It's Good For The Soul
April 1, 2020
The Japanese have a term "Shinrinyoku" that literally means "forest therapy". They know that getting outdoors soothes your soul and relaxes your mind. It is really good for kids to get outdoors and be able to run and play and explore nature – and yes, even get really dirty.
My dad started taking me camping and hunting when I was very young, and I always love the feeling that you get when you leave the city behind. To this day, it lifts my spirits to get out where there are no buildings in view. This is something you can share with your kids for little more than the price of a tank of gas – and even less than a tank if you go to places close to home.
A Great Place To Start
Parks are a great place to start – there are very big parks in many cities, like Thunderbird Paseo in northwest Phoenix/Glendale. Thunderbird Paseo follows Skunk Creek and has a small streambed that almost always has at least a little water in it. I used to love to take my grandkids here when they were little – because the park is in a flood basin it has tall berms on each side so it almost feels like you're not in the city.
Plenty Of Open Space
There are areas that are tamed and planted with grass for organized games and playgrounds, but there is plenty of open space in between and you can actually walk for miles. It's a beautiful place and I've seen a lot of different birds and animals there, including coyotes, hawks, rabbits, and even snipe in the winter.
Kids Need This
There is plenty of parking at a number of spots along the park, and a great concrete bike trail as well. The girls and I used to love to park at the lot near 59th Avenue and Thunderbird, then walk down under the bridge that goes across 59th Avenue. Most of the time there is water in the channel there and I'd let them play in the water and the mud. Kids need that.
Tres Rios Wetlands
The Tres Rios Wetlands is another great place to visit near Phoenix. We just visited this place recently with our granddaughters and we loved it. We were the only ones there – we saw one lady arriving just as we were leaving, but that's it. Before you go, visit their website at https://www.phoenix.gov/waterservices/tresrios and get a free access permit by clicking on the link and filling in your information. They'll send you an email that is your permit. I received mine almost immediately.
While you're online, print out a copy of the map of the trails. To get there, take 91st Avenue south from I-10. After about 5 miles you'll reach Broadway Road. About another mile or so south you will see a small paved driveway on the right side of the road with a closed gate. It doesn't look like an entrance, but it is. Park so as not to block the gate. There is a little walk-through to the left of the gate.
So Much To Enjoy
There are no restrooms, no trash cans, and no shade here. But there are tons of birds, mammals, and beautiful ponds and streams. When you park and walk through the gate you'll be passing a large area to your right that is fenced in. This part is closed, but keep walking. Tall reeds block your view of the water on your right most of the time, but occasionally there is an opening and you can see all kinds of birds and ducks.
As you pass the end of this closed part you come to an area where there are no reeds and you can see a big pond. On the left as you pass the end of the pond there is a very noisy and beautiful waterfall. Very Instagram worthy.
Past the waterfall are two wetlands. The North Overbank Wetlands is a perennial segment with marsh, open water and riparian forest. The South Overbank Wetlands is designed to be an ephemeral system with mesquites, riparian gallery forest, and riverine terrace. Like the Water Ranch, this place is designed for treated water, or effluent.
You can fish if you have a Tres Rios permit and an Arizona Fishing License. We didn't fish, but we had a great time walking the trails. There are informational signs along the way, and we saw a lot of songbirds, blackbirds, ducks, squirrels, and rabbits.
San Pedro River
There is no drinking water here and no picnic areas, but we had brought plenty of water with us. You should do the same. Early in the morning and later towards dusk are the best times to see animals, but even in mid-morning we saw plenty of birds and small mammals.
If there is a river near you, there are probably a lot of places to access that river. When we were in Sierra Vista, we found five different places to visit the San Pedro River. This unusual river flows from south to north, and it provides lots of shade and plenty of opportunities to play, splash in the small channels, and do a little bird watching.
State Parks are a great choice – there are State Parks in almost every region of Arizona, and they don't charge much to get in. These parks are usually in places that have something very much worth preserving: petroglyphs at Lyman Lake, the big tunnel/arch at Tonto Natural Bridge, gorgeous scenery at Red Rock State Park, etc. Just visit their website at http://www.azstateparks.com to find one close to you.
The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch in Gilbert is gorgeous and my granddaughters love to take their friends here. There are four and a half miles of trails that wander around the various ponds and there is even a floating boardwalk at the northern end of the lake so you can get a good view of fish and the ducks on the water. This place is actually water basins that are part of the Town of Gilbert's reuse of effluent water. Treated water fills the ponds and is allowed to percolate into the aquifer for future use.
There is a little stream at one of the ponds that is fun to see and hear, and the big lake is filled with reclaimed water and is actually an urban fishery. The fishing is catch and release only, with barbless hooks, for bass and sunfish. The trout, catfish, and other fish you can catch and keep, with a limit of two catfish and two trout.
You Will Love This Place
The trails have all kinds of curves so much of the time you feel like you're all alone there. There is a hummingbird garden, a butterfly garden, an observatory, and even a hilltop outdoor classroom. They also have restrooms, picnic ramadas, and a play area. This is a fantastic place to see birds and ducks, but the rules forbid feeding any animals you see there. Dogs are welcome – on a leash – and you should clean up after them.
There are even campsites, but you can't drive to them. The hours are sunrise to sunset unless you have a permit and you're camping. The sidewalk areas, including the ramadas and Water Ranch Lake are open 5:30 am to 10 pm. The address is 2757 E. Guadalupe Road, Gilbert. It is just over a mile south of Highway 60 on Greenfield Road and Guadalupe. You will love this place.
Painted Rock And Gillespie Dam
Painted Rock and Gillespie Dammake a fantastic day trip from Phoenix. Painted Rock Petroglyph Site features a hill that has hundreds of big boulders on it, covered with petroglyphs. Basically you just hop out and walk the path around the hill, but it's still pretty cool. There is a campsite there too.
To get there you take Interstate 8 to exit 102 about 12.5 miles west of Gila Bend. Go north on Painted Rocks Dam Road for just under 11 miles to Rocky Point Road, and the site is just over half a mile west of Painted Rock Dam Road on Rocky Point Road.
A Gorgeous Place To Visit
Gillespie Dam is a gorgeous place to visit. The dam was breached long ago, but there is still plenty of water and a wonderful old bridge that has a walkway over it. You can also walk right down by the water, and if you go on the west side of the river on the hill above the dam there are petroglyphs at the base of the cliffs. Drive a quarter mile west of the bridge, park in the dirt pull-out, and follow the trails that lead to the glyphs. To get to the dam, just take old US 80 and the dam is at the Gila River between Arlington and Gila Bend.
Finally, almost anywhere you live there are probably hiking trails nearby. Near Flagstaff, one of our favorites is Griffith Spring because it is hardly ever anyone else there and it's a beautiful little hike in the woods and a small canyon. There is actually a spring too!
To get there, drive south on 89A about two miles past the Flagstaff Airport exit and Fort Tuthill. You'll see the sign on the left side of the highway. There is a small trailhead parking lot and a vault toilet at the trail head, as well as a picnic table. We've been there in the spring and the summer, and it has never been crowded. We love it.
Through The Pine Forest
The trail is mostly through the pine forest until you go down into the little cut where the stream is, and it is gorgeous down there with some great rock walls. The stream cuts through the grass and the trail follows along, but eventually dead-ends. We like to wander along the stream as far as we can. From the trail, you can see down into the little canyon, and as you go along, pretty soon you will see side tracks that go down to the stream. You can actually go right to the spring if you follow the trail, but it is basically just a wet spot in the dirt.
Brilliant Green Is The Grass
When we went there this past April, the water still had ice on it because of being down in the canyon. The grass was yellow, but still pretty, and the stream was flowing quite well. In the summer there is sometimes less water, but the grass is a brilliant green and the place is just gorgeous.
The actual trail is just one mile long and fairly flat – a very easy walk for almost anyone. It follows the small canyon down to a tank that forms the stream. This stream flows into Pump House Wash and eventually into Oak Creek. There may or may not be water, depending on rains. Either way, it's a nice place to take a little walk and enjoy the forest.
The Coconino Forest website says that James Griffith was a Civil War veteran who came to homestead in Arizona in the late 1800s. The spring was part of that homestead, which was over 160 acres. What a lucky guy!
Good For The Soul
There are always plenty of opportunities for outdoor adventures nearby no matter where you live, so grab a map, find a place you've never been to, and hit the road. A little shinrinyoku is good for your soul.