The Web of Life Sabino Canyon  
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Sabino Creek
This map shows the rivers, creeks, and washes near Sabino Canyon.

If Sabino Canyon is the heart of the Santa Catalina Mountains, then Sabino Creek is the major artery. Like blood flowing through your body, water that is particularly important to the *riparian* habitat and all of desert life flows through the creek.

The Santa Catalina Mountains are the *watershed* for Sabino Creek. The mountains drain rainwater and snow melt into the creek. Sabino Creek joins with other rivers and streams to fill the *aquifer* beneath the Tucson Basin. Many people living in greater-Tucson get their drinking water from underground wells. These wells are filled in part by the water from Sabino Creek. (Of the rivers, creeks, and washes shown on this map, today only the Colorado River runs year-round.

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Sing along with the Fields Family Singers and learn from the lyrics of "Down by Sabino Creek."

For ten million years, Sabino Creek has been carrying water through Sabino Canyon. The creek flows from the top of Mount Lemmon at 9,000 feet to just 3,000 feet into Lower Sabino Canyon. The creek rises with the heavy rains of summer and with the winter rains and snow melt run-off from Mount Lemmon. The creek runs slower and becomes smaller as drought conditions return to the desert between these two rainy seasons. Sabino Canyon itself gets about 13 inches of rainfall in an average year. Depending on the rainfall, the creek flows between 9 and 12 months each year.

There are three plant communities that make up the habitats in or near the creek at the bottom of the canyon:

  1. The aquatic, or creek water, community has *algae*, cattails, horsetails, and rushes.
  2. Just 10 feet from the water table, the *riparian* community along the banks of the creek has cottonwoods, willow, ash, walnut, and sycamores.
  3. The roots of the mesquite trees in the mesquite bosque (or woods) community go down 25 feet to reach the water table.

    The drawing shows the communities in and around Sabino Creek: aquatic, riparian woodland, mesquite bosque, and floodplain.

    (Note: For a complete cross-section illustration of the canyon bottom,
    see David Lazaroff's book
    Sabino Canyon: The Life a a Southwest Desert Oasis
    , pages 46 and 47.)

The creek has an *ecosystem* of its own. The *algae*, tiny one-celled plants that we call pond scum, and *muck*, the decaying plants and animals on the creek bottom, are the breeding and feeding grounds for many insects including dragonflies, mayflies, and mosquitoes. Snails, tadpoles, and crayfish live in the creek as do Sonoran mud turtles and Gila chubs, the only native fish that live in the creek.

Flooding is an important part of the annual cycle of Sabino Creek. To learn why flooding is important, read the Sabino Creek - Flood page.


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© 2001-2018 Judi Moreillon