December 6, 2012
Driving back from Scottsdale Tuesday, where Berta was having a knee replaced, the crazy multiple loop freeways behind me, and cruising up US60 almost to Wickenburg I began to see more than just a concrete jungle. Fall colored cottonwoods lined the road to the left while tall saguaros stood sentinel on the hillside to the right. Oh yea, it’s the Hassayampa River Riparian Area. So instead of just taking pics from behind the wheel I made a quick turn in and parked so I could walk into nature to exercise my legs and spirit.
Signed as a “Rest Area”, where drivers stop to use the bathrooms and stretch their legs, never staying very long. The “trail” sign only shows a promenade of concrete sidewalk around the parking lot with a pretty metal fence separating the wild. Yet with so many interpretive signs along the short route it could take enough time to at least get some exercise. The fence is done in a similar pattern to the big signs and include more smaller interpretive signs. I like this but am reminded of a visitor who told me, “only 10% of people read signs.”
I walked the promenade and failed to find an opening or gate to get to the river. There appeared to be a trail, on the other side of the fence. I’d been here many years ago and remember walking under the trees and over a wetland on a boardwalk. Then I saw a man racking so asked him where the real, dirt trails were and he told me just go over or under the fence.
So with only my little camera along, I went under the fence in a safe place and headed through the trees for the Hassayampa River not sure if there would be water as it doesn’t always flow above ground. Near Wickenburg the channel is narrow and bedrock dams in the riverbed force the stream near or onto the surface. Yet only a mile downstream it turns into a broad and dry sandy riverbed not capable of holding much water or keeping it near the surface and instead the water disappears into the sand seeking the bedrock bottom below.
The Hassayampa River Riparian Area is one of the few remaining Cottonwood – Willow riparian forests in Arizona. These stream-side forests are among the most endangered forest types in the western US. This massive multi-armed Willow seemed to reach for the water.
I was easily sidetracked by butterflies flitting around an almost dried flowering bush. Then I struggled with the camera trying to focus on this Queen who thankfully posed for a while. The Coolpix P600 is good for driving but is very slow and doesn’t always focus well.
There is restoration going on so maybe that’s why no easy access to trails and the river. Many non-native species were historically introduced by early European-Americans and most of the Arizona riparian areas were changed or lost by timber harvesting, overgrazing, groundwater pumping, farming, dam building, water diversion, hydro-electric power development, mining and expansion of commercial, residential and industrial land uses. Plus the rapidly growing population also caused considerable change in the ecosystems of some riparian areas. One of the restoration procedures is “Tammy whacking” in the spring when volunteers cut invasive tamarisk and apply herbicide directly to the stumps with a sponge restricting the herbicide directly to the stem. Once removed the native flora and fauna often return on their own. Tamarisk is a problem all over the Southwest.
A very sweet rest stop that needs more attention and definitely a return visit for me.
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