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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

 Rain in the Desert 
 Angelei Star

Coming to Prescott from Hawaii, I was ready for the drastic change of climate and environment. However, after spending three years exploring the Prescott area, I have noticed some key commonalities. First and foremost, there is water! I had this vision before I came that I was going to land in the middle of the desert surrounded by a few lonely cacti. They did tell me Prescott was a mountain town, but for some reason the Arizona stereotype was overpowering in my mind. I am still astounded by a phenomena that I first observed during my preview weekend in March: a prickly pear cactus surrounded by snow! Even after three years of seeing this, it still blows me away. When I came back to Prescott for orientation, I began to realize all of the creeks throughout the town. I also noticed, when I would climb up to the top of a boulder mound, that I could see for miles in every direction and every where I looked was vast pine forest. Going on orientation through the White Mountains reaffirmed all of this, and I finally accepted the reality that Arizona is not just a desert. In fact, I have heard that Arizona has one of the most diverse ranges of environments in the country!

Even though I know this, it still amazes me when it rains. There is a certain smell, unique, lovely, that only happens when the rain hits warm pavement or dry dirt. All of the plants bow in respect, and the people take cover in cozy homes. But I like to go outside. I celebrate with the trees, slide around in the mud, and watch the creek overflow. It's funny how much more I appreciate something when it's uncommon. Over the years I have realized that rain in the desert is much more common than I had thought. Every summer and late fall is a period of time that Prescottonians call the monsoons. From about mid July to mid September thunder, lightning and rain storms hit the South West. This year, when I came back to Prescott after the summer, it was so green that it reminded me of where I grew up, on the North Shore of Kauai, which is also known as the Garden Island. The bright lime green of the Cottonwoods danced in the wind, and the deep green of the elms shimmered in the sunlight. The ground, usually dirt and rock, was blanketed in a light velvet coating of green grasses. It was lush like a rain forest.
Almost every day before classes started, I would take my neighbors dog for a run to Granite Park and stand awe struck by the creek in a lush jungle of greenery. Vines and flowers, caterpillars on giant leaves, wet grass under my feet, and low leafy branches dripping and tickling my shoulders. It was strange to think about the horrific fires that had taken place just a couple months before not too far away from where I stood.

When block started, I was pleased to find out that I had gotten into the class of my choice 'Wetland Ecology and Management.' I was even more excited when I discovered that we would be spending much of our class time in the luscious areas I had been playing in for the last couple weeks. In the class, we visited wetlands all over the Prescott Area, and again I was surprised with the amount of water we encountered. It was amazing to see how many creeks, rivers, reservoirs, springs, and marshes there are within a two hour drive of Prescott College. As we explored in these areas, we learned about their ecology, natural history, human history, current uses, management, issues, protection, need for protection, species, and all the systems at play. My emotions went from awe and wonder to devastation, to hope and excitement as we explored and learned about these beautiful places that were either in danger of being destroyed, or in the process of recovering.
The Verde River is one of the places that brought tears to my eyes because of it's outstanding beauty and importance to the environment (including the people), but with an extremely high risk of being over exploited and eventually destroyed. The Verde River is used by people all over the area for drinking water, irrigation, and recreation, not to mention its ecological importance, being one of the largest rivers in the area still running. However, due to waste dumping and other pollution, over use, and other such factors, without adequate management, this river faces irreplaceable damages.
On the other hand, it was encouraging to learn that community members, scientists, and environmentalists, were stepping up to the plate. We learned about the 'Save the Verde' project and got to participate in a snake survey, which could prove the area as habitat for endangered species and therefore grant it protection. It is a complex issue, because the river is used in so many ways and the needs of so many people and environments must be taken into account when thinking about management. This is true for almost every place we learned about.
It takes related policy like the endangered species act, the swaying of politicians, the research of scientists, effective and constant yet adaptable management, and above all in my opinion, the will of the local community. It was a combination of all these things that brought the heavily degraded Hassayampa River back into productivity and into the status of a Preserve. Only a few decades ago, the Hassayampa was used as a four-wheeler playground, dumping ground and resource for exploiting. Now, it is a thriving ecosystem with infinite benefits to the local community and beyond, including an educational tool for students of elementary schools to colleges around the area.
Exploring and learning about the wetlands of the area gave me an even deeper appreciation for water. Learning about their fragile yet resistant nature, the adaptability of their species, and the work of humans to  both degrade and improve them, helped me understand their importance. My fascination with Arizona's environment is ever expanding and my appreciation for rain in the desert blooms again every time it rains :)

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