Roper Lake State Park
by Janet Webb Farnsworth
Roper Lake State Park, six miles south of Safford, in southeastern Arizona, can be both inviting and invigorating. At three thousand one hundred and thirty feet, it is a great place to swim, fish, picnic, hike and soak away your aches and pains in a natural hot mineral spring. The park covers four hundred acres with two sections: Roper Lake itself and, three miles south, Dankworth Pond.
Roper Lake is open 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., and it hosts an average of two thousand visitors weekly. The Island Day Use Area is a popular spot which has picnic tables and ramadas on a large lawn. It is surrounded on three-sides by Roper Lake. Another picnic area is located near a string of small endangered-species ponds.
Roper Lake covers thirty lake-surface acres, and it is stocked with catfish, crappie and bass. Ten-to fifteen-pound catfish are caught regularly. The lake record is a twenty nine-pound catfish which was caught in 1996. The lake record bass weighed in at eleven pounds and six ounces. A level fishing pad is available for wheelchair fishing. In the fall of 2000, "Fishing in the Desert" with Sammy Gomez, the famous fishing ranger, will be held on the last Thursday of each month at 9:00 a.m. He will teach fishing enthusiasts the art of catching fish in a desert lake.
No gasoline-powered boats are allowed on either Roper lake or Dankworth Pond. Boats are limited to small electric motors. Sail boarding is a favorite activity.
There are five miles of hiking trails around Roper Lake, including the Mariah Mesa Trail, a wide trail through the desert up to the top of the mesa. It takes about twenty minutes to hike this trail. Be sure to bring water, sunscreen, a hat and comfortable walking shoes.
The months of March, April and May and September, October and November are the best times to visit Roper Lake. Summer temperatures average ninety five to one hundred degrees Fahrenheit during the day and average sixty to near seventy degrees Fahrenheit at night. In winter, daytime highs average sixty to sixty five degrees Fahrenheit, and nighttime temperatures fall to thirty to thirty five degrees Fahrenheit.
Birding is popular at Roper Lake State Park. Arizona is on the Pacific Flyway, one of four major corridors used by migrating birds leaving their wintering grounds in Latin America to head north. With water, mesquite, salt cedar and palo verde trees, Roper Lake is a stopover spot for migratory birds and a nesting area for many birds.
Roper Lake has seventy one camping units. There are several campground areas. Hacienda Campground has handicap accessible sites, electric hookups, restrooms, vending machines, picnic tables, grills and telephone available. Camping is limited to fifteen days.
The small stone-lined mineral hot spring is a great spot to soak away your aches and pains. Stone steps with a handrail lead down into the ninety seven-degree Fahrenheit water. This is one of the favorite spots in the park, especially for hikers.
Dankworth Pond, the second unit of Roper State Park, is a day-use-only area with two miles of walking trail. On my visit, a covey of quail bustled about the entrance. There are covered ramadas with picnic tables and grills and large shade trees. An artesian spring with an average temperature of ninety five degrees Fahrenheit feeds the pond, which covers fifteen lake-surface acres. The cattails bordering the pond provide nesting areas for a variety of ducks, coots, blackbirds and other birds. Dankworth Pond is a manmade structure originally used for commercial catfish farming. Now, fishermen catch catfish, bass, bluegill, red-ear sunfish and crappie. Signs of beaver are found around the water’s edge.
Dankworth Pond receives fewer visitors than Roper Lake and is a quiet and peaceful spot. It is also more handicapped accessible than Roper Lake. It is open for day-use only 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Visitors to Dankworth Village, an example of an Indian living site, can follow self-guided tours to learn the history of the Native Americans from Paleo-Indians through to the Mogollon Hohokam Indians.
Whether you choose Roper Lake or Dankworth Pond and stay for days or just hours, a trip to Roper Lake State Park is a fun family outing.
To reach the park, take Highway 60 east from Phoenix to Globe. Follow Highway 70 southeast to Safford. Take US Route 191 to reach the park, six miles south of Safford. Dankworth Pond is three miles south of Roper Lake.
There are hotels/motels in Safford with something for every taste and price range. For a complete list and to check availability or make reservation online.
The park is open 365 days a year but access is closed from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. All camping sites are on a first-come, first-serve basis with no reservations taken.
For additional information, contact:
Roper Lake State Park
101 East Roper Lake Road
Safford, Arizona 83346
Other area attractions include:
Discovery Park, Safford
Swift Trail Scenic Highway
Gila Box Riparian Area
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