Three rivers run through it: Exploring Arizona’s waterways

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Apr 14, 2017, 10:00 AM | Updated: Apr 17, 2017, 11:22 am

Photo credit: © Erika Nortemann/TNC...

Photo credit: © Erika Nortemann/TNC

When you think of Rivers in Arizona, The Colorado River likely comes to mind. With the wildlife it supports, the fresh water resources it offers and the recreation options it boasts, it is one of the most famous rivers in the world.

But there’s a whole lot more to our water story. Specifically, the Verde and San Pedro Rivers, part of the Colorado River Basin — that supply Phoenix’s drinking water. Whether you are interested in water sports, hiking, camping, historical sites, rare species of animals or nature, the Verde, San Pedro and Colorado Rivers truly offer something for everyone.

The Verde River

“The Verde River is one of the two most important rivers in Arizona for the maintenance and recovery of healthy populations of several threatened and endangered native fish,” according to The Nature Conservancy.

It is also a sanctuary for bald eagles, a habitat for neo-tropical migratory birds and a primary water source for homes, businesses and farms.

For Recreation 

The Verde River has built a solid reputation as a destination for kayaking and canoeing. According to VisitCampVerde.com, “The 18 miles of river passing through Camp Verde consists of a series of deep pools and riffles, perfect for beginners. For those who prefer a more exhilarating ride, Camp Verde is the jumping off spot for a 41 mile long designated Wild and Scenic stretch running south from Camp Verde to the Sheep Bridge upstream of Horseshoe Lake.”

The Arizona Game and Fish Department also stocks Rainbow Trout in several locations along the river, making it a favorite fishing destination for many.

Photo Credit: © Magill Weber/TNC

To celebrate Earth Week, The Nature Conservancy is giving away a kayak float trip for two along the Verde River. The halfday excursion with a Conservancy expert is a unique opportunity to explore the power of nature in Arizona.

Visit The Verde River Rafting Trip for details and discover the power of nature along the Verde River.

For History Buffs

According to Arizona Northern University, cliff ruins and pueblos at Tuzigoot and Montezuma Castle National Monuments show evidence of civilization from over 10,000 years ago. As in other parts of the Southwest, an extensive drought in the late 1200s probably contributed to the abandonment of these sites. It wasn’t until the 1860s when gold was discovered in Prescott that Europeans began to settle along the river again.

“It has sites representing the Anglo, Hispanic and Basque stockmen who raised or drove cattle and sheep through the area,” according to rivers.gov.

For Nature Lovers

According to Northern Arizona University Arizona Heritage Waters program, the Verde supports the largest number of bald eagle breeding areas of any river in Arizona and is one of only three rivers in Arizona with populations of river otters.

The San Pedro

The San Pedro River flows north from Sonora, Mexico to eventually join the Gila River in Arizona. The San Pedro is also the only river left undammed in the southwest United States, which makes it a unique place to enjoy recreation, nature, and history altogether.

For Recreation

Recreation on the San Pedro includes river walks, bird watching and a deep appreciation for history and early cultures among may other things.

For History Buffs

The river is also the host of the Murray Springs Clovis site where interpretive signs explain what archeologists found close to 13,000 years ago. Paleo-Indians, which we now know as the ‘Clovis Culture’ were known for making the carefully crafted spear points that were used to hunt and kill large mammals of the ice age such as the Mammoth and Sabre Tooth Tigers.

For Nature Lovers

Conservation efforts and restoration are strong along the San Pedro River.

In 1996, the American Bird Conservancy recognized the San Pedro River as the first “Globally Important Bird Area in North America.”

Millions of songbirds migrate through the region every year to and from their wintering grounds in Central America and Mexico and their summer breeding grounds in Canada and the northern United States. In the past, the Rio Grande, San Pedro, Santa Cruz and Colorado formed these migratory corridors. Today only the San Pedro survives.

Some of those ‘globally important’ birds include Arizona Bell’s Vireo, Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Gray Hawk, Lucy’s Warbler and Abert’s Towhee.   

The Colorado River

The popular Colorado River is a powerhouse of life-giving resources, with every Arizona river draining into it or one of its tributaries, according to Arizona Experience.

“Formed in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, the Colorado snakes 1,450 miles through five states and is tamed by over seven dams,” Arizona Experience says. “… Seven states and Mexico all depend on the Colorado River — not to mention a vast array of wildlife.”

These historical, plant and wildlife rich bodies of water comprise a system that helps feed and replenish Arizona people and farmland. It also supplies the opportunity to study and give sanctuary to various species of birds, fish and other animals. And, of course, it supports water sports, such as rafting and boating.

For Recreation

Most people can’t think of the Colorado River without thinking of the iconic white water rafting trips seen in movies and Colorado Riverpictures. For many, rafting down the river through the Grand Canyon is a once in a lifetime experience and should not be taken lightly.

Not all recreation is permitted along various parts of the Colorado River. Go-Arizona.com has a complete list of sightseeing trips and planning advice for enjoying the river throughout Arizona.

For History Buffs

The Colorado River is rich in history and culture. The river has flowed since prehistoric times and is known to be responsible for carving the Grand Canyon. This timeline of the river reflects the tension between the states as politicians identify the need to protect and conserve one of the nation’s most valued resources.

For Nature Lovers

There is no other place for nature lovers like the Colorado River. From rare river otters to over 47 different reptile species, birds and mammals, there is really no way to communicate the vast beauty of the river except to experience it for yourself.

“Part of the vast Colorado River system, Arizona’s Verde and San Pedro rivers flow patiently over and under thirsty ground,” according to The Nature Conservancy. “They wind through grasslands, arid deserts and dense cottonwood forests. In their paths life flourishes — nesting bald eagles, rare reptiles and amphibians, native fish found nowhere else, and people, too.”

The world we depend on, now more than ever, depends on us.  It takes all of us to protect our rivers and ensure fresh water for future generations. For more information on the Colorado, Verde, and San Pedro Rivers, check out nature.org/arizona, which has information about on-the-ground conservation work being done, along with sightseeing and activity recommendations.

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Three rivers run through it: Exploring Arizona’s waterways