By Rob Samuelson

Water is the magical force of life.  Its cohesion, universal solvency, physical states (gas, liquid, and solid), and hot and cold expansion properties are unlike any other substance on earth.  Living in the arid southwestern desert further proves it because all life revolves around access to water.  With it, we are.  Without it, we aren’t.

Windmill at Hope Camp.

One illustration of this is the Hope Camp trail at the northern terminus of Camino Loma Alta.  At the end of the road, there is a small trailhead parking area that is the departure point into the Saguaro National Park.  Following an abandoned Jeep road about three quarters of a mile leads you through an impressive saguaro forest to an abandoned windmill and cattle pen.  A century ago, some gnarly rancher dug a well in the rocky desert floor and erected a wind powered water pump to water the herd.  This windmill has stood the test of time although its mechanisms have long since worked.  Continuing eastward another mile and a half, the intersecting Quilter trail (also a section of the 800-mile-long Arizona Trail) veers off to the left and heads to the perennial water at Manning Camp and the 8,667 foot summit of Mica Peak.  Continuing eastward, Hope Camp, a derelict cowboy outpost is another mile.  At Hope Camp, there is another defunct windmill along with foundations for a bunkhouse and more cattle pens.  Again, these cowboys survived on subterranean water sucked up to the surface by wind power.  It’s impressive to think about their hardscrabble way of life. 

Some five hundred years before Hope Camp, the Hohokam settled nearby on the banks of the flowing Rincon Creek.  Water still bubbles up there creating a small riparian oasis suitable for human habitation.  Pottery shards can still be found there if you know where to look. 

The southeastern trail leaving Hope Camp is the southern route of the Arizona Trail heading towards Mexico.  Alternatively, Hope Camp hikers can return the way they came.  In my case, I had arranged a pickup at Colossal Cave park, another seven miles to the southeast.  The well-groomed trail crosses classic Sonoran Desert habitat of mixed cactus, palo verde/mesquite bosques, and groves of ocotillo dissected by dry arroyos and washes.  Caliche and bedrock prohibit deep soaking soils so monsoonal rains tend to run rather than soak.  In rainfalls, each arroyo quickly fills with runoff which aggregate to the Rincon Creek.  Sometimes we see the Rincon Creek overflow Old Spanish Trail more than five miles away if the rainfall exceeds the soaking capacity of the soils and the storage volume of the Rincon valley aquifer. 

The final work of water is displayed in its’ corrosive action of cave formation.  Only rainwater can dissolve limestone because it picks up carbon dioxide from the air and becomes acidic.  This acid dissolves calcium carbonate (the primary component of limestone) and forms cavities in the rock.  Colossal Cave Mountain Park hosts at least three limestone caves including Colossal Cave, Arkenstone (closed), and La Tetera (closed).  Recently, a new sinkhole formed causing a detour in the road.

In twelve miles, I saw the work of water above and below ground.  Yet, rivers do not drink their own water; trees do not eat their own fruit; the sun does not shine on itself and flowers do not smell their own fragrance.  But water is the fountain of life.

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