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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Roosevelt Lake, AZ – Desert Oasis

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Roosevelt Lake, Arizona

April 5-18, 2009 - We left Chanute, Kansas in a blast of cold headwinds.

Those miserable winds pummeled us all the way across Oklahoma, Texas

and New Mexico.  We were totally windblown by the time we arrived in

Arizona, and we were utterly fed up with fighting it every time we set foot

outside the trailer.  Our usual mileage of 10 mpg while towing dropped as

low as 7.7 through parts of Oklahoma, and for the entire trip across

country our average was a dismal 8.5.

The truck and

trailer looked

like heck when

we got to

Arizona, and

we did too.  So

it was with great excitement that I

opened our door and looked out

at the lake on our second

morning and felt not just warm

sun on my skin but the sweetest

of gentle breezes on my face.

This is one of those areas that is

a little jewel on our planet.

Coming into Windy Hill Recreation

Area there is a fantastic curvy

road, and I spent several happy

hours on two different days

running up and down the road

getting pictures of RVs as they

drove past.

Roosevelt Lake was dammed in 1911, and at the time was the largest

man-made lake in the world.  We had lived in Phoenix, next door to this

little piece of heaven, for years, yet we had never been there.  I couldn't

believe how beautiful it was.  If we had known about it, we would have

camped there every spring and fall weekend in our popup tent trailer.

The lake is open to boaters of all kinds, and a marina sits next to the

visitors center.  There are lots of houseboats at the marina.  What a fun

place to roost for a while.

We had ridden our bikes on just about every road in the area with

various organized bike rides over the years, but the one spectacular

road that runs alongside the lake was a whole new discovery for us.


seemed to be

in bloom when

we arrived, and

the high winds

had blown

every bit of dust

and pollution to

kingdom come,

so the air was

crisp and clear.

The lake was

full to


and the views

in every

direction were

filled with the

promise of


We were blessed with a full moon

during our stay, and a group of birds

swooped back and forth in front of

the moon as it rose one evening.

The entire lake is smack in the

middle of Tonto National Forest, so

there is virtually no development

anywhere other than the slightly

developed campgrounds and an

Indian cliff dwelling site nearby.  I

was amazed by how many

campgrounds there are, and how

many campsites within each

campground.  The USFS has closed

several campgrounds and closed

many loops within the open

campgrounds, probably because

they just don't get enough

business to make it worthwhile to

maintain it all.

The campgrounds are set along little peninsulas, and many campsites

have a waterfront view.  Whoever designed the campgrounds along this

lake did an outstanding job.  There is boondocking too, but the

campgrounds are so spacious and pretty that we opted for a waterfront

site at the end of a peninsula instead.

Throughout our visit the cameras just kept clicking.  In every direction

we turned there seemed to be another lovely shot.  Friends of ours

were camped nearby, and each evening the discussion always seemed

to wander back to the various photos all of us had taken during the day.

One evening I

came back from a

bike ride to hear

an excited

discussion around

the campfire

about a clump of

clover and a bee.

This little bee had


become a

supermodel for the afternoon, and we

had fun comparing all the different

photos of him.

The Sonoran Desert is one of my

favorite places.  It extends from

Arizona into Sonora, Mexico, and is

extremely lush, filled with a wide

variety of flowers, birds and cactus.  It

is the only place in the world where

the wise old saguaro cactus chooses

to live, and they rule the landscape

with a myriad of personalities, all

seeming to wave a greeting to their fellow cactus.

The saguaros that have a cluster of arms are often 150 years old or

more.  Those cactus grew up in a very different world -- one with a

small river instead of a lake, for starters.

The main road hugs the lake for many miles, and on a few

days we ventured out to Tonto Basin, a small community at

the far north end of the lake.  On those morning drives the

hillsides were alive with bright yellow flowers and towering

cactus, looking down at the lake.  In the distance we could see

Four Peaks, an aptly named mountain range that makes a distinct

landmark on the horizon when looking east from Phoenix.  Here we got

to see its back


A bridge spans

the river just

before the

dam, and every

time you drive

by it begs you

to take a


On several days we went out in the

kayak and pedaled and paddled

around.  The wind resumed its howling

every few days, so we had some

sloppy times on the water with the

spray flying.  But there were some

really calm days too.  Those were

times of heavenly relaxation and


The lake is an interesting habitat because it is in the

middle of the richest Sonoran Desert land, but

because the body of water is so large, ducks, grebes and even seagulls set up

housekeeping here too.  Whenever we would go out in the kayak we were always

amazed to see hundreds of grebes swimming around.  They would alert each other to

our presence with frantic calls, and as we approached, one by one they would dive

underwater.  At the same time we could also hear the calls of the Gambel quail from

their perches in the desert scrub along the shore.

The fishermen complained

that the fishing wasn't too

good.  That surprised us,

because we saw all kinds of huge fish leaping out of the water as we

paddled.  Maybe their noisy powerboats were scaring off their catch.

The cycling in this area is spectacular as well.

There are a lot of organized rides sponsored by

the Arizona bike clubs that travel many of the

roads in this part of the state, however I know of

none that go along the lakeside road (route

188).  It would be the perfect location for an

organized ride: stunning scenery, challenging

climbs, screaming descents, and lots of picnic

areas for rest stops.

Roosevelt Lake is a gorgeous place, and we

felt blessed to be able to spend a good bit of

time there.

A little cardinal sang his heart out on one of our last mornings.

He seemed so happy to be alive.  Roosevelt Lake makes you feel

that way.  Sadly, we eventually had to pack up and go.  We drove

the beautiful lakeside road one last time and then turned west

once again to journey on to California.