January 29, 2010

Hassayampa River Preserve of the Nature Conservancy

The Hassayampa River flows mostly underground from the mountains near Prescott all the way to the Gila River. However, for a 5 mile stretch, as its aquifer is constrained between the Vulture Mountains and Wickenburg Hills, it flows above ground forming a magnificent and critically important riparian forest amongst the Sonoran desert landscape.

An important stretch of this river is protected by The Nature Conservancy as the Hassayampa River Preserve. It is home to a verdant cottonwood/willow forest along the river and a mesquite bosque on the upslopes.

The big rains that happened a week ago caused a major flood on the Hassayampa. Instead of flowing a foot deep, it rose over 20 feet, covering most of the preserve trails with many feet of silt and changing the landscape of the riparian forest.

But, these tree species are adapted to this kind of catastrophic change. Cottonwoods grow very rapidly, resprout from disturbance readily, and will be back in no time. The same is true of most of these species and the new influx of silt will revitalize the soil nutrients.

That being said, our hiking options were limited to the edge of the flood plain and to an adjacent pond due to the damage of fallen trees and silt covered trails. Nonetheless, we enjoyed our visit to the preserve. I know that this place will look extremely verdant when the sprouts come out in spring!

Palm Lake

Native Sonoran Mud Turtle or Introduced Red-slider? Hard to tell from here.

Of course any place that attracts birders must have its obligate hummingbird feeder

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