Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Little Bit of River in the Middle of the Urban Desert, Rio Salado Pathway Follow-up

A scene from up north...a short bike ride from downtown Phoenix

This was a slightly disorienting and fun little discovery. We rode back to the Rio Salado Pathway (previous post here) to see how far it goes at either end. I'll get to that after the photos. Along the way, though, we came across a sign that pointed down a gravel path to "Waterfall". Checking it out, we found this little slice of stream-side habitat that felt like something you find north of the city, Seven Springs area, Payson, or the Rim, but not within a short bicycle ride of downtown! The majority of the Salt River bed (Rio Salado in Spanish) that runs through the city doesn't look anything like this, because there is no (or very little) water running through it these days. It's all stopped by the Roosevelt Dam (1911) upstream, and the result is that the "river" is normally a sun-baked empty river bed. The cities along it have recently made efforts to clean it up, removing the garbage and building some paths, although since the latest round of budget crises, a lot of that work has dried up itself.

Who's up for a waterfall hike?

Seeing this little exhibit made me realize what's been lost along this river, if this, along with the riparian demonstration area nearby, is something of what it looked like before 1911. Now, on the other hand, the dams control flooding, and provide drinking water, power, and irrigation, all things that a city requires. I think I would just prefer that we not trade off 100% of the riparian habitat along the Salt for sun-baked garbage dump/gravel pit/industrial armpit. This little demonstration project, along with Tres Rios downstream (that I have yet to visit on a ride), help to show why it would be worth it to nurture at least a small amount of this sort of habitat along the river bed.

Pink roots in the stream. No idea.

The Rio Salado Pathway that we picked up at 24th Street does indeed stop, just east of there, and runs to about 19th Avenue. Some sections of it in between were not paved, although it may be that with careful usage of the road bridges that cross the river, one could stay on paved paths.  The end near 19th Avenue is gravel and bigger rocks, though, probably better suited to mountain bikes (unless you are seeking that Paris-Roubaix experience you've been longing for).

We rode sections on both the north and south sides of the river bed. While there is good signage at some places, as seen below, it still feels like a work in progress at other places, particularly at the ends. If you join up at one of the trailheads at 16th Street or at Central Avenue, where there are large shade structures as well as parking lots, you have less chance of running out of pavement than if you are a bicycle explorer interested in running out to the ends of the paths to see what they connect up with, or could.

Helpful signage. The type of thing that would be helpful along the canals, too.

When it takes bridges like this to make a pathway, you get a sense of how much it can cost

Take sun-baked riverbed, add water (and careful planning and planting I'm sure) and presto! Riparian!

Another way to do it: take the mountain bikes, hit the rocks

Riding a riverbed, in the middle of a large city. One more great way to enjoy spectacular upper-70s December weather in Phoenix. To be honest, I kind of enjoyed the unpaved portions, and the work-in-progress feel out there. Of course, on a day like today, I would enjoy just about anything. Get up. Go ride.


  1. Like a little bit of heaven.
    The little stream I mean.

  2. "upper-70s December weather"

    I guess that's why everyone has long sleeves on.

  3. limom it is, and may appear even more like it during the summer. I have to come back then to take a look.

    Steve it's not that warm when you start out, and anyway, when it gets below about 90F, people in Phoenix start to shiver and talk about Winter coming.

  4. Interesting post! And you are absolutely right, why a 100% trade off? But its nice to see that where restoration is taking place, its taking hold. I also agree, that gravelly area looks like fun to ride in!

  5. Yes, PaddyAnne, the more I look at those photos, the more I think they should add one more line to those signs: Mountain Bike River Path 2 miles (rocks)>>>>>

  6. Upper 70s! Wow. I rode in snow Sat and Sun.

    Looks like a beautiful area. Both the paved path and the gnarly stuff attached to it look like a lot of fun.

    The pink roots are fascinating. Let me know if you ever figure out what the heck was going on there.


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