Spent the day at the Hassayampa River Preserve on Sunday. This riparian oasis is a bird sanctuary that draws carloads of binoculared, kakis-clad bird enthusiasts every year. The Native American name for the unusual place is ‘the upside-down river’ – the reason being that the 100 mile river runs beneath the earth for most of its length, only coming up above ground for this brief 5 mile stretch.
Lorraine, the volunteer humaning the desk when we arrived, was happy to tell Jim and I about the different hikes to choose from, and even satisfied our curiosity concerning the mysterious ‘Murdered’ headstone visible from the dirt road leading into the preserve. (Seems a family of three was murdered there back in stagecoach days. The owner of the ranch felt he owed it to the family to give them a proper burial on his land. He even had it written into the deed that any who purchased the ranch after his death would agree to keep up the burial spot.)
Armed with hats, camera and bottled water we set out to explore the four miles of trails through this 700 hundred acre cottonwood forest. In the picnic area bird loving volunteers were busy tagging birds for wildlife study programs. More than 250 types of birds pass through or live in the preserve.
Eager to view the river we took the Lion Trail first. This led us down through a sandy dry riverbed where hiking felt like slogging along a beach. We’d been told by Lorraine to expect to come across large tumbled snags of debris washed up by flood waters, and that these were deliberately left undisturbed, “because, it’s nature, you see, and you wouldn’t believe the creatures that live in there.” She didn’t specify what kind of creatures. I kept a wary, if hopeful, eye out for said creatures, and my camera ready in case any of them felt photogenic. We heard a lot of rustling, but only spotted this fellow, sunning himself. I assured him of my good intentions and asked if I might take his photo. He allowed it, observing me with inquisitive eyes and swiveling head, his bravado reminding me that in his world, he’s a fearsome dinosaur best known for devouring insects whole.
The actual river, when we came upon it, was creek-sized, its crystal water filled with long flowing tresses of bright green moss and clumps of tiny-leafed duckweed. The banks are dotted with baccharis and horehound and sheltered by towering cottonwoods and willow. A narrow, child-sized bridge cut through the reeds and carried us to the other bank.
Next we climbed to the highest point, Lyke’s Lookout. Not a long climb, but very steep. A bench at the sun-baked summit provided the perfect place to observe the green cottonwood canopy below. A pair of turkey vultures circled the peak and I wished for binoculars to better observe them. Being up on the peak with its long views led to a discussion of macrocosm and microcosm (Jim), which in turn led to Horton Hears a Who (my contribution) – I’ve always thought Dr. Seuss knew our human hubris would cause us to identify with Horton, but I feel he wanted us to see we are really more like the Whos. (What do you think?)
Descending was slippery and hot; the denim I wore felt like it might spontaneously ignite if we didn’t find shade soon. We opted for a cool stroll beneath the willows and fan palms along Palm Lake Loop. Sitting in the lacy shade beside the marsh lake we admired a pair of ducks, and listened to the tender singing and fluting calls in the fluttering woods around us.
It was a perfect day in every way.
Brava! Mother Nature.
What are some of your favorite places to get out in the wild? How does being outdoors in nature make you feel? Do you think we’ve cut ourselves off from our natural habitat with the type of homes and cities we live in? Do you feel a special ‘connection’ when you are in a natural setting?