Flagstaff, AZ – In the chilly autumn of 1851, the Sitgreaves expedition crossed the parched cinder field of northern Arizona. Dry-mouthed and desperate for water, the men and mules followed the base of the San Francisco Peaks. To their great joy, they discovered a flowing spring there.
They lingered for two days, enjoying the sweet, fresh water flowing amid basalt boulders and ponderosa pines. Naturalist Samuel Woodhouse collected a toad that would bear his name. The springs themselves would be named for their able guide, Antoine Leroux.
Leroux Springs is usually referred to as a single place. But there are actually two springs about a half-mile apart Little Leroux and Big Leroux. Their waters soon meet to form the headwaters of the Rio de Flag, the intermittent stream that courses through Flagstaff and into the Little Colorado River.
Like any water source in the West, the springs were soon appropriated in this case, piped to farms in Fort Valley and carried in barrels to the new railroad burg of Flagstaff. In 1882, says historian Susan Olberding, plans were made to pipe Leroux Springs water into town, but the idea never materialized.
Now, the U.S. Forest Service and Rocky Mountain Experiment Station capture the springs at their sources, with some of the water going to a nearby firefighter camp. Still, it's as joyous now as it was a century ago to find these precious waters as they filter down through volcanic rock and emerge into the sunlight.
For more information about the Leroux Springs area, see Susan Deaver Olberding's book Fort Valley Then and Now (Flagstaff: Fort Valley Publishing, 2007), or visit Friends of the Rio de Flag.