being keen initially. With her between my legs, I covered her entire body in soap, scrubbing her from head to toe. Once we were done, she surprised both of us when she swam voluntarily to the other side of the river after I pushed her into the deep water. She’s becoming quite the swimmer!

We followed suit, leaving the water clean and crisp and heading back up to the car. We let ourselves dry in the sun over another beer, Cleo especially appreciating the warmth of the afternoon sun. As we drove out at 4:30pm, we followed the park rangers out. They’d shut the entry gate, most likely to return tomorrow for more permit checking.

We drove along the rough road for a few miles until we were out of the permit zone, then we put our looking glasses on for a camp. We’d pegged a few placed on the way in so we knew we’d find a spot, but it was a matter of finding a place away from the road with a decent fire pit and firewood. Dan took the first pick, driving down a side road to find a small area behind some trees. We parked there and walked a little further along the faded road, coming up to a paddock with a couple of cars parked and some tents. We weren’t convinced and decided we could do better, so drove back onto the main road and kept going. We only got another few hundred meters before I yelled out at Dan to stop, telling him the site I’d just seen was worth a reverse. He duly backed the Cabana up and we were soon driving into our camp.

It was a nice big area with a huge fire pit that had been built up and was so aged there was grass growing through the collection of rocks. We were next to a dry river bed which offered up some firewood, but we didn’t have any trouble finding burnable bounty nearby. Dan used his special skills throwing big rocks at the logs we found to break them into manageable pieces while I built us a little tepee to get the fire going. It was a beautiful warm night so the fire wasn’t necessary, only a nice feature. Instead of lighting it I hung out in the Cabana with Dan as he cooked up some spicy chicken rice. Now armed with a bunch of spices, he was cooking up a storm.

We ate dinner by the fire, looking up at the huge sky overhead. We’d gotten so used to camping in the forest, it was different to see the sky without looking through trees. The only dampener on the evening was the smell of gas emanating from underneath the Cabana. The hole in Dan’s fuel tank that we put there in Baja was making itself known. After multiple patch jobs and the drive down Fossil Creek road, it seemed the pinhole might have turned into more of a crack. There wasn’t much we could do about it now since we were on flat ground with a full tank. Thankfully the wind was blowing in the right direction that we could sleep with the back doors open without any gas fumes entering our noses.

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