Bureau of Land Management National Park Service U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service U.S. Forest Service

Fossil Creek, Arizona

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Managing Agency:

U.S. Forest Service, Coconino National Forest
U.S. Forest Service, Tonto National Forest

Designated Reach:

March 30, 2009. From the confluence of Sand Rock and Calf Pen Canyons to its confluence with the Verde River.


Wild — 9.3 miles; Recreational — 7.5 miles; Total — 16.8 miles.

Fossil Creek

Fossil Creek

Fossil Creek has been described as the most diverse riparian area in Arizona. Over 30 species of trees and shrubs and over a hundred species of birds have been observed in this unique habitat. The stream seems to appear out of nowhere, originating from a collection of artesian springs that produce a constant, year-round flow of about 43 cubic feet per second. In a state where water is scarce, the magnitude and constant water flow of this perennial stream is rare.

For most of the last century, the stream was used for hydropower production through a series of diversion flumes that carried the majority of the flow from the springs to two power plants. Constructing this hydropower system in the early 1900's was a great engineering feat.

In 2005, the hydropower project was decommissioned and flow was restored to the creek. In coordination with the decommissioning, a fish barrier was built, non-native fish were removed, and native fish were restored to Fossil Creek. It now is one of only a few streams in Arizona with only native fish and with ten federally listed or sensitive fish species either present or provided suitable habitat.

The water of Fossil Creek is also rare also because, as it comes out of the ground, it is supersaturated with calcium carbonate and forms travertine as it flows. In all of North America, there are only three travertine systems larger (with respect to water discharge and mineral deposition potential) than Fossil Creek, all of which are partially or wholly contained within National Parks. The travertine creates terraces, steep waterfalls and large pools and encases whatever happens to fall into the streambed, forming the fossils for which the area is named.

Fossil Creek provides outstanding opportunities for a variety of recreational activities and it attracts numerous visitors especially to the deep, clear pools in which to wade and swim. The constant water flow is welcome relief from the intense heat of the desert southwest. Calcium carbonate dissolved in the water gives it a beautiful blue-green color, which adds to the enjoyment of the area.

Because of the year-round constant flow of water, Fossil Creek has been used for millennia and it has exceptional cultural value to various Apache and Yavapai groups.