Just northwest of Phoenix, Arizona is a desert oasis complete with palm trees, a pond that is home to frogs and water fowl, and a mysterious river that rises from the depths of the desert sand.
The Hassayampa River Preserve has been a nature lover's and birder's paradise since being purchased by The Nature Conservancy in 1986. Birders have spotted over 280 species of birds at the preserve. Families hike the short loop trails with excited children who love the lizards and other creepy crawly beings that inhabit this desert oasis. Events are held that range from docent-led nature walks to demonstrations of mesquite bread-making in the preserve’s earth oven.
An Upside Down River. Really?
For most of its 100 mile course through the desert, the Hassayampa River flows underground. If you cross the bridge in Wickenburg over the “river” you usually will see a dry and sandy riverbed. But within the preserve it’s crystal clear waters emerge and flow above ground all year round. This lush streamside habitat is home to some of the desert’s most spectacular wildlife. One of the translations of “Hassayampa” is “the river which flows upside down.” The river is above ground, year around, which is unusual for Arizona. Here the granite bedrock domes up, forcing water to the surface.
Birders come from far and near to see the hundreds of species of birds living, nesting or migrating along the riparian corridor. Perched atop the massive trees and dead snags are some of Arizona’s rarest raptors, like the Zone-tailed Hawk, the Black Hawk, and the Harris hawk. Lucky birders may sight a Mississippi kite or the elusive Yellow-billed Cuckoo. My favorite bird is the Vermilion Flycatcher, with its bright red and black plumage. Annually volunteers gather to net birds, check bands and do a count. The local photography club is active at the preserve photographing the beautiful birds and wildlife. The Visitors Center has some of their photographic art for sale.
When You Visit
The Preserve is open year round. Summer hours: May 16 - Sept. 14, Friday-Sunday, 7 to 11 a.m. Winter hours: Sept. 15 - May 15, Wednesday-Sunday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The preserve depends on entrance fees to carry out conservation activities. The charge is $5 for adults and teens. Children under 12 are free.
Call ahead for information on docent-led nature walks, classes and fun activities.
When you get to the Visitors Center, help yourself to a map, a trail guide and a pair of loaner binoculars. Children will enjoy the Student Guide that the preserve publishes.
When it’s hot, go early when the preserve opens at 8am (7am during the summer). After you amble the paths, sit awhile on one of the many benches and take in the scenery and peaceful atmosphere. It’s good for your soul!
Work up a thirst and stop by the Visitors Center for a cold drink before you head out to the reality of the highway and the busy world.
Plan to spend some time in Wickenburg, perhaps for lunch, and don’t forget to allow a couple of hours for the Desert Caballeros Western Museum.
Address: Hassayampa River Preserve, 49614 Highway 60, Wickenburg, AZ 85390
Directions to the Hassayampa River Preserve
Hassayampa River Preserve is located on Highway 60, 3 miles southeast of Wickenburg, Arizona. The Preserve entrance is on the west side of the highway near mile marker 114. You will see huge HRP signs on either side of the driveway.
To get to the Preserve from Phoenix, take I-17 north to the exit for State Highway 74 (Carefree Highway). Follow the signs toward Wickenburg to Highway 60. Go north on Highway 60 for 7 miles.
To get to the Preserve from the west side of Phoenix, take I-10 west to the Cotton Lane/303 Loop exit. Continue north on the 303 Loop to Highway 60. Head northwest on Highway 60 towards Wickenburg.