Arizona’s Hassayampa River Preserve

Hassayampa River Preserve is a nature preserve four miles southeast of Wickenburg, Arizona and worth a hike. It is a 770-acre riparian nature preserve. In the 1860’s it was a stagecoach stop; in 1913 a guest ranch. More recently, after more than 25 years of the property being owned by The Nature Conservancy, a partnership was created seven years ago with the Maricopa County Parks and Recreation Department. The Conservancy however retains most of the preserve. 

When you check-in at the visitor center and pay five dollars per person, collected by the Maricopa Parks and Recreation Department, you discover their ownership includes the visitor center, a portion of the river channel and Palm Lake. The trail to Palm Lake is currently closed due to construction of a wildlife viewing platform at the lake. The Conservancy put a conservation easement on the property to ensure the land’s natural values are forever protected.

The flowing river was wonderful to see as I visited the preserve specifically to birdwatch. The Hassayampa name comes from a Yavapai Indian word “hayesamo, meaning following the water as far as it goes”. It has also been referred to as the “upside down river” by Apache Indians because the river flows underground most the way. Water is important for wildlife. As a result of the existence of this river, the preserve is home to a variety of wildlife and approximately 300 bird species. I did see lizards and deer, smelled skunk and observed numerous birds! Actually I saw two new birds to add to my life list: golden-crowned kinglet and a varied thrush! I will make a point of visiting the preserve each season to observe more wildlife!

Things to know before you visit:

The preserve is closed each Monday and Tuesday. There are specific park hours per season, so check what they are before you head out. The trails are sandy, so if you have difficulty walking on pavement, please know this could be a challenge for you. Pets are not allowed at the preserve. The trail loops 2.2 miles. Lykes Lookout trail ends with a very steep 123 foot elevation gain. Remember, what you climb up, you need to come back down … plan what is best for yourself! At top, you do get a 360 degree view and possibly see and hear a train passing by! Enjoy your visit and be safe … remember the usual: hat, sunscreen and plenty of water! The Hassayampa River Trail can be downloaded at the AllTrails app.

Varied Thrush … poor quality photo, but I was a distance away from the bird!
Bridge across the stream
At Lykes Lookout, 360 degree view.
Overlooking the preserve from Lykes Lookout.

Sabino Canyon Recreation Area is Quiet!

A fall, weekday, school day, midday afternoon is the best time to visit Sabino Canyon Recreation Area! You’ll feel like the park is all yours, and it will be! Times, such as this, I imagine taking a first-time hiker to the park. The person can see saguaro cacti of all sizes, even young ones emerging from below mesquite trees. They can hear bird songs and/or calls with no interrupting noises. Other wildlife may wander past, water may flow over the dam, and we could choose from a variety of 30 miles of hiking trails.

Saguaro cactus on a sunny day in Tucson

Sabino Canyon Recreation Area is in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. As my imagined hiker looks beyond the park, he/she would see the Santa Rita Mountains to the south and the Rincon Mountains to the east. They would hear a cactus wren, a rock wren and curve-billed thrasher and see black-throated sparrows. Often a Gila woodpecker can be calling and flying overhead as would common ravens. Wildflowers may be at their peak or slowly dying off as cool air begins to descend here and on our nearby Sonoran desert. But saguaro cacti stand tall with their gangly-looking “arms”. Some birds make nests in these cacti and Native American people have multiple uses for this plant. The saguaro cacti really do have shallow roots as seen in the photo below:

Shallow roots of a saguaro cactus
Black-throated sparrow

Respect …

Respect for wildlife is important to me. I want the birds, the wildflowers, the insects and animals to find safety in this protected area. Sabino Canyon Recreation Area provides for that with “no pets or camping being allowed”. For photographers, artists, joggers, hikers or cyclists there are times and places we can use the area with respect. Despite a sign at the entrance of where I enter the area, people still do not seem to understand, dogs are not allowed. Thus, park officials erected another sign to make the point clear!

The rules seem clear.
Signage seems clear.

It seems obvious to me why dogs are not allowed. How would this funnel web wolf spider survive if a dog ran through its web? And trampled wildflowers are not what we want to see from dogs running through an area or people hiking off-trail.

Funnel web made by a wolf spider

Respect … our Sabino Canyon Recreation Area has been here many years and finally closed to vehicles since 1978. A shuttle is available within the park. Hard to imagine private vehicles ever being here, especially now with about a million park visitors per year! All the more reason for me to enjoy my quiet time …. now!

Shuttle is available.
Sabino Canyon Recreation Area is here for us to respectfully enjoy!

Wildlife in the Backyard!

Wildlife is around us! While I enjoy observing birds at our backyard feeders, other wildlife visit the backyard too! One morning I noticed two newcomers to the area.

A Harris’ antelope squirrel was eating seed that fell from our bird feeder hanging a few feet above. This animal leaves its burrow to eat in the early morning and retreat to it when the heat rises. This type of ground squirrel is found in Arizona, New Mexico and northern Mexico and can resist hypothermia. They can survive temperature over 104 degrees. This squirrel is doing okay in the Tucson, Arizona area when our temperatures hit 106 degrees! They are back to their burrow, I would imagine! No doubt it is this creature making the burrowing holes under our mesquite trees. They also enjoy the fallen bird seed when not eating their usual mesquite beans and fruit from local cacti.

Harris’ antelope squirrel

Another desert creature I usually see sitting on a rock in our water basins with mulch are reptiles. This one in particular is the twin-spotted spiny lizard. Not much is known about this reptile. It is within the same group as the desert spiny lizard … also seen in our backyard. The twin-spotted spiny lizard can grow to 13 inches. This one seen our our tree seems to be on his way to full growth! These reptiles like rocky desert landscapes and eat large insects and other arthropods, such as spiders and centipedes. A good one to have around!

Twin-spotted spiny lizard

Keep your eyes open for all wildlife. Some may only arrive in the early morning coolness while others hang out all day long. Each animal plays a part in the overall ecosystem, our natural world. Do not be too quick to want it out of your neighborhood. Observe, learn and appreciate the life around you in your backyard.


In the northern Arizona strip, the Navajo Bridge is everyone’s way across the Colorado River. On our way to southern Arizona, we stopped again at the bridge with hopes to view some condors. This time we saw 2 adults and 1 juvenile condor. Notice the pinkish-orange color of the head of the adult condors. Maybe not as clear here, the juvenile condor has a black head.

Adult condor; notice color of head.
Dark head of this juvenile may not be very obvious, but it is not an adult condor!

Condors are released at the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument area. They come from a breeding facility in California and spend a couple of days in a pen above on the Paria Plateau before being released. As more of the birds reach breeding age there will be more wild reproduction. We are fortunate to have the recovery program to help restore the population of condors. It started in 1996 with 6 condors transferred from the breeding facility and released at the Vermilion Cliffs, to 6 – 10 condors released now per year. Each condor is fitted with a number tag and transmitter to help monitor its behavior, movement, feeding and survival. 

They are huge birds! Wingspans are 9.5 feet in length as they fly up to 200 miles a day. They are the largest flying land bird in North America and can fly up to 50 miles per hour! Their food source is carcasses of dead animal; therefore, they are helpful scavengers. Condors can live 60 years and breed into their 30s! Here again is a photo showing the size of a condor in comparison with other birds of prey. (If you follow my blog, yes I am repeating this photo.)

9.5 feet for a wingspan compared to eagle and hawk … wow!

The condors were almost gone due to various reasons: the west being settled, lead poisonings and egg collecting. Thanks to the recovery program a healthy population of condors continues to rise. You can do your part to help: use non-lead ammunition if you hunt, never shoot or harm a condor, and do not litter so birds are never eating trash.

I hope you have an opportunity someday to see these amazing birds! I was looking over the side of the bridge as I saw the other condor walking along. See photo below.

The other adult condor … notice different number tag.

Aware of AZ’s Vermilion Cliffs National Monument?

Vermilion Cliffs National Monument is a geologic structure between two monoclines rising 1,500 feet with many colored layers of shale and sandstone in northern Arizona. John Wesley Powell first named these cliffs in 1869 while he was on the Colorado River exploring the Grand Canyon. It was not till November 9, 2000 though when the monument was established with the National Landscape Conservation System mission: “to conserve, protect, and restore our nation’s natural treasures for present and future generations”.

Vermilion Cliffs

We drove a dirt road, House Rock, to the condor viewing site. The condor breeding facility is in California with the condors being released here each year. There was no condor activity during our visit at this site. Condors were sighted at Navajo Bridge. We fortunately discovered there are more places to explore down this road the next time we visit here. See the map below with the West Bench Pueblo stop, Maze Rock Art site, and various trailheads … one of them being where the 800 mile Arizona Trail (from Mexico to Utah through Arizona) ends.

Places to visit in the area.

I loved this sign showing the size of the condor wingspan: 9.5 feet compared with other birds of prey. The following photo shows how the range of condors has diminished.

Condor wingspan, wow!
Condor range had diminished.

As you drive the road between Navajo Bridge and Jacob’s Lake in northern Arizona, it is the only paved road across 2.8 million acres of public land. There are 4,000 miles of unpaved roads that necessitate use of a high-clearance vehicle. Take time to plan your adventure as this is remote backcountry terrain with no services or cell phone signals. Be prepared!

A personal experience:

Years ago, I experienced this wilderness area while on a 3 night backpacking trip through the Paria Canyon. We started our hike a day later than our original departure plan due to heavy rains in Cedar City, Utah. Those rain waters would have flooded the deep slot canyon the next day and we would have had no escape. A couple of important points: have a permit to enter this area and know what weather is predicted for a couple of days before and also during your hike in the canyon. Do not get caught in a deep slot canyon with water roaring through and at you! Please do your homework and understand what you are planning to accomplish … be prepared … this is a wilderness area! 

Rocky Mountain Beeplant in Vermilion Cliff area

Utah ….and Monument Valley …. WOW!

From Grand Junction, Colorado I traveled Interstate 70 west and a route south toward Moab, Utah. I have fun-filled memories of time spent hiking, mountain biking and camping in Moab with my partner many, many years ago. The town has exploded in size since our visit here. When we visited Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park and Dead Horse State Park years ago, we never needed on-line reservations ahead of our visit. Now, if you have plans to visit any of the parks, be sure to do your research and know if you need a reservation for a specific day’s timed-entry into a park.

Anyway, I grabbed sandwich-makings at a supermarket and continued on to Monument Valley, Utah where I was camping the next 2 nights. As I passed Bear’s Ears National Monument, I realized I should have added a couple of days to explore that area … next time! 

I arrived at my Utah campground and saw a guided tour was leaving in 15 minutes. I hopped on it. There is a huge advantage to have a guide drive their vehicle over the dirt, washboard-like roads in the Monument Valley Tribal Park which is located in Arizona. An extra benefit I discover, the guide takes us into the back-country where other visitors can only drive on the basic scenic loop. Our Navajo guide was great in explaining things, driving through the sandy areas on the road, and stopping numerous places for us to take photographs. Seven customers, out of 12 of us, were from Europe. Our biggest challenge was the wind blowing sand all around. Thankfully I wore glasses and even put on a face mask so less was in my mouth and nose. Shout out to the “Clean Life, No Rinse Bathing Wipes” I used after the tour! Since it was windy and rainy at 8:30pm when I got back to camp, I used those wipes and could not believe the amount of sand in my ears!

Climbed up the sand dune … heart-pounding work!
Looking back down – just to give you perspective!
See the face?

The next day I drove about a 15 mile loop on a road a local person suggested when I asked for a place to explore. The majority of the distance was on a very sandy, washboard-like dirt road and my van rattled like crazy! I saw 4 other local people on the road and I eventually passed Olijado, Utah. In Navajo it means “moon over water”. Two different locals told me that meaning. Here are two photos:


Only town on the road
Beautiful sight to see!

I returned to Monument Valley Tribal Park … to check out the visitor center and then to participate in another tour. This was a sunset photography tour with a Navajo guide. My first hope was for a sunset worth photographing since the previous day was so windy, cloudy, gray and eventually rainy. Oh no … This evening began with a major downpour of rain and wind-blown sand! I thought what a disaster this was going to be! Two other people were on the tour with me and we remained hopeful. 

Finally the storm passed! Thankfully it was a three hour tour and our guide knew where to drive for good photo opportunities and to not drive in clay areas where we would be stuck in it in our vehicle. (No cell service out here!) The other huge advantage was our vehicle had windows we could close. I felt so sorry for the people in the open-sided vehicles! No rain gear would keep them dry with this storm! 

Our guide was very good. He spoke Navajo, so we could hear the language, and explained what he was saying. He had many interesting stories about his life and the Navajo tribe. It was nice to have a small group on the tour. Photos are below.

If you are interested in visiting Monument Valley Tribal Park, which is in Arizona, you can stay at the campground, cabins or The View Hotel, all on tribal land. I stayed at a Utah campground just outside the area and paid $8.00 per day as I visited the tribal park, plus the fee for any tour taken. I am looking forward to a return visit!

Monument Valley Tribal Park
Monument Valley Tribal Park
Monument Valley Tribal Park

Needed: Renewable Water Technology

Living in Arizona has made me very aware of water … and the lack of it at times. When I was backpacking anywhere on the east coast of the USA, I would carry a bottle of water and water filter. Often as I needed water there were plenty of water sources available. I could filter the creek or river water and hike on. In the southwest USA, one must carry all the water needed in a day’s hike since there are few waterholes.

As our decades of observations have now made us more clearly aware of climatic changes, we know for sure there is less water in our southwest USA reservoirs. The “bathtub ring” remained as the water level continues to drop! And dropping far enough for more people to take the concern more seriously. I hear of towns once with water shipped to them now being completely dry and even the availability of shipped water to them has lessened. Other towns are trying to replenish their aquifers with water conservation practices. There are many things individuals can do also to not waste water!

But this post is about a water technology I had never heard about and am interested in. Imagine a panel similar to a solar panel but with hygroscopic material on it. Hygroscopic means the substance will absorb moisture from the air. The SOURCE hydropanels use solar energy (sunlight) to extract water from air! Remember the rice in salt shakers so salt crystals did not stick together and just be clumps in the shaker? Well the hygroscopic water absorbing material is like the salt and pulls in water to be condensed and collected. Amazing!

Hydropanels would be mounted on your roof … probably at least 2 panels needed. Each panel is 340 pounds and 4 x8 x 3.5 feet … with each panel producing about 12 standard water bottles of water per day. Want to know more information? Go to

I happened to hear about this renewable water technology while listening to NPR. I was intrigued because the SOURCE company is actually installing these panels in at least 50 countries, including Navajo, Native American, properties here in Arizona. The company figures a panel has a 15 year life span and would eliminate 54,000 single use plastic water bottles. Plastic water bottles take 450 years to decompose… hmmm…. check out this latest renewable water technology at …. and if nothing else …. do not waste water! Thanks!

Rarely do we see water in Arizona rivers, but here it was in the Rillito River in Tucson, AZ! We could use more water in that river!

Sandhill Cranes at Whitewater Draw

Sandhill cranes are wonderful to see! My annual visit to Whitewater Draw State Wildlife Area included an overnight. I was in my van as the night temperature was not higher than15 degrees! During the day, 30 – 50 degrees Fahrenheit … brrr! You gotta love sandhill cranes and birds in general to put yourself out there!

My visit was most enjoyable when I arrived. I was fortunate to pull my van into one of the two overnight spots still available. The majority of the cranes were out for lunch! Many people were visiting the area. I was especially surprised when I bumped into a Flagstaff tennis buddy who was with a Tohono Chul day trip group! Small world for sure! Always wonderful to see friends.

I took some photos and waited for the birds to return, but also saw a variety of other birds … even the sora hiding in the bushes!

Sleeping in my van with no additional heat is a challenge. But as a backpacker I knew I would be okay. Well okay as long as I was in my warm, down sleeping bag! Getting out of it the next morning to see the sandhill cranes take off, did not happen. Instead, my warm body had immediately cold fingers that froze in place necessitating me to manage the symptoms of my Raynaud’s syndrome/disease. Another time I will write about surviving cold weather when camping with Raynaud’s. It is doable, just a challenge one learns to live with since there is no cure.

So I walked the area, observed birds and returned to my van to make hot tea and walk the area again enjoying that cup of tea! I watched a red-tailed hawk eat its prey, fly off to another location, and then sit for us all to easily view it. Many of us were enjoying the beautiful cold morning as some of the birds walked on ice! 

Beautiful area:

Last year I was camping out in my van at Kearney, Nebraska’s Platte River area and freezing my butt off there to see the cranes. I need to discover where these birds hang out when it is a bit warmer. Actually, someone mentioned to me there are a couple of sandhill crane flocks that don’t migrate. Well I researched it and learned 3 of the 6 subspecies of sandhill cranes do not migrate. They are in Florida, Mississippi and Cuba. Good to know! Even so with the cold temperature, I was glad to visit here!

Some photos from Whitewater Draw. You’ll notice a couple of photos where I spent time watching the cranes drink water:

Sandhill cranes on the fly

Of course there are other beautiful birds here too! Plus the spectacular yellow-headed blackbirds as they flew as flock and could change direction as a group so quickly! Here’s a past post when I saw their behavior for the first time. People were so captivated watching these birds; I loved it!

Yellow-headed blackbirds. See past post if you have not already.
Northern pintail
Northern shovelers and American wigeons in the water, Northern harrier flew around.

Many people visit Whitewater Draw as a day trip and try to time when the sandhill cranes are flying in or out. It’s a great way to spend a day! If you have not, add it to your list of places to visit, especially if you are a birder! Then enjoy!

My 4 Days of Winter!

It’s now winter! We beat the closure of Interstate 40 in northern Arizona. We were already relaxed in a warm Maswik Lodge room at Grand Canyon National Park. Driving the interstate highway the previous day was a breeze. We were ahead of the snow storm that eventually caused the highway’s closure. 

Coming to this national park when fewer people visit is what is best about the winter season. Unfortunately Covid is still in the air so facial masks are required in every building. Due to less staff and various supplies, we did find some restaurants with limited menus. We were here for the beauty of the place, so we were okay with how things were at the moment.

It is easy to spend 4 winter days here. We walked many parts of the rim trail. We stopped in at the art exhibit at the Kolb Studio and the geology museum. I do not think we missed any shop on the rim either. At Desert View we climbed the watchtower to see the eastern end of the canyon. Then we drove all the way to the western end at Hermit’s Rest to walk the rim trail. Meals were eaten at the historic El Tovar, Bright Angel Restaurant and AZ Steakhouse.

The day of our arrival there was no snow, but overnight the winter snow came! Unfortunate for those on the highway, but we woke to at least 6 inches of snow! Mule deer and elk were walking about during our visit. We bundled plenty of clothing layers on our body … it was cold weather! This was our 4 days of winter before returning to southern Arizona where we rarely see snow at our doorstep. It was a wonderful winter!

Enjoy the photos from our Grand Canyon stay.

Grand Canyon before the snow arrived.
Grand Canyon is beautiful all seasons!

Arizonans Love Water and Horses!

Ever wonder what is down a road? This trip I decided to drive further east along the Salt River in Arizona from Granite Reef Recreation Site, where last time I was birding, to discover what was ahead. I had seen vehicles pulling horse trailers, carrying mountain and road bicycles, kayaks and other watercraft. This area is east of Phoenix, Arizona.

Yes, I discovered on the south side of the road, there is plenty of horseback riding and mountain biking opportunities. Road bicyclists were on the road and happy with the smooth road. Some day I should check the bicycling out.

My first stop was off the main highway to Saguaro Lake Ranch. I passed horse stables and people getting ready for a trail ride. A short distance further there were rustic cabins, all part of the Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch. They are in a beautiful location considering this is all part of the Sonoran Desert in the Tonto National Forest, the fifth largest forest in North America. As you drive along you’ll see interesting rock formations along with saguaros. At the end of this road is Stewart Mountain Dam, built between 1928-30. The dam includes a 13,000 kilowatt hydroelectric generating unit, operated by and Arizona public utility, SRP, and helps with flood control and provides irrigation. 

My next stop once back on the highway was Saguaro Lake Marina. We are now on the other side of the dam at Saguaro Lake, technically called a reservoir. It is the fourth reservoir on the Salt River, stretching 10 miles, with an average depth of 90 feet and 20 miles of shoreline. This place was jam-packed with people and boaters and it wasn’t even noon on a Friday! There is plenty to do in this area if you wish to rent a boat or use your own, picnic or eat at the ShipRock Restaurant. I do not think tours of the lake are happening right now on the Desert Belle.

You can also drive a few more miles down the road, as I did, to Butcher Jones Beach where people were here to picnic and swim. It was more calm in this area too. I loved seeing the rocky cliffs and will return in the future to hike a trail in this area. I understand it to be a 2 mile rocky, narrow trail of moderate difficulty with views of the lake and then 2 miles back out. Temperatures range in this part of Arizona from 25 to 115 degrees so do plan for a safe time when you visit and bring water!

I then drove 3 more miles down the highway to pick up a road back toward the Phoenix area. It made for an interesting loop to be on the other side of the Salt River. I had never driven this area of the state and it was really interesting seeing the diverse areas and the exploding population just to the edges of these lands which I hope will remain protected for generations to come. This is a perfect time to remember what Stewart Udall, a 3 time congressman from Arizona and Secretary of the Interior from 1961-1969, under presidents John F.Kennedy and Lyndon B.Johnson, once said: “Plans to protect air and water, wilderness and wildlife are in fact plans to protect man”. Enough said!