The Arizona sun was just begging it’s decent, casting a warm glow over the landscape, as I drove north toward the river. Saguaros, the silent sentinels of the desert, majestically stood their vigilant watch over the lesser of the succulents, hidden creatures, and the hikers and mountain bikers enjoying the remnants of the warm March day.
I knew I had picked the right time for my trip as trucks pulling large boats passed in the opposite direction. One after the other. Having spent the day on the lake. I found a small pull-off on the side of the road. Only one car. Grabbed my gear, hopped the fence and began the short hike to the river.
The path took me through a small forest of mesquite trees. Their branches, entangled at the ends, forming a canopy that would provide shady relief for desert wildlife in the summer months. The small trees and odd vegetation could have served as inspiration for Tolkien. A different world.
Beyond the mesquites, I stopped to admire an Ironwood, sheltering a young Saguaro. A Phainopepla was perched near the top — silhouetted by the setting sun. At first glance, this flycatcher looks like a cardinal errantly adorned with jet black plumage.
Near the river, the trail disappeared into a mosaic of large, smooth river rocks — a plethora of colors and shapes. Photograph worthy.
Finally, the river. Running a bit high. Near the middle, the current sweeping by forming ripples as it passed. On the opposite bank, clusters of cattails and dry grass glistened in the sun, providing an accent of gold to the blue-green river water. A Great Egret had taken up post near the opposite bank — doing its own fishing. Its snowy white feathers the opposite of camouflage.
Downstream the sun appeared as a giant orb — beginning to drop below a saguaro covered ridge formed by a bend in the river. The center of was almost pure white with each successive ring taking on shades of yellow bleeding to orange. I took my camera, left my gear and went in search of a picture. Finding the right spot, I fired off a few shots. Not framed correctly. Should I step into the river and risk getting my socks wet? For a picture? Yes. Don’t look directly at the sun.
Photo taken I headed back toward my gear, but was distracted by sound of hooves on rock and the whinnying of horses. I approached slowly. A small herd of the wild horses of the Salt River were enjoying some alfalfa (likely provided by the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group). They were thin, but healthy. Only slightly disturbed by my presence. A quick picture and I moved on.
Reunited with my gear along the river bank, the sky became more dark than light. A few hundred yards away, coyotes began yipping and howling. The horses responded. More whinnying and foot stomping. Birds, initially out in force, began to settle into their night roosts. A Blue Heron, it’s neck making an awkward looking u-shape flew to a large Cottonwood tree and found a perch. Bats assumed control of the night sky — easy to recognize by the shape of their wings and their erratic flight patterns. They zigged and zagged their way over the river, feasting on gnats and mosquitoes. Several came close enough to my head that I could hear their wings. Their radar worked. I was too big to be a gnat…or dinner.
The river continued its steady flow past my spot. Splashing sounds from upstream — getting closer. Perhaps the fish are jumping. Then, about ten yards out, a river otter popped it’s head out of the water and observed me for several seconds. Unimpressed, the otter dove below the surface and continued his leisurely swim downstream.
I took my headlamp out of my backpack. Turned my hat backwards so the bill wouldn’t interfere with the beam of light. I shouldered my pack, picked up my gear, and began the short trek back to my parking spot– retracing my steps over the river rock and and through the mesquite forest. It had been a warm day, so I scanned the path for rattlesnakes. Nothing. Disappointed. I arrived back at the truck without incident, loaded up, and headed for home.
It was a good trip.
Oh yeah. I also went fishing.
But, I didn’t catch anything.