Writing and Photos by Chris Young

Another season on the river has passed. And in those 18 weeks, 3 seasons came and went. Summer seemed to hang on last year. Another year without the monsoons. We were just below Thousand Trails on river right. The arundo was thick in large patches and swollen with past year’s flood debris. There was no wind inside these large patches and the humidity was high

You work fast in that environment. Coming out to get fresh air regularly. It wasn’t until a yellowed Goodings willow leaf made its spiraled descent into my lap that I realized fall was approaching. I looked up at the tree shading us and noticed the shade had lessened each day. Across the river, a cottonwood here and a velvet ash there were yellow in the green tree tops. Autumn was approaching. 

The temperatures didn’t break for a few more weeks but each day there was a little more yellow in the green. It felt odd to see the trees change colors yet be working with that drenching summer sweat. 

We moved north toward the Oak Creek confluence below Alcantara Vineyard. We switched back and forth from arundo to salt cedar, moving north on river right. We swept the areas to remove any and all invasives. The entire time the green with yellow had shifted to yellow with green. Eventually there was no more green. 

One morning it was 19 degrees when we got to the river. Steam was rising off the water. The sun was just coming up over the mountains of the Mogollon Rim to the east. A few trees stood bare against the morning sky. Winter had this feeling of relief. 

The mornings felt colder than the day before. The hike to where we left off the previous day’s work warmed us up. Walking over more and more leaves on the forest floor. We crossed the river. The water freezing against the rubber waders. On river left we began working south towards the confluence. 

2020 had become 2021. The rain had started and brought down with it the last of the leaves. On those days there was no warming up. We scaled ridges and walked rock ledges over the river as we worked south to Oak Creek. Icicles hung from debris. Sparkling stalactites reaching down to the frigid creek. It was mainly small patches of arundo removed. 

We worked in several different areas – Cornville and Camp Verde – but it was between the confluence and Thousand Trails that the snow hit. The snowflakes absorb sound, making being outside an internal experience. The canyon slope toward the river is a mesquite forest. Our feet crunching the snow on the switchbacks as we descended. The snow frosting the tops of every branch of the mesquites. Grey skies spilling forth snowflakes. 

Since the ground was wet we took advantage of the loose soil and hand pulled the tree of heaven. You have to get every piece of the root. Otherwise it will grow back. By noon the snow had stopped and the clouds moved on. Around 2 pm there was no evidence it had ever snowed. 

Our last week of river season we were in Camp Verde on the southeast side of the I-17. The days were getting warmer. No need for winter coats by 9 am. It was still winter but the temperatures were rising. Up in the sky a bald eagle was flying home with large sticks in its talons. Preparing for the spring to come. 

THANK YOU to Chris Young, the author of this piece. Do you have a story from the Verde you’d like to share? Get in touch! Email Maya at mayar@verderiver.org.

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