Travelers along Forest Road 618 can cool off in Wet Beaver Creek.
© Larry Lindahl
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Editor's Note click to expand
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Forest Road 618In July, any road that leads to a swimming hole ranks as a scenic drive. This one just happens to be scenic, too.
By Roger Naylor
It might seem optimistic, but pack a beach towel before heading out on Forest Road 618. After 6 miles on State Route 260, the slender gravel strand curves into the scrub hills east of Camp Verde with a tangle of creosote, barberry and yucca covering the slopes. Shade in this landscape is a myth. The only plants rising above shoulder level are stunted junipers and crucifixion thorns. Water seems unlikely, but have faith.
Just past the 2-mile mark after turning on FR 618, a rutted road (Forest Road 215) bears right. This leads to Bull Pen Ranch and West Clear Creek Wilderness, a lush riparian oasis. Soaring cliffs tower above the fast-tumbling creek. The lower reaches of the canyon shelter deep pools, perfect for swimming, wading and fishing. It's 3 miles to Bull Pen Ranch, and FR 215 requires a high-clearance ride, but don't worry if your only option is a sedan — more opportunities to get wet lie ahead.
FR 618 ambles upward just enough to change the vegetation. Junipers and piñon pines cluster along the roadway. Amid forested hills and flattop mesas, an occasional glimpse of Sedona's sandstone formations cracks the skyline. Scattered buildings dot the rough meadows. This is ranch country, dating back more than a century. Of course, pioneer settlers weren't the first to appreciate the possibilities of desert grasslands laced with year-round water.
At 11.3 miles, you'll find the largest known petroglyph site in the Verde Valley. Located along the banks of Wet Beaver Creek, V-Bar-V Heritage Site protects a staggering array of rock art that was created by the Sinaguan people sometime between the years 900 and 1300. Archaeologists believe the panels of chiseled symbols function as a solar calendar.
Just past V-Bar-V, the road bends left and pavement begins. Cross Wet Beaver Creek on a one-lane bridge that dips beneath a leafy canopy of cottonwoods, sycamores and willows. There's a campground and a picnic area nearby, and the creek will likely be frothy with youngsters — an awesome kid-sized pool sits right off the road.
For desert dwellers, swimming holes hold a special magic — a perfect escape when the mercury punches through the top of the thermometer. Air-conditioning might keep us alive, but water and shade set us free.
Beyond the campground is the parking area for the Bell Trail, which parallels Wet Beaver Creek. A network of pathways leads to the water in prime spots, but the big Kahuna of swimming holes lurks 3 miles from the trailhead. Just upstream from where the trail crosses the creek, deep water carves an exquisite 70-foot-long channel between narrow sandstone walls. Known as "The Crack," a triangle of rock positioned over the sweet spot makes a dandy diving platform, but more fearless souls just heave themselves in from atop the 25-foot-high walls.
Once you're dried off (thank goodness for the beach towel), hop back in the car and follow FR 618 for 2 miles to Interstate 17. Or, continue straight ahead into Sedona. There are a lot more swimming holes along Oak Creek.
Tour Guideclick to expand
Note: Mileages are approximate.
Length: 14 miles one way
Directions: From Interstate 17 (Exit 287) in Camp Verde, drive southeast on State Route 260 for 6 miles to Forest Road 618, and continue north to I-17.
Vehicle Requirements: None
Warning: Back-road travel can be hazardous, so be aware of weather and road conditions. Carry plenty of water. Don't travel alone and let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.
Information: Red Rock Ranger District, 928-282-4119 or www.fs.usda.gov/coconino. The V-Bar-V Heritage Site is open Friday through Monday, from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. A Red Rock Pass is required. For more information, call 928-282-3854.
Travelers in Arizona can visit www.az511.gov or dial 511 to get information on road closures, construction, delays, weather and more.