Travels with Two Sisters: Visiting watery desert oases

Large palm trees thrive along the pond shore at Agua Caliente Park.

Two New Englanders decided to become permanent residents of Green Valley — a funny story, really. We were totally unaware that everything in the desert picks, pricks and sticks, and we had never heard about the monsoon rains in the Southwest. We were unfamiliar with cactus (and their multiple thorns), snakes, scorpions and the beautiful house crickets. After months of attending classes through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and reading numerous books and articles, we settled comfortably into our new environment.

Today, we appreciate the spectacular sunrises, the exceptional sunsets, the monsoon rains, the forked lightning, the smell of the desert after a rain, the bird nests tucked into the cholla cactus, the stately huge Saguaros, the wildflowers, the gourds we find along the road, the stunning mountain ranges, the beautiful rock formations, and so much more. We have become desert dwellers!

On some occasions, however, we feel the need to spend some quality time near a body of water. In the last 10 years, we have found numerous bodies of water in Arizona. Today, we will share with you some of the places we have visited and enjoyed in the Tucson area.

Springs, swings & swimming

Agua Caliente Park, on East Roger Road, is one of our favorite places to visit. This former ranch and health resort was well-known for its hot springs. Today, it is a public park for the enjoyment of everyone. Within the 100-acre park, there is a beautiful pond surrounded by green grass and several of the biggest palm trees in the Tucson area. From the shoreline, the antics of the ducks and the movement of the turtles can be easily observed.

Recreational opportunities include picnicking, hiking, birding, wildlife viewing, sitting, meditating and escaping from other responsibilities. On one occasion, we observed a professional photographer taking family photos near the pond with a view of the Santa Catalina Mountains in the background. On the grounds, we have visited the museum and the original ranch house which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. We have returned to this gem on several occasions, and we will continue to rejuvenate our spirit amongst the huge palm trees.

Christopher Columbus Park, on North Silverbell Road, is an oasis in the desert. The 13-acre, man-made urban lake is surrounded by shade trees, palm trees, a walking path and everywhere you look you see egrets, herons, ducks, coots and several other species of birds. Besides the large lake, the park contains a playground, a smaller pond for model boat racing, picnic area, a model airplane area, and a duck pond. In this park, the egrets and herons keep a close watch on the fisherman, hoping to get a free lunch.

Travels with Two Sisters: Visiting watery desert oases

Ducks, birds and other waterfowl add to the ambiance at Christopher Columbus Park.

We have frequented this park on many occasions and have introduced the area to family and friends. We love walking along the shoreline, observing the antics of the ducks, and taking pictures of the beautiful egrets and herons. On one occasion, we spent time watching model airplanes perform maneuvers and successfully land. With the Santa Catalina Mountains in the background, this urban park provides a respite and a welcome relief for all who come and enjoy.

John F. Kennedy Park, on South Mission Road, offers the public a large variety of recreational opportunities. This complex includes ramadas, restrooms, grills, sports fields, tennis courts, basketball courts, playgrounds, swimming pool and a man-made urban lake. At the 10-acre urban fishing lake, several picnic tables are available for public use, and the size of the lake entices many to walk around and enjoy the mountain views.

Travels with Two Sisters: Visiting watery desert oases

A 10-acre urban fishing lake is among the highlights at John F. Kennedy Park.

We love sitting under the trees by the water’s edge that offer some shade and a cool place to relax. We enjoy watching the ducks and coots bathing and splashing. Walking around the lake, we always stop on the east side of the lake and take pictures of the cattails that grow in abundance. We have frequented this area when we are in need of a quiet place to walk, think, and just enjoy staring at the water in a desert environment. On one occasion, a rancher brought his horse to the park and was giving free rides to the children in the park. Never know what we will encounter when we venture out.

Wetlands, waterfowl & walks

Kino Environmental Restoration Project, on the Kino Sports Complex property, is a joint effort in creating a sustainable living community, flood control and water harvesting. We visited this 140-acre site in January 2015 and spent hours enjoying the area. We walked along the retention basin, took pictures of the waterfowl, encountered a herd of javelina, spotted several species of birds, crossed several metal bridges, walked through a riparian area, and loved taking pictures of the reeds and tall grasses in the wetlands. We enjoyed the grasslands, the mesquite bosque and the marsh vegetation. We were intrigued by the concept of the project and enjoyed seeing the results of the hard work.

Travels with Two Sisters: Visiting watery desert oases

The Kino Environmental Restoration Project is home to waterfowl, birds and javelina.

Lakeside Lake, on East Stella Road, is a 14-acre man-made urban lake that offers recreational activities for Tucson-area residents. With a magnificent view of the Santa Catalina Mountains, it is a beautiful area for a leisurely stroll around a body of water. The park has picnic areas, ramadas, a small playground, a basketball court, fishing areas, walking path, and large green spaces with mature trees. We visited the area in September 2018 and we were impressed with this large, well-designed and beautiful outdoor space. It's a lovely place to read, sunbathe and relax.

Travels with Two Sisters: Visiting watery desert oases

Amenities at Lakeside Lake include picnic areas, ramadas, fishing areas, walking path, and large green spaces with mature trees.

Santa Cruz River Heritage Project, initiated in 2019, adds 2.5 million gallons per day of reclaimed water into the Santa Cruz River. The perennial flow will assist in the expansion of the riparian areas along the river, will increase water accessibility for wildlife and will make the reintroduction of native species possible.

Travels with Two Sisters: Visiting watery desert oases

The Santa Cruz River Walk, with flowing water in the riverbed, draws a variety of walkers to its paths.

We were excited to hear about the project. In June 2020, we headed downtown in search of the water in the Santa Cruz River. From Silverlake Road to Congress Street, we found a flowing stream of water. The water was slowly moving north! We spotted people walking their dogs in the riverbed, several birds drinking on the edge of the flowing water, and one huge hawk enjoying a bath. People walking along the Tucson Loop stopped, looked at the small stream of water, smiled and continued their exercise walk. Comforting to see water flowing again through Tucson.

Sweetwater Wetlands, on West Sweetwater Drive, is a 125-acre riparian area created with reclaimed water, and opened to the public in 1996. From the parking lot to the main viewing area, a paved pathway is handicapped accessible. Gravel pathways throughout other areas of the park are generally wide and flat. There are 2.5 miles of paths in the wetlands, but fear not: maps are located in strategic areas to prevent explorers from getting lost.

Travels with Two Sisters: Visiting watery desert oases

The 125-acre riparian area at Sweetwater Wetlands, created with reclaimed water, is home to tall grasses, reeds and cattails, as well as egrets coots, and other wildlife.

On our frequent visits, we love spending time at the main ramada, the water overlook and the high-ground overlook. We love walking by the two large recharge basins, taking pictures of the tall grasses, the reeds, the cattails, the gnarly mesquites and the mountain ranges. We love watching the coots frolicking in the blue water and watching the egrets perform their “silent” walk. We find the numerous bird songs, the tall grasses and the gnarly mesquite trees comforting and soothing. This is a great place to connect with Mother Earth and all her beauty. We have frequented this area on many occasions and it remains on our list of places to return.

We will continue our search for ghost towns, historic sites, cultural events, historic cemeteries, murals, rock formations, canyons, museums, roadside attractions and other interesting and unique sites. On occasion, we will also return to some of our favorite watering holes to renew our spirit.

Travels with Two Sisters is a series of adventures in Arizona with Green Valley residents Marie “Midge” Lemay and Suzanne “Sue” Poirier. For more discoveries, check out their first three books: “One Mile at a Time,” “A Gypsy in Our Souls,” and “Connecting Dots.”