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Desert Springs


Jesus said to the woman at Jacob’s well, “But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.  The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).

Springs are especially precious to the people of Israel, because their climate includes a virtually rainless summer from May to September.  In Biblical times, people went to great lengths to channel and store water.  Jacob’s well had been in use for centuries.  Cisterns were common throughout Jerusalem—the Temple alone had 37 cisterns, including one with a capacity of 2-3 million gallons!  The Romans built aqueducts, and remnants of Hezekiah’s tunnel guiding water from a spring into the city (see 2 Kings 20:20) can still be seen today.

For all these reasons, a natural bubbling spring that delivered life-giving water was the perfect metaphor for the precious free gift of eternal life given by Jesus Christ.

I understand that Biblical connection when I go backpacking in the desert of Arizona’s Superstition Wilderness.  Carrying more than a day’s supply of water is impractical, so knowing the location of springs is essential for any extended hike.  At each spring, you come to realize with greater clarity the truth of what Jesus was saying about His life-giving salvation. At each spring, you can pause to see a symbol of God’s love and grace through that small part of His creation.

Not sure about that?  Well then, let’s go for a hike!

Bluff Spring

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Bluff Spring trickles into a bucket

Traveling on the Dutchman’s Trail just north of the junction with Bluff Spring Trail, you’ll come to a thickly vegetated area with a nice campsite shaded by sugar sumacs and scrub oaks.  There must be water nearby!  Many bird species can be seen here, including rarely seen native Arizona cardinals. A short distance later you’ll see an unsigned trail leading towards Bluff Spring Mountain--follow it a short distance to the spring.

In less than a quarter mile you’ll be at the spring. You won’t be impressed. You’ll see a metal pipe coming out of a thicket with a flow of water akin to that of a kitchen faucet that wasn’t quite fully turned off.  It is usually trickling into a plastic bucket left there by a friendly hiker.

But that’s why I love Bluff Spring.  It’s a minimal water source, yet I’ve found it to be dependable. I pull out my 0.2-micron water filter pump and fill up my water bottles.  My water filter has a warning not to draw from raw sewage. I guess anything else is acceptable. But this water is good.  It is life giving.

I see God’s grace and mercy in that trickle of water at Bluff Spring. Jesus said to His disciples, “For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain,’ Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20b).  I take hope in that! 

Look at the abundant vegetation growing around Bluff Spring. In the same way, even a tiny stream of faith in Jesus, a gift of the Holy Spirit, yields abundant life in heaven. In Jesus our trickle of faith, at first a tiny mustard seed grows and yields glorious eternal life.  Praise Jesus for His mercy!  Lord, help our faith to grow more and more!

La Barge Spring

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Sycamore tree in La Barge Canyon

You can see a large grouping of trees below as you descend on Dutchman’s Trail into La Barge Canyon.  You know that water must be somewhere in the area, but you won’t be able to see it. You have to listen for it.

Turning onto the Red Tanks Trail, you can see a few campsites and hear the gurgling of a little stream.  You follow the sound into the trees, which include some striking white-barked sycamores.  Crossing dry and bouldery La Barge Creek, you can hear the spring somewhere on the other side.  Clambering up the opposite bank, you finally see the source of the sound-- a spring spilling into a rectangular cement trough inscribed with the date 7-1-39.

The shady trees and tranquil sound of water inspire gratitude to the Creator for this beautiful place.  What a peaceful spot!  I filled up my water bottles with precious water from the life-giving spring. 

La Barge Spring is found by hearing.  The living water that Jesus gives is also found by hearing.  The Apostle Paul wrote, “And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?  So, faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:14b, 17).

Sounds of preaching the words of Jesus are like the sounds of a life-giving spring in a desert.  Let us resolve to hear and share His word, a spring of water welling up to eternal life!

Charlebois Spring

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These Indian petroglyphs have been called a “master map” to Spanish gold treasures

The area around Charlebois Spring (pronounced “Charley-Boy” by locals) has known human habitation for over a millennium.  Nearby petroglyphs depict ancient Indian hunting forays but were later misinterpreted as a “master map” to Spanish gold treasures. That lore has no factual basis since neither gold nor Spanish habitation has been known in the Superstitions. Nevertheless, the attraction of a perennial water source at Charlebois yields interesting history.

During the 1860’s the U.S. military troops from Fort McDowell used Charlebois Canyon as a staging area for skirmishes with Apache Indians.  Around the turn of the century a French-Canadian cattleman named Martin Charlebois settled in the area and built a cabin and a terraced garden around the spring.  The canyon and spring became named for Charlebois.  After that cabin burned in the early 1920’s, rancher Tex Barkley took over, rebuilding the cabin and operating there until 1948 when it was torn down.

The fascinating history of Indians, soldiers, and cattlemen at Charlebois Spring occurred only because life-giving water could be found there.  But the living water from our Lord and Savior produces more than just a temporal history!  King David wrote, “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and Your dominion endures throughout all generations” (Psalm 145:13a).  Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Matthew 24:35).

Charlebois Canyon offers a series of pools and some nice campsites. I praise God that thirsty travelers have found refreshing water there for many centuries.  It reminds me that Jesus will supply eternal waters in heaven.  The apostle John wrote of these in Revelation 7:17: “For the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”  Thank you, Lord!

Second Water Spring

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Waters from Second Water Spring transform the desert

Splash!  Splash! Splash!  That’s the sound I heard as I approached the pools of water around Second Water Spring.  Closer examination revealed that I had startled a host of small frogs, causing them to jump into a nearby watery refuge.

“And there’s tadpoles in there too!” observed another hiker. 

“Well, yeah, where you see frogs you’re probably going to see some tadpoles too,” I explained. 

“Oh, that’s right,” said the other hiker, recalling a long-forgotten biology lesson.

Frogs in the Sonoran Desert?  I never expected to see that.  But the shade of cottonwood trees and a perennial water source produced a microclimate here where they could thrive.  The wonders of God’s creation can be beautiful, surprising, and enriching to our lives!

Second Water Spring and its frogs reminded me of the amazing transformational power of God’s living water.  The prophet Isaiah wrote, “Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy, water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs” (Isaiah 35:6-7a).

Now you might think that I’m kind of nutty to see mustard seeds at Bluff Spring and preaching at La Barge Spring and eternity at Charlebois Spring and transformation at Second Water Spring.  And you might be right about that.  When you take a long hike through the desert you have time to think about such things.

But I pray that you take time to meditate on God’s word, whether it is while doing chores or driving down a highway or lingering for a while by a desert spring.  This is not wasted time!  Consider it to be time spent with the Savior, drinking in His living water.