Where Does The Santa Cruz River Start & End?

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Santa Cruz River Just South of Mission Tumacacori.

Santa Cruz River Just South of Mission Tumacacori.

The Santa Cruz River is about 184 miles long. It begins in the high grasslands of the San Rafael Valley east of Patagonia, AZ. At first, it runs south into Sonora Mexico for several miles before it changes its mind and heads north back into Arizona where it passes the early Spanish missions of Tumacacori and San Xavier del Bac, and the old Spanish Presidio de Tucson about 70 miles north of the International Border.

Santa Cruz River Map

From Tucson, Rio Santa Cruz continues north another 70 miles where it joins the Gila River near Casa Grande. The Gila flows west toward Yuma where it eventually joins the Colorado River which empties into the Sea of Cortez (aka Gulf of California).

Santa Cruz River - usually just a dry river bed.

Santa Cruz River – usually just a dry river bed.

For those unfamiliar with Southern Arizona, this description might conjure an image of a mighty flowing river. However, mostly the Santa Cruz is a dry riverbed. To the extent there is water flowing in the dry months, it is mostly treated sewage. Ranches, industrial plants, and human settlements have long-since sucked it dry.

Santa Cruz River near flood stage: 2006.

Tucson, AZ: Santa Cruz River near flood stage. 2006. Photo: Tucson Citizen.

However, in our Monsoon Season (approx. 4th of July to Labor Day), when our big afternoon thunderheads discharge as much as 2 inches of rain in 20 minutes, the Santa Cruz River comes to life, often as a mighty torrent. Sadly, this bravado is short-lived. In a day or two, what water flows is underground and out of sight.

Today, even the once mighty Colorado, augmented by five Arizona rivers, no longer has enough water to make it to the sea.

If you want to help protect what’s left of our Southern Arizona waterways, you might want to join the Friends of the Santa Cruz River.

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