Arizona

Fossil Creek

Conserving the last unprotected stretch of a treasured Wild and Scenic River

Fossil Creek flows from a series of mineral springs in the Mogollon Rim, and its calcium-rich, aquamarine water creates beautiful travertine deposits throughout the river corridor. The stream is one of only two Wild and Scenic Rivers in all of Arizona.
Fossil Creek flows from a series of mineral springs in the Mogollon Rim, and its calcium-rich, aquamarine water creates beautiful travertine deposits throughout the river corridor. The stream is one of only two Wild and Scenic Rivers in all of Arizona.
Photography | G. Reid Helms
For over a century, Fossil Creek was dewatered by a hydroelectric project that left the stream virtually dry. As part of the largest-ever river recovery effort in the Southwest, the diversion dam was decommissioned in 2005, and full flows were returned to the creek. Invasive species were removed and today the stream is home to nine native fish species.
For over a century, Fossil Creek was dewatered by a hydroelectric project that left the stream virtually dry. As part of the largest-ever river recovery effort in the Southwest, the diversion dam was decommissioned in 2005, and full flows were returned to the creek. Invasive species were removed and today the stream is home to nine native fish species.
Photography | Dan Sorensen
In 2016, Western Rivers Conservancy conserved the last unprotected parcel of land inside the Fossil Creek Wild and Scenic River corridor. The effort will benefit the creek’s unique fish and wildlife, protect an outstanding scenic area and archaeological resources, and improve efforts by the Coconino National Forest to manage an increasing number of people visiting the creek.
In 2016, Western Rivers Conservancy conserved the last unprotected parcel of land inside the Fossil Creek Wild and Scenic River corridor. The effort will benefit the creek’s unique fish and wildlife, protect an outstanding scenic area and archaeological resources, and improve efforts by the Coconino National Forest to manage an increasing number of people visiting the creek.
Photography | Dan Sorensen
Spikedace are an endangered species and have been eliminated throughout most of their range due to habitat destruction and the introduction of nonnative species. The fish were reintroduced to Fossil Creek in 2007 and are now one of nine native fish species that inhabit the stream, which is now free of non-native species.
Spikedace are an endangered species and have been eliminated throughout most of their range due to habitat destruction and the introduction of nonnative species. The fish were reintroduced to Fossil Creek in 2007 and are now one of nine native fish species that inhabit the stream, which is now free of non-native species.
Photography | NatureStills.com
For over a century, Fossil Creek was dewatered by a hydroelectric project that left the stream virtually dry. As part of the largest-ever river recovery effort in the Southwest, the diversion dam was decommissioned in 2005, and full flows were returned to the creek. Invasive species were removed and today the stream is home to nine native fish species.
For over a century, Fossil Creek was dewatered by a hydroelectric project that left the stream virtually dry. As part of the largest-ever river recovery effort in the Southwest, the diversion dam was decommissioned in 2005, and full flows were returned to the creek. Invasive species were removed and today the stream is home to nine native fish species.
Photography | Dan Sorensen
Fossil Creek
Photography | Dan Sorensen
The Lucy's warbler is one of numerous sensitive bird species found in and around Fossil Creek. Other birds that inhabit or potentially inhabit the stream are common blackhawk, Mexican spotted owls, southwestern willow flycatcher, yellow-billed cuckoo , golden eagle, zone-tailed hawk, American dipper, Bell’s vireo, Lucy’s warbler, belted kingfisher, peregrine falcon, and Costa’s hummingbird.
The Lucy's warbler is one of numerous sensitive bird species found in and around Fossil Creek. Other birds that inhabit or potentially inhabit the stream are common blackhawk, Mexican spotted owls, southwestern willow flycatcher, yellow-billed cuckoo , golden eagle, zone-tailed hawk, American dipper, Bell’s vireo, Lucy’s warbler, belted kingfisher, peregrine falcon, and Costa’s hummingbird.
Photography | Christopher L. Christie
Fossil Creek
Photography | Dan Sorensen
The high mineral content of Fossil Creek gives the stream a blue-green hue that can be spectacular on sunny days. The creek has become a popular destination for swimmers, hikers, sun-bathers, birders and wildlife watchers. WRC's work will create new access to the only stretch of riverland that was privately owned and help Coconino National Forest's efforts to manage the stream for the benefit of fish and wildlife.
The high mineral content of Fossil Creek gives the stream a blue-green hue that can be spectacular on sunny days. The creek has become a popular destination for swimmers, hikers, sun-bathers, birders and wildlife watchers. WRC's work will create new access to the only stretch of riverland that was privately owned and help Coconino National Forest's efforts to manage the stream for the benefit of fish and wildlife.
Fossil Creek is a rich wildlife corridor flowing through the heart of the Sonoran Desert.
Fossil Creek is a rich wildlife corridor flowing through the heart of the Sonoran Desert.
Photography | Dan Sorensen

Fossil Creek is one of the most unique and ecologically diverse riparian areas in the Southwest. Flowing from a complex of mineral springs in the rugged mountains of central Arizona, the stream is known for its travertine pools and stunning aquamarine water. In an otherwise arid landscape, it is a lush oasis, providing habitat for rare and imperiled native fish, beavers, otters, leopard frogs, bats and an extraordinary array of bird species. For over a century this gem of a stream was dewatered by a hydroelectric project that left Fossil Creek almost totally dry. But extensive restoration efforts, beginning with the removal of invasive species in 2004, slowly brought the creek back to life. In 2005 the diversion dam was decomissioned, returning healthy flows to the river. Today Fossil Creek is considered the most successful river recovery project in the Southwest, and it is one of only two Wild and Scenic Rivers in all of Arizona. Thanks to efforts by Arizona Fish and Game, the U.S. Forest Service and others, the stream is also now the longest river reach in Arizona containing an assemblage of native fish completely free of non-native species.

Within this context, Western Rivers Conservancy conserved the last unprotected parcel of land inside the Fossil Creek Wild and Scenic River corridor. Although at 19 acres the property is relatively small, the impact of the project will be significant. Conservation of this property will benefit the creek’s unique fish and wildlife, protect an outstanding scenic area and archeological resources, and improve efforts by the Coconino National Forest to manage an increasing number of people visiting the creek.

Fossil Creek supports an incredible diversity of wildlife. More than 80 special-status species inhabit the area. Fifteen bat species occur in the river corridor, as do numerous bird species, including black hawks, peregrine falcons, bald eagles, Bell’s vireos, Lucy’s warblers and verdins. Following a decade of recovery work, the stream once again supports nine native fish species, including spikedace, loach minnow, Gila topminnow (all endangered), speckled dace and Sonora sucker. Along with the stream’s unique mineral formations, the presence of these fish gives the creek national significance.

Fossil Creek also contains evidence of thousands of years of human habitation, including pit house villages, pueblo sites, rock art sites and more. Today, as more and more people rediscover Fossil Creek, WRC’s efforts will help Coconino National Forest ensure public enjoyment while minimizing impact on this fragile desert river ecosystem.

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