Why The Arizona Salt River Is Actually Salty

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How The Arizona Salt River Became Salty

The Tamarisk Salt Cedar – The Thirsty Tree

If you live in Arizona, there is a certain gem you may well be under appreciating. The Arizona Salt River is actually rather special, and do you know why? It’s not a trick question, the reason being it’s salty. Very few places in the world have salt rivers as they do not commonly occur naturally. Some very specific conditions have to be in place to make what would normally be a fresh water river salty.

The Arizona Salt River starts from the fresh water of the Gila river and only eventually flows into the Salt River Tributary once it leaves the Arizona White Mountains. It is within this stretch of land that the fresh water becomes salty, which again, is a very rare occurrence not commonly found anywhere else in the world. This in part makes rafting the Arizona Salt River rather special, considering it’s not often you are able to do so.

You can see a video of The Arizona Salt River Exhibition Rapid being rafted, or watch The Arizona Salt River rafting overview.

What Makes The Arizona Salt River Salty – The Tamarisk

The Salt Cedar, Tamarisk or Tamarix, is a tree that is found lining the Arizona Salt River from beginning to end. The tree itself is not native to the land and rather was introduced initially as a way to prevent the top soil from blowing away off the farms of the region. They were also used to help save the Salt River banks from eroding, and strangely, they were also relied on as a means to help prevent or slow down the rate of evaporation of the river itself. The Tamarisk originally hails from the Middle East, Asia, and various parts of Africa. So naturally they are akin to very dry climates, which made them perfect for Arizona and especially to replace the once prosperous forests of cottonwoods and willows that lined the river.

You might think it to be strange how a tree could make an entire river salty, and in it’s defense it’s not as though the tree itself produces salt, but rather is very efficient at drawing the salt from the earths soil through its vast series of roots. The salt is then stored in the trees leaves where it is able to protect the tree itself. As leaves fall off and the wind blows, salt is dispersed around the surrounding land. Since the salt river is lined by Tamarisk, much of that salt falls into the water, making it salty.

An Unforeseen Problem

At the time when it was being introduced, people thought it to be an entirely perfect idea. The Tamarisk would protect the river from evaporation, erosion, and would help to preserve its banks. It would also shield homes and crops from wind, overall making life just a bit easier all around. However what they did not expect was for the tree to be so invasive. The Tamarisk was thought to have pushed out all other vegetation in the area, and was spreading so quickly that they had actually begun to worry over how much of the river water was being lost due to stomata, which is how gases are exchanged in the tree.

Once the problem had become overly apparent, great attempts were made to remove the tree from the rivers shores. But the tree proved to be much harder to be rid than it was to introduce. Tamarisk seeds can lay dormant for years and only sprout once rain falls and conditions are rights. As such, it would seem for every tree removed another one would simply take its place. The battle raged on for years until another discovery was made which actually was in the Tamarisks favor. That being the plant actually didn’t kill off other local plant life, but rather, those plants simply couldn’t survive on their own in that environment any longer. Areas where other plant life persisted, Tamarisks didn’t simply because they couldn’t compete with the native plants. The Tamarisk actually relied on the inability for other plants to survive in order to prosper and spread. In the end, they actually did provide the benefits they were originally introduced for, and to this day, continue to benefit the region.

At Arizona Rafting, we love providing the best guided white water rafting in Arizona on the Salt River. If you want to schedule a Salt River rafting trip with us, be sure to contact us! We’d love to provide you with a bucket-list worthy experience while Salt River white water rafting!

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