By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 2/18/2020
Posted: 6/26/2006
Topics/Keywords: #Arizona #SaltRiver Page Views: 4161
Spending a day on the river with some of my very favorite people.

Probably the most unexpected bonus of moving to the house in Mesa was finding that the Salt River passes within 15 miles of us. Our nearest major cross streets are Crismon and Baseline; the first major road to the west of us, Ellsworth, runs straight north to the Tonto National Forest and the Salt River Recreation Area.

I discovered this a month ago. So far, we've made four float trips. It has become the weekend thing to do.

This past Thursday, our daughter, Dottie (who prefers to be called Elizabeth but so far that hasn't happened at our house) came, with her five-year-old daughter Cailey, for a three-week visit. So, this weekend, we made two trips to the river.

On Saturday we spent a few hours just hanging out at the Phon D. Sutton park. This is a lovely place with islands, strong but family-friendly currents, and natural flumes that is quite popular—there are always lots of people there. Still, I used to be a lifeguard in Florida and Sutton is never that crowded.

After you've parked (for a $6 fee), the first glimpse you get of the river is near the edge of the parking lot. "I can see the river!" Cailey cried, with her perfect diction. Remember, we are in a desert; so the Salt River is special—to the native Onk Akimel O'odham people, it was considered holy, and I agree.

Zachary, who had been there before, ran right down and then patiently waited for us older folk to join him.

That's Dottie below, and Karen with her. Dottie is pulling a suitcase with little-kid necessities like snacks, toys, and sun screen.

Zachary wasted no time getting into the water. And since it was 111, neither did the rest of us—except Dottie, who is a little harder to convince to immerse.

So Karen led Cailey into the water. Cailey is used to swimming pools, but had never been in "natural" fresh water before. The bottom in some places is slippery from moss; in others, difficult to walk due to round rocks that roll out from under your feet. But when the worst that can happen is falling on your butt into delightfully cool water, those aren't serious problems!

This is a small section of the river that diverts into the Phon D. Sutton park. The main river continues past the island and trees you see here.

Cailey, wet or dry, will forever be a princess.

Meanwhile, Zachary found a current that would pick him up and carry him for a hundred feet or so before grinding him to a halt on shallow, rounded rocks. He ran back and repeated the "ride" at least a dozen times.

The next day, yesterday, we were treated to a rare visit from Zachary's mother, Jennifer, and took a float trip. That's her in the photo below, between Zach and Cailey.

This was our fourth float trip.

On our first, we went the more usual way of joining the Salt River Tubing folks: renting tubes from them and taking advantage of riding the bus they supply to the put-in and riding it back from the take-out. However, the cost is $13 per tube, which is quite expensive if you have a lot of people and intend to do it on a weekly basis. (It's even more expensive if you lose your car keys, as I did, and have to pay the locksmith who hangs out at the parking lot $40 to get you into your car…and another $40 to replace the high-tech ignition key.)

So the next week, we bought three tubes from Wal-Mart at $5.88 apiece, parked a car at Phon D. Sutton, and had our son John (who had other projects that weekend) drop us off at the usual put-in with our tubes. That way the total cost was under $25, including parking.

The third week we put in even further upriver, giving us a longer ride. And a more comfortable one, since we'd realized you don't actually have to use "tubes"; floating lounges work as well and are much more comfortable.

So you'd think we'd have the whole thing completely under control by now. Well, not quite. For one thing, we misplaced the air plug for our largest floating lounge (which seats two adults and two kids) and had to go back and get it. For another, even with the 12-volt air pump it takes quite awhile to actually inflate everything. Still, by 2pm we were ready, with one car parked at the take-out and the other at the take-in. We use bungee cords to tie all the floats together: The "throne" in the center, with four lounges tied to its sides like wings, and two tubes at the front.

So Karen and Michael floated in their lounges across from me, as we drifted past a conglomerate cliff and some of the riparian vegetation that lines the river banks. We've also seen an exquisite red-wing blackbird, condors, vultures, and wild horses.

Dottie found the water shockingly cold (it really wasn't). Later, shivering, she left her lounge and joined Jenny on the throne. But I swear, the water's not that cold!

Jenny's friend, Rebecca, started out in one of the tubes but later occupied the lounge Dottie abandoned.

I was lucky, this time, and remembered to bring my hat.

Next week we may make a trip to Bisbee to check out a "haunted" bed-and-breakfast, so we'll probably wind up skipping a weekend as far as floating goes. But it's nice to know that, whenever we are ready for it, the Salt River is ready for us.