I have been to this place before, but on that visit I was alone. I was delighted
then to “discover” a cool oasis nestled in the bottom of a rugged
canyon beneath the Mogollon Rim. I must come back, I said to myself, and share
this special place with others. So now I have returned, leading six other
Trailblazers that I will introduce to this wondrous place called Fossil Springs.
The road has brought us up from Phoenix, through Payson and Strawberry, to the
edge of the Fossil Springs Wilderness. As we begin down the trail, we remark
that this is a perfect day for hiking. Clouds and a breeze keep the temperature
just right. A variety of colorful wildflowers line the trail. Birds chirp in the
trees. We even remark on the differently colored layers of rock that are exposed
along the trail. We pass other hikers on their way up and out, every one wearing
an expression of exhaustion. But our downhill direction makes the going easy,
and ours is a group of smiles and high spirits. By the time we reach the
springs, I am heated just enough to make a dip in the water feel refreshing. We
lounge at the edge of the pool, enjoying our lunches and a relaxing break.
Here is where my second, more selfish motive for bringing others pays off.
Having shuttled one of our vehicles to the lower trailhead at Irving Power
Plant, we can continue hiking downhill from the springs, instead of trudging
back up the steep trail to the main trailhead. Our trail, actually a dirt road
closed to traffic, follows a historic wooden flume. Every turn in the trail
brings magnificent views of the canyon stretching out ahead. But, alas, nothing
is completely perfect, not even a day such as today. The advertised “all
downhill” hike turns out to have several brief uphill sections, which on a
cooler day would be easy. But we have come down far in elevation, and the clouds
that earlier shielded us from the sun have disappeared – the day has
turned hot. Just as I tire of the long trail, the car comes into view, like a
toy in the parking lot below.
For those who are interested in facts, Fossil Springs is an impressive place. A
million gallons of water per hour pour from the ground, at a constant
temperature of 72°F. The elevation loss from the trailhead to the springs is
1400 feet, with another 500 feet of loss to the lower trailhead. The total hike
length is 7.5 miles. But it is specific moments, impressions, and sensations
that make up our long-term memories of any trip. These are the ones I will
- The sense of space yawning open beneath us as we come to the first overlook on
the canyon’s edge.
- Bending to inspect a brilliant yellow beavertail cactus bloom ... and noticing
a tiny grasshopper perched on the edge of one petal.
- Sunlight rippling on the water’s surface far above my head, after one
particularly deep plunge into the swimming hole.
- A fish nibbling at my toes.
- Listening to the water making its endless, headlong rush down the flume.
- Watching a gust of wind swirling dust along the trail ahead of me.
- The feeling of déjà vu as the terrain reminds me of other places
I have hiked, in other times. Like all great places, this one seems to welcome
us ... and asks us to return.