The Heat Almost Killed Me

Today I went hiking further up the Salt River riverbed at lunch. It was an incredible experience until I nearly died of a heat stroke. Okay, I don’t know if I was actually near death or whether heat exhaustion is the more appropriate term but it was scary.

First, some background. I’m a Phoenix native and I’ve never lived anywhere else. As stated elsewhere, I can’t imagine living anywhere else. There’s only one little problem I have with Phoenix and that’s the heat. Unfortunately, I can’t stand the heat. I’ve got some sort of defective cooling system in my body. I don’t sweat at all on my head, I sweat a tad on my arms just below the tops of my shoulders, and I sweat quite a bit around my waist. Suffice it to say, this is not enough to cool down my body. What’s worse, I don’t really realize the state my body is in until it’s too late and I’m melting down. I have had at least one verifiable heat stroke and countless cases of heat exhaustion.

I drove down to around University and SR-153 to explore the part of the riverbed that I saw from afar on my previous journey. The first things I saw were some interesting platform-on-a-pole contraptions that served some aviation purpose and some otherworldly concrete poured in cooled-lava fashion in the middle of the riverbed—for a purpose that I couldn’t fathom.

Continuing along to the west, I came across an immense slab of concrete that stretched from one bank to the other. I think it might have been a dam or some sort of flood control structure, but I’m not certain. It was serving its purpose, though, because water had accumulated on the lower side of it. I threw a rock in to the deepest section to gauge its depth, but I couldn’t see it as it descended. That suggested to me that this is pretty deep. Judging from the parts of the reservoir where I could see the bottom clearly, I’d guess that it was about ten feet deep at its deepest. By now, I had perhaps half a bottle of water left and I should have called it a day since I was in full sun at high noon.

Ignoring these warning signs—mainly because my body and my curiosity were telling me to press on—I continued west until I found a very odd concrete sculpture that looked like a miniature Stonehenge fashioned out of concrete. It reminded me of the tail fins on cartoon rockets and rose perhaps fifteen to twenty feet above the ground. At the top of each of the four supports was a heavy metal bracket that would presumably fasten whatever these were meant to be supporting. It was out of place in its location because there was nothing nearby that remotely suggested a context.

I climbed the river bank at this point so I could gain some elevation and see what else lay ahead. I’m glad I did because I quickly came across something that I wouldn’t have been able to spot from the bed. To my left (south) behind barbed wire fencing was an enormous depression or gulch (mental note: get some sort of guide to landforms with their proper description and differentiation). To give you an idea of scale, it was probably fifty feet to the graded road at the bottom of a perhaps 30° slope. This graded road ran the circumference of a lake! WTF?! I was definitely not expecting a lake to adjoin the Salt River riverbed at this point. What’s more, someone had constructed a dock at one edge of the lake complete with deck chairs and grill. Parked on the road were two boats, a powerboat and a party boat. My first thought was that it was part of the general complex of office buildings that were maybe one or two hundred yards away, but it sure didn’t seem like it.

I walked the entire length of the lake looking for openings in the fencing so I try to guess at its depth. Once I got to the end of it, I realized that I was getting hot. By now my water had just about run out—there was maybe two good swigs left—and I was roughly a mile or more away from my car. I knew from past experience that my first instinct—run as fast as possible back—was wrong, so I ambled (or moseyed, maybe sauntered) down into the riverbed to explore some more on my way back. Might as well check out some things I saw from the banks, right?

That turned out to be a big mistake. I walked down into the riverbed and there was an eight-foot ridge that needed to be crossed before I could continue on the mostly-level ground ahead. Regrettably, scaling that wall of loose dirt sapped my energy and made me bang up my knee pretty bad when I took a tumble. Once I crossed that obstacle, I decided that I probably should be on higher, graded ground so I ascended back up to the bank.

Fifteen minutes passed and I had emptied my bottle down my shirt because I was really starting to overheat. The platform-on-a-pole structures were distant, orange blips that were straight across the riverbed from my car. Here’s where things started getting hairy because I stop thinking straight once my brain begins to overheat. Luckily, I recalled the reservoir created by that dam. If I could make it there, I could cool myself off enough to make it to my car.

So I again walked down the bank and across the riverbed. By now, I was delusional and barely aware of my surroundings. I came upon the precious water and started splashing it lustily on my head, arms, back, and front. I was so crazed with heat that I nearly stripped down and dove in! Once I had cooled myself off, I started off for the final leg of my return trip—unremarkable except for my heat-induced stupor.

And so begins the time of year when I retreat to the air-conditioned comfort of Phoenix summer living. The winter and spring exploration season is drawing to a close. I plan to return to the sites chronicled herein for picture-taking, but I will park close enough that it’s a ten-minute hike at most. I will also spend this summer visiting and photographing Phoenix’s historic properties on my lunch hours.

[UPDATE (3/17/04): Okay, so they’re not photos I took, but here are some aerial photographs of the places mentioned above: where I parked (note the weird white patch due north, that’s the concrete lava formation), the abandoned dam with the reservoir, and the big ol’ lake (note the dock at the top end). From the scale present on these maps, it was about 2km (1.24 miles) as the crow flies and probably 2.5km (1.55 miles) with my side trips.]

[UPDATE (3/24/04): After some Maricopa County Assessor searching, I’ve located more information about the mysterious lake off the Salt River. It’s owned by something called the Oasis Lake Club and it is really hard to describe. Intriguing, especially given that the Oasis Lake Club’s address is the same as a boat dealer called “Fishermans” at 8625 E. McDowell Rd., Scottsdale, AZ that is 10 miles away.]

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