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Memories of Bill Williams River NWR

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet - Regulus calendulaCalifornia Kingsnake - Lampropeltis getula californiaeThirty miles east of Kingman Arizona, in the high country south of I-40, where the Big Sandy River and the Santa Maria River join, the Bill Williams River begins its 46 mile journey to the Colorado River at Lake Havasu. Rain in Arizona comes fast and hard when it comes, and then there are long periods when water is scarce. Accordingly, this small river delivers water to the Colorado in “feast-or-famine” fashion.

Planet Ranch was a mining operation 9 or 10 Miles upstream from the junction with the Colorado River. Mining operations began in 1863 and continued until 1937. It may be the earliest copper mine to open in Arizona. In 1968, the Army Corps of Engineers built a flood control dam 42 miles upstream from the river mouth, forming Alamo Lake. In 1984 the city of Scottsdale Arizona spent $11.7 million to buy the Planet Ranch, with hopes to claim water rights to the Bill Williams River. Legislation soon followed to protect the rural areas from being robbed of their resources by the highest bidder (does this remind anyone of Mulholland’s stealing the Owens Valley water rights to send the resource to Los Angeles?). This left Scottsdale holding the bag. Their folly was magnified when they attempted to raise alfalfa on the land, as was required to keep the water rights, and the city spent $1.18 million more to raise $626,341 worth of crops.

While various state and county agencies, and private developers argue about how to manage the “resource”, for now the area offers interested birders and outdoor enthusiasts an opportunity to explore the area and enjoy what’s left of its natural beauty. A rough dirt road leaves Route 95 just south of the Bill Williams River Mouth and a little more than 3 miles east, vehicle traffic is blocked by gates. A broad sandy river bottom trail leads from there through a vast cottonwood bosque where one might meet any number of riparian passerine species and desert dwellers.

Downstream at the Colorado River, waterfowl in season abound. Grebes, ducks, gulls and possibly other species might be found floating and diving in the edge waters of the delta at Lake Havasu. Near the Visitor Center there is a man-made peninsula with a trail leading about 0.4 miles with lookouts and stopping points along the way, where interested observers can enjoy bird viewing.

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