Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch

Last week we finally made it over to our favorite "park", the Riparian Preserve. If you've never been there before, it's not like your average everyday park. It's more like that secret place (if you grew up in the lower elevations of Arizona) that you would go to when your parents told you to go outside and play. I guess I would qualify as a "free range" kid growing up. For the most part, my mother would kick us out of the house for the day and we would take off for the nearest dry wash or semi-shady urban area. To be fair, my mother always gave us the option of staying indoors to help with chores, but we chose the 115 degree heat (sometimes in bare feet) over the slightly more comfortable swamp-cooler and doing dishes. Of course there is one huge difference between a dry-wash and the Riparian Preserve. The preserve is actually a carefully balanced eco-system that is routinely maintained by loving hands. As an added bonus, the preserve contains the Town of Gilbert Drinking Water Treatment Plant among other cool stuff like the Southeast Regional Library.

The "playground" is rather unique. You won't find swings or monkey bars here. Instead, they have what I would call an abstract concrete castle-like structure that kids (and parents) can climb on. When I was a kid, this would have been a perfect spot for a game of cops and robbers. The rest of the park would have been ideal for adventure games. I had an overactive imagination when I was a kid and I could conjure up stories out of thin air. I would give each of my siblings a role to play. Sometimes I was even nice enough to allow them to choose their own "character". I was the oldest if you haven't figured that out yet. I think I'll stop right there before things get out of hand. I'm already imagining my younger self roaring down the hills and through the brush on my bike pretending it was a horse. Below is a picture of the "castle":

I was also obsessed with treasure hunting (what kid wasn't?), and the dino-dig in the picture below would have been favorite of mine. Of course I would have added other cool stuff for us to dig up, but I think it's cool that they already have built-in "treasures" to find. Any kid that likes dinosaurs will love this spot.

Obviously, since the place is a preserve, you can find numerous desert plants throughout the park. Signs are posted with plant names and information, and there are so many great spots for a picnic that I wouldn't even try counting them all. Kylie wasn't too happy that I asked her to stand in the middle of a bunch of cacti for a picture, but I think it came out well. It's not as crowded as it looks. Plus, the house in the distance reveals the proximity of city life. Which brings me to another excellent feature. You can actually camp overnight in this park. You are required to make a reservation and pay a $30 fee, but I am already considering this as a good way to introduce Kylie to camping. If things don’t go well, our house is ten minutes away!

Next, the observatory. We haven't taken advantage of this great opportunity yet, primarily because my work schedule doesn't allow me to visit when the observatory is open. They allow visitors on Friday and Saturday evenings. The East Valley Astronomy Club runs it. If you have participated in it's operation, please share what you experienced. Eventually we will make time to visit, and when we do I will post the details.

The last two photos are of Kylie's favorite feature (second only to feeding the ducks). By the way, they have rules about feeding the ducks. The yeast in bread is bad for them, so we take one of the approved foods…chicken scratch. There is a feed store/Uhaul rental place on the Northwest corner of Power and Williams Field Roads…I can’t remember the name. I'll add it to the comments if I remember it. You can pick up a good sized bag of chicken scratch for about $2.

Anyway, the photos below are two-halves of a giant snake…I guess it would be called a sculpture. The reason Kylie likes it so much is because over the last few years, we have used it as an obstacle course of sorts. I used to watch a lot of TV, so bear with me. G4 has a show called Ninja Warrior (from Japan). In this show, contestants go up against an intense obstacle course. The race is timed (except for the second to last course which is endurance-based) and at the end of each course is a huge round button that the contestant must hit to stop the clock (assuming they have time remaining). Well, nearly every kid at the park wants to climb up on this snake and run from one end to the other. The first time Kylie tried it, she had some trouble. She was about three and hadn't had much experience with uneven terrain. As you can see, the snake has all kinds of contours and bumps. So when I watched her navigating it, it reminded me of Ninja Warrior. As luck would have it, each end of the snake has a bump near the end. So each time Kylie would reach the end, I would tell her to smack the bump as if it were the timer button. It has turned into a ritual whenever we visit the park. Now that she has it down, I may actually start timing her.

I could go on and on for many more pages about the guided tours, the hiking trails, the different types of birds, the fishing, the biking, etc. Instead, check out their website and go check out the park for yourself. Pack a lunch and take the whole family down. You will easily spend a few hours just wandering around and playing with the kids. This is prime Arizona weather time. Get out there and explore!

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