Globetrotting: Upper Salt River Diversion Dam

We know being out-of-doors is a boost for our immune systems, reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, decreases anxiety and depression, and increases our sense of well-being.  In this difficult season of fear and societal change, we need to spend as much time out-of-doors as we can.  However, as city and county parks, national parks and monuments, and even beaches all across the country are closing to public access to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus, people are increasingly restricted to their homes.  Fortunately, that is not the case for residents of Gila County as we are surrounded by wild and natural beauty, and only minutes away from mountains, lakes, rivers, desert, and waterfalls that are accessible to foot, bike, kayak, horseback, or ATV exploration.*  

Today I took my dog to a favorite spot on the Salt River:  the hiking and beach areas above and below the narrow metal bridge on the scenic highway to Young.  As one of the few rivers to flow through the saguaro forests of the Sonoran Desert, the Salt River is sometimes called “Arizona’s Other Grand Canyon” because of its stunning beauty and vast array of flora and fauna species.  When I visited, the area was green and filled with a profusion of wild flowers, the river was running strong, and we were the only individuals enjoying the space.  

There’s easy access to the river at the “take out area” under the bridge that white water rafters use to avoid the diversion dam just ahead on the waterway.  When the water is not muddy or running too swiftly, there are rocks below the bridge that are fun to jump off into a surprisingly deep part of the river and the water is always cool, even on the hottest days of summer.  When the river is particularly low, this is a nice place to bring kids to play in the water.

A little past this area is the Upper Salt River Diversion Dam Recreation Area.  There are picnic tables, accessible vault toilets, an interpretive look-out, dispersed camping, parking for both vehicles and trailers up to 16’, and easy access to the river.  The area is known for its flathead catfish, channel catfish, carp, and largemouth bass.  While I don’t fish, I love visiting when the impressively large carp and catfish are making their way over the dam and down the river steps.  I have seen hundreds at a time splashing in the 2” or so of water.  It’s quite the sight.

The original Roosevelt Power Canal and Diversion Dam was built from 1904-1906 to divert water to a hydroelectric generating plant that provided power for machinery used during construction of Roosevelt Dam.  After construction was completed, the power canal was used again whenever the lake level dropped too low for water to enter the dam.  It remained in operation until 1952.  It now serves as an interesting reminder of the innovation and history of our region, as well as a ladder to prevent fish from migrating up the river to locations where the water will not remain deep enough to sustain them. 

Part of what makes our little community unique is that we are surrounded by wild protected land that will likely not be extensively developed.  Our natural areas are vast and offer a plethora of opportunities to play and explore outside which is a highly recommended way to promote health and reduce anxiety during this season of uncertainty.  Our phenomenal outdoor opportunities are one of many things I love about the Globe-Miami-San Carlos region.

* This article was last updated on 3/26/20 for publication in the April edition of GMT.  With circumstances changing by the hour, greater restrictions may be in place by the time this article is published.  It is recommended that people know and follow whatever safety measures may be enacted to protect our community.  Call 602-225-5395 from 8-4:30 pm M-F to see if any restrictions are in place at the Diversion Dam. To get to the Upper Salt River takeout area, take Highway 188 west for 13 miles, then go 4 miles on Highway 288 to the bridge.  There’s a turn-off to your left just before the bridge to access the take-out area.  The Diversion Dam Recreational Area is just a few minutes drive past the metal bridge with another turn-off to the left.