Remember the Verde River

[Prescott eNews wishes to thank Walter Anderson for this article and his beautiful photos – Editor]

The presidential election showed that Americans were ready for change, and now as we go through this transitional period, it is good for us to notice and celebrate the change that occurs around us annually. As deciduous trees turn off their photosynthetic machinery, the loss of chlorophyll reveals warm colors of underlying pigments—rich blends of yellows, oranges, and reds, sometimes in dramatic contrast with the green leaves still reluctant to turn.

“Verde” is Spanish for green, but green is not why I head annually to the Upper Verde River, where the cottonwoods and willows put on an amazing display of color that stands out against the dry canyon slopes above the river. On Friday ahead of the predicted stormy, cold weekend, I filled my camera’s memory card with colorful pixels while enjoying the local wildlife: a swimming River Otter, a family of four Raccoons, a couple Virginia Rails, a dozen American Wigeons floating in the pondweeds, Rock Wrens bobbing on the cliffs of limestone and basalt, a trotting band of Javelinas, and a lot more.

The Upper Verde River is one of the last free-flowing, wild stretches of river in this dry state of Arizona. It is a true treasure, but because access is not easy and no highways lead to stunning overlooks, it is little known or appreciated among the general public. The Forest Service and The Nature Conservancy control most of the land along the river now, but the river is threatened by ongoing groundwater pumping in the Little Chino and Big Chino aquifers. The springs that feed the river will dry up as the water table declines, and losses are already evident.

This is another example why people need to learn about and then defend our natural heritage. A dry canyon doesn’t serve either people or wildlife. We live in a democracy, which means that the voices of the people must be heard, but that requires us to practice enlightened and informed activism.

Whether or not you have a chance to get to the Upper Verde River, you can stand up for it. This is what we will lose if we do not act wisely.

A family of four Raccoons heads to the bank to make needed withdrawals. “Riparian” means “bank,” and this is an ecosystem well worth investing in. These are true liquid assets, and we must protect them.

Granite Creek arises in the mountains surrounding Prescott. As it leaves the Granite Dells, it travels for many miles below ground, where it is safe from evaporation but not from aquifer pumping. It reappears here near Little Thumb Butte by Paulden in springs that support a dynamic riparian area before its confluence with the Verde River proper.

Granite Creek just above its confluence with the Verde River. In rare wet times, water has been above ground here, supporting pioneering Beavers.

Another view of where Granite Creek connects with the Verde River. Yuccas and junipers cling to the limestone cliffs.

Headwaters Springs have been protected by The Nature Conservancy. What a splendid biodiversity hotspot! It has also been recognized as an Important Bird Area that is monitored by Prescott Audubon Society.

Looking downstream from the Headwaters Springs. Coyote Willows in the lower left are among the favorite foods of the Beavers that sometimes occupy this reach.

Cottonwood that resembles a head of yellow cauliflower. The rusty colors in the middle background are from Poison Ivy.

Rock Wren that approached me on the limestone cliff above the river.

 

The Verde River flows toward a mesa top that has a significant Native American archaeological site.

Telephoto view of this reach of the Upper Verde. I love the combinations of greens, yellows, and golds. Until this portion of the Verde River was protected from grazing in the 1990s thanks to the Endangered Species Act providing protection for native fishes, it was little more than a degraded cow pasture with few trees. Look what protection has yielded! The ESA has been under attack, so it is up to us to defend and apply it wisely to protect our native biodiversity and thus our own quality of life.

The many wild residents of the Upper Verde River are unaware of the water wars that ultimately will determine their fate. We need to speak out on their behalf. Stop the reckless withdrawal of water from our aquifers. We need to develop sustainable communities that include our wild neighbors.

I feel so fortunate to live in an area with such stunning and inspiring native landscapes, yet I know I can’t take them for granted. I urge all of you who appreciate this and other wild landscapes to make sure that they are not lost to the relentless march of “progress,” truly an oxymoron if it destroys the natural capital that we have been lucky enough to inherit.

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