When I started looking at properties for sale in Tucson, I told my mother that I was looking primarily at the wedge of the city between the I-10 to the west and the river to the north. On Google Maps, there’s a river dividing the north side of town from the Catalina Foothills, which I knew was a shi-shi out-of-my-price-range neighborhood.
When we spoke to realtors and other Tucsonans about our search, that’s what I always said: between the I-10 and the river. At best, they scoffed, or outright laughed. “The river? Wait till you see it!” And I knew what they meant. Tucson is in the desert. Her washes and arroyos — wadis, if you will — are only seasonally rivers. And just like the oft-repeated “we haven’t had a real monsoon in years” that everyone tossed my way, the “rivers” have been completely dry most of the time in recent years.
And yet, wherever you go around the edges of Tucson proper, you’ll see “river parks,” “river walks” and other uses of the word river.
A Real River
Today, no one would deny that the Rillito is a river.
The monsoon has been pretty hit-or-miss at our place. Some days it pours sheets of rains, other days nothing. Often, we’ll see the downpours at a distance, especially over the hills, but be bone-dry at home. But even on those days, it’s not hard to find flooding.
We like this spot where Craycroft Road crosses the Rillito, and Tucson’s famous bike and walking path The Loop hugs the bank. Right here beneath the bridge is the confluence of two large washes, Tanque Verde Creek and the Pantano Wash, forming the head of the Rillito River. Tanque Verde, however, is itself the confluence of dozens of washes coming down out of the mountains both north and east of the city.
I don’t know if you can see, on the far side of the river, where the water is lighter, browner, muddier…. That’s the Pantano Wash, while the deeper, darker water closer to the rail is the Tanque Verde.
Farther down, a small drop in the floor of the wash made a big impact.
And a Nice Little Walk
The rain often comes late in the day, so our trips to the Craycroft Confluence is often around sunset. Today, a little walking on the footpath that meanders alongside The Loop in places yielded some fun flowers and birds, too.
The bird pictures — Gambel’s quail and a tiny black-tailed gnatcatcher — are not mine. They were too quick and nervous for me to capture on film, especially in such low light.