Arizona Rivers Series #1

(cont…) The Salt River was named by that tireless explorer, Father Eusebio Kino, in 1698 as Rio Salado (Salt River) for the saline beds and salt banks over which it flowed near Globe and the Salt River Canyon. It was then a perennial stream. The river has also been called Rio de las Balsas, Rio Azul, Salinas, St. John, Salada, and Rio de la Asuncion.

The headwaters are in the White Mountains where the Black River and the White River converge. It continues downstream and westward for 80 miles to meet the Gila River west of Phoenix, just before the Agua Fria River. An interesting fact: Not far southeast from the Salt and Gila’s junction is the point on Monument Hill from which nearly all of Arizona’s land measurements are calculated. It is the Gila and Salt River Base and Meridian point – where the Base Line and Meridian intersect.

The Salt’s major tributaries are the White and Black Rivers, Tonto Creek (which now flows into Roosevelt Lake), and Verde River (junction near Ft. McDowell). Along the way, this once-free-flowing river has been divided by dams into a chain of lakes: Roosevelt, Apache, Canyon, Saguaro, and Tempe Town Lake. The Bartlett Dam on the Verde created Bartlett Lake. The river has been a desert oasis and source of life for humans much longer than recorded history. Several different Native American populations used the Salt River, developing sophisticated irrigation systems, some of which are still being used in our urban setting!

Mammal wildlife is abundant – including beaver, river otter, muskrat, deer, javelina, mountain lion, and bobcat, to name a few. It is a migratory pathway and necessary refueling stop for countless passerines and water birds, many of which will over-winter here. It is also an important breeding and nesting area for our endangered desert-nesting bald eagle.

Current threats are agriculture and urban water usage, overgrazing, mining, recreation, and introduction of invasive plants and marine species. Please take the time to review past Nature News articles on invasives and trash in our waterways. Rediscover how you can help.

“We live in an oasis culture; if and when the pumps go dry, we will all return to the desert’s basic laws of abstinence and endurance.” – Bruce Babbitt, 1980, Where Water Flows – The Rivers of Arizona, by Lawrence Clark Powell.

Sources: Where Water Flows (as above noted) and Changing Rivers: How People Have Affected The Rivers – Water Resources Research Center, College of Agriculture, The University of Arizona, March 1997

Monthly Tip: Small owls are attracted to the fake webs, plastic spiders and netting used at Halloween. These nets can trap birds, breaking wings and legs. Take a careful look at the upcoming holiday season decorations you intend to use, making sure they pose no threats to wildlife.



3 Responses to Arizona Rivers Series #1

  1. Ed Weigand says:

    Hi Claudia,
    What a great story to tell about our rivers. I ask the same questions and have always enjoyed exploring the rivers of Florida by kayak. I am anxious to see more rivers of Arizona as well. There is no more peaceful feeling then paddling down a river with only the sound of nature. I am reading a book called “The River Horse” about a couple who traveled across the country from the Atlantic to Pacific on America’s rivers and canals. What a great cultural and nature experience.

  2. Bill Hawgood says:

    Interesting. It is like a refresher course on things that you might have previously known but have now forgotten.

  3. Curtis Burns says:

    Thank you Claudia. Very interesting. And I liked the tidbit on Halloween decorations. I’m sure most everyone never gives it a thought. I never had.

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