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by Chelsea Aguero 

As a native southern Californian who has spent just a little time exploring the southwest, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the vast beauty and adventure I’ve beheld in my first month with my boots on the ground, monitoring the vast Verde River with my team. Friends of the Verde River has gathered a small team of three, myself included, to monitor as much of the river as possible from the months of April to July, in hopes of inventorying all the invasive plant species currently making it difficult for everyone else to survive. 

Expansive stretches of glistening Cottonwoods, crisped up Desert Willows, blossoming evening primrose, and countless birds regaling me with their songs certainly sparks my imagination, leaving me feeling like I am deep in a lush jungle, not in a desolate desert. The exuberant colors, flowing water, hundreds of different plant species, and auburn crunchy soil has already opened my eyes to the wonders of this landscape! After a solid week of training we were set loose on our own to take on the Verde, begin monitoring, and take steps to create a happier river for tomorrow. Over the last month we’ve hopped around from Deadhorse State Park, Verde Village, The Greenway, and up near Tuzigoot Monument, accompanied by our fearless pup leader Kona! Our first spike consisted of 10 hour days, long river walks, and tons of sun which certainly took some adjusting to but there’s lots to be grateful for when you get to work outside and along a beautiful river.

For our second spike we spent quite a bit of time on the greenway, and Dead Horse State Park, where we are camping. It was honestly surprising how much is behind the campground and just how dense the riparian environment can get. After attending an event out near Oak Creek on the last work day of this spike, we thought we could still get through about 60 acres of monitoring, and this turned out to be quite the adventure. Tamarisk, one of our pesky invasive species, loves to live right along the river edges and the space we were monitoring was quite dense, leading to hours of walking in the river with Kona swimming alongside us. Often the river gets too deep so we have to collectively hop out, and bushwack through overgrown areas, and sometimes walk through completely sandy basins full of crispy Desert Willow and Mesquite trees. You never know exactly what you’re going to get. 

Towards the end of the day on our last parcel we found ourselves presumably close to the parking lot but on the wrong side of the river, where it happened to be at its widest! I had the ingenious idea of following a game trail back around the river which seemed to be going well for about a few hundred feet until we reached a forest of mesquite and acacia trees… needless to say we were on our hands and knees crawling under the trees trying to avoid a million pokeys latching onto us. When we finally made it out we were all a bit grumpy and frustrated but had a long laugh eventually on our ride back to the office, and decided to treat ourselves to dinner for the extreme monitoring day. Next spike we’ll be backpacking through Fossil Creek and we are all extremely excited for what the rest of the season will hold!

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