These are such difficult times…
The past week has been filled with so much
sadness and worry,
no matter where in the world we live.
Sometimes it helps
just a little bit
to seek out an oasis…
We just returned from a wonderful visit with family in southwest Arizona.
Autumn in the desert is truly lovely!
Just a short walk from their suburban neighborhood
takes us into the beautiful, wild desert of the Tonto National Forest.
Tonto National Forest, with Four Peaks in the background
It is one of the most beautiful places I know.
The rugged mountains, prickly cacti, majestic Saguaros,
and dry, red earth seem timeless under the bright, blue desert sky.
The Saguaro cactus is the state ‘tree’ of Arizona.
Yet hiking in the desert, with my ever-present large-brimmed hat, water bottle, strong sunscreen, and camera (of course!) often feels very harsh. Over the years, I have learned which cacti I shouldn’t touch, the safe way to pick up an interesting rock, and which desert animals are poisonous. Yet, I always walk through the desert with great care, paying close attention to each step I take. (Oh, how I love the native desert plants, the tiny wildflowers, the birdsong, and the gentle breezes! However, the creatures of the desert ~ scorpions, tarantulas, rattlesnakes, javelinas, and vultures ~ have never been my ‘cup of tea.’)
When it’s my turn to choose our hiking destinations, I always seek out the oases in the desert.
Surprisingly, there are many
green, fertile spots where water can be found
in the Tonto National Forest!
It was so relaxing to spend the day
following the lower Salt River,
as it wound its way through the rough, desert terrain.
The area near the river felt like a calm, peaceful oasis!
The lower Salt River winds its way through the Tonto National forest, in Arizona.
This riparian area, along the banks of the Salt River,
is so different from the harsh, dry desert that surrounds it.
This greenbelt of land is filled with trees and bushes that could never survive
in the dry, rugged conditions nearby.
I always feel at ease hiking along the rocky banks of the Salt River.
It feels more familiar to a Midwestern girl!
Fish can be seen jumping and splashing in the slow moving water.
Reflections of green, deciduous trees catch my attention.
Water birds stand quietly on the riverbank before flying off to other nearby spots.
Squirrels frolic between the tree roots.
Hoof prints in the mud reveal places
where wild horses stop for fresh water.
The lower Salt River is a natural boundary between the Tonto National Forest (foreground) and the Pima-Maricopa Indian Community on the other side of the river.
As we walked through this riparian zone,
we noticed that other people were also attracted to this oasis in the desert.
There were people tent camping under the trees,
fishing from the riverbank,
and kayaking along the meandering waterway.
Such a comfortable refuge, in the midst of the Sonoran desert!
Tall reeds, growing along the riverbank, provide an important habitat for animals that can only survive in this riparian zone.
After several warm days,
we delighted in a lovely, cool, November day for our hike.
The temperature was only 60 degrees as we walked along the river.
Puffy clouds above us cast beautiful shadows on the mountains.
Welcome rains would fall over night.
(Rain is a real celebration in the Sonoran desert!)
A Greater roadrunner walked along the road, then walked toward the riverbank.
We had a fascinating guest at our picnic lunch at Blue Point!
A Greater roadrunner strolled back and forth through the picnic area,
graciously stopping to pose for our camera.
Its beautiful tail feathers
sparkled in the noonday sun,
as it wandered about looking for its lunch.
(I was very happy to learn that it eats black widow spiders, tarantulas, scorpions, and rattlesnakes!) ☺
Although it can only fly a short distance,
the Greater roadrunner can run at speeds of 20 miles per hour.
This proud roadrunner seemed very content just posing for videos for other hikers!
The lower Salt River flows south, with Red Mountain in the distance.
A healthy riparian zone, along the Salt River, benefits everyone. The bushes, grasses, and trees that thrive along the riverbank provide homes for a wide variety of wildlife, prevent soil erosion, and provide flood control by slowing down the water when the Salt River overflows its banks. The shoreline trees shade the water for fish, while the insects, leaves, and twigs that fall into the river become part of the aquatic food chain.
During our lifetime, much of the riparian greenbelt has seen a loss of vegetation from clearing farmland nearby, heavy livestock grazing, and the construction of dams that raise and lower the river levels. The trees that grow along the river can only survive the dry periods if their roots are always submerged in water.
As the population of Arizona continues to grow, the riparian ecosystem faces even more risks. There is such a fragile balance necessary between the growing demands for our natural resources and the health of this important ecosystem in the Sonoran desert.
We must take care to protect this wonderful oasis!
It is a vital, fertile spot of refuge
in harsh, difficult times.
It feels so good
to spend time in peaceful oases.
Whether in the Sonoran desert
or closer to home…
Treat yourself to some quiet moments of peace.
P.S. What places feel like peaceful oases to you?