Desert Oasis: Arizona’s Bountiful Waterways

Writer Lara Piu
Photographers Mark Handy and Marcus W. Reinkensmeyer

Although Arizona is perhaps best known for its desert landscapes, its waterscapes are equally abundant, breathtaking and powerful. Given this month’s back-to-school lull in the action and our extended Sonoran summer, September may be the perfect time for a quick escape to one of the state’s more than 16,000 acres of refreshing water retreats.

Professional photographers Marcus Reinkensmeyer and Mark Handy have captured some of these profound aquatic destinations behind the lens. Their love of nature, appreciation for Arizona’s landscapes, camera technology and skill has resulted in these stunning shots.

Arizona’s mountain rainfall averages more than 30 inches per year, creating the state’s nearly 25 creeks. Among the most popular is Fossil Creek, located near Strawberry. Each year, permit in hand, thousands of visitors journey to this popular swimming hole that is a perennial stream and tributary of the Verde River, which flows from the Mogollon Rim down toward a lake at the former Childs Power Plant.

Another popular go-to is Oak Creek, located off 89A in Sedona. Explore the edges of this creek via West Fork Trail, an easy, contemplative 10-mile hike along a red rock canyon-edged waterway. This month, the area’s foliage embarks on its annual metamorphosis, from green to golden reds, oranges and browns.

Two of the country’s largest lakes, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, are located in Arizona. Lake Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam is 560 feet deep. It holds up to 27 million acre-feet of water, which could flood the entire state of Ohio in one foot of water. Bluffs above the lake at Wahweap Bay — located at its Southern Utah edge — display sandstone layers and reveal the land’s geological history.

The Grand Canyon
The ultimate Arizona waterway is the Grand Canyon. People from all over the world visit this marvelous sight. Pile four 1,300-foot skyscrapers on top of each other and you still would not reach its towering rim. In its presence, a person feels small in reference to its mighty walls. Yet the Colorado River is a reminder of how powerful an innocent-looking force can be.

Ten miles down a tributary of the Western region of the Grand Canyon is Supai Village, the last standing area of the country where mail is delivered by mule. Cellphones are useless, and water play rules its days. A handful of waterfalls beckon visitors for a dip, swim or, for the more daring, a plunge. On a warm September day, adventurous hikers stand at the top of Navajo Falls while friends cheer them on to jump off its edge. At Havasu Falls, small pools of pristine, blue-green water are the stuff of dreams. Visitors wade, play and sit, cooling off in this water-bound heaven on earth. And after scaling down a steep canyon wall descent, hikers revel at the 200-foot-tall Mooney Falls, named for miner James Mooney, who is rumored to be buried in a natural grave of limestone after falling to his death as he attempted to save a friend’s life many moons ago

Join Images Arizona as we celebrate the vibrant waterways of our state. Share your favorite Arizona water images on our Facebook and Instagram pages with the hashtags #iamAZproud and #imagesAZ.

“The walls are steadily increasing in altitude, the curves are gentle, and often the river sweeps by an arc of vertical wall, smooth and unbroken, and then by a curve that is variegated by royal arches; mossy alcoves; deep, beautiful glens; and painted grottoes.” -Major John Wesley Powell

About the Photographers

Mark Handy
Hometown: San Diego
Current: San Diego

Photography experience: “I started making photographs in 2011 after a fulfilling journalism career covering Wall Street. I’ve been capturing images professionally since 2013.”

Photography niche: “Landscape photography. Within four months of picking up a camera, I was almost exclusively capturing landscapes. I couldn’t get enough of the western United States — the desert Southwest, with its varied looks, was particularly alluring to me. Today, I shoot landscapes exclusively.

”What is your favorite Arizona body of water and why? “Without hesitation, the Colorado River. Its handiwork can be seen through some of my favorite places in Arizona: Horseshoe Bend, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and the Havasupai Reservation, where Havasu Creek, a spring-fed tributary, flows into the Colorado River just past Beaver Falls.

The Colorado River reminds me of just how insignificant we all are. These areas of Arizona, where the river flows, serve as a humbling and enduring a reminder of nature’s magnificent power and beauty.”

Which Arizona water destination on your bucket list? “Lake Powell. I’ve captured images downstream from the area, but I have never explored the southwestern portion of the lake. The rock formations and red rock along the lake are simply too much for me to ignore. Besides, as a fan of the original Planet of the Apes (POTA), I think it would be great to explore some of the same areas depicted in the early part of that movie classic. What can I say? I’m a POTA nerd.”

Marcus W. Reinkensmeyer
Hometown: Kalamazoo, Michigan
Current: Scottsdale

Photography experience: “My passion for landscape photography dates back to college days in fine art studies at Michigan State University. Before the transition to digital photography, I worked with medium-format film cameras, also delving into darkroom printing. I’ve been fortunate to have my work shown in Backpacker, Shutterbug, Arizona Scenic Calendars, Where Dinosaurs Roamed, Arizona Official Visitor’s Guide, Grand Canyon State, Visit Phoenix, Sky Harbor International Airport, People’s Choice Apparel and in various corporate buildings.”

Photography niche: “I’m mainly engaged in landscape and abstract fine arts photography, exploring the transient quality of light and our fragile environment. As an avid hiker, I’m drawn to remote wilderness areas and less-traveled parts of the Southwest, Pacific Coast and Europe. My current focus is the creation of large-scale prints and canvas gallery wraps, striving to realize a sense of presence akin to fine art paintings.”

What is your favorite Arizona body of water and why? “A tough call, but I would have to say Oak Creek. We’ve enjoyed so many memorable hikes and photo treks in Oak Creek Canyon over the years. West Fork Trail is a true oasis, with Oak Creek flanked by soaring canyon walls, massive boulders and vibrant plant life. It’s such a tranquil place, yet so alive with changing seasons and the mesmerizing sound of cascading waters.”

Which Arizona water destination is on your bucket list? “While I’ve spent time on the banks of the Colorado River, I’ve yet to explore the bottom of the Grand Canyon through a river rafting trip. I’m hoping to take one of the longer rafting photography tours on the Colorado River, a trip allowing some extended time deep in the canyon.”

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