March 2023
Hiking Yavapai
Stan Bindell

Upper Verde River with Gary Beverly

Gary Beverly is from Planet Science with an emphasis on hydrology, so when you take an Upper Verde River hike with him, you’re getting an education.

Gary Beverly stops to inspect a cattail head

Beverly leads the drive to have the Upper Verde declared a Wild and Scenic River so that it has more protection. He believes the best way to achieve that goal is to show everyone the beauty and importance of the river.

This hike began at Del Rio Springs. The Verde headwaters begin a bit north of here, but some of that area has dried up. This was just a quick look at the water at the spring, but the river flow attracts lots of birds. An eagle winters at Del Rio Springs, just north of Chino Valley, and shows up every October 1 like clockwork.

We heard a loud beeping that sounded like either a burglar alarm or a vehicle backing up, but there was nothing else out there at the  time, so we looked up at the tree it seemed to be coming from, and to our amazement we could see it was coming from a bird. Thanks to Eric Moore at Jay’s Bird Barn we learned it was a loggerhead shrike.

The next stop was Sullivan Dam, just a bit further north in Paulden. Sullivan Lake is often dry, but thanks to recent rains it was full and the dam had been overflowing for the previous couple of days. The bulk of the Upper Verde River hike began out Upper Verde Ranch Road in Paulden, leading to the 1,100-acre Upper Verde Recreational Area. This is a great place for birding, with herons, golden eagles, belted kingfishers, yellow-billed cuckoos, black phoebes and summer tanagers.

Sullivan Lake Dam

Beverly talks about geology, wildlife ecology and biology along with hydrology on these walks. He chairs the Sierra Club’s Yavapai Group and serves on the executive committee of the Citizens Water Advisory Group (CWAG).

Arizona Game and Fish manages this recreational area, which it purchased using Arizona Heritage program funds for the fish and wildlife habitat. There is plenty of that here: fish include desert sucker, Sonoran sucker, roundtail chub and longfin dace. The wildlife include river otters, elk, mule deer and javelinas.

You start by walking down a hill with great views of Little Thumb Butte, the Mogollon Rim and Casner Mountain. Much of the geology here is basalt. The Upper Verde flows from the Big Chino aquifer, which spreads under a broad area stretching all the way to Seligman.

Many Native cultures have lived and received sustenance from here, going back at least 1,100 years, leaving at least 72 archaeological sites up and down the Verde, most on National Forest land, but about 22 on Arizona Game and Fish land.

Game and Fish built a gate to keep vehicles from driving down to the river, and it also helps reduce vandalism. A storage shed was built at the site some years ago, but that had been shot up. Fencing also helps keep cattle out, as in years past when cattle found gaps in fences and made their way down to the river, causing a lot of destruction.

This Upper Verde River Recreation Area now offers restrooms and picnic tables where families can enjoy a meal while watching the river and wildlife. This riparian area is also known as a gallery forest, home to hackberry, Arizona ash, willow and cottonwood trees.

The recent rains knocked down some unusually tall cattails. Not long ago this area was known for its beavers, and gnaw marks on the trees are still evident. In the mid 2000s there were 35 beavers in the area, one almost every mile along the river, but today they are gone and no one knows why. Beavers are susceptible to disease and predators because they often return to the same spots to rebuild their dams.

Deer and mountain lion are among our friends here. One time Beverly says he was at Stillman Lake when he got “the willies” because he knew something was watching him, and soon he ran across some mountain lion tracks. He never saw the cat, but he knew it was there.

Salt River Project has a low-flow water gauge at the recreational site where water bubbles up from the Big Chino aquifer. Once the water enters the watercourse, state law assigns it to SRP management.

Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail. com