I'll start by saying every step of the four miles it takes to get to the dam at Fossil Springs is worth it. I'll also warn you that the hike (more so the hike out) is a strenuous one—especially if you're not used to hiking. Fortunately, the fearless members of Women on Adventures are always up for a challenge.
The Fossil Springs trailhead is located about two hours north of Phoenix, near the quaint and charming town of Strawberry, Arizona. Driving through Strawberry we passed little markets, a block long strawberry festival, and restaurants like Mama Joe's Italian Grill. The town even had a studly old sheriff who wore a cowboy hat and drove a pickup truck.
Once we made it through town we had about a mile of bouncing on a washboard road before we arrived at the ranger station. After they checked our permits, we lathered ourselves in sunscreen and doused our clothes with the bug spray one of the rangers—who warned us about No-See-Ums—was kind enough to lend us. There is no water at the trail head, so make sure you bring plenty. The rangers recommended at least 1.5 liters but I drank almost three liters by the time we got to the spring.
The trail to Fossil Springs reminded me a bit of the Grand Canyon—with its magnificent views into the canyon and rocky terrain that vacillated between red and white. Expect there were more trees along the trail at Fossil Springs, which provided a nice shade from the morning sun once we got farther into the canyon (and closer to the spring).
Our excitement began to grow when we reached a pool of dirty tadpole infested water—we knew the spring couldn't be too far off. A relief for me because it was around this time that I began to feel the beginning of blisters. I eagerly wore my new water shoes that, while they definitely came in handy at the dam, didn't provide as much protection against dust and pebbles as my hiking boots would have.
Considering we reached the spring around midday, there was a surprisingly small number of people on the trail; we only ran into one couple at the spring. Since the rangers said the spring water was safe enough to drink, the first thing a few of us did upon arrival was dip our hands into the water and take a sip. It was the most refreshing water I've ever tasted. Cool and crisp—exactly how you would imagine fresh spring water tasting.
Once everyone filled up, we decided to take a little misadventure across the creek and back in an attempt to get to the dam and the so-called Toilet Bowl, which were another mile or so from the spring.
Because it was tucked away between two cliffs, I could hear the powerful rushing of the dam before I saw it. We all stepped to the edge of the cliff to get a better view of the falls and the unbelievably turquoise water beneath it. One of the women jumped from the cliff as soon as she arrived.
We then made our way down to the pool to drop our stuff and cool off in the water, which may have been the most beautiful I've ever seen. It rivaled the lakes of northern Michigan—in both clarity and color—that I grew up swimming in. Luckily, I brought my trusty waterproof phone pouch so I could capture how beautiful the water was.
After I cooled down and had a bite to eat, I decided to follow suit and jump from the cliff. What felt like 20 minutes of awkward attempts to get into a better position later, I put my fear behind me and took the plunge—hopeful that I jumped far enough out to clear the wall of rock protruding below me. I cleared the rock but I'm not sure I'll ever get used to the exhilaration of free falling thirty feet into a pool of water. It leaves me breathless every time—that could also be the sheer force of the impact forcing the air from my lungs.
As if that place didn't offer enough beauty, one of the women found a little cave (about 30 feet deep) behind the dam. I was blown away by the bright cerulean color of the water, which was illuminated by the daylight on the other side of the dam. It was surprisingly cozy in the cave; the hanging moss and water dripping from the stalactites created a calming escape from the excitement of the day.
We spent some more time exploring the pool and the surrounding area. A couple of the women crossed the dam to check out the Toilet Bowl—a bowl of swirling water with a natural "pipe" that flushes you out into the pool. But after seeing it and the drowning hazard sign above it, they decided it was too dangerous to attempt.
After we had all had our fill of swimming, we headed back to the spring to fill up on water. The hike out was significantly more difficult that the one in, as we were hiking out in the peak hours of the day and the temperature exceeded 100 degrees in the canyon. We all went at our own pace and stopped to rest in the few spots of tree shade when we could. We actually passed one family that later got heat stroke and had to get rescued by the sheriff.
But despite my fatigue, my blistered feet, and the dangerously high temperature, I was still impressed by awe-inspiring the views on the way out.