Hassayampa River Preserve

 

A word about the ‘river’ to begin with: The Hassayampa River, whose banks Wickenburg straddles, is roughly 100 miles long. Its name is derived from an Apache word which roughly translates into the “river which runs upside down,” a name denoting the fact that its waters run underground for all but about 14 miles of its course when the riverbed runs over bedrock sediments which keep the waters from draining through sandy sediments into an underwater flow.

One of these stretches lies just south of town which is why, when you cross the bridge, or are at some elevated position which allows you to survey the town, you can see a narrow strip of lush green forest of densely packed foliage between the BNSF railroad tracks hugging the western flank of a hill and highway 60. Cottonwood and Willow trees jostle for space at this riparian area. This forest, one of the dwindling few remaining in this state, is home to approximately 280 species of resident and migrant birds, including some of Arizona’s rarest raptors, such as the Harris hawk, the zone-tailed hawk or the black hawk).

Between the river and the highway, there is Palm Lake , a spring-fed marshy pond surrounded by the lushest and most verdant vegetation, including a stately stand of proud palm trees. The pond is a haven for water fowl and tortoise.

Denizens of Palm Lake at the Hassayampa River Preserve

This precious gem of a little desert oasis has been turned into the “Hassayampa River Preserve”. The preserve is headquartered in a ranch house built around 1860. The almost 700-acre property started out as a working ranch, then turned guest ranch, and is now the sanctuary.

Now only birds, but also coyotes, raccoons, grey fox, ringtail and even javelina call it home – apart from the myriad little critters that abound.

Don’t expect to see all these creatures when you visit, but the place itself exudes a profound sense of serene tranquility, of eternal peace and beauty it will delight any visitor with its abundant wildlife and special vegetation. Six differently named and designated connecting and intersecting trails will guide you through this enchanting place. One of the trails, Lyke’s Lookout, off River ramble takes you out of the preserve and close to the railroad tracks. It’s the only one which has any mentionable change in elevation, but the short uphill hike will reward you with a great view north back towards town and the jagged peaks of the Weaver Mountains on the far horizon. 

looking south from Lyke's Lookout across the riparian area

To get to the Hassayampa River Preserve, take East Wickenburg Way , which is highway 60, south out of town, direction Phoenix for about three and a half miles. Near milepost 114, the entrance driveway – with a sign, leads you southeast to the parking lot. Park and go inside the old ranch house – now visitor center - to pay your five-dollar entry fee. With this you will be given a map of the trails and features.

Walk past the visitor center, away from the parking lot to what’s called the kiosk, which is where the trails start. All six of them are lovely, and with a modicum of stamina it’s advisable to do them all, since each and every one offers different aspects. Bring a picnic you can then enjoy at a wooden trestle table and bench at the grassy picnic area between the kiosk and the pond.

The Preserve is open September 16 to May 14: Wed-Sun 8-4:30; May 15 to September 15: Fri-Sun 8-5.