10/17/2009 2:26:00 PM Fossil Springs
home to many, visited by few
Fossil Springs Wilderness Area begins at the springs and extends upstream for about 12 miles eventually splitting into Sandrock Canyon and Calf Pen Canyon, as well as a labyrinth of other side canyons. The water is intermittent and seasonal, so plan on taking enough for the length of your stay.
For centuries, Fossil Creek canyon was home to pronghorn antelope and Rocky Mountain big horn sheep. The antelope have remained on the bench lands above and below the canyon and the bighorn sheep were reintroduced four years ago.
CAMP VERDE - Although Fossil Creek appeared on early maps of Arizona, it was not until the turn of the 20th century that someone decided it might better serve the growing state of Arizona generating power than as a hideout for Apaches.
In 1900, a Verde Valley rancher by the name of Lew Turner decided the 20,000-gallon-per-minute flow of water from the springs was more than enough to turn a turbine or two.
Turner filed a claim on the water flowing from the springs, and the rest, as they say, was history.
Four years ago, Turner's turbines were turned off, and the spring and the creek were turned back to do what they were doing before Turner turned up.
For at least the last 200 years before Turner's arrival, Fossil Creek was home to the Dilzhe'e Apache.
It is within its canyon walls that the Apache stories tell of their emergence into this world. And within those same walls many hid, rather than be marched off to San Carlos by the American military in 1875.
Before the Dilzhe'e, it was home to the Sinagua and Mogollon cultures, whose former residences are hidden on hilltops and cliff faces throughout the wilderness area.
Today, Fossil Creek is home to a robust and biologically diverse population of birds and mammals, not to mention endangered fish and native plants.
According to Dr. Edgar Mearns, one-time surgeon and naturalist stationed at Fort Verde, the upper reach of the canyon was once home to Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. Its lower reaches and the bench lands north and south were home to large herds of pronghorn antelope.
The pronghorn never left and the bighorn were reintroduced four years ago.
Although the springs are the Mecca for most visitors to the wilderness area, it is within the sparsely visited and remote upper reaches that the deer and the antelope (and the bighorn sheep) play.
The upper portion is accessible from the north side via the recently redesignated Mail Trail and from the south side by way of the same trail that leads to the springs from Forest Road 708, just west of Strawberry
The wilderness area extends 12 miles northeast of the springs, eventually splitting into Sandrock Canyon and Calf Pen Canyon, as well as a labyrinth of other side canyons.
The upper end of Fossil Springs Wilderness is seldom visited and, with the exception of the occasional moonshiner in the 1920s and 1930s, and the illicit marijuana patch of late, has seen little impacted from the hand of man.
Trail maps are available from the Prescott, Tonto and Coconino National Forest. There is also detailed information on the individual trails available on the Internet and through several good trail guides.
For ways to get involved in the stewardship of existing and potential new wilderness areas, through volunteering, service projects, and special events, contact the Arizona Wilderness Coalition, www.azwild.org, or their Prescott office (928) 717-6076.