Rivers of Phoenix – Oases in the Desert!

Saguaro in Sonoran Desert

The Sonoran Desert is a special and unique landscape

February, 2014 – We had been living among the saguaro cactus on the outer fringes of Phoenix Arizona for a few weeks, loving life in the sweet Sonoran desert.

Saguaro cactus

One of the most elaborately shaped
saguaro cactus we’ve seen

The weather continued to be stunningly warm, with temps in the high 70’s every afternoon, and we hiked and biked all over the place, soaking in the beautiful views of the aged and stately cactus whose personal histories reached back before Arizona achieved statehood in 1912.  Heck, these guys were saplings in the 1800’s!

Red Mountain on the Salt River

Peeking through the trees at the Salt River

While visiting friends in nearby Fountain Hills, we took a bike ride through the Fort McDowell Indian reservation. Poking around the back roads, we took a turn down a lane and suddenly found ourselves standing next to a flowing river.

It’s funny, even though we’ve called Phoenix “home” for a long time, it hadn’t really sunk in for me that there are rivers here that flow year round.

You just don’t notice them as you drive around town.


Verde River Arizona

The Verde River joins the Salt River

These are vibrant riparian habitats where long legged birds go fishing, animals of all kinds come down for a drink of water, and tall reeds grow by the water’s edge.

Several rivers flow through Phoenix, and we spent a few weeks exploring the shores of two of them, the Verde River and the Salt River.

In the Phoenix area the Salt River runs east-west and the Verde runs north-south.

Kayaks on the river

Kayakers fly downstream

Confluence of the Salt River and Verde River

The scenic confluence of the Salt and Verde Rivers

They converge in a corner of the Tonto National Forest tucked between Fountain Hills and Mesa.

This confluence is a very special spot where kayakers paddle up and downstream, fishermen stand patiently by the water’s edge waiting for a catch, and people of all ages picnic and hike along the craggy shoreline.



Salt River Phoenix Arizona

What a surprise it is to see a river that flows non-stop through the desert

After being immersed in the Sonoran desert for a few weeks — a landscape rich with flora and fauna that can thrive on just an occasional spritz of dampness — we loved watching the leaves and algae and twigs floating lazily downstream on this steadily flowing body of water.

Red mountain with driftwood

Red Mountain forms a beautiful backdrop

Fisherman at the Salt River

Fishermen wait for the catch of the day

Whether stalking that next beautiful photograph with camera and tripod, or riding our bikes on a road that paralleled the flowing water, or hiking along the rocky banks at the river’s edge, we were floored by the change of scenery from the classic Sonoran desert to this watery world, a transformation that takes place in just a few steps.

Fishing on the Salt River

A little girl in pink boots tries her luck with the fishing rod

In the late afternoons the shoreside trees and reeds come alive with the raucous clamor of birds singing and calling each other and deciding who is going to roost where (and with whom!).

Salt River Flow

The Salt River doesn’t flow fast, but it is steady.

Grassy riverbanks

A long legged egret waits for fish among the reeds

“It sounds like I’m in the Amazon,” Mark said to me one afternoon.  We had staked out a spot to catch the late afternoon light, and the shrubs were alive with exotic squeeks and squawks.

There is easy access to the south side of the river, but the north side doesn’t have any roads or trails, so I was surprised when I suddenly heard the loud crunching noises of branches breaking from across the water on the north side of the river.

It sounded like the deliberate movements of something very large that was cracking tree limbs.  I stared into the reeds wondering who the heck was over there.

I couldn’t imagine there could be a person weed-whacking their way through the dense vegetation.  It had to be an animal.

We had heard reports that wild horses had been spotted down by the river, and I studied the shore across the way, hoping for a glimpse of a wild horse.

Cow drinks at rivers edge

A cow comes down to the river’s edge for a drink

After a few minutes, the tall reeds parted and a big brown cow emerged and slowly made its way down to the water.

Well, it wasn’t as cool as a wild horse, but it was still pretty darn cool considering the concrete jungle of freeways and humanity that were the essence of greater Phoenix all around us just a few miles away.

Flipped car

A little reckless driving in the early morning

The cow took a long drink, stared at me for a while, and then dipped its head for another sip before slowly vanishing into the reeds once again.

Riverside starburst at dusk

Dusk on the riverbanks was beautiful and different every evening

This incredibly beautiful and peaceful spot can’t keep the insanity of the city at bay all the time, though, and one day while we were out on a bike ride we saw the bizarre sight of a car flipped upside down on one of the small national forest roads.

Barbecuing dinner

For us these were happy lazy days

We found out a young fellow had come blasting down the tiny, twisty roads of the area at breakneck speeds.

Luckily, he escaped breaking his neck when he lost control of his car.

Flying the Koop

Mark took this wonderful photo of our friends Mike & Donna’s rig
and they put it on their blog banner at www.flyingthekoop.com!

He was seen walking off into the desert, although police later found a loaded gun in his car.

Trouble in paradise, I guess!


Golden hour in the reeds

The Golden Hour on the river

For us, however, life was full of contentment, and we enjoyed a steady stream of quiet, happy days.

Mark got the barbecue going in the evenings, something we had not done in our boating lives and that we had missed sorely, and we met up with new friends of ours, Mike and Donna, whom we had met in San Diego.

They began full-timing last July and have a fun blog, www.flyingthekoop.com, with the delightful motto, “From real estate to wheel estate.”


Sunset with rain over Fountain Hills

Rain nearby gave us beautiful orange cloud formations

The late afternoons and evenings continued to lure us down to the water’s edge every day, and we were treated to some glorious sunsets.

There is a “golden hour” just before the sun leaves the sky when everything seems to be lit from within with a truly golden glow.

We caught this heavenly light one afternoon when the water was totally still. This created a perfect mirror for everything on shore.

Rain was falling in the distance, and the clouds were streaked and heavy with moisture, creating a mystical air in the twilight.

Golden hour along the Salt River

River reflections

The light turned from a crisp, radiant yellow to a burnt orange and finally to a soft pink blush that lit the river’s edge in a luminous warmth. There was a peace here that soothed our souls.

Mirrored sunset hues

We loved the mirrored hues of late afternoon

Sunset colors along the Salt River in Phoenix

The last blush of sunset

Fisherman in sunset reflections at the Salt River

A fisherman amid sunset reflections in the river

We didn’t realize what an unusual sunset this was until we after we had tried to recapture it every night for a week.

Every afternoon, as the sun began its final descent, we ran down to the water’s edge, tripods in hand, hoping for a repeat of that ethereal light.

However, the special light we saw that night, that warm glow that faded from gold to a pink blush to a lavender mist was never quite the same again.

Many sunsets were spectacular, but that fleeting moment where the whole river seemed to hold its breath as everything shimmered in a rose colored halo had been utterly unique and never happened again.

So it is with nature, and we are learning to savor every day that comes.

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