Water Recreation in Arizona, Or…”How I Survived My Summer Vacation in Fountain Hills”

Saguaro Lake (Photo by Sheri Patton)

Boating, jet skiing, fishing, kayaking, rafting or swimming.   Residents of Fountain Hills and the northeast valley are blessed with a wide variety of water sports that provide a welcome respite during warm summer months.  When it comes to a favorite location, there is no shortage of lakes, rivers and streams.   There are no less than eight major reservoirs within a 90 minute drive of Fountain Hills and there are approximately ten major streams or rivers that run through arid desert or high mountain pine country for a variety of climates to be shared among hikers, anglers, bird watchers and photographers.

Arizona’s founding fathers possessed historic vision and discipline in managing the balance between recreational use and functional water and energy management.  Today, we have names like Udall, Chandler, Hayden and Goldwater to thank for the bounty of recreation, natural beauty and well-preserved water resources that provide water supply and affordable hydro-electric energy for the country’s 6th largest metroplex.  Other interests like
farming are also well-served in a cooperative arrangement that judiciously
shares the resources within the state and beyond.

Arizona’s Water Supply and Water Recreation-A Creative Partnership

The Valley of the Sun is served by nine canals that were developed over the past 140 years.  Each canal represents a piece of unique history and accommodates a service area that provides much needed water to a growing and thirsty population.  Born of an 1870 land rush on the south side of the Salt River, the Tempe Canal is the oldest continuously used canal. The Arizona Canal was begun in May 1883 by the Arizona Canal Company.   Originally named the old Arizona Dam, it was located on the Salt River about one mile below the mouth of the Verde River. That dam was destroyed in a spring flood in 1886. A stronger Arizona Dam was rebuilt by January 1887 and was the only pioneer diversion dam that survived the big flood of February 1891.  Following the organization of the Salt River Valley Water Users’ Association in 1903, the Secretary of Interior agreed to purchase the canal. The agreement was signed in March 1906, but it wasn’t until May 1907 that the government assumed canal operation.
The original Roosevelt Dam, on the upper reaches of the Salt River, was completed in 1911 and was the highest masonry dam ever built. In 1996, it was upgraded by encasing the original construction in new concrete.  In 1909, a hydroelectric generator was installed at Roosevelt Dam.

In addition to the main canals, the Valley is home to 924 miles of ‘laterals,’ ditches that take water from the large canals to various delivery points in irrigated areas. Water is routed into and through these laterals by a series of turnout gates. As of 2007, SRP owns or operates eleven electrical generating stations, seven hydroelectric plants, and has energy purchasing agreements with four major hydroelectric stations along the Colorado River, making them a major provider of electric service in the Phoenix area. Along with the six reservoirs along the Salt and Verde rivers, SRP operates dams at the Blue Ridge Reservoir as well as the Granite Reef Diversion Dam and a number of canals, making the SRP a major provider of water to the Phoenix area.

Salt River Recreation:
Desert dwellers of Maricopa County enjoy the benefits of several major water districts that offer both lakes and rivers.   The Salt River, or Rio Salado, is only minutes from Fountain Hills, and is a favorite spot of fishermen and river tubers who enjoy the services provided by www.SaltRiverTubing.com for a fun half or full-day float.  Lakes along the Salt River include the mountain lakes of Roosevelt, Apache, Canyon and Saguaro, plus the new, urban Tempe Town Lake.  Roosevelt Lake is the largest lake in Central Arizona, consisting of 112 miles of shoreline, peaceful coves and 22,000 acres of surface water.   A complete marina facility (www.rlmaz.com) offers a ship store, boat rental service, covered and uncovered wet slips, executive services, and dry storage.

In the high mountain region along the winding rugged roads of the old Apache Trail, Apache Lake and Canyon Lake both feature marina facilities, and a remote, rustic adventure with stunning beauty.  Many species of fish can be found in the Salt River lakes, including largemouth, smallmouth and yellow bass, crappie, sunfish, both channel and flathead catfish, walleye and carp.

Only 20 minutes from Fountain Hills, Saguaro Lake  (www.saguarolakemarina.com) features a full service marina and restaurant that serves not only a tasty menu each day from 9 am, but a great view overlooking the lake and its canyon cliffs.  Boat and jetski rentals are available, and The Desert Belle is a resort cruise boat that has offered 90 minute tours of the lake for nearly 50 years. It is a full service event venue great for private or corporate outings as well.  Visit www.desertbelle.com to see their beautiful scenic video.  Camping along the lake shores is facilitated at some primitive camp grounds that may offer access to basic sanitary facilities.

Nearby, the Saguaro Lake Ranch Resort is set in one of Arizona’s most magnificent scenic areas. This unique resort accommodates guests in comfortable and rustic ranchettes. With a panoramic view that encompasses the Bulldog and Superstition Mountains and the wilderness made famous by the writings of Zane Grey, the Ranch is literally and figuratively a vacation oasis on the banks of the Salt River.  They offer a variety of seasonal activities–horseback riding during the fall, winter, and spring, and kayaking and tubing during the summer. For information or to make reservations, call (480)984-2194.

To see a detailed map of the Salt River mountain region go to http://www.gemland.com/superstition.htm

Tempe Town Lake

Set adjacent to Tempe’s Mill Avenue District, Arizona State University and the 2,000 acre Papago Park, Tempe Town Lake embodies a unique vision for the future of the Valley of the Sun. Town Lake is a regional and national destination, welcoming millions each year.

The Tempe Town Lake is contained by an inflatable dam system consisting of eight bladders, four in a row at the east end (located between Rural and McClintock roads), and four in a row at the west end (located between Mill Avenue and Hardy Drive). Tempe Town Lake is one of Arizona’s most visited recreational venues.  Annual events at Tempe Beach Park include the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl New Year’s Eve Block Party, Circle K Tempe Music Festival, Oktoberfest, APS Fantasy of Lights, Fourth of July fireworks show, The lake is used for the Tempe International Triathlon each May. Tempe also hosts the Ironman Arizona Triathlon in November of each year. The 2.4-mile (3.9 km) swim portion of the race is held in Tempe town lake. See http://www.ironmanarizona.com

In addition, several regattas for rowing, sailing, and kayaking occur throughout the year.  The lake is home to the Arizona State University Sailing Club, the Arizona Yacht Club;  private boat owners sail out of the Tempe Town Lake Marina on the north bank of the lake. Several rowing clubs practice and race on the lake, including Rio Salado Rowing Club, Arizona State University’s Rowing Club, Tempe Town Lake Rowing, Tempe Junior Crew as well as many private owners. All boat owners must have a license as well.  The Arizona Dragon Boat
, the Gila Dragons Dragon Boat Team and several Outrigger Clubs all have their home on the lake.

Verde River and Lakes:
Map of Arizona RiversNortheast of Scottsdale, two hydroelectric dams along the historic Verde River have created Bartlett and Horseshoe Lake in some of the prettiest, lushest Sonoran Desert to be found.   In these pristine and remote locations, there are marina facilities that provide basic services and emergency communications.
Closer to the Valley floor, the Verde River winds through the Fort McDowell Indian Community east of Fountain Hills and converges with the Salt River.  In an interesting piece of Arizona water history, the FMIC celebrates Orme Dam Victory and their triumph of 1981 when they convinced the Secretary of the Interior, to abandon plans to build a dam at the convergence of the Salt and Verde Rivers that would have flooded 2/3rd of the Community. This lake, had it been built, would have turned Fountain Hills into “lake front property.”

Lake Pleasant

The 10,000 acre Lake Pleasant is one of the important reservoirs surrounding
the Phoenix metropolitan area. Created by the Waddell (Pleasant) Dam, which was finished in 1927, the lake originally had a surface area of 3,700 acres and
served as a private irrigation project. At 76 feet high and 2,160 feet long, the original Waddell Dam was, at its completion, the largest agricultural dam project in the world. The lake was filled by the Agua Fria River, capturing a large watershed throughout Yavapai County.

Construction of the Central Arizona Project Aqueduct, which began in 1973, soon diverted water from the Colorado River to the lake, converting the lake from an agricultural project into a storage reservoir for the project. Completed in 1994, the New Waddell Dam tripled the surface area of the lake, submerging the old dam beneath its waters. Although still fed by the Agua Fria River, the CAP aqueduct is the primary source of water for the reservoir.

Lake Pleasant is used as a major water sports recreation center for the Phoenix metro area, as well as serving as an important storage reservoir. A number of boat docks make the lake a popular destination for water skiing, jet skiing, sailing and other water sports, and the lake is stocked with a number of fish for angling purposes.  The Marina Village is a cool desert oasis that offers a welcome
retreat from the summer heat. The Village offers all the amenities one needs to
enjoy a carefree day on the lake. Enjoy  The Waterfront Grille, browse through the fashionable swimwear in Azul Boutique and stock up on all your boating
needs at the Village Market.

Lake Powell and the Colorado River Territory:

Many   would be surprised to learn that Arizona has a distinction of having more  boats per person capita than any other US state…in the middle of an arid desert.  Of course, one of the most popular lakes in the US is Lake Powell, in the upper reaches of the Colorado River and contiguous to 5 states including Arizona.  Only a 5-6 hour drive from the Valley of the Sun, Lake Powell was created in 1963 when the Glen Canyon Dam held back the waters of the Colorado River, forming a vast blue lake surrounded by beautiful sandstone walls.  Remarkably, it took 17 years for the lake to fill the canyon to the high water mark (3700′ above sea level), giving America its second largest man-made lake – and a playground like no place else on earth.  The lake’s history dates back to 1869 when Major John Wesley Powell, an intrepid one-armed civil war veteran, left Green River,  Wyoming, leading an expedition down the Green and Colorado Rivers. The   expedition ended on August 29, 1869, near Grand Wash Cliffs. His expedition
of the Colorado River filled in the last blank spot on the map of the United States.

Today, Lake Powell is 186 miles long and has almost 2,000 miles of shoreline –  longer than the entire west coast of the U.S.A.!  There are 96 major canyons,   some of which are 15 to 20 miles in length.  Visitors can select from a variety of options to explore its vast area, including a large fleet of houseboats available for weekly rental.   http://www.lakepowell.com/

For a complete listing of Arizona’s Lakes and Streams, go to the 42 page Natural
Resources Conservation Service booklet “Arizona Lakes and Streams.”

Posted by Dori Wittrig, Designated Broker, Sonoran Lifestyle Real Estate. For more information about the neighborhoods, homes, condos or land of Scottsdale or Fountain Hills.

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