|Sheep Bridge Warm
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From I-17, North of Black Canyon City, Arizona, take exit 259 east (right) to Bloody Basin on FR269; go 38 miles to the Verde River.
Lots of Moons. Lots of places to be nude along the river, not just at the spring. One Great Place.
It's another world at Sheep Bridge, a stark world, a beautiful world. It was like no place we'd been = 38 miles of dirt road with more than a dozen river and stream crossings, thousands of birds, breathtaking scenery, lots of cattle, and an occasional mountain goat. The flora varied from mile high mountain plants to desert scrub. It was also about one of the least friendly places we've been; we saw far more people than we'd ever expect to see in such a remote place, but the only ones who were at all friendly were obviously like us--one group of three tourista types, visiting for the day. To a number, the more than dozen other people either completely ignored us or gave only perfunctory acknowledgment to our happy greetings. We hope it's only that they didn't want `outsiders' to negatively affect their paradise and not something else.
Also disappointing was that for the entire 38 miles, there was litter on both sides of the road, mostly in the form of beer cans and wrappers; we removed the several non biodegradable pieces of plastic, now feeling guilty compuNuding this we didn't pick up more. We'd been informed of the Southwest litter syndrome by dear friends at Whispering Pines in North Carolina, Ruth & Gary Varner, and Judy & Dan Estelle. Ruth grew up in Arizona and she and Gary lived there for a while after marrying; Judy & Dan toured the area extensively in an RV. In fact they all said we'd not believe th'amount of litter we'd encounter in some of the (otherwise) most pristine places; they were correct, but no amount of warning could have prepared us for what we actually saw on the way to (but not so much at) Sheep Bridge and so many other places. It was AWFUL, especially the broken glass which can never all be removed and which will take many years to recycle itself. That's the bad news re Sheep Bridge; the good news = very little of the litter was old, meaning at least some responsible people travel the road. As Naturists, we can benefit all by helping cart out litter, whether or not we're responsible for it.
Part of the next is based on what others have reported, but it appears that mutton barrel polytricks in the area must have been alive and well until at least recently because the $3,000,000.00 bridge, constructed in 1989 with your tax $$ and ours, solely for the purpose of moving PRIVATELY OWNED sheep from one grazing area to another is now completely unused for that purpose and stands there whistling in the breeze! Perhaps it will make the reader feel better to know that several thousand MORE of your tax $$ (and ours) also paid for a monument at the west end of the bridge, commemorating "a way of life [desert sheep herding] that no longer exists." And we wonder why there's such a staggering deficit?
Other guidebooks list Sheep Bridge main spring at 99 degrees; the calibrated thermometer we tested it with (as well as our bodies which have been in a few hot pools) put it at 95 degrees in the tub, hence the fact we're calling this one a warm spring. It was still heavenly to be in that tub next to that beautiful river. We're guessing the flow to be about twenty gpm, meaning there's plenty to keep the tub warm and clean; there's no algae in that one. The water was also quite tasty to drink. A length of garden hose that resides in the tub can be used to quickly siphon grains of sand off the bottom. Other smaller springs flow out onto the ground downstream of the bridge; exploration might turn up a usable pool or a place a pool could be dug. Further, it's seldom there's only one hot spring in an area; the chances of finding more soakable springs, even on the other side of the river, are fair. One of the best clues to the presence of a hot spring, bulrushes growing out of seemingly solid rock, were present in several places. And both up and down river were most inviting for nuding because the chance of seeing other people is about less than nil.
Formerly there were three round steel tubs of varying temperatures at Sheep Bridge, but we're guessing floods changed that because then there was only one rectangular, much smaller fiberglass tub that couldn't hold more than four people unless they were quite friendly. That tub also disappeared. We find that very sad but understand why it happened = the spring comes out so close to water level that one could almost step from the tub to the river's edge in just one stride, meaning any significant rise in the swiftly flowing (at that point) Verde River would result in the strong currents carrying away any tubs that weren't secured in some manner, such as by cables, something we'd do if we were regular users of the spring. Then in 1997 Marilyn & Gene Caywood built a stone and masonry tub which should last a lot longer than the others.
The tub is completely surrounded on three sides by high bulrushes, a good way of keeping away gawkers, though there's little likelihood one would encounter those insecure types at Sheep Bridge. In fact, there's so much foliage surrounding the tub, there's scarcely room to put anything down; we mean the place is OVERgrown. The trails through the reeds are so narrow, one's shoulders constantly rub them; were we regular users, we'd probably trim them ten feet back from the tub, at least. In that way, the tub would still be completely screened on three sides, but more sun would come in and there would be `privacy' from the west side of the river.
Before doing any cutting, we'd talk the situation over with other regulars; for instance, there could be a good reason why the reeds are allowed to grow so claustrophobically, such as they could be heavenly to have there in Summer when the sun must be BRUTAL there, both shining down and reflecting off the river. Were we not in agreement with the opinion of other regulars, we'd attempt to compromise, of course. The tub is so well hidden from view, we weren't able to find it at first, but be assured that upstream of the bridge on the west side of the Verde is one of the nicest warm springs there is; it can be seen quite well from about a third of the way across the bridge.
At 1,400 elevation, Sheep Bridge might be far easier to access by boat via Horseshoe Lake, the upper end of which appears to be less than two miles downstream from the springs. The day after we visited, we met a couple who said they used to take horses into Sheep Bridge and ride down to the lake, though it's hard to imagine anyone trailering horses for 38 miles over that road. That doesn't mean they did or didn't = the area is also accessible from the east or south; there's a good road leading to Horseshoe Lake where there's a campground and we saw distinct vehicle tracks on the opposite bank. We don't know if the vehicle(s) that made those tracks came up from the lake (which involves fording the river) or from the east, but we've no doubt there's another way in and if we find out, we'll publish it promptly; meantime, if anyone knows another way, please let us know. Thanx. There is a way in from Seven Springs which we'll try some day.
After the first 12 miles, there's free camping just about anywhere along the way to Sheep Bridge and some of the spots looked most inviting, though our idea of roughing it is being out in the wilderness in our 35 foot Nomad NudeMobile. If one wants to be near the spring, the best camping spots are just below the bridge, though the possibilities are unlimited, as are the nuding possibilities. There's a nice sandy beach just up from the tub which would be perfect for sunning or swimming; we photoed there. Some people were tenting quite close to the river, an imprudent choice--never pitch a tent below the high water mark anywhere, but especially not in flash flood country. From that spot, two people across the river saw us in our natural state; one of them had been in pants freedom, but quickly donned them upon seeing us.
The first six miles of road are maintained by Yavapai County and include two river fords; over the next 32 miles, there are many more fords (washes in dry weather). The road varies from slow in 1st gear to 40 mph in 4th. Caution is needed to keep from dragging bottom in 10,948 places (more or less). We made the trip easily in our front wheel drive, 5 speed diesel Volkswagen. DON'T STOP in the fords, either cross them under throttle, or turn back. We don't have to worry about the engine becoming wet in H2O crossings, since the car is a diesel, but those with conventional ignition should exercise caution if the water is high. And, of course, if the water is too high, GO BACK. Bear in mind there's probably no water in the road most of the year; we just happened to go when it was very wet, both from recent rains and from snow melt far upstream.
DON'T GO to Sheep Bridge or other similar places unless you have extra water, food, and clothing = help can be more than 50 LONG, COLD miles away. The temperature can drop more than fifty degrees after the sun sets. DON'T GO unless your vehicle is in good shape and you have a full tank, a spare tire, and tools, including a shovel. DON'T GO unless you know the weather forecast for the WHOLE region; flash flooding could keep you in (or out of) the area for a day or more because there's so much distance between the starting point and the springs and because the road traverses two mountain ranges, one of them over 5,000 feet high, meaning one could enjoy a nice sunny day at the springs while it was raining heavily on the other side of the mountains, meaning the road could be blocked by fast moving water in many places. In dry, good weather, allow at least two hours each way for the trip. Properly prepared, we made this delightful 76 mile round trip easily in a day and still had plenty of time to enjoy the spring, the bridge, and the river. We won't be able to return soon enough, though. We loved it. Just PLEASE remember that the desert is as cruel as s/he is beautiful = be careful.
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