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Water Oases in The Desert!

The uninitiated from Eastern and Northern sections of the United States picture Arizona as a dry desert state suffering from a lack of water and particularly recreational water. They are surprised to learn that there are six major recreational lakes within 40 miles of Phoenix, the state’s largest metropolitan area. Additionally, the biggest lake in Arizona is Roosevelt Lake located 80 miles from the City. These massive bodies of water offer swimming, boating, water skiing, camping, hiking, picnicking and fishing. The Phoenix area is reputed to have more boats per capita than any other large metropolitan area in the country. One needs only to visit one of the large lakes on a summer weekend to attest to that fact.

The lakes have been created by man-made dams backing up several rivers that flow from the higher mountain country of Northern and Eastern Arizona. They are fed primarily by snowmelt from these vast watershed areas. The lakes provide storage of the water to be used for agricultural, industrial and residential purposes in the lower desert areas.

Apache Lake, Saguaro Lake and Canyon Lake are positioned in beautiful canyons surrounded by imposing cliffs and rock formations offering fantastically picturesque views suitable for photographing. The other lakes are located in flatter river basins surrounded by rolling desert hills. Among these venues are Roosevelt Lake, Bartlett Lake, Horsetooth Lake, and Lake Pleasant. Each lake offers the observant, views of desert wildlife including javelina, bald eagles, deer, mountain sheep and even black bear from time to time.

Roosevelt Lake is the first lake in the string of four lakes backing up the Salt River and Tonto Creek. It is also the site of Roosevelt Dam, the first dam to be constructed in this series of dams. Completed in 1911, it was the largest manmade lake in the world at that time. Boasting 88 miles of shoreline, it is the largest of Arizona’s recreational lakes. The area includes a multitude of camping sites and public facilities. Of all of the lakes it is the most popular for overnight camping and extended stays.

The next lake down the Salt River chain is Apache Lake. It is located about 65 miles east of Phoenix and is formed by the Horse Mesa dam. It is one of the more difficult lakes to access which makes it a little less crowded and quieter, but it is beautifully located among spectacular canyon walls and is well worth the trip.

Canyon Lake lies just below Apache Lake and was created by Horse Mesa Dam. It is located roughly 16 miles from Apache Junction on one of the most scenic drives in Central Arizona. At the far east end of the lake lies the Tortilla Flats Restaurant and Bar, an extremely popular tourist attraction. The lake has an organized swimming area, three separate recreation sites and two boat ramps which are open year around and are free of charge. Tourists can even enjoy a lake cruise on “Dolly”, an old-fashioned paddle-wheel tour boat.

The last lake in the chain of four lakes which tame the Salt River is Saguaro Lake created by Stewart Mountain Dam. Forty miles from Phoenix, this lake is the most easily accessed and conveniently located of the four lakes. As a result, it is often very crowded on summer weekends and the number of boats allowed is limited. Therefore, boaters need to arrive early in the morning or in the mid-afternoon to gain access to the water. A popular attraction is the fully developed camping and picnic site at Butcher Jones Wash which features a marked swimming area and sandy beach.

Located several miles to the north of the Salt River system is the Verde River runoff area which contains two fine recreational lakes. Horseshoe Lake is the uppermost lake of the series and is a popular spot between October and May. In the summer months it is the first lake to be called upon to quench the thirst of the metropolitan area and is generally nearly dry during that period. Access to the lake is by dirt road which makes it a little more private and less crowded.

More popular and more heavily utilized is Bartlett Lake as it is accessible by paved road and is only 30 miles northeast of Phoenix. It is extremely convenient for residents of north Phoenix and Scottsdale. The shoreline provides ample areas for camping, boating, swimming and hiking. As a result of its heavy use it is not considered a great fishing site.

The lakes mentioned above are generally located to the east and northeast of the Phoenix area. Lake Pleasant is an exception as the closest lake to the northwest part of the city. It is extremely convenient for quick weekend excursions. The lake is primarily a water sports lake but does offer fine fishing in its upper reaches. In addition to water skiing, jet skiing, boating, camping and picnicking, the bit of wind usually present makes it the best lake in central Arizona for sailing.

So, as one might conclude, despite the fact that Arizona is known as a “desert” state. One need not give up a love for water sports and fishing when moving to this great state of many faces.


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