Out & About: Tavasci Marsh
Tavasci Marsh provides living chronicle to Verde River 'circles of life'
COTTONWOOD, Ariz. - This hiker has always considered Griffith Springs the best two-mile hike in Arizona, but Tavasci Marsh ranks right up there with it.
Tavasci Marsh is a natural story about the circles of life. Thousands of years ago, Tavasci Marsh was part of the Verde River flow. Over time the river changed, but Tavasci Marsh remained. Now, the marsh is fed by Shea Springs, just north of the marsh, which keeps the water at 68 degrees year-round.
The family for which the marsh is named at one point drained it, but beavers - with human help - brought it back.
The beaver and river otter remain along with a multitude of other animals and birds. The otters feed on many living things in the marsh including my beloved frogs. The Lowland Leopard frog and the Woodhouse Toad live here so the otters have plenty to munch on.
For those who make fun of hikers like myself with fast growing hair, the river otter has up to 3,000 hairs per square inch.
Tavasci Marsh is part of Dead Horse Ranch State Park and Park Ranger Tony Viotti knows he has one of the best jobs in the world as he or his co-workers have recently seen the river otter, eagles, Great Horned Owl and mule deer. Mountain lions also roam here, but make themselves invisible. Grey fox, skunks and bats also call this home.
As if this isn't enough, there is still the birds, the trees, the history and the view. This is all made possible because Tavasci Marsh is Arizona's largest freshwater marsh away from the Colorado River.
The marsh and park are abundant with trees with huge cottonwoods most prevalent. Some of the cottonwoods tower above everything else and get leaves before any other trees in the area. The cattails in the marsh attract the birds and ducks.
The Northern Arizona Audubon Society has identified 167 birds that visit the area either as permanent visitors or as migratory birds. The NASS has granted Important Birding Area to the marsh, which means it has special and unique value for birds.
During winter, geese, ducks, rails, Pined-bill grebes and coots are among those visiting the marsh, but the list of birds that come through here is phenomenal.
Redwing blackbirds and wrens are some of the common birds, but the others include the Least Bittern, Yuma Clapper Rail, Golden Eagles, Cooper's hawks, black hawks and Peregrine falcons.
Historians believe that the natural activities of the beaver helped restore the marsh which in turn helped support the ancient Pueblo people, which is now protected at Tuzigoot National Monument, which is adjacent to the marsh and can be seen on a hill from the marsh.
But that's not the only scenery from the marsh. When looking up from the marsh, the hiker can see the Mingus Mountain range and the marvel called Jerome.
The trail from Dead Horse Ranch State Park is one mile in and one mile out, but there are several small side trails that give hikers a chance to explore a bit more.
The trail drops about 50 feet at the start, but after that it is a fairly flat trail, although parts of it can be slippery toward the end where a wooden overlook with two benches awaits those wanting to look for birds.
Dead Horse State Park offers many other amenities including several fishing lagoons. Catfish, bass and bluegill are awaiting fishermen. Those wanting to fish or canoe will also find a six-mile stretch of the Verde River that is considered the Verde River Greenway State Natural Area because of its cottonwood and willow riparian gallery forest.
There are several restrooms at the park, ramadas, trash cans, camping sites and camping cabins. Equestrians and mountain bikers also use the park. Park admission is $7 per vehicle. There is also a gift shop at the visitor center.
A second trail to Tavasci Marsh begins at Tuzigoot National Monument Visitors Center. There are many other hiking trails in or connected to the park. One is the Lime Kiln Trail, but that's for next time.
For more information, call (928) 634-5283.