What’s Your Favorite Arizona Destination?

Could you choose just one?

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I tried, but found it impossible to choose just one favorite Arizona destination. Since every attraction has its own reason for making the list, it’s really like trying to compare apples to oranges.

I decided to create a top 10 list instead.

Even then, I had to settle on leaving the list in no particular order. Yes, I know, that’s a cop-out, but maybe being drawn to varied outdoor adventures and activities explains why I’m so attracted to the RV lifestyle.

Arizona’s most visited attraction is, of course, Grand Canyon National Park.

Grand Canyon National Park

No other canyon can compare with the most visited Arizona destination. It’s hard to imagine a trip to Arizona that doesn’t involve at least a peek at the Grand Canyon. A powerful and inspiring landscape, Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size.

Visible from space, this massive gorge isn’t just a geological marvel, it’s a symbol of Western adventure and American spirit. Unique combinations of geologic color and erosional forms decorate a canyon that is 277 river miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and a mile deep. One look over the edge and it’s easy to see why it’s considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World.

Sedona and Red Rock Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Sedona and Red Rock Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona & Red Rock Country

Sedona is an Arizona destination not to be missed—a must-see wonders. Sedona easily makes the “A” list of RV destinations in the US due to its rugged western appeal and colorful rock formations. Tourists come from around the world to absorb the natural wonders of Red Rock Country and Sedona, its centerpiece.

Located at the base of Oak Creek Canyon, another scenic destination, Sedona is renowned for its stunning rock formations such as Coffee Pot Rock, Cathedral Rock, and Courthouse Butte, as well as its surrounding lush forests. Sedona has developed into a center for traditional and contemporary arts and offers a variety of galleries, boutiques, and specialty shops, and spiritual-energy vortexes.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro Cactus & Saguaro National Park

Native only to the Sonoran Desert, the saguaro cactus is practically synonymous with Arizona. Large and slow growing, saguaros can reach up to 70 feet tall and may not sprout an arm until they’re 100 years old.

Tucson is flanked on its western and eastern edges by Saguaro National Park, showcasing the giant cacti. Hiking is popular in both divisions of the park, but you can also drive the leisurely loop roads if you want to see the cactus forests from the comfort of your car. The park’s western division sprawls over the Tucson Mountains. In the eastern division, trails lead up from the saguaros into pine forests on the 8,000-foot summits.

Wildflowers & Picacho Peak State Park

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The precise prerequisites for a banner wildflower season—an early “triggering” rain, steady precipitation, and mild temperatures—make it about as reliable as a Vegas slot machine.

The sere landscape around Picacho Peak gets a splash of vibrant colors come spring, transforming it into one of the best wildflower spots in the state. The ephemeral Mexican goldpoppy is the litmus test for wildflower season: you’ll either spot sparse individuals or be blinded by a field of electric orange blooms. The more reliable brittlebush resembles a shrub sprouting a bouquet of mini-sunflowers. Your best bet for both is March.

Other good places to enjoy wildflowers include Pinal Pioneer Parkway, Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Apache Trail, Maricopa County Parks, Saguaro and Organ Pipe national parks.

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take desert creatures such as prairie dogs and Gila monsters and put them in a nearly natural outdoor setting. Add a dose of natural history and you have the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, a world-renowned zoo, natural history museum, and botanical garden, all in one place.

The Desert Museum is unique among zoological parks for its focus on interpreting the complete natural history of a single region, the Sonoran Desert. The museum has two miles of paths covering 21 acres of desert and features hundreds of creature species and more than 1,200 varieties of plants.

Please Note: This article is one of an on-going series on Arizona destinations.

Worth Pondering…

Newcomers to Arizona are often struck by Desert Fever. Desert Fever is caused by the spectacular natural beauty and serenity of the area.

Read More

Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts

Spring wildflowers, autumn colors, year-round birding, two miles of scenic walking trails, a picnic area shaded by Argentine mesquite trees are all available at Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At 323 acres, this park is Arizona’s largest and oldest botanical garden, founded in 1925 by mining magnate and philanthropist Col. William Boyce Thompson.

In 1917 Col. Thompson served as co-leader of a Red Cross mercy mission to Russia, where he came to understand the importance of plants as the ultimate source of a large portion of mankind’s food, clothing, and shelter. It was then, that he determined to use his wealth to improve the use of plant resources. The Arboretum is one of his legacies.

Col. Thompson’s goal was to bring together plants from arid lands so that scientists and researchers could study, experiment, research, and investigate uses and attributes that made the plants unique. He also wanted the arboretum to be open to the public. By the time he died in 1930, the arboretum had already gained a reputation that extended far beyond the borders of Arizona.

Thompson’s home, the 8,000-square-foot Picket Post House, is immediately adjacent to the arboretum and is easily viewed from the far end of the main trail. It was in private hands for years, but in 2008, the state purchased it with Heritage Funds and it is now under park management.

The Arboretum features plants from the world’s deserts, towering trees, captivating cacti, sheer mountain cliffs, a streamside forest, panoramic vistas, many natural habitats with varied wildlife, a desert lake, a hidden canyon, specialty gardens and more.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cooperatively managed by the University of Arizona and Arizona State Parks, the arboretum sits at the base of the Picketpost Mountains and features a collection of 3,200 different desert plants in a unique series of botanical gardens, and a 1.5-mile main loop walking trail that roughly parallels the normally dry Silver King Wash.

The main trail begins at the visitor center and quickly enters the colorful Hummingbird/Butterfly Garden, with a collection of plants designed to bloom throughout the year to attract Arizona’s diverse hummingbird and butterfly species.

A 2.5-acre Demonstration Garden shows various plants in functional landscapes; an area complete with patios, walls, shade structures, vine arbors, walkways, and rockwork.

Several trails branch off from the first part of the Main Trail, so you don’t have to walk far to see the highlights, and much of the trail system is wheelchair-accessible.

The historic Smith Interpretive Center, a short walk down the main trail contains botanical exhibits and displays, and two display greenhouses feature cacti and other succulents that might not otherwise survive the winter cold at this 2,400-foot elevation.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shorter trails cut through three desert environments. Find native medicinal and edible plants in the Sonoran Desert; plants from desert landscapes in western Texas, southern New Mexico and Chihuahua, Mexico, in the Chihuahua Desert; and flora from the Cuyo, Monte, and Chaco regions of Bolivia, Argentina, and Paraguay in the South American Desert.

Look for the bizarre boojum trees from Baja California. The two specimens were brought here from Mexico in the 1920s and are the tallest ones on display in the U.S. The tall conical plants are related to the native ocotillo.

The Arboretum’s Australian Walkabout, Eucalyptus forest, South African collection, and herb garden offers more specific collections, colorful wildflowers, and varied cacti.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than 270 species of birds have been recorded, including Gambel’s quail, Canyon wren, and black-throated sparrows, making it a prime spot for birders. A checklist of birds is available upon request. Ayer Lake and Queen Creek on the Main Trail are good places to watch for wildlife; and you may even see endangered species such as the Gila topminnow and desert pupfish.

Queen Creek cuts through the Arboretum’s bottomlands, and supports the water-loving trees that take root there, including Fremont cottonwood, Arizona ash, black willow, and Arizona black walnut. Take a look at the spiny branched ocotillo, the green-stemmed Palo Verde, the thorny acacias, the low-growing mesquite, and the golden-flowered agaves.

Visit the Arboretum and have your horizons expanded as to the value and use of plants and trees from arid lands for food, shelter, and livelihood, both in the past and the present.

Details

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park

Elevation: 2,400 feet

Location: U.S. 60 near mile marker 223

Directions: From junction Highway 79 and Highway 60, 12 miles east on Highway 60

Address: 37615 U.S. Hwy 60, Superior, AZ 85273

Phone: (520) 689-2811

Entrance Fees: $10; children ages 5-12, $5; age 4 and under, free

Websites: www.azstateparks.com and www.ag.arizona.edu

Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

When I walk in the desert the birds sing very beautifully

When I walk in the desert the trees wave their branches in the breeze

When I walk in the desert the tall saguaro wave their arms way up high

When I walk in the desert the animals stop to look at me as if they were saying

“Welcome to our home.”

—Jeanette Chico, in When It Rains

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Northern Arizona Beyond the Grand Canyon

Although Arizona is synonymous with the Grand Canyon National Park, there is so much more for RVers to explorer and discover.

At an elevation of 5,248 feet, Jerome hangs precariously on the 30-degree slope of Cleopatra Hill on the edge of Prescott National Forest. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
At an elevation of 5,248 feet, Jerome hangs precariously on the 30-degree slope of Cleopatra Hill on the edge of Prescott National Forest. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most people have heard of the beautiful red rock monoliths of Sedona. But not as many have heard of Jerome, the historic copper mining town perched on the top of a narrow ridge overlooking the Verde Valley. The picturesque town is filled with museums, antique stores as well as art and jewelry stores.

Even lesser known are some of the national monuments that contain some of the best preserved cliff dwellings in North America.

Following is a sampling of some of the more interesting attractions in Northern Arizona.

Jerome

Jerome is high up on the side of a mountain. When I say on the side of a mountain, I literally mean that.

At an elevation of 5,248 feet, Jerome hangs precariously on the 30-degree slope of Cleopatra Hill on the edge of Prescott National Forest. In fact, through the years some of the houses have lost their grip and have slipped down the slope.

During the late ’60s the town began to attract tourists, history buffs, and the counterculture folks.

Today’s permanent population of approximately 600 consists of an eclectic group of artists, musicians, writers, craftspeople, merchants, hermits, bed-and-breakfast owners, and shopkeepers. It’s definitely not your typical Small Town America.

Tuzigoot National Monument

From near the top of the ruins at Tuzigoot National Monument looking southward toward Cottonwood. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
From near the top of the ruins at Tuzigoot National Monument looking southward toward Cottonwood. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perched atop a ridge high above the Verde River two miles east of Clarkdale is Tuzigoot (pronounced ‘Two-z-goot’) National Monument, one of the largest pueblos built by the Sinagua. Tuzigoot is an Apache word meaning “crooked water.” The term applies to the nearby Peck’s Lake, which is a runoff from the Verde River.

At its peak in the late 1300s, about 225 people lived within the pueblo, which contained about 86 rooms on the ground floor and 15 or so rooms on a second story. The earliest buildings in the pueblo were constructed more than 1,000 years ago. The monument has more than 22,000 artifacts, with many of them on display in its excellent museum.

Montezuma Castle National Monument

Montezuma Castle, a five-level cliff dwelling nestled into a limestone alcove high above the flood plain of Beaver Creek, isn’t a castle and has nothing to do with Montezuma.

The five-story, 20-room cliff dwelling dates back to approximately 1150 and served as a “high-rise apartment building” for prehistoric Sinagua Indians.

On December 8, 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Montezuma Castle one of the country’s first national monuments, maintaining and protecting the cultural resource.

Walnut Canyon National Monument

Located just 12 miles east of Flagstaff, Walnut Canyon was formed by 60 million years of water flowing first as a gentle creek across the plateau, then etching and carving its way through steep passes. Deep gorges formed in the sandstone, limestone, and other ancient desert rock some 20 miles long and 400 feet deep.

Walk in the footsteps of people who lived at Walnut Canyon more than 700 years ago. Peer into their homes, cliff dwellings built deep within canyon walls. The presence of water in a dry land made the canyon rare and valuable to its early human inhabitants.

It remains valuable today as habitat for plants and animals. See for yourself on trails along the canyon rim and into the depths.

Homolovi State Park

Montezuma Castle is a five-level cliff dwelling nestled into a limestone alcove. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Montezuma Castle is a five-level cliff dwelling nestled into a limestone alcove. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Originally home to the Hisat’sinom (known to archaeologists as the Anasazi) in the 14th century, Homolovi State Park is now a center of research and preservation of Native American migration periods.

Located in Winslow, Homolovi State Park offers a visitor’s center and museum containing information about the park’s early inhabitants, in addition to various nature trails and a campground with electric and non-electric sites.

Worth Pondering…

When I walk in the desert the birds sing very beautifully

When I walk in the desert the trees wave their branches in the breeze

When I walk in the desert the tall saguaro wave their arms way up high

When I walk in the desert the animals stop to look at me as if they were saying

“Welcome to our home.”

—Jeanette Chico, in When It Rains

Read More

Arizona State Parks Employ Homeless Veterans as Rangers

A program that has been launched in Arizona, working in partnership with a host of public and private agencies, is putting homeless veterans to work.

Army veteran Carlos Garcia now working as a park ranger for Arizona State Parks.
Army veteran Carlos Garcia now working as a park ranger for Arizona State Parks.

The program is called the Arizona Action Plan to End Homelessness Among Veterans.

Employing the veterans is a great thing as to them, it is more than just a job; it’s a second chance in life. So many veterans, after giving their service and risking their lives for their country, are left unemployed and sometimes homeless, living on the streets, on their return home.

Under the program Army veteran Carlos Garcia is working as an Arizona State Park Ranger. He is now earning $12 an hour and has a home in a FEMA trailer.

According to Garcia, this has really changed his life and boosted his morale. He says he was out of work for two years and got into some trouble, but now he is so glad to be working again.

The pilot program has placed four veterans, including Garcia, as park rangers, working and living in Dead Horse Ranch State Park, in Cottonwood.

So far, Garcia has saved money, lost twenty-five pounds, and has even reconnected with his family.

Army veteran Carlos Garcia now working as a park ranger for Arizona State Parks.
Army veteran Carlos Garcia now working as a park ranger for Arizona State Parks.

He says it has helped him out a lot emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and physically and is grateful for the “awesome opportunity and a great experience” of being in the employ of the Arizona State Parks.

The executive director of Arizona’s State Parks Bryan Martyn, himself an Air Force veteran who flew special ops, said taxpayers get a good deal when the state hires veterans.

“I know the skill sets the veterans have,” Martyn told the media.

“I know they can do this job.”

Martyn added that he wanted to help the homeless veterans after hearing a staggering statistic one morning on the radio going to work. He heard that the suicide rate for veterans was up to around 22 a day, a shocking figure. On hearing that he brought it up at an executive staff meeting that morning and said that they have to do something about it.

According to Martyn, he is trying to give the veterans a skill and allow them to get their lives back together. It would also allow the vets to have something to put on their resume “other than kicking in doors or driving tanks,” he said.

He added that they work with the Veterans Affairs to ensure that counseling services are available and apparently the VA has been providing a follow-up service and is checking on the guys.

Martyn’s boss, Gov. Jan Brewer, says helping veterans provide for themselves is the least taxpayers can do.

Brewer started the wider program, and encouraged agencies like Martyn’s to get involved.

“Few things are more important than properly caring for those Americans who have put themselves in harm’s way to protect our way of life and defend our nation from enemies. Through their selfless actions, our veterans have earned the respect and gratitude of all who have benefited from their honorable service,” Brewer wrote in a recent Op-Ed.

arizona state parks logo“Unfortunately, some in our veteran community seem to have fallen through the cracks.

For far too long, homeless veterans have been deprived of the comforts and security that most of us take for granted — blessings, ironically, that they themselves faced injury and death to secure for their fellow citizens.

“That there are veterans living in misery on the streets of America has long been a source of shame. It is a grave disservice to the men and women who have bravely served us.

“That ends now.

“In Arizona, we are working together to erase the scourge of homelessness among our state’s veterans.”

Worth Pondering…

I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

—Michael Jordan

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Bighorn Sheep Return to Catalina State Park

One of southern Arizona’s numerous “sky islands”, the Santa Catalina Mountains dominate Tucson’s northern skyline.

The Catalinas with a rare dusting of snow in late afternoon glow. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Catalinas with a rare dusting of snow in late afternoon glow. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These sky islands are small mountain ranges that rise steeply from the desert floor and often feature a cool and relatively moist climate at their highest reaches. Their wooded slopes offer desert dwellers a respite from the summer heat. Conversely, the adjacent desert canyons and foothills offer spectacular scenery and excellent recreation during the cooler months of the year.

Catalina State Park protects a choice section of desert on the western base of the Santa Catalinas.

This scenic park is located on Oracle Road which becomes State Route 77, just minutes from the bustling city of Tucson. Watch for the signed entrance to Catalina State Park at Milepost 81.

The environment at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains offers great camping, hiking, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home.

If you’re lucky, you will soon be able to see not just birds, snakes, lizards, coyote, javelina, and deer but also bighorn sheep when you visit Catalina State Park.

If this happens, it will be due not so much to luck of course as to the hard work and dedication of many people including the folks at the Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society and the Arizona Game and Fish Department. They are working together on a multi-year project to reintroduce bighorn sheep into the Santa Catalina Mountains.

The goal of the current project is to have a population of 110 bighorn sheep in these mountains at the end of a three-year period.

Catalina State Park is a hot spot for birders. Pictured above is a Western scrub-jay. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Catalina State Park is a hot spot for birders. Pictured above is a Western scrub-jay. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although bighorn sheep have historically been a part of the Santa Catalina ecosystem, it’s been almost 20 years since they were last seen in the area. Their population died out slowly because of expanding urbanization, increased recreational use of the area by hikers and others, and changes in the environment due to wildfire suppression.

For a number of reasons, experts now think this is a good time to reintroduce bighorn sheep to the Santa Catalina Mountains.

They have been encouraged by plans to construct wildlife crossings across Oracle Road linking the Catalina and Tortolita Mountains.

Another important factor is the requirement at Catalina State Park and other recreational areas that dogs be leashed at all times. This is important because bighorn sheep view dogs as predators.

This is just one of many interesting things you can learn about bighorn sheep if you attend Arizona State Parks volunteer Richard Boyer’s “Bighorn Basics” talk at the Park. “Park visitors love Richard’s talk.

There is a lot of interest in bighorn sheep—and in this project in particular,” says Park Manager Steve Haas.

“It’s very exciting to think that we might soon see bighorn sheep at Catalina State Park.”

Richard Boyer Presents Bighorn Basics November 24: Meet Richard Boyer at the Trailhead at 4:00 p.m. as he presents “Bighorn Basics” at the Kannally Ranch House for a 35 minute talk to learn more about bighorn sheep—including reintroduction efforts and updates on a proposed wildlife corridor to cross Highway 77 near Catalina.

What are they? Where have they been? Where are they now?

Many of the tools we use can be compared to the tools the Bighorn Sheep use to survive in mountainous areas of Arizona.

Future Dates include:

  • December 29
  • January 26
  • February 23
  • March 16
  • April 27
Each year the Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society builds or redevelops five or six water holes under the direction of the state and federal agencies responsible for the management of desert bighorn sheep habitat. (Source: adbss.org)
Each year the Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society builds or redevelops five or six water holes under the direction of the state and federal agencies responsible for the management of desert bighorn sheep habitat. (Source: adbss.org)

Miles of equestrian, birding, and hiking trails wind through the park and the adjoining Coronado National Forest, as well as an interpretive trail to a prehistoric village.

The locale was first inhabited by the Hohokam people, Native American agriculturists who disappeared mysteriously around AD 1450. Remains of their village site are still evident in the park. In the late 1800s, prospectors worked claims along the banks of a wash called Canada del Oro, translated from the Spanish into “wash of gold”.

Cattle ranching also became prominent around 1850 and continued until the early 1980s when the park was established.

Worth Pondering…

When I walk in the desert the birds sing very beautifully When I walk in the desert the trees wave their branches in the breeze When I walk in the desert the tall saguaro wave their arms way up high When I walk in the desert the animals stop to look at me as if they were saying “Welcome to our home.”

—Jeanette Chico, in When It Rains

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Arizona State Parks Introduce Family Campout Program

Arizona State Parks is hosting a Family Campout Program at five state parks during March and April.

Arizona-family-camping-programThe new 2013 Arizona Family Campout Program is designed for families that have little or no experience camping.

The program will introduce you to the great experiences you can share with your family and inspire you to continue to explore the great outdoors.

Participants can expect to spend the weekend with rangers and nine other families learning the basics of camping.

“What we’re targeting with the program is people who would like to get more involved with the outdoors but really don’t have any full-time experience,” Dutchman State Park program coordinator Nicole Armstrong-Best told the East Valley Tribune.

“We just want to give the families an idea that when you go to camp, you don’t just sit there and stare at the rocks.”

Best refers to this program Camping 101.

“(The goal is) that (participants) will be comfortable to go out and camp again, that they will understand what programming state parks offer. So even if they don’t go camping again, they might go in (to a park) for a program or a presentation, or go for a hike.”

Family Campout Program activities vary by park and will include demonstrations that detail how to pitch a tent and use a lantern and the right foods to pack.

There will also be recreational activities throughout the two days including a guided hike, mountain biking or fishing clinics, geocaching, archery, and presentations on geography, birding, geology, or astronomy.

FCP_DEHORegistration fee is $65 for a family of up to four people; additional family members are $5 each. Children five years and younger and/or pets cannot attend this program.

Family Campout Program provides the tents, sleeping mats, camp chairs, lanterns, flashlights, GPS units, water bottles, first aid kits, and all activity equipment, plus water, lemonade, coffee, and all food including two lunches, one dinner, one breakfast, daily snacks, and campfire treats.

Families are required to provide their own sleeping bags or any available bedding, pillows, clothing, sturdy shoes, and personal items such as toothpaste, towels, and soap.

Details

Arizona State Parks

Arizona State Parks protects and preserves 30 state parks and natural areas. The agency also includes the State Trails Program, outdoor-related Grants Program, the State Historic Preservation Office, as well as the Off-Highway Vehicle Program, and more.

Arizona State Parks provides over 1,400 camping and RV sites throughout the parks and manages eight of the top 25 most visited natural attractions in Arizona.

Website: azstateparks.com

Arizona Family Campout Program

FCP_LODUParticipating Parks & Dates

Catalina State Park, Tucson: April 20 & 21

Lost Dutchman State Park, Apache Junction: March 9 & 10; April 13 & 14

Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Cottonwood: March 16 & 17; March 23 & 24

Kartchner Caverns State Park, Benson: April 6 & 7; April 27 & 28

Patagonia Lake State Park, Patagonia: April 13 & 14; April 27 & 28

Registration

Visit Arizona State Parks information and registration page for program details including activities, specific dates at parks, along with a sample schedule, menu, and a list of program sponsors. Each weekend program is limited to 10 families. Registration is first come, first served.

Worth Pondering…

When I walk in the desert the birds sing very beautifully

When I walk in the desert the trees wave their branches in the breeze

When I walk in the desert the tall saguaro wave their arms way up high

When I walk in the desert the animals stop to look at me as if they were saying

“Welcome to our home.”

—Jeanette Chico, in When It Rains

Read More

An Oasis for Wildlife: Dead Horse Ranch State Park

Just a 20-minute drive outside of Sedona (Arizona), in the heart of Cottonwood, is Dead Horse Ranch State Park, a 423-acre outdoor oasis.

This resident Great Blue Heron is one of 200 species of birds that inhabit Dead Horse Ranch State Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Ranch is a camping mecca for nature lovers in the heart of Verde Valley. Located at an elevation of 3,300 feet, the park has plenty of outdoor activities and a refreshing river—the Verde—running through it.

More than 200 birds—from predatory falcons and migrating species to the inquisitive cactus wren, the state bird of Arizona—fly through the park each year.

The park features 10 miles of well-maintained trails that are well-traveled by hikers, bikers, horse and riders, and birders. Most trails average about two miles in length and vary in difficulty from easy to moderate.

Other popular activities include picnicking, canoeing, and fishing. Both the Verde River and a four-acre lagoon are periodically stocked with trout, sunfish, and catfish to the delight of anglers and a resident population of Great Blue Herons.

Campers can use Dead Horse Ranch State Park as their base camp to enjoy the Verde River Greenway, a six-mile stretch of the Verde River that is contiguous with Dead Horse Ranch. A one-and-a-half-mile-long greenway trail follows the meandering river and passes through the Fremont Cottonwood/Goodding Willow Riparian Forest, one of only 20 such stands in the world.

The fishing is good at Dead Horse Ranch State Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park also borders the Coconino National Forest, with more hiking trails. Only minutes away is Tuzigoot National Monument, a Sinagua ruin that adjoins the Tavasci Marsh, one of the few fresh-water marshes in Arizona and an important birding area.

How the Park Got its Name
The Irey’s family came to Arizona from Minnesota looking for a ranch to buy. As the family searched for a ranch, they found one with a dead horse lying by the road. When the family asked the children which ranch they liked, they replied “the one with the dead horse”—the name stuck.

Camping
Dead Horse Ranch State Park offers more than 100 RV sites, situated along several loops and available on a first-come, first-served basis. Most of the pull-through sites can accommodate large motor homes and truck and fifth-wheel trailer rigs up to 65 feet, and include water and 30/50-amp electric service. All loops include a modern restroom with hot water and showers.

The park features 10 miles of well-maintained trails that are well-traveled by hikers, bikers, horse and riders, and birders. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One loop, the Blackhawk Loop, has 17 non-electric campsites, reserved exclusively for tents. It is adjacent to modern restroom facilities.

Another campground, the Raven Loop, has been designated for group camping. It has 23 sites (for up to 46 camping vehicles), a large ramada, restroom facilities, and a group fire ring.

For those preferring a cabin getaway, there are eight furnished one-room log cabins, set apart from the camping areas. These have beds, lights, and electricity, but no linens or indoor cooking facilities. Each cabin does have a barbecue grill and outdoor picnic table. Family-style showers are a short walk away.

The user-friendly park also has four horse corrals for overnight use with advance reservations, a dump station, and fire rings for campfires.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park hosts two festivals each year.

During the last weekend in September the park welcomes Verde River Days, which promotes preservation and care of the environment. The celebration also includes nature-based exhibits and hands-on activities.

During the last weekend in April, it is home to the Verde Valley Birding & Nature Festival (2012 dates are April 26-29). The festival provides expert-guided field trips to birding hot spots and instruction on topics relating to birding, archeology, geology, and photography.

Details

Dead Horse Ranch State Park

Elevation: 3,300 feet

Admission: $7.00/vehicle

Camping Fees: $25 per night for electric sites (Quail Loop sites: $30 (starting July 1); 15 per night for non-electric sites

Dump Station: Available with no extra fee to registered campers

Address: 675 Dead Horse Ranch Road, Cottonwood, AZ 86326

Contact: (928) 634-5283

Website: azstateparks.com

Verde Valley Birding & Nature Festival

Website: birdyverde.org

Worth Pondering…
We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in, for it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.
—Wallace Stegner

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Lost Dutchman State Park: Adopt-A-Cactus

Last winter I posted three articles on Lost Dutchman, an Arizona State Park named after Jacob Waltz, the Dutchman, who reportedly found a gold mine in the Superstitions in the 1870s. According to legend, the gold is still there somewhere.

For generations, treasure hunters have been scouring the Superstition Mountains near Apache Junction for some trace of the Lost Dutchman’s gold.

Nothing so uniquely represents Arizona like the Saguaro cactus. Equally as unique as these cacti, is the ability to share this state treasure with family and friends anywhere in the world through the Adopt-A-Cactus program.

“A year and a half ago, I began a great journey volunteering for the Friends of Lost Dutchman State Park,” volunteer Patricia Carter wrote in a recent Arizona State Park Newsletter.

“My journey started when I first moved to Arizona back in the year 1998,” Carter continued. “I was living in West Mesa and really was mesmerized when discovering the Superstition Mountains. I just had a feeling that someday I would be a part of those mountains somehow. I remember first hiking at the Superstition Mountains and felt the earth rumbling beneath me. There is something so spiritual about these mountains.

“While hiking at Lost Dutchman State Park we came across a man working on the trail and we just talked to him for a bit. He stated he really had to get the trail in shape for the park was in danger of closing by a certain month. He also stated that he was a volunteer.

“My friend and I went inside the office after our hike and there was another volunteer working behind the desk and I asked him the same question. He said yes and he gave me an education as to why and what happened. He said if I wanted to get involved I could volunteer. He gave me the name of the Friends Organization which would be where I would want to volunteer.

“The Friends Organization puts on events to raise money to keep the park opened. From that day on I have a deep passion for this volunteer group. We have put on events, raise money for the park.

“Every Sunday from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm I get the opportunity to greet visitors as they drive in and collect the fee of only $7.00 to hike in the park. Campers come to enjoy the beauty of the mountains. The people are just incredible! I get to meet and sometimes for a brief moment get to dip in the lives of people from not just Arizona but from all parts of the country and the world!

“All the volunteers are so friendly and genuine. I can’t say enough of how being a volunteer for this organization has enriched my life. Being in nature is my favorite thing to do and the Superstition Mountains at Lost Dutchman State Park fulfills that deep passion.

“I have taken on the responsibility of heading up the Adopt-A-Cactus Program. This is a great way to raise money to keep the park open and running.”

Details

Friends of Lost Dutchman State Park

The Friends of Lost Dutchman State Park is a non-profit organization devoted to the benefit of Lost Dutchman State Park.

Website: friendsoflostdutchman.org

Adopt-A-Cactus Program

Mitzi Rinehart and Micah Goldberg of Friends of the Lost Dutchman attended a Canyon Vista Hiking Club meeting to accept a $700 cash donation for a senior saguaro within the Lost Dutchman park. Coleen Ehresmann of the Canyon Vistas Hiking Club members presented the donation to Micah and Mitzi. (Source: friendsoflostdutchman.org)

Adoptacactus.org was established to help sustain and preserve these statuesque monuments to the Southwest and the protected areas that house them; like Lost Dutchman State Park.

At the base of the famed Superstition Mountains, Lost Dutchman State Park is home to thousands of magnificent cacti; proceeds from this program will directly ensure the park’s sustainability for future generations.

Adopting a Saguaro is easy! Simply choose the type and size of Saguaro you would like to adopt, click “Adopt Me”, fill out the required mailing and payment information, and you will receive an Official Adoptacactus.com Adoption certificate, picture of your adopted saguaro with GPS coordinates, and thank you letter showing your tax deductible amount from the Friends of Lost Dutchman State Park (FLDSP). Since FLDSP is a 501c3 Organization, 100% of your adoption amount is tax deductible.

The adoption fees are based on the size of the cactus and how long you want the adoption to last.

Period of adoption are one year, five years, and twenty years.

Website: adoptacactus.org

Worth Pondering…
A saguaro can fall for a snowman but where would they set up house?

—Jodi Picoult

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More Gifts That Keeps on Giving

The Christmas countdown continues!

While the holidays bring with it lots of love, time spent with family and friends, good food, and more, it can also bring stress—most from the gift exchange. Trying to find the perfect gift for someone can get frustrating.

But if you’re still looking for gifts for the RVer in your life, you are in luck!

To keep this manageable, it’s been parted out into two posts—each with five items. To read part one, click here.

These are in no particular order, with no favoritism or affiliation to the actual products or vendors. So, without further ado here are five more gifts that keep on giving:

National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) Membership

By giving a gift membership, not only do you save yourself from the stress and crowds of department stores, but you’ll help protect America’s most treasured lands. The National Parks Conservation Association offers Gift Memberships starting at only $25. Gift members will also receive a fleece blanket as a welcome gift, plus a year’s subscription to the award-winning National Parks magazine. Donations between now and December 31 will be matched, dollar-for-dollar up to $100,000.

Arizona State Parks Annual Pass

You can support Arizona State Parks by purchasing an Annual Pass. They make great Holiday gifts, too. Share the outdoors today.

Any two individuals may put their names on the pass. Names must be the full first name and the full last name of each Pass Holder.

Both Standard and Premium Annual Passes can also be purchased on-site in the visitor center or gift shop at Arizona State Parks.

A Standard Annual Pass is $75.00 (+ $5 handling); Premium Annual Pass $200.00 (+ $5 handling).

Pennsylvania State Parks Gift Cards & Calendars

A state park gift card can be purchased in any dollar amount and may be used for campsites, cabins, and pavilions anywhere they are available in the award-winning state park system. Parks are a great, economical destination and offer the opportunity to watch wildlife and connect with nature. To order a gift card, visit dcnr.state.pa.us, choose “Find a Park,” then “Reservations,” then “Gift Cards.”

Holiday gift-givers also can support Pennsylvania’s 120 state parks by purchasing a calendar featuring the wonders of state parks throughout the seasons, and provides tips and facts that make it easy to discover what many locations have to offer. The 10-inch x 13-inch calendar costs $8.49, plus sales tax and shipping, and can be ordered by calling 1.888.PAPARKS. You can see the calendar online before purchasing.

Washington State Parks

New this year, the Discover Pass provides motor-vehicle access to nearly seven million acres of Washington state-managed recreation lands, including state parks, water-access points, heritage sites, wildlife and natural areas, trails and trailheads. The annual pass, which is valid for one year from the issue date, is $35.

Addition information is available online.

“Living with Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest,” a 392-page guide to living and dealing with a variety of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians is available for $25.

Florida State Parks Annual Pass

Annual Entrance Passes allow park entrance in lieu of the daily entrance fee and are honored at all state parks, except for Skyway Fishing Pier State Park, where they are valid for a 33 percent discount.

The Individual Annual Entrance Pass is valid for the named cardholder only, additional persons accompanying an Individual Annual Entrance Pass holder are $2.00 per person admission except at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park and Weeki Wachee Springs State Park where the standard admission fee applies.

The Family Annual Entrance Pass is valid for up to eight people in a group, except at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park and Weeki Wachee Springs State Park where the family pass is good for admission of up to two people.

An Individual Annual Entrance Pass is $60; Family Annual Entrance Pass (up to eight people in a group) $120.

Annual Passes can be purchased at all park ranger stations and museums and online.

Worth Pondering…

To me a lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass is more welcome than the most luxurious Persian rug.

—Helen Keller

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Five Things You Need to Know Today: December 16

Since I like things to come in fives (and tens), here are five things YOU need to know TODAY!

1. Minnesota State Park Reservation System Upgrade

The Minnesota state parks reservation system is being upgraded and will be temporarily unavailable December 27-February 29, according to a recent the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) news release.

“This will create a short-term inconvenience,” explained Courtland Nelson, director of the DNR’s Division of Parks and Trails, “but we know our customers will really enjoy the benefits of our new state-of-the-art reservation system.”

The DNR is encouraging people to plan ahead and, if possible, to make their state park camping reservations for 2012, before the current system temporarily shuts down at 8 p.m. December 26. Reservations can also be made by phone at (866) 85PARKS.

Starting March 1, when the new system from US eDirect is expected to be fully operational, it will be easier to plan overnight outings to Minnesota state parks and recreation areas. The new system will feature interactive maps.

Overnight stays at Minnesota state parks and recreation areas totaled 985,374 in 2010, up from 942,381 in 2009 and 863,075 in 2008.

2. Strong Winds Topple Trees in California State Park

Trees knocked down by a windstorm December 1 in the central Sierra Nevada in California will block forest roads and disrupt vacation plans for months to come, according to state and federal forest managers.

At Calaveras Big Trees State Park near Arnold, officials are still assessing how long it will take to reopen the park and how much of the popular North Grove Campground will be back in service by next summer, said Park Superintendent Gary Olson, the Stockton Record-Net reported.

Olson said that 40 to 60 trees fell in the North Grove Campground alone. No one was hurt because it happened when the campground was empty.

The Eldorado National Forest, generally in Amador and El Dorado counties, issued a statement that many forest roads are impassable due to trees toppled by the high wind.

Wind gusts exceeded 130 mph in some high-elevation areas of the Sierra Nevada. Sustained winds were registered near 100 mph.

3. Phone App Available for Pennsylvania State Parks

Apple Inc.’s ubiquitous catchphrase: “There’s an app for that,” can now be applied to Pennsylvania’s state parks and forests, reports the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.
According to the special report, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) recently partnered with the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation and ParksByNature Network to offer the Official PA State Parks and Forests Guide—Pocket Ranger, a state parks and forests mobile application for smart phones.
“This mobile app will allow our visitors, while they are on the go, to search for park and forest locations, activities and events, get directions, share photos, and even make a reservation,” DCNR secretary Richard J. Allan said in a prepared statement, quoted in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.

4. Arizona State Park Reopens

Oracle State Park in the northern foothills of the Catalina Mountains was closed two years ago because of deep budget cuts to the park system. But a group called Friends of Oracle State Park is providing enough money to re-open the park part-time next year. Oracle State Park will re-open for three months in spring of 2012, and again for three months in the fall. Weekdays will be reserved for field trips for schoolchildren.

The park is scheduled to reopen to the public on February 4, reports Arizona Public Media.

The park encompasses 4,000 acres of oak woodland and desert grassland.

It and several other state parks closed in October of 2009 after state lawmakers slashed the park system’s operating budget. The other parks have since re-opened on abbreviated schedules.

5. Must-read for Snowbirds

The third edition of “Along Florida’s Expressways” is now available for snowbirds heading south this winter.

Visit Florida, the Sunshine State’s official tourism agency, has endorsed the book and uses it for reference at all of its welcome centers.

The handy guide is produced by Dave and Kathy Hunter, who also turn out the annual “Along 1-75” publication, which is a best seller and must for anyone driving to Florida.

Dozens of helpful tips are provided in the “Along Florida’s Expressways” publication including how snowbirds can save up to 20% on Florida’s highway tolls, and the best pirate museum in the world.

For additional information visit i75online.com

Have a great weekend.

Until next time, safe RV travels, and we’ll see you on the road!

Worth Pondering…

As Anne Murray sings in the popular song, “Snowbird”:

“Spread your tiny wings and fly away

And take the snow back with you

Where it came from on that day

So, little snowbird, take me with you when you go

To that land of gentle breezes where the peaceful waters flow…”

Happy travels!

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