The most frequent questions I get about the title of the second
Pegasus Quincy novel are:
How do you pronounce Tavasci?
That one is easy: Tah-vas’-ski
Is Tavasci Marsh a real place?
It certainly is!
I’ve lived in the Verde Valley for many years, and Tavasci Marsh is one of my favorite places to visit.
In addition to all those golden butterflies hovering around the rabbit brush, over 245 species of birds have been found there, making it one of the premier birding areas in Arizona.
The marsh has an interesting history. With only 10-12 inches of rain per year, Arizona counts any water source as precious, and Tavasci Marsh is the largest fresh water marsh in Arizona outside the Colorado River Basin.
It was formed when the Verde River formed an ox-bow, a sharp, almost U-turn in the river, and, then capriciously, returned to a straighter course. The water left by the abandoning river created Tavasci Marsh, which continues to be fed by Shea Spring and by underground seeps from the river.
The marsh was a food source for the Sinagua Indians who built a large hundred-room pueblo on the top of a nearby mountain, now managed as Tuzigoot National Monument. Their first dwellings were dated about 1000 AD, and it wasn’t until almost 900 years later that the first white settler arrived.
He was a cattle farmer in the 1890s, whose name, Tavasci, was given to the marsh. He drained the wetlands so that he could raise beef cattle to feed to the copper miners working in the nearby boom town of Jerome.
The owners of these copper mines, which stripped incredibly rich copper ore from Mingus Mountain, eventually acquired the marsh. The huge copper smelters in Clarkdale were only a few miles beyond the marsh on higher ground. This geography, coupled with the fact that mining operations were so imprecise in the early days, caused Tavasci Marsh to become highly polluted with heavy metals, from slag and tailing run-offs.
Even today, there are high levels of arsenic, barium, cadmium, lead and other poisonous metals in the soil and even the insects of the marsh. A restoration project has been proposed to change this unfortunate state of affairs!
When the mines closed down in the 50s, the land reverted to a more natural state, and beaver had a renaissance. Their dams turned the dairy farm lands back into a wetlands marsh.
The desert mesquites and acacia trees were drowned by the rising waters, but they provided an ideal environment for cat tails. Today, much of the marsh is inundated by these tall marsh plants, so much so that open water is increasingly rare.
Doug van Gausig has been called the Bird Man of Tavasci Marsh, and sometimes hosts field trips to Tavasci Marsh during the annual Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival, affectionately known as the Birdy-Verde, each year. Here you can find a number of migrating waterfowl, raptors such as the brown and golden eagle, blue and green herons, and animals such as river otter and, of course, beaver and muskrats.
Doug has ventured into Drone Photography, and has several great YouTube videos that give you another perspective on Tavasci Marsh:
In this one, you can see a river otter investigating a water sampler:
In short, Tavasci Marsh seemed the perfect place to stage a murder, so I did!
Every now and then I get an email from a reader with a picture of Flycatcher Road or Tuzigoot Monument, saying “We found it!”
I hope, someday, that you will, too.