Gila Gila Monster Rescue and Roosevelt Lake

25 Jul 2008

Photos by David and Dennis

This is the story about our latest float trip (sort of). The plan was to paddle David's antique aluminum canoe and our Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Sevylor Tahiti upriver from the diversion dam above Florence. We met David and Rogil early Saturday morning at the McDonald's in Florence, then made our way via a snarl of backroads to the Ashurst-Hayden Diversion Dam. The dam was built in 1921, in an effort to resupply at least some water to Maricopa and Akimel O'odham reservations. The Gila River, which was once a lush riparian area lined with dense mesquite bosques, went dry for the first time in 1969 when settlers began diverting the water upstream.

Certainly on this mid-monsoon morning, the river was flowing plenty fast. A little too fast — and a lot too muddy — for our gear.

While we were checking out the lay of the land, we spotted a gila monster on a pile of debris just above the dam. The walls were too steep to climb, and swimming would have washed him over the dam. He was stuck!

Rogil announced her intention to get a rope around the little guy and haul him to safety. Huh?!! How do you lasso and hog-tie a venomous lizard that can sink its teeth into your hide and hold on for five minutes or more?

But Rogil was already down the ladder and proffering a noose to the seriously PO'd reptile. Incredibly, the critter stepped through the loop and Rogil tightened the rope around his mid-section as Dennis began hoisting the gila copter from above.

And here's Rogil c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y removing the rope from the beast's backside, now adding "Lizard Wrangler" to her long list of skills.

Despite their nasty reputation, this guy made no attempt to bite and really didn't put up much of a protest to our adhoc airlift. Maybe he knew we were trying to help, or he was just worn out from the ride downriver.

Unlike the gila monster, we were steamed — soaking wet just from sitting around. We decided to make a beeline for the nearest large body of water, Roosevelt Lake, a good 80 miles away.

We ate lunch under the bridge where the Salt enters Roosevelt Lake. But the water was still tomato red. Ditto for the Diversion Dam Recreation Area just downstream on the north side of the reservoir. But isn't that red waterfall a thing of beauty with those big puffy monsoon clouds stacking up on the horizon?

We decided to continue around the north side of the lake to see if we could find a way down to the water.

Several miles on a gnarly 4WD side road delivered us to the shoreline with reasonable, if spikey access.

We launched both boats and paddled to the next inlet, where we were delighted to find a few stretches of rocky shoreline.

The water was clear and bathwater-warm.

"Ahhh ....."

TILT! Rogil's Jeep, wearing a hardhat, scampers up the access road.

Late afternoon light on the Sierra Ancha Mountains.

Back at the suspension bridge.

The view upriver.

We saw a human stuck on a pile of debris just below the bridge, and Rogil decided to haul him to safety ... (not really).

For more photos of this trip, see Dave's Picasa Web Page.