So Mondays/Wednesdays are nature, and Fridays are roundups. How about a Travel Tuesday? I'll start with a recent published piece.
News flash, you guys! I like going to the Gilbert Riparian Preserve. I know, right? I really should have mentioned this in some other posts!
Still, I did an Official Piece on the Preserve in last month's Times Publications. Here it is, if you're interested. Seriously, get out there if you're in the Valley. It's fantastic outside right now.
Our family loves to take long sunset strolls. We also love wildlife watching, photography, birding, and astronomy. However these things take preparation, and there’s one other thing I love, as a parent: convenience. It’s lucky for all of us, then, that we found the Valley’s own oasis, Gilbert’s Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch.
One day while returning a book to the Southeast Regional Library, I decided to continue walking toward a modest lake behind the library. What I found was far beyond a small pond -- it was the entrance to the Riparian Institute in Gilbert, a 110-acre wildlife preserve containing several ponds and organized into different ecological zones that range from native Arizona riparian areas to swaths simulating marshlands.
I walked for miles that first day -- only stopping when I realized I had no water and hadn't prepared for an actual hike in this wonderland tucked unassumingly beside an urban library. The next day, I brought my son, David.
We arrived late in the afternoon, and stayed until dark. He was never bored. He walked for a couple miles straight -- and if you’re a parent, you can appreciate this next part -- and he didn’t whine once. He was too enthralled.
We saw white egrets and great blue herons stalking and soaring above me like modern-day pterodactyls. We watched black-necked stilts and American avocets, the small birds’ bills so thin and fragile that we wondered how they survived until we saw them spear and stir up small fish and tadpoles. Red-eared slider turtles sunned themselves on rocks and among reeds, disappearing beneath the water with a soft, wet plop if we got too close. Dragonflies in half a dozen vivid colors flitted around us: neon skimmers, blue darners, blue dashers, roseate skimmers, western pondhawks, and amberwings (and those are just the dragonflies I could readily identify).
We saw other people among the four and a half miles throughout the preserve: families fishing in the main urban pond, couples walking the back trails in search of a of a double-crested cormorant, a young mother pushing a stroller along one of the many easy trail sections. However, the place is designed so that people are never the main attraction, never distracting. I merely caught glimpses of others who were as engaged as I was in their own moments, stealing slices of time in nature before returning to the “real” world.
Actually, the Riparian Institute is very much connected to the real world. They create and preserve riparian areas that host almost 200 species of birds as well as numerous amphibians, reptiles, fish, insects, and mammals. They maintain seven water recharge basins for recycling waste water. Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, it’s a perfect place to bring your family if you want to learn about nature in a completely natural setting. Through nature festivals (check their website for upcoming events), guided tours such as bird and dragonfly walks, the preserve teaches appreciation for nature at every turn.
The next time we visited, David got even closer to the preserve’s residents. We crouched behind the reeds at a back pond for five minutes, surrounded by unseen (but startlingly loud) croaks. It tuned out to be a pair of herons barking to each other. Later, my son nestled in the grass on the bank and was promptly overrun by the preserve’s resident goose flock, which ate from his hands and generally caused a scene. (My son would like me to add that you’re supposed to feed them cracked corn or the mesquite seed pods they already gobble -- never bread.) That day, we stayed until dark, riding out a pink-and-peach sunset by the pond. It was amazing.
We’ve returned dozens of times since the first trip. The preserve is great to visit any time of year, but it’s especially nice now that temperatures are dropping down out of the “insanely hot” range. Try to hit it first thing in the morning, or late in the afternoon. These are the times the light is prettiest and the animals are most active. Find what you like to do there. And just stop. Let the place sink in. And watch.
For more on the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, check out http://riparianinstitute.org/
P.S. I'm participating in this month's NaBloPoMo. A post each day!