a map of the verde river watershed

Oasis in the Desert – Restoring the Verde River

friends of the verde river logo

Oasis in the Desert:
Restoring the Verde River

In the Southwest, water is life, a resource that is too scarce and precious to be taken for granted. The Verde River is that golden thread that connects the many pearls of the Verde Valley, from the cultural monuments to the River Access Points that provide public access for recreational activities, watchable wildlife sites, and camping.

From its headwaters near Paulden to its confluence with the Salt River outside Phoenix, the river passes through Pinyon Juniper, Cottonwood and Willow Gallery forests, and Mixed-Broadleaf Riparian Forest as it winds down to the Sonoran Desert, in the heart of Arizona.

The Verde River is one of Arizona’s last flowing river systems. An oasis of life and livelihoods, the Verde provides crucial habitat for fish and wildlife, fresh water for local agricultural production, recreational opportunities for locals and tourists alike, and brings clean drinking water to over 2 million people in the greater Phoenix area. At Friends of the Verde River, our mission is to protect and restore this unique riparian treasure.

a bald eagle in flight

The Verde River, one of Arizona’s two federally designated Wild and Scenic Rivers, bubbles out of the ground in the Big Chino Wash near Paulden. From there, the it meanders freely through piñon-juniper forests and grasslands and makes its
downstream course through the Verde Canyon to meet Sycamore Creek. Here the riparian forests are mostly healthy with upland desert shrub at its edge.

From the headwaters down to the Town of Clarkdale, an area mostly managed by the US Forest Service, the riparian area has been used for mining, agriculture, and ranching for decades. This reach of the river is in bad shape, due to this high number of stressors. The river continues through the Verde Valley, and the communities of Clarkdale,
Cottonwood, and Camp Verde, where agricultural areas, fish and wildlife, and recreational tourism all depend on sustainable flows in the river.

There are three major perennial tributaries (Oak Creek, Beaver Creek and West Clear Creek) that join the Verde River through this reach, adding additional flow. From Camp Verde, the Verde River starts its final decent down into the Sonoran Desert, where Saguaro Cactus overlook the river. This reach contains two Wild and Scenic designations, the first along the Verde River and the second along Fossil Creek, a tributary to the Verde River. The Verde navigates through private, state, tribal and federal lands for over 125 miles before hitting its first major impediment, Horseshoe Dam, then flowing into the Salt River near Phoenix.