Lately I find I am making frequent retreats to the river. Searching for calm and quiet in the chaos and clanging of daily life.
I toss a fishing pole in my truck, take along my hiking and fishing buddy (Cubby), and make the forty minute drive out to the Salt River. Late afternoons are a great time to visit. Traffic is winding down and there are fewer people on the water. We park and hike in to our favorite spots for a little wading and fishing.
The Lower Salt River is located a short drive East of Phoenix — cutting a winding path through desert landscape and Tonto National Forest. The river runs clear and relatively cold with flow levels varying by season, rainfall and the release of water from Saguaro Lake. A wide variety of trees, shrubs, and undergrowth line the river — providing shade but sometimes making a clear river approach difficult. There are several established access points along the river — all requiring a Tonto Pass if you plan to park and explore from one of these recreation areas. I prefer to park along Bush Highway and use any of a number of small trails and access roads to hike to the river. My favorite spots are between Goldfield and Bluepoint Recreation Areas.
The biodiversity in an area so close to Phoenix is amazing. I have seen River Otters, Kingfishers, Blue Herons, Bald Eagles, Coyotes, and too many smaller bird species to list. In addition, there is a group of wild horses that hangout around the river so keep an eye out for them and give them their space. Wild is a relative term. There are organizations that provide the horses with alfalfa when drought limits the grass available to them and there is enough traffic on the river that they are used to seeing people. They will frequently approach us on our hike in or out (checking to see if we have food). We are always cautious — moving slowly and giving them the right of way.
I have spent a lot more time fishing at the Salt River than catching, but it is still a decent place to toss in a line. During the summer, my most frequent catches are Smallmouth and Largemouth Bass. The Smallmouth tend to be very small and the Largemouth are small to average size, but they are still fun to catch. There are also some holes with decent sized catfish and in the winter, the river is cold enough that it is stocked with trout.
While the Lower Salt River is a beautiful place, its easy accessibility creates some issues. During summer weekends the river is crowded with tubers, kayaks, and paddleboards — many playing loud music and leaving a trail of litter (this is why I prefer to visit on weekday or Sunday evenings). If you decide to visit, be sure to pack out all of your trash — including spent fishing line. Consider taking an extra trash bag and picking up some litter before you leave. This beautiful environment can use all the help it can get.
If you are looking for a quick escape near Phoenix, it is possible to find some solitude and natural beauty on the Lower Salt River. Enjoy, and leave the area better than you found it!
All photos: cc by J. Delp (feel free to use with attribution for non-commercial purposes)