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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

An "upside down" river ramble

The Nature Conservancy, Wickenburg
River Ramble Trail

Palm Lake
Tucked between  US60 and  BNSF railroad tracks on the outskirts of Wickenburg, an enchanting forest thrives in a rare riraprian corridor of an "upside down" river. Like many desert waterways, the Hassayampa River--which runs 100 miles from Prescott to the Gila River southwest of Buckeye--flows underground except in only a few places, thus earning its Yavapai moniker "upside down" river. One place in the river's course  where water flows year-round is The Nature Conservancy's Hassayampa River Preserve. More than two miles of hiking trails wind through this 700+- acre property.  The paths range in difficulty from barrier-free (Palm Lake Trail) to mildly challenging (Lykes Lookout) and each showcases a particular aspect of the site's ecological diversity.  The most wild of the trails is River Ramble  which  wanders along the waterway in a tangle of gigantic cottonwoods and Goodding willows with a carcophony of bird songs drifting through the canopy.  Here, it's easy to spot herons and other water fowl lurking among cattails. Along the muddy banks, a frenzy of racoon, opossum, skunk and fox prints betray the critters skulking in the underbrush.  Other preserve trails focus on endangered mesquite bosques and a spring-fed lake replete with water-loving vegetation.  It's no wonder this place is a magnet for birds both common and rare.  In February, Cedar Waxwings and Yellow-rumped Warblers splatter flicks of lemony color through trees and shrubs.  More common aboreal winged creatures like brilliant scarlet  Northern Cardinals and vociferous Curve-billed Thrashers add familiar sounds to the bird convention.  February is a terrific month for viewing either on your own or as part of a guided tour.  Either way, plan on spending several hours exploring this incredible roadside gem.

LENGTH: 2.54 miles (6 short trails)
RATING:  easy-difficult
ELEVATION: 1900'- 1980'
FEES:  $5 per person ($3 for members). Kids 12 & under get in free.
DOGS: pets are not allowed in the preserve
HOURS:  Sept - May: 8 a.m - 5 p.m. May - Sept 7 a.m. - 11 a.m.. Hours/Days vary by season, so visit the website or call ahead. Closed on Mondays,Tuesdays and most major holidays.
From Phoenix, go north on I17 to Carefree Highway (AZ74)  at exit 223.  Turn left (go west toward Wickenburg) and continue 30 miles to US60.  Turn right (north) and go 6 miles to the Conservancy turn off on the left near milepost 114.


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