In many parts of the country Del Rio Springs wouldn't get much attention. But because it's a reliable spring in an arid quarter, this little oasis has been attracting people for a long time.
Early Native people were keenly aware that a year-round water source consistently fed what we now know as the Verde River. 150 years ago American soldiers set up a tent city there. The new Fort Whipple served as Arizona's first territorial capitol for a few months, until it was moved to a location by the present-day city of Prescott.
The springs' water soon came to "hydrate" the region, says Terril Shorb, head of Prescott College's Sustainable Community Development Program. The city of Prescott tapped into its water. A dairy ranch furnished milk and cheese for hotels at Grand Canyon and Harvey Houses along the Santa Fe Railroad. And thanks to the winding railroad line that locals called the Peavine, Del Rio spring water was shipped in tank cars to the South Rim and other thirsty settlements in northern Arizona.
Today the springs and marshy ground are privately owned. The place is a magnet for plants and animals. Tall cottonwoods support a heron rookery, and rare bald eagles nest there. Deer, pronghorn and bobcats come in for a drink.
In the long run, though, groundwater pumping in the region threatens the spring, and its output has been decreasing for about 50 years. Local conservationists are working to protect this wildlife haven - and window into the area's human past.