The desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose
When my family moved here from Illinois in the mid-’70s, my mother would often pull out a map and decide where we would take a day trip, often based on the interest-factor of the place name, and if it was by water. To her consternation, she quickly discovered that in Arizona, just because it says “river” on a map does not actually mean there is water at that location. “River” almost always actually means “DRY river BED.”
Most rivers in Arizona are dammed for hydroelectric power and/or for reservoirs to supply water to cities. While I’m grateful for the liquid that streams from my kitchen tap, I do feel like this is, somehow, wrong. The natural desert landscape is robbed of the too-few streams and rivers, making riparian areas few and far between, destroying habitat for flora and fauna. I’m not such a tree-hugging type that I’m saying that animals are better than people and we’d all serve the earth much more effectively by dying. However, it does seem that we could do a much better job at living symbiotically with the desert environment.
All of that serves to elevate my enthusiasm when I find a desert location that has a naturally-occurring source of actual water.
This current winter/spring has been the wettest that I can recall in at least six years. Its overcast right now, in fact. Phoenix has gotten around four inches of rain in 2010 so far (many locations are closer to 5″), which may not sound like a lot to Midwesterners, but when you consider that we usually (in non-drought years) get only about 7″ for the year, four inches in barely over two months is a whole lot.
On Friday, I took the kids out for a drive/hike that we’ve done before, off of Castle Hot Springs Road, which arcs north of the Carefree Highway, east of Wickenburg, and west of Lake Pleasant. I was hoping that in addition to the vivid green desert hills, there would be some actual flowing water in the creek to which we were heading. Now, I already knew that “my” secret spot holds a spring-fed perennial creek, so I was pretty certain that there would be water, as most springs are dependent on the availability of groundwater, which would obviously be greater after an abundance of rain. But, in the desert, one never really knows. (Plus, the last time we were there, a couple of years ago, there had been some illegal gold-mining activity, likely using cyanide, leading to some unnaturally bright-orange rocks and no life in the water.)
There WAS water in “our” creek. In fact, there has been so much water that we didn’t recognize our spot until driving past it three times. The teensy meadow of years past, small but startling in the midst of its brown and dry surroundings, was no longer there. (Scroll down to photo #7 on this post from Sept 4, 2006 and photo #6 on this post from Feb 5, 2007, for a shot of the meadow) In its place was evidence of a grand torrent, five or six feet high, which reshaped the little valley, leaving a preponderance of boulders, removing the topsoil, and carving a new path for the stream that did remain. Also gone was a GIGANTIC cottonwood; a very large stump was there, as well as a sapling — its child, no doubt. Also, some work had been done on the dirt road (for erosion control, it appears), moving its path a bit.
I know it doesn’t appear like much, there on the right, and it still looks dry and deserty — and of course, it IS the desert. But, down in it, it does not seem dry at all. All along the drive, I kept exclaiming how lush and vividly green everything was. There is an abundance of green undergrowth — desert grass and teensy flowers, which will likely all be gone by May or June, burnt off by the searing summer heat.
In addition, Castle Hot Springs Road crosses both Bitter Creek and Castle Creek at many locations. Most of the time, this just makes for bumpy, sandy going but on Friday, there was water at every crossing — too many to count! Water crossed our paths at least 15 or 20 times in the space of about 15 miles. Normally, even in wetter months, the creek might splash away from your tires once or twice. Three or four times, if you drive the route a day or two after some rain. On Friday, every single gully, wash, and creek bed had running water in it.
The pic above looks mostly south over Bitter Creek. On the right-hand side, just around the bend that you can’t see, another, smaller creek converges with it, to the east of the road, heading south and west from Bitter Creek. I cannot find a name for that little tributary on any map. One time we went and found some mining claims posted, which identified the area as “Hold-Up Creek” but I can’t find anything to substantiate that name, either. So, we just call it Bitter Creek, though most of our time was not on that creek itself.
The good news is that the creek appears to have recovered from the cyanide use from a couple of years ago, somewhat to my surprise. I’m sure the abundance of water has helped that recovery.
We spent about three hours, exploring and playing, sort of hiking. We didn’t get further back than 1/4 mile or so. The creek was quite overgrown with prickly bushes and trees, and as it was entirely boulder-strewn, I had to carry Fiala, my 16 month old baby, in my arms. She was not a fan of this sort of hiking, and screamed pretty much the whole way, both from wanting to GO on her own, and from the occasional scratch. 😦 That was surprising; she’s usually a fabulous trouper.
In the past, we have hiked the creek back to its source, roughly 1/2 mile. I was a little bummed out that we weren’t able to do that. Next time. “Next time” will be fairly soon, actually, as I’ve convinced another homeschooling mom to accompany us, with her two boys in the near future.
According to the topo map (Garfias Quad — but at about 33.9669°N 112.4444°W, not exactly where that link takes you), there is another 1/2 mile-or-so trail that leads to a spring (St. Anthony Spring), only 1000 feet or so from where I parked. I think we’ll try to find that, next time. Also, next time, maybe there will be more flowers; it’s about 2800′ elevation at that location, and not much was yet blooming, even though my title suggests it.