December 2017 – The Sonoran Desert in Arizona is known for its cactus and warm dry climate, but one of our favorite things in the Sonoran Desert is the waterways – the rivers and lakes that flow through the arid land.
While Spring is an awesome time to see wildflowers in the Sonoran Desert, the months of Fall are a beautiful time to explore the central Arizona waterways because the cottonwood trees and other riverside deciduous trees begin to change color.
Autumn comes later to the Sonoran Desert than most places, peaking sometime in November. Some of our favorite Arizona fall foliage images are in this article about Tonto National Forest here. They are from the eastern side of Phoenix just beyond the edges of the city of Mesa along the Salt River and the Verde River (“Green River”).
This year we returned to the banks of the Verde River once again to witness the colorful display.
The Verde River rises and falls depending on rainfall and water releases at the dam upstream. In some places the water had seeped up between the trees and made wonderful reflections surrounded by fallen leaves.
Big cottonwood trees reached out across the Verde River.
Suddenly a group of wild horses appeared on the far shore.
Central Arizona’s wild horses live in small family groups all along both the Salt River and the Verde River. We have seen them many times over in areas east of Mesa along the beautiful Bush Highway which parallels the Salt River.
Suddenly one of the horses crossed the river and approached quite close.
His tail and his mane were filled with burrs from running around in the prickly desert. It gave him a bit of a rastafarian look!
We wandered away from the river after the horses left and found some stately saguaro cacti with their arms outstretched toward the heavens.
A yucca plant erupted in a spray of gold along its spikey leaves as the sun lit it from behind.
Up on a wire we noticed a regal Harris Hawk surveying the scene below him.
He moved very slowly, first staring in one direction and then staring in another, surveying the ground for any signs of scurrying feet that might make a good snack.
We have gotten a kick out of seeing various animals in our travels, including wild burros, buffalo, prairie dogs, mountain blue birds and herds of cows in the Black Hills of South Dakota this past summer (blog posts here and here).
Arizona’s most scenic spots off the beaten path offers the opportunity for some particularly special wildlife encounters too, and I wrote an article in the December issue of Motorhome Magazine describing the wide variety of animals we’ve seen in our Arizona RV travels.
From snowy egrets to burrowing owls to peach faced lovebirds to sandhill cranes to hummingbirds and a whole host of four legged critters like big horn sheep and mountain lions (not to mention the wild horses), there are all kinds of animals to be seen all around Arizona!
Arizona is also famous for its beautiful sunrises and sunsets, and we caught a few along the Verde River.
Lots of snowbird RVers are headed to Arizona now and in the coming weeks, and we hope you all take a drive on the beautiful Bush Highway and catch a glimpse of the wild horses and perhaps a Harris hawk or two!
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More info about the Sonoran Desert and its rivers:
- A Natural History of the Sonoran Desert
- Detailed Maps of Tonto National Forest
- Locations of Regional Parks (with RV camping) near the Verde and Salt Rivers
Other blog posts with wildlife sightings in Arizona:
- Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum – Wild Animals in Tucson AZ 03/05/16
- Burrowing owls in Gilbert, Arizona – They’re a Hoot! 01/13/15
- Peach Faced Lovebirds in Phoenix, AZ – Parrots in Cactus! 03/01/16
- Phoenix on the Wing – Waterbirds of Arizona! 03/27/14
- Sandhill Cranes in Willcox Arizona – What a Party! 02/21/15
- To Catch a Hummingbird (on camera!) 01/18/14
- Wild Burros of the Colorado River – A Puppy’s View! 03/16/18
- Wild Horses of the Salt River in Phoenix 04/25/14
- Wild Horses Running Free 01/08/15
- Wild Horses! 11/27/14
All of our blog posts from central Arizona – Places to camp, scenic drives, hikes and wildlife
A sampling of our Motorhome Magazine articles:
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