Friday, August 6, 2010

Aqua Caliente Regional Park (Arizona)

The Aqua Caliente park is a hidden treasure found near the city limits of Tucson, Arizona. It's a hard place to find, especially as there are few, if any road signs indicating where the park is located. It opens at 7AM and closes by sunset - there is no entrance fee. It's a quiet place with few visitors and a lot of wildlife, making it a truly unique location. The most interesting aspect of the park is it's hot water spring from which water flows to fill numerous lakes and ponds. It's a tropical oasis in an environment deprived of water. The park is 101 acres of plants and animals, while on my visit I saw deer, turtles, rabbits, hawks, yellow finches, ducks, and countless species of fish. The park also sports a diverse collection of plants, many types of cacti and palms as well as some non-native species.

First impressions: The natural spring allows for dense vegetation and thick grass. This is a great place to sit back and read a book, or to have a family picnic.

This is the actual spring, it is very small but supplies enough water to fill many large bodies of water.

The runoff from the spring is walled in by a thick wall of palm trees on both sides. This stream continues for about 100 feet until it empties into the main lake. Even in this stream I was fortunate enough to spot exotically colored fish.
This is where the spring empties into the lake, but the full view is limited by the tall reeds.


A desert island in the middle of the main lake. Ducks and turtles can be seen sitting in the shade to take a break from the 100F+ temperatures.

There are many species of plants that can be seen in this photograph. This is because the shade and abundance of water allows for a wider range of plants to succeed.

I was very surprised to find a fig tree growing, although it isn't native, it is doing quite well and even has some figs on it.

One of the main attractions is this mesquite tree. It is estimated to be over 200 years old and is a spectacle to even native Arizonians whom are thoroughly accustomed to the mesquite tree. It will produce yellow bean pods which are sugary and edible.

There are a lot of citrus trees too, each with hundreds of unripe fruits. This one is a lime tree.

Nearing the outskirts of the park I spotted this abandoned dam. The tall plants you can see in the right half of the picture are native sunflowers.

Deer are also an occasional sight in the park, like this one munching away at a mesquite tree. 
 
The second lake has a lot less water in it but still gave some great views.

This cacti is a late bloomer. While most barrel cactus has fruit by this time, this one had just started to flower.

Some views near the spring are very reminiscent of a college campus, minus all of the people.

A view from the outside-in is a sobering reminder that this is a desert, not a tropical getaway.