Arizona (River) Highways

In wildness is the preservation of the world.

— Henry David Thoreau

I moved to Arizona eleven years ago in search of wildness. I came from Iowa, the most successful state in the Union at eliminating wild lands. A majority of Iowa was once covered by prairie, a rich grassland ecosystem that was home to bison, prairie chickens, elk, bears, mountain lions, wolves, and even river otters. All that was dismantled — or 99.9 percent of it, anyway — to make way for row crops, mostly corn and soybeans. Iowa became a wilderness sacrifice area.

Yellow warbler, San Pedro River (Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management).

The fact that so much of Arizona remains wild has nothing to do with any ecologically-minded superiority of its inhabitant, of course. Mostly, Arizona has been blessed with a lack of water. The Sonoran desert is still host to so much of its original wildlife simply because, with few exceptions, the European migration (or “invasion,” to most native peoples) that began in the early 16th century found the desert inhospitable, or more accurately, unprofitable.

Riparian areas — the interface between land and water — are home to countless species of plants and animals in the arid Southwest, most noticeably to birds that either live there permanently or travel along them. For much of the wildlife here, rivers are the true Arizona highways.

Profiled in the video below, the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area in southeastern Arizona is one of the richest protected areas of its kind in the state. (Map, PDF)

To learn more about the SPRNCA, and efforts to protect it, visit the website of the Friends of the San Pedro River.

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