New River Visited
By W. Jeffrey Marshall
Less than a quarter-mile away, the semis and SUVs are barreling up and down I-17. But in the heart of the New River Nature Preserve, there’s an oasis, a green tunnel piercing a mesquite bosque. The hum of the traffic is just that, and never intrusive.
The hard-packed dirt road makes for easy walking, and in the spring, the ground on either side is carpeted with tufted grasses, mostly rip-gut and red brome. It’s the Sonoran Desert, but it’s alive with the sights and sounds of a riparian area. Birds twitter from the thickets, and now and then a verdin or Wilson’s warbler – mostly bright yellow – flits to the top of a branch as if to announce its presence.
The spring-fed New River, which has water most of the year, supports a lush habitat of cottonwoods and willows – much like Cave Creek. While the trail through the preserve only skirts the river, there are openings where it’s clear hikers would be able to work their way through the trees toward it.
Don’t look for desert wildflowers in profusion here. There is plenty of spindly wild mustard – an invasive – as well as a few Mexican poppies, clumps of lavender phacelia in sunny spots, some yellow-balled globe chamomile (another invasive). Tiny pink filaree shines near ground level.
Toward the north end of the 21-acre preserve, the trail opens up as the bosque thins. A gate with a cattleguard marks the boundary, and to the east there’s a tall metal windmill that feeds a water tank just outside a fence built to keep cattle from getting in eroding the streambank. The whirr of the windmill and the rustling of leaves are the primary sounds.
Unlike many of the Land Trust properties, the New River Preserve doesn’t offer much of a hike. But it does offer a lush green escape from the desert that surrounds it.