When I was considering moving to Prescott a couple years ago, I spent a considerable amount of time reading about the Verde River for some reason. There aren't many rivers in Arizona for paddling, and, well, I can't claim to be much of a paddler myself. Growing up, I spent a fair bit of time paddling flat water boats, but that was quite some time ago. There's some aspect of desert rivers that I find particularly captivating, though.
I finally found my way to the Verde with a boat last week. I decided to indulge in a solo mini-adventure on the upper Verde, where the water flow was slightly higher than its normally very low level thanks to some recent rain. That was enough to get me excited when I arrived to put in at the Perkinsville bridge.
This part of the river can best be described as wild and overgrown. There are no towns. No ranches. No roads. In the ~26 miles I floated, I passed three houses on the first day and another three on the second. Herons, eagles, and otters were my companions out there as I paddled from pool to pool through anemic rapids in between.
It was refreshing to be on the water again. The water droplets dripping off my paddle and the sensation of being whisked along in a current past unmoving trees brought back quite a few memories. And the rapids provided some new challenges for me to deal with as I went. And I quickly learned that pushing back seemingly small tamerisk bows simply results in me stopping and my boat continuing on, sans paddler. The biggest challenge of this stretch of the river wasn't the low flow, or the rapids, or sharp limestone boulders; it was the overabundance of strainers.
The first day passed quickly as I meandered through Limestone Canyon. The grey and tan Redwall Limestone formed the lower cliffs, and the brilliant rust-red layers of the Supai Group stood above. What lay beyond the canyon walls to the north or south remained unknown to me, but having never seen this canyon before, I did not mind one bit. As the sun got lower in the sky, I stopped on a grassy spit just below some shallow rapids and made camp. For the second time in just a few weeks, I had the pleasure of falling asleep to the sound of water finding its way over a cobbly stream bed. A few hours later, I was awakened by noisy otters playing in the next pool downstream. But this time, I knew the source of the sound and was able to quickly return to my slumber.
Soon after I began paddling on the second morning, the river exited Limestone Canyon, and almost immediately black basalt walls rose on either side. The flow had increased a bit, and the rapids became a bit deeper and more exciting. I gained some confidence in them and bounced off fewer rocks.
Before long, familiar slopes of the Verde Valley came into view, the river calmed, and the current slowed. I paddled steadily through long pools, chasing great blue herons as I went. After a few more broad bends, the black mountain of slag from the Clarkdale copper smelter loomed in front of me, meaning my ride was about over. But I did have the pleasure of sneaking up on a pair of playful otters, getting a close look at them before they finally spotted me, yelped, and splashed under my boat.
The first of the final two obstructions I faced was the most rickety dam I've seen in quite some time. It reminded me of tiny dams I built on creeks as a kid. But this dam, standing twelve feet in height, held back the entire river in such a tenuous way, I was nervous to walk in front of it. But it held, I portaged around, and continued on to the bridge just a few oxbows downstream. There I pulled out, rolled up my boat, strapped it to my pack, and walked into town for some ice cream.
The final obstacle followed - getting home. I savored my ice cream, filled up a water bottle, walked back out to the highway, and stuck out my thumb. Car after car of elderly folks drove past, staring at me as they went. Eventually, a bearded fellow in a rickety red car skidded to a stop. I threw my pack in the back, hopped in, and off we sped over the mountain. He got me close to Prescott. I walked past a 'no pedestrian' sign on the parkway and stuck my thumb out a gain. After just a few minutes, another rickety red car came to a quick stop. And inside, another pleasant bearded guy sat, happy to take me a few miles closer to home. I think the help had something to do with the presence of beards on all parties involved.
Eventually I made it home, but my car remained parked 50 miles to the north where my paddle began. That was a good excuse for another quick bikepacking trip . . .