Pool's Gold

One Man's Fortune Is Another Man's Folly On The Banks Of The Hassayampa.

By Kevin Franklin

JUMPING ON TOP of a boulder, I find myself directly over two dogs and their owner, who're enjoying the
pleasant pools of Wolf Creek, near Prescott. Who's surprised whom is up for debate, but the dogs angrily sound the alarm, nearly causing their master to fall backwards into the pool in his haste to find out what manner of creature has materialized on the rocks above him.

"Howdy!" I say, attempting to stem the crack of gunfire and the clamp of a dog on my calf.

Review After initial greetings and corralling of canines, we get down to business. Arizona wild pool hunters are like the prospectors of yesteryear. Everyone wants information about likely strikes, but no one wants to surrender their own secret spots. Sometimes exchanges can be made, but like stone-faced poker players, no one wants to tip his cards until they know what's in the pot.

"You find any pools upstream?" he asks.

This is when I look at my hand and find a discouraging diversity of cards.

"Well," I say in my best pity-me-I-just-got-to-this-table tone, "I just came upon the stream a few hundred yards back. There wasn't much up there."

"Oh, well, you know if you go down the road to a green gate and hike down that road, there's some real deep pools."

"Yeah? How deep?"

"Over my head."

Jackpot! I think to myself. I've scored the first round of chips on the house. I offer my thanks and head back through the ponderosa forest to my truck.

Wolf Creek is one of the tributaries that feeds into the Hassayampa River. Marshall Trimble writes in Roadside History of Arizona that this waterway figured prominently in the founding of Prescott in particular, and in the formation of Arizona as a territory.

Lieutenant Jack Swilling, a Confederate soldier, found gold nuggets along the banks of the Hassayampa before the war. He mentioned the discovery to his Union prisoner, Captain William McCleave, who passed the story and a few nuggets along to his commanders. The story and the nuggets eventually made their way to Washington, D.C., thereby advancing the decision to make Arizona a territory.

In 1863, legendary mountain-man Pauline Weaver led the A.H. Peeples' expedition up the Hassayampa. On what would later be called Rich Hill, the expedition discovered the richest placer gold strike in Arizona history.

Today I'm not looking for gold, but instead a deep, cool, mountain watering hole. I find the green gate and walk down the described road. After reaching the creek and hiking about a mile up and downstream, I find no pools.

Damn card shark.

Knowing he had his feet in the best pools around, I suspect the guy with the dogs gave me the old Lost Dutchman story to get me away from his bounty: There's something better just over those hills on the horizon, why don't you go check it out? It's an old tactic, and has been practiced on this very stretch of water for over 100 years.

In Arizona's Names, Byrd Granger writes, "In Arizona miner lore, (the Hassayampa) stream came to be associated with liars, more specifically, prospectors who evaded direct answers about their locations or those who bragged about how good their finds were. Such men explained their lies by saying they drank Hassayampa River water that rendered them unable to speak the truth." Makes you wonder if that's what's being bottled and delivered to the state capitol these days....

Finding more humor than anger in the situation, I hop in my truck and drive along various U.S. Forest Service roads. Here and there, the road reconnects with the same watercourse, now the full-fledged Hassayampa River. It's still a creek, except maybe during storms. Nevertheless, the water has created lush riparian areas as it cuts through the Bradshaw Mountains.

A bobcat darts across the road. Later on I brake for a mild-mannered, black-tailed rattlesnake. I get out and watch him make his way into the bush.

One of the most pleasant stretches for those who want to amble along the riverside is Forest Service Road 72, between Wilhoit and Kirkland Junction. Most high-clearance vehicles won't have any trouble driving this road, though there are a few steep spots that could give two-wheel-drives trouble in rain.

It's a beautiful and surprisingly quiet area. Just don't expect anyone languishing on the water to give you a straight story.

Getting There

The Hassayampa River runs just east of Highway 89, from Prescott down to Wickenburg. TW

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