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Roger Weller, geology instructor
by Richard Miller
Almost everyone living in the Sierra Vista area has one time or another driven
over the “San Ignacio Babacomari River,” without ever realizing it. That’s
because where highway 90 goes over the bridge in lower Huachuca City, the river
seems like the ordinary ephemeral stream (dry wash). That is only because this
river that flows year around, disappears under the ground for a short distance
only to reappear above ground 6 miles downriver.
The Babacomari River is a tributary that feeds into the San Pedro River. The
river begins almost exactly on the border of Pima and Cochise County, on private
property known as the “San Ignacio Del Babacomari Land Grant.” The river is
approximately 16.23 miles as a crow flies in length. The headwaters are at an
elevation of approximately 4,683 ft. The river makes its way 16 miles plus to
the San Pedro River, where the mouth of the river is at an elevation of
approximately 3,898 feet.
The springs are supplied year around by an aquifer that is filled by a basin
that stretches from the higher elevations of Elgin to the west, the north side
of the Huachuca Mountains to the south and the south side of the Mustang
Mountains to the North. This basin gathers the water which feeds the Babacomari
springs, these springs are where the Babacomari River begins.
The Babacomari Dam when flowing can produce as much as 790 gph, most often
during the monsoons and winter rains. This dam closely balances the use of
water to irrigate the fields for livestock and also to supply the river. Most
commonly during the winter and monsoon months water is plentiful, but during the
summer the river can whittle down to just a trickle in some areas. In the worst
case scenario during a bad drought, the river can even become stagnant.
Photo from Babacomari Ranch Photo by Richard Miller Photo by Richard Miller
Approximately 4.4 miles east from the Babacomari spring, both the river and the
riparian zone disappear. This forms an ephemeral stream (dry wash); this is
what most people see when they drive thru lower Huachuca City. Just a mere 126
years ago the river was flowing thru what would currently be lower Huachuca
City. On May 3, 1887 a 7.6 earthquake, which its epicenter was in Bavispe
Mexico, shook southern Arizona. This earthquake caused the Babacomari River to
go underground for the next 6 miles, where it then reappears to flow like
nothing ever happened. Changes such as this in the area from this earthquake
were not uncommon, 20 miles away in the town of St. David, artesian wells sprang
up as well as many other geologic changes along the San Pedro River.
The final 6.3 miles of the river developed into a beautiful riparian
zone full of vegetation as if there was never any diversion of the river as a
result of the earthquake. At the mouth of the river the amount of water that
reaches the San Pedro River, is only a trickle of its original amount. Of
course that should be expected, I think most people don’t understand the life
that even such as small river such as the Babacomari contributes.
Photo by Richard Miller
I was once talking to “Frank” the Ranch Manager of the Babacomari Ranch. He
said that “the cottonwoods alone drink more than a foot of water out of the pond
a day in the growing season”. I was blown away when I started multiplying the
12 miles of cottonwoods alone that this river fed. Not including the deer,
birds, plants, cats, insects, reptiles etc that this little unknown river gives
life too. One question did come to mind, “when the river stopped flowing from
the earthquake for that 6 miles, did the river just go back down into the
aqueduct and where river reappears is just another spring or did the river
actually create another route underground?”
There was a lot of history that goes along with the Babacomari
River, too much to really sum up, but there was one specific passage I read on
Babacomari Ranch website that drew me in when I first began my research.
The following year, Coronado and his army came this way on their famed but unsuccessful search for the Seven Cities of Cibola and the ever-elusive El Dorado. Then this ancient land fell back into the prehistoric silence which had been so unexpectedly shattered by the coming of the white man and his restless search for souls and treasure. A hundred and fifty years elapsed before the black robes of the Jesuit priests were seen in the Babacomari Valley, with the redoubtable Father Francisco Eusebio Kino leading the way. This was the year 1692, when Father Kino first made the acquaintance of Chief Coro at his extensive village of Quiburi where the Rio Babacomari empties into the San Pedro, and caused Kino to remark: "it is true that I found them somewhat less docile than the foregoing people of the West." The next day he proceeded up the Babacomari to the Cienaga and village at Basosucan (modernized Huachuca) where he met Chief El Taravilla, which means "the Prattler." La Cienaga — now the site (headquarters) of Babacomari Ranch. The name of the village is still preserved in Huachuca Mountains and Fort Huachuca nearby. Huachuca was the last village of the people whom the Spaniards called Pimas Proper, those beyond were Sobaipuris."
I chose this passage from the Babacomari Ranch website in my closing because I think it really demonstrates how this small, forgotten river played not only such an important role in the development of a huge valley geologically. But how important this river on a daily basis was for the development of mankind, for who knows how long. So the next time you are going through lower Huachuca City and you see the sign for the “Hideout,” you know you are crossing paths with Francisco Coronado and right down that road is where the indian village “Basosucan” once was.
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