Arizona » Mazatzal Wilderness

Verde River Basin

April, 2006 | 1 Comment

Arizona again at last! Spring and my 16th year of doing this – having only missed ’92. A dry winter… and a little rain just a month earlier brought out some greenery, but not as much as most years. Though compared to how dry the areas around the KofA was – south and closer to Interstate 10 – there was plenty of flowering plants.

View of the Verde River

The Verde River Basin in the Mazatzal Wilderness is an area I had traveled in 2001 – and had thoroughly enjoyed. The Verde Valley north of a place called Sheep bridge is, I think, one of the best desert hikes around. It has truly diverse flora and fauna along the good sized Verde River. There is something amazing about a year-round river in the desert with plenty of desert life along with it.

This trip has been a very quiet hike – both times I have been here. This area doesn’t seem to see many people… a lot of that probably has to do with the horribly long road in. Two hours of dirt road driving from the highway… the last 11 miles take about an hour. Just a truly rough road… high clearance required and 4wd very handy. Sheep bridge is a elaborate suspension bridge across the Verde to transport sheep from one side to the other… but works relatively well for hikers too. The area around the bridge gets a fair bit of weekend off-roaders, but judging from the foot traffic along the trail, most don’t hike much further then the beer cooler and back.

Verde River Camp

The picture shows my Verde River Camp… and another perfect day… spent two nights here this trip (and spent two nights here, five years ago).  A great camp, well hidden from the trail, but with its own beach and a grassy spot above the river. Plenty of shade for a lazy afternoon of reading beside the river.

The Verde had flooded in a big way since I was here last, with signs of debris in the camp here – a good 15 feet above the current river level.
This area has a wide stretch of flatlands just north of here and I came across half of an aluminum canoe, completely mangled, several hundred feet from the river edge. That power must be amazing to see.

From my Verde River camp I could actually hike along the river though here. Something I couldn’t do five years ago with the high water.

The Verde

The next few days I spend along Wet Bottom Canyon. Getting down to the canyon bottom was pretty easy. Well defined animal trails, which at one time probably had a bit of foot traffic – which I was to find out later – routed around some natural obstacles.

Wet Bottom creek is one of the major water routes in the Mazatzal wilderness – apart from the Verde and its East fork. Over the last four trips into the area, I’ve pretty much traveled the whole thing. And I wanted to check out the section up from here – the most rugged and beautiful part. So… down we go.

On my way down into the canyon, trying to avoid the thick south slope brush, I came across some thoroughly hidden short stone walls. Obviously man made, I was unsure why they were there and who made them… miners, cattlemen, indians? I had seen something similar in the Superstition Mountains along the trail, but never really found out what they were for.

But looking around more closely, I noticed small terracotta colored chunks of stone. Upon further investigation – they were pot shards – not very big, but obviously pottery. This was an old indian village or camp!

Looking down into Wet Bottom Creek

Wet Bottom Creek

Indian Grinding Stone

I camped down at the bottom of the canyon for two nights and came up each morning to try and find out more. The area probably stretched about a half acre of flat and hilltop with pot shards everywhere – all pretty much small and broken up. The camp was ideally located with year round water – with some large pools, well hidden and apparently plenty of good sand and clay to make these pots. I found out after I got back they were probably Yavaipai Indians who were known to inhabit the area. How old was this site, I wondered… probably at least 150 years ago – most likely more.

I found a grinding stone used to grind grains below the indian village or camp about 50 feet above the canyon bottom. It’s truly fascinating to come across bits of history where none appear to be. The stone appeared to be well used which led me to believe that they lived here quite some time or came back to this area often.

Wet Bottom Creek

Having pretty much explored this whole canyon from above, I wanted to explore the lower section above the choke point. So the next day I day hiked up the canyon. The bamboo in the lower reaches of the canyon can get extremely dense in spots and continues up quite a ways, but the last flood seemed to clear a lot of the bamboo out. Five years ago travel was extremely slow and difficult.

This is the rough and rugged section of Wet Bottom Canyon. It took a long time to make it up through this section. Apart from the rugged rock hopping, the canyon is quite serpentine and when you think you only need to go over there… getting there is a long twisty route.
Filled with large pools and chutes and small falls… some beautiful stuff.

Gila Monster

I saw surprisingly few animals this trip. As opposed to the last time, when I saw javalina (nearly nightly), river otter, deer, herons and bald eagles. But I did run across one of our desert friends spotted on the trail… the Gila Monster… (no petting!). I also saw some definite bear tracks along wet bottom canyon – though I have never seen bear here. Also was buzzed by a couple of rattlers in the warm afternoons. And as I was relaxing at the verde river camp, I heard leaves rustling behind me and out came a small rattler on the prowl. This was what exactly happened to me five years ago in the same camp! When he saw me, he slowly got into the protective coiled position… I moved a few feet away… and watched. After a bit… he saw I wasn’t going to do much, and headed on down to the river edge for a drink and to check out a reedy spot.

Evening along the Verde River

My last night I camped at the mouth of Wet Bottom Creek and the Verde… but it looked completely different from the last time I camped there. Five years ago the mouth of the canyon was completely enclosed with overgrowth and debris, but this was completely cleared out by the last flood through here. The Verde this trip had a flow of about 200cfm. I found out after I got back that in the winter of 2005 it had flows in the 40,000cfm range… quite a lot of water!

I didn’t see any canoers this time… most likely due to thin water along the river.

Evening along the Verde River

Some moisture had passed through this day… still quite warm and very windy. The haze is dust blown in from the Phoenix area. No rain to speak of this day but the wind cooled temperatures from the 85 degrees it was the day before. It was perfect the next day, my last.

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One Comment on “Verde River Basin”

  1. Zach says:

    I was just there this last weekend. I didn’t quite hike up through the wet bottom creak canyon like I wanted to. I camped at the verde river though. Learned to bring big spray next time though. Now that I have my where-abouts I will hike it next time.