Suburban-urban adventure

Hmmm…racquetball…hiking…birthdays…knees…. My exercise for the past almost two months has consisted of walks around the circuit of the underground parking garage at work, five laps of which equals 1.15 miles.  It’s too warm during the day to walk outside with Phoenix temperatures ranging lately from 99 to 106 degrees, so I walk underground.  Five laps at lunch makes me sweat…two laps at a time during stolen 7-8 minute breaks from my desk just makes me warm and is doable.  I’ve not been hiking for months, like almost a year of months.  Anyway.

I left the house with camera a couple of Saturdays ago at the same time I normally leave with my son to take him to work and then myself to work.  I wanted to capture something of the sunrise near the cultivated and fenced meadows where horses graze at 60th Avenue and Thunderbird.  I have seen them in the mornings and wanted to see them on my own when I had nowhere else to be.  It held a promise that wasn’t fulfilled this morning. 

The horses were too far away from the pipe fence boundary keeping me out and the sun was too far behind and to my side for me to be able to even see anything that was resembling of what I hoped to find.  I did stop, however, and made a few images of horses grazing, trees biding their lives in their row-planted places between meadows, and then left to find something else.

I found coffee at McDonalds, an image of a jogger heading south and east along the canal bank from 43rd Ave/Peoria, found some images of Prince on the wall next to Rodriguez’s Boxing Club at 15th Ave/Roosevelt, and then found myself at La Canasta, at 7th Ave/Grant St, purchasing a bit of Mexican wonderfulness.

I took my goodies to Encanto Park, at 15th Ave/Entcanto Blvd, where I sat and watched the quiet morning further unfold as mothers pushed their stroller-bound little ones along the sidewalk, transients sitting on cement benches watching those same young mothers walk past, and another likely transient, a severely aged man with full white hair and beard, baby-stepping from his evening’s bed in the grass heading toward the park’s restrooms. 

I wanted to go ask him if I could take his picture, to add that experience to my memory files of uncomfortable things that I have made myself do, but I had no cash to offer him and had only my half-eaten burrito, something that I was not going to offer or relinquish for a couple of photographs.

The twenty-or-so-minutes that I spent at the park was full of memories, anyway, as consuming the particular burrito that I had ordered sparked an opening of old folders from when I worked at the police department and with the health department the first time. 

The burritos were a favorite Saturday or Sunday morning treat, often bought with bags of chips and salsa to share with coworker friends on the supervisors’ pod.  Other times, it was just me at the park alone, sitting in my vehicle or at a bench having a burrito and watching the morning or afternoon foot traffic of park visitors or denizens as they made their various ways or circuits along wherever.

I was going to return home then, but thought I would head down to the river bottom at 7th Ave just south of Watkins and see what the restoration area looked like, to see if I might enjoy a still fairly early morning walk along the river’s greenery and then.  I parked at the west lot and went down and under the overpass and slowly headed east on the paved walkway, then stepped off and continued along on the parallel graveled service road.

I encountered a friendly transient who mumbled a “good morning,” and then continued eastward along the “river and through the woods.”  There was not a full canopy of trees with their cathedral arching boughs, but it was often shaded and comfortable enough walking nearly beneath the desert riparian vegetation.

The goal was to go from the 7th Avenue trailhead east to 16th Street and then back again, but I encountered several fences blocking my way, as there had been construction to repair the 7th Street bridge over the river from where it had been damaged in last year’s monsoons. 

I did not find any “no trespassing” signs, so I went around a couple of the fences where they ended at the river bank, scooted between two panels that were ajar because of their position on the downward slope of the hillside up from the river, and then walked through an open gate when I found one. 

Desert…water…dense vegetation…incongruity….

I was past the 7th Street bridge, a mile from my starting point, and heard a construction worker yelling down or at someone while he appeared to be pointing out in my direction, but I kept walking in my casual pace and making photos of a white egret that I happened to see on the far bank. 

Having heard the construction worker yelling and pointing, apparently in my direction, caused a bit of unease, so when I encountered another fence about a quarter mile before my intended goal at 16th Street, I turned around and headed back to my truck. 

I was approaching the overly-warm condition that told me that I needed to turn around anyway, so it was good to do so.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t brought any water with me, so I was starting to feel stupid, as well as overly-warm. And fortunately, my animal brain was still alert enough to notice a snake-like something in the shadows that my then-awakened and present mind discerned to be a piece of rope.

For context, I will add that this is the Rio Salado River that passes through the metropolitan Phoenix area about a mile or so south of downtown.  Its origins are far north and east of the valley; it is dammed-up at “Roosevelt Lake,” and then flows, when it flows, down to the Phoenix area, fills the “Tempe Town Lake,” and then continues westward into Phoenix proper.  The river bed continues south and west, beyond my experience and detailed knowledge, and way far away.  Back in the early 2000s, the City of Phoenix spent over 10 million dollars restoring a stretch between 7th Avenue and 24th Street, cleaning decades’ worth of trash and dumpings, and then planting native riparian species all along the river bed.

There are even locations where fresh water is piped-in to the area, keeping water in the river bed throughout the year.  Driving over the bridges at 7th Ave and 7th St, and even to a lesser degree at 16th and 24th Streets, one can see the intense greenery around the riverbed and be tempted to forget that one is actually in the middle of the Phoenix desert. That’s actually a blue/gray heron in the above image. 

When I researched the riparian restoration project a few years ago for an earlier blog post, I was surprised to learn that before the river was dammed and formed Roosevelt Lake, it used to flow at such a depth and breadth that there was a ferry service used to cross the river, many years ago.

It was nice to be out there again.  Yes, I could see and hear the road and air traffic around and above me, could hear the beep-beeping of construction vehicles moving and backing around as the drivers were doing their work, and I could see the various warehouse and other light-industrial buildings hundreds of yards away on both sides of the river…but I could also see the intensely green natural and other vegetation surrounding the river, see reeds and sedges and other things that have no business being in the middle of the urban desert where I found them.

I saw pigeons, mourning doves, sparrows, some type of woodpecker, quail, ground squirrels, cotton-tail and jack rabbits, a grey/blue heron, a couple snowy egret, several lizards, and too many dragon-flies to count.  I enjoyed that I was there and able to moderately participate in Nature again, to appraise my human weaknesses and strengths against the essentially mild desert environment…to feel stupid at being there without water, and to feel relief when I made it back to my truck and had the A/C blowing full-force into my face for several minutes while I drank the bottled water that I had there in the cab…

…and then to be alive later, here at home, sitting in my recliner in the A/C cooled TV room with music playing quietly in my headphones, with a cup of ice-cooled Gatorade at hand…with leg muscles telling me that I had been out hiking/wandering further than the neighborhood circuit where I usually walk on the weekends or the parking garage circuit where I walk during the week.  Yes, in the broader context of my experience, it was “nice.”

4 responses

  1. Thank you for sharing the narrative. I sense a bit of melancholy, but the images (and memories) are nice.

    Like you, it’s been more than a year since any kind of hiking (although we walk the neighborhood and the treadmill). Haven’t even done many photo drives (as I used to in Colorado and Hawaii). Illinois has different offerings and they’ve not sparked my photographic interest (other than some birds and deer). I should probably spend more time at the refuge, but I’ve yet to just go there, park, and walk around.

    When we’re there, it’s because we were either on the way to somewhere or coming back from somewhere, and opted to drive through the refuge (I always have my camera with me).

    October 2, 2021 at 1:10 pm

  2. It was a good morning, you got out and made beautiful photographs of the riparian corridor…and wrote beautifully for this post, as you always do. Who would have thought this pandemic would go on for so long? It’s changed so many things, some that create subtle nuances we hardly notice but that form a kind of undercurrent of unease. Anyway, that’s what I’ve been thinking, and feeling. I do love seeing the egret (very rare all the way up here) and that lush, soft vegetation around the river that should be more than it is – at least they did something. I like your stream-of-consciousness narration. We’ve all been there – thinking we’d go photograph something that we saw during the week and then it’s not quite right and we do something else, hopping back and forth from one thing to another. Or hopping over fences in one way or another…
    It’s always good to see you posting, Scott!

    October 5, 2021 at 2:17 pm

  3. Oh dear… that first paragraph had me wondering if perhaps you weren’t changing into a mole. You, who thrilled to hikes up the mountain wonderfulness back in the day. I had to squint really hard to find the 4th horse’s head. I wonder what was so special about that one spot that they all bunched up there. I can sure feel some longing for something else in those urban shots. 😧
    “Desert…water…dense vegetation…incongruity….” I do like what you ultimately found! I’m just pleased that you managed some escape and made such good use of it! The restoration project sounds like a good thing. Imagine finding a river that once needed a ferry! 😲
    I love that final shot of the egret. Looks like he/she had something to say to you. 😏
    As Lynn said: it’s always good to see you posting!

    October 7, 2021 at 7:41 pm

  4. I’m glad I don’t have your morning commute Scott, but I wish I could play on the banks of your river. Rivers always mean life but never more so than when they flow through a desert. I’m glad you saw all that you did. “Teeming with life” comes to mind.
    Oh, and please don’t forget your water.

    October 16, 2021 at 3:59 pm

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