Snowbirds Begin Migrating North

It’s the time of year when the seasons change and snowbirds are flocking, to fly north.

White Tank Mountain Regional Park: West Valley Icon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
White Tank Mountain Regional Park: West Valley Icon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All signs point to spring: warm winds, green budding trees, desert wildflowers, spring break, and snowbirds heading north.

Snowbirds enjoy Sunbelt winters, but they also like to have a bit of spring as well.

For many non-snowbirds who weathered another bitterly cold northern winter, the change of seasons is a welcome one.

Spring Break: Transition Time For Snowbirds

Spring break marks the transition time when most snowbirds return north and families head south, tired of the cold and looking for a place to thaw.

But there is a group, or perhaps a subset of a group, myself included, that experiences the opposite. Our enjoyment of a warm winter is now turning to angst as we contemplate the return to our northern home.

Snowbirds ask: Is it over already?

Many snowbirds are staying longer and there are more of them.

Saguaro Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights
Saguaro Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights

Snowbirds began the migration process several weeks ago returning to their northern homes. Some will stay a week or two more before commencing their journey north.

As snowbirds set out for home a question is often asked: “Is it over already?”

While reflecting about the past winter season, it has gone by very quickly.

Leaving the Southwest

We’ve been meandering around the Desert Southwest since December, enjoying a fabulous and temperate winter in a variety of RV parks and resorts in California and Arizona. Many amazing places visited and awesome adventures. The days were filled with numerous events, activities, and happenings in Snowbird Land—and writing about them.

The early and late winter season found us in the Coachella Valley enjoying the Southern California sunshine, discovering the beauty and diversity of the area, and indulging the palate in tasty tamales and other south-of-the border treats—and the famous Coachella Medjool dates.

Mexican gold poppies, lupins, and brittle bush at Picacho State Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights
Mexican gold poppies, lupins, and brittle bush at Picacho State Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights

Day trips included the Coachella Valley Preserve, a desert oasis with palm groves, a diverse trail system, and the historic Palm House, and Cabot’s Pueblo Museum, a Hopi-inspired pueblo nestled in the scenic hills of Desert Hot Springs. Our home base was the 5-star Indian Waters RV Resort in Indio.

Arizona is a destination like no other. Arizona has everything: Lakes and mountains, forests and rivers. Mostly, though, Arizona has desert. Acres and acres of desert. Dee-lightful desert.

We divided out time between Arizona Oasis RV Resort on the Colorado River at Ehrenberg, Leaf Verde RV Resort at Buckeye, and two parks in Casa Grande: Sundance 1 and Casa Grande RV Resorts. All 5-star RV parks and excellent bases for exploring the beauties of the Sonoran Desert.

Selected highlights include Quartzsite and the Quartzsite RV Show; White Tanks, Estrella Mountain, Buckeye Hills, Usery Mountain, and McDowell Mountain regional parks (Maricopa County); The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch in Gilbert; Picacho Peak State Park; Saguaro Lake, Four Peaks Wilderness; Queen Valley; and Pinal Parkway.

A distinguishing characteristic of the Sonoran Desert are desert wildflowers but they can be as rare as they are beautiful. Nature lovers know that they must rush out to catch a bloom whenever it occurs, because they may not get another opportunity for ten or more years.

Globe Mellow and saguaro at The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch in Gilbert   © Rex Vogel, all rights
Globe Mellow and saguaro at The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch in Gilbert © Rex Vogel, all rights

Furthermore, what triggers these floral fireworks extravaganzas is still very much a mystery and predicting a good bloom is nearly impossible until it’s about to begin. In a word, for beautiful scenes of desert wildflowers, this past season was one of the best in memory.

Northern bound

But spring has sprung, and we’re now we’re northern bound.

Thoughts of homes and family left behind become the focus for looking ahead.

OK, gotta get busy cleaning and stowing!

Worth Pondering…

To all, safe travels, keep your wheels on the road, and drive safely.

Read More

The View Campground: New Way To Enjoy Monument Valley

It’s all about the mystical view.

New Way To Enjoy Monument Valley
New Way To Enjoy Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That is, the view of Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, on the northern outskirts of the Navajo Nation.

Experience Monument Valley as you’ve never seen before. The View Campground offers some of the most spectacular views of Monument Valley.

Opened in December 2008, The View Hotel is a Navajo owned business located within the Navajo Nation and the Navajo Tribal Park at Monument Valley.

The View Hotel features accommodations that serve the needs of visitors from around the world while blending with the environment so as not to detract from the beauty of Monument Valley. The three floors provide 95 rooms, each one with a private eastern facing balcony with views unlike anywhere else in world. The top floor features StarView rooms with unforgettable views of the stars, the entirety of Monument Valley, and serves as a perfect venue for amateur night-time long exposure photography without leaving the comfort of your room.

balcony_dsc_0093w1000Other amenities include Wi-Fi internet access in the lobby, conference room, a fitness center with sunset views, flatscreen televisions. Also included are in-room coffee makers with organic coffee and tea, a micro-frig, and microwave.

Unique to The View is the authentic Native American décor with a locally woven Navajo Rug, traditional Navajo dye chart, and other Native American inspired decorations.

New Way To Enjoy Monument Valley

A multi-dimensional campground, called The View Campground now offers a new way to enjoy Monument Valley. You can choose from RV sites, wilderness camp sites, or cabins. Each offers their own unique view of Monument Valley.

The cabins at the campground are called “The Cabins at The View.” Located just north of the hotel, the campground has 29 cabins that exemplify a cultural retreat and vintage peaceful pleasure.

The private, fully-furnished valley rim cabins offer a unique way to experience Monument Valley. Each cabin features a private porch that overlooks the valley and is decorated in an old west decor. Bedrooms are equipped with queen sized beds and an additional sleeper sofa can accommodate up to six guests. Each cabin also has a full restroom and shower plus refrigerator and microwave.

panorama1w1400-1024x242The View Campground also includes 30 RV spots and 30 wilderness campsites which attracts outdoor enthusiasts who want to capture the essence of rustic living and a dust of authentic Navajo history.

The RV sites feature the best sunset views of Monument Valley. All RV sites are dry camping with no hookups. A convenience store is located in the registration office and offers camping supplies, food, drinks, and ice.

The wilderness camp sites offer one of the best views from a campsite anywhere in the world. Located on the cliff-side of the park, the view is breathtaking. A full restroom and shower facility is available to all campers.

“The view captivates what we want visitors to see and experience,” said Armanda, Navajo/Dine.

In traditional Navajo culture, touching Mother Earth is a form of healing and medicine, so it was important to design the rooms with a ground level ambiance and give visitors a down-to-earth experience.

The Navajo-owned company hired up to 20 people during the peak of the tourism season in the summer. The campground was completed in June 2014; however, there are additional plans for improvement.

New Way To Enjoy Monument Valley  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
New Way To Enjoy Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The View Campground…where the stay is as important as the view. Is the perfect retreat to hear silent whispers of Navajo culture.

Details

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

Monument Valley boasts sandstone masterpieces that tower at heights of 400 to 1,000 feet, framed by scenic clouds, casting shadows that graciously roam the desert floor. The angle of the sun accents these graceful formations, providing scenery that is simply spellbinding.

The landscape overwhelms, not just by its beauty but also by its size. The fragile pinnacles of rock are surrounded by miles of mesas and buttes, shrubs, trees, and windblown sand, all comprising the magnificent colors of the valley. All of this harmoniously combines to make Monument Valley a truly wondrous experience.

Address: PO Box 360289, Monument Valley, UT 84536

Phone: (435)727-5874/5870 or (435)727-5875

Website: www.monumentvalleyview.com

Worth Pondering…

…and may you always walk in wonder.

Read More

My 5 Favorite State Parks

Every year, America’s nearly 8,000 state parks see more than 720 million visitors—more than two-and-a-half times the number of all visits to national parks, which include marquee names such as Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon.

green jay
Take up bird watching. Many of the colorful birds found in Sunbelt regions are tropical species, reaching their northern range limits. The colorful green jay is usually seen in brushy areas and dense woods in the lower Rio Grande Valley.. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These state parks tend to be smaller than national parks, and relatively modest in comparison, but they form the backbone of the park system and enjoy fierce loyalty from families who visit year after year.

Chances are you’re not too far from a state parks. Visit a state park today.

Everyone has lists and seldom do any two lists agree. But lists can be interesting fodder for discussion, debate, and sometimes agreement.

Here are My 5 Favorite State Parks.

Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park, Texas

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, just south of Mission, is not only Texas’ southernmost state park, but since October 2005, the headquarters of the World Birding Center. Witness hawk migrations and enjoy bird walks and natural history tours at this key migratory stopover.

You can spend a whole day exploring bird life along a one-mile walking trail through sugar hackberry, Rio Grande ash, and Texas ebony; and the six-mile paved inner and outer loops. Or take the tram or rent a bicycle to meander around the loops.

Catalina State Park, one of the many gems in the Arizona State Park system, offers beautiful vistas of the Sonoran Desert and the Santa Catalina Mountains with riparian canyons, lush washes, and dense cactus forests. The environment at the base of the Santa Catalina
Catalina State Park, one of the many gems in the Arizona State Park system, offers beautiful vistas of the Sonoran Desert and the Santa Catalina Mountains with riparian canyons, lush washes, and dense cactus forests. The environment at the base of the Santa Catalina. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park, Arizona

Catalina State Park, one of the many gems in the Arizona State Park system, offers beautiful vistas of the Sonoran Desert and the Santa Catalina Mountains with riparian canyons, lush washes, and dense cactus forests. 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.

One of the special features at Catalina State Park (among many!) is an amazing population of saguaros. There are about a half-dozen large stands within the park, each numbering close to 500 plants. Along with hundreds of scattered individuals, these stands account for an estimated saguaro population of close to 5,000 plants.

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

The Valley of Fire State Park near Las Vegas
The Valley of Fire State Park near Las Vegas derives its name from red sandstone formations, formed from great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs, 150 million years ago. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With its blood-red sandstone cliffs and weird rock formations, there’s an other-worldly feeling at Valley of Fire State Park. The terrain at Valley of Fire so resembles Mars that the Mars scenes of Total Recall were almost all filmed here.

Popular activities include camping, picnicking, photography, hiking among the intriguing rock formations, and soaking in the fascinating story of the area’s geological evolution. Park features include Fire Canyon/Silica Dome, Rainbow Vista, White Domes, and Beehives. Valley of Fire State Park is 55 miles—and a few light-years—northeast of Las Vegas via Interstate 15 and on exit 75.

Gulf State Park, Alabama

Consisting of 6,150 acres with two miles of sugar white sand beaches and three fresh water lakes, Gulf State Park has a modern full-service campground, cabins, cottages, back country trails, and the largest fishing pier in the Gulf of Mexico.

The park also features an interactive nature center, nationally recognized scenic nature trail, new tennis courts, beautiful beach pavilion, 18-hole Refuge Golf Course, and a 900-acre lake for fishing in the picnic area on Lake Shelby.

Relax and enjoy the beauty of Gulf State Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Relax and enjoy the beauty of Gulf State Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park, South Dakota
With its pine-clad mountains and striking stone spires giving way in the south to gently rolling grasslands, the 71,000-acre Custer State Park occupies one of the prettiest corners of South Dakota’s Black Hills.

Drive on the windy Needles Highway in the north, through narrow tunnels carved through the rock, to mirror-like Sylvan Lake, the “crown jewel.” To the south, the 18-mile Wildlife Loop is the place to find pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, elk, and the famous “begging donkeys”.

Custer State Park touts itself as one of the few remaining wild sanctuaries in the country. Elk, mountain goats and nearly 1,300 buffalo roam this 71,000-acre park, set in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Worth Pondering…

Take time to listen to the voices of the earth and what they mean…the majestic voice of thunder, the winds, the sound of flowing streams. And the voices of living things: the dawn chorus of the birds, the insects that play little fiddles in the grass.

—Rachel Carson

Read More

RV To The Sun: Arizona Grand Tour Continues

Arizona is destination like no other.

Prescott   © Rex Vogel, all rights
Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights

Arizona has everything: Lakes and mountains, forests and rivers. Mostly, though, Arizona has desert. Acres and acres of desert. Dee-lightful.

From towering red rock spires to urban excitement, to the Grand Canyon’s stunning vistas to quiet mountain towns; Old West legends to Native American and Mexican culture, and professional sporting events to world-class golf—Arizona has it all!

Arizona is all of this, but there is so much more that awaits the RV traveler.

Prescott

Nestled in a stunning mountain bowl and surrounded by a large ponderosa pine forests, this beautiful town is steeped in history with an authentic taste of western heritage. Banners proclaim Prescott as “Everyone’s Home Town.” You won’t find high rises, but the downtown businesses clustered around the 1916 Yavapai County Courthouse and its plaza are thriving.

On one side of the Court House Plaza is Whiskey Row. It’s more sedate now than it was prior to 1900 when the whiskey flowed and the faro tables were jammed 24 hours a day in its forty or so saloons. The former territorial capital of Arizona, Prescott boasts 525 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights
Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights

Monument Valley

The red buttes protruding from the painted sand of Monument Valley look like memorials sculpted by a mythical goddess.

Sandstone buttes, mesas, and spires rise majestically from the desert floor. Monument Valley offers the quintessential Western backdrop made famous in movies directed by John Ford.

Monument Valley’s towers, which range in height from 400 to 1,000 feet, are made of de Chelly sandstone, which is 215 million years old, with a base of organ rock shale. The towers are the remnants of mesas, or flat-topped mountains. Mesas erode first into buttes like the Elephant, which typically are as high as they are wide, then into slender spires like the Three Sisters.

Jerome

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights
Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights

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.

This hidden gem was once a roaring mining town of 15,000 people, with multistoried buildings and fine homes. For a time, Jerome was the state’s fourth-largest town. But like all towns in the West, founded on digging up a limited resource, it is now a mini-version of its former self.

Jerome started off as a copper mining town and became known as the wickedest town in the West, with more than its share of saloons, opium dens, and brothels.

Birding & Patagonia

Vermilion Flycatcher Vermilion Flycatcher at the Paton Center for Hummingbirds © Rex Vogel, all rightsat the Paton Center for Hummingbirds © Rex Vogel, all rights
Vermilion Flycatcher at the Paton Center for Hummingbirds © Rex Vogel, all rights

Home to many talented artists, artisans, and writers, Patagonia is located in a lush riparian habitat where Sonoita Creek meanders year-round between the Patagonia and Santa Rita mountains. The diversity of vegetation (riparian, desert, and mountain) provides sustenance for more than 300 bird species—including Mexican and Central American species that reach the extreme northern limit of their range here.

The Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, the Paton Center for Hummingbirds, and Patagonia Lake State Park are renowned for the 300 species of birds that migrate through or nest along their creeks and waterways.

Oatman & Route 66

The romance of Route 66 continues to captivate people around the world. Running between Chicago and Los Angeles, Route 66 earned the title “Main Street of America” because it wound through small towns across the Midwest and Southwest, lined by hundreds of cafés, motels, gas stations, and tourist attractions.

Oatman: Living Ghost Town, Gunfighters & Burros © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Driving a twisted portion of Route 66 to the historic town of Oatman is a favorite Arizona road trip. Once a gold-mining boomtown, Oatman hunkers in a craggy gulch of the Black Mountains.

Though Oatman is only a shadow of its former self, it is well worth a visit to this living ghost town that provides, not only a handful of historic buildings, but costumed gunfighters and 1890s style ladies strolling the wooden sidewalks, as well as the sights of burros walking the streets.

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

Worth Pondering…

Alone in the open desert,

I have made up songs of wild, poignant rejoicing and transcendent melancholy.

The world has seemed more beautiful to me than ever before.

I have loved the red rocks, the twisted trees, the sand blowing in the wind, the slow, sunny clouds crossing the sky, the shafts of moonlight on my bed at night.

I have seemed to be at one with the world.

—Everett Ruess

Read More

Arizona Getaways: Top 10 & More

In an earlier post, I posed the question, What is your favorite Arizona destination?

Spider Rock Lookout, Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Spider Rock Lookout, Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since I found it impossible to choose just one favorite Arizona destination, I decided to create a top 10 list instead. At times, a Top 10 List just doesn’t cut it, either.

Without question, Arizona is a melting pot of scenic variety. Across the state, dramatic rockscapes, ancient petroglyphs, and postcard moments abound. Continuing the best of Arizona… oh please. What are we waiting for?

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

A comparatively little-known canyon, Canyon de Chelly has sheer sandstone walls rising up to 1,000 feet, scenic overlooks, well-preserved Anasazi ruins, and an insight into the present day life of the Navajo, who still inhabit and cultivate the valley floor.

The northernmost and southernmost edges are accessible from paved roads—the North and South Rim drives. The South Rim Drive offers the most dramatic vistas, ending at the most spectacular viewpoint, the overlook of Spider Rocks—twin 800 foot towers of rock isolated from the canyon walls and a site of special significance for the Navajo.

The campground, located in a shallow valley less than ¼-mile from the visitor center, was a wonderful surprise. The campground is large with approximately 100 spacious campsites, plus a large group camping area. We had no difficulty is finding a suitable site for our 40-foot motorhome.

Acorn Woodpecker © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Acorn Woodpecker at Ramsey Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Birding & Ramsey Canyon

Known worldwide as a birding hotspot, Ramsey Canyon is home to more than 400 species of plants and more than 170 species of birds.

Southeastern Arizona is an ecological crossroads, where the Sierra Madre of Mexico, the Rocky Mountains, and the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts all come together. The abrupt rise of mountains like the Huachucas from the surrounding arid grasslands creates “sky islands”.

This combination of factors gives Ramsey Canyon Preserve its notable variety of plant and animal life, including such southwestern specialties as Apache and Chihuahua pines, elegant trogon, and berylline and violet-crowned hummingbirds. The featured jewels of this pristine habitat are the 14 species of hummingbirds that congregate here from spring through autumn.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone

Tombstone invites visitors to walk in the footsteps of the West’s most famous outlaws and good guys, the Clantons and the Earps. During its 1880s heyday, Tombstone, the “Town Too Tough to Die,” boasted 10,000 gunslingers, gamblers, prospectors, and prostitutes.

Sparked by Edward Schieffelin’s silver strike (skeptics warned he’d only find his own tombstone), the raucous town boasted more than 60 saloons. Tombstone is known for the famous street fight near the OK Corral between Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday vs. Frank and Tom McLaury, and Billy and Ike Clanton.

The OK Corral still stands and gunfights are re-enacted as visitors are thrown back to a lime when life was bold and uncompromising. Tourists can visit the many historical buildings dating back to the 1880s. Stagecoach rides. Old West saloons, museums, trading posts, dance hall girls, cowboys, and unique photo opportunities also add to the adventure.

Chiricahua National Monument

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unique rock formations and unusual landscapes can be explored at Chiricahua National Monument. Eons ago, lava flows covered the region, creating a dense layer of lava rock. Over the years the rocks cracked and withered away resulting in spectacular, startling rock formations that today make up the Chiricahua Mountains.

Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest Natopnal Park  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Petrified Forest Natopnal Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park preserves one of the world’s largest and most vibrantly colored assemblies of petrified wood, historic structures, and archeological sites.

The park is composed of two sections: the north section is a colorful badlands called the Painted Desert along with archaeological sites and historic structures, and the southern section contains most of the petrified wood.

The park consists of a 28-mile road that offers numerous overlooks and winds through the mesas and wilderness. Visitors can also choose to hike a variety of trails ranging from easy to difficult.

Petrified Forest National Park stretches north and south between I-40 and U.S. Highway 180. There are two entrances into the park. Your direction of travel dictates which entrance is best to use.

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

Worth Pondering…

My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been.
—Diane Arbus

Read More

Arizona Adventure: 5 More Favorite Destinations

In an earlier post, I posed the question, What is your favorite Arizona destination?

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since I found it impossible to choose just one favorite Arizona destination, I decided to create a top 10 list instead.

Sabino Canyon

Located along Sabino Creek 12 miles from downtown Tucson, Sabino Canyon is a popular destination for exploring the Sonoran Desert. Soaring mountains, deep canyons, and the unique plants and animals of the Sonoran Desert found here draw over a million visitors a year. The wonders of the desert foothills and rocky gorges of the Santa Catalina Mountains are marvelous and accessible.

During the 3.8-mile tour into the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains, shuttle drivers recount the history of the canyon and point out sights along the way.

Bisbee

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bisbee, a quirky art town perched along cliffs, embraces its independent spirit and vertical nature—dozens of staircases are among the fastest, and most traveled, routes in town. Enjoy the art galleries and antique shops, then descend into a copper mine to see how Bisbee came to be.

Once one of the wickedest mining towns of the Old West, Bisbee is known today as an artists’ haven. Founded in 1880 and named after Judge DeWitt Bisbee, a financial backer of the Copper Queen Mine, Bisbee was one of the richest mineral sites in the world, turning out nearly 3 million ounces of gold and more than 8 billion pounds of copper.

Silver, lead and zinc were also mined from the rich Mule Mountains, and by the early 1900s, Bisbee was the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco. During this time, although it had become the most cultured city in the Southwest, the notorious Brewery Gulch, which in its heyday had up to 47 lively saloons, created a rowdy Wild West reputation for the town.

Apache Trail

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Apache Trail through the Superstition Mountains was built to supply construction workers building Roosevelt Dam in the early 1900s. When Theodore Roosevelt drove there in 1911, he compared the region’s beauty to that of Yellowstone and Yosemite national parks. Saguaro-covered hills and deep canyons stretch for miles, broken by red-rock cliffs and hoodoos.

The area is a favorite of sightseers, boaters, hikers, and anglers. The Apache Trail, aka State Route 88, is not for the squeamish or those afraid of heights. It’s full of twists and turns, rising and falling with the hills and valleys. Part of the road is paved; the graded dirt stretch is suitable for most cars but not recommended for large RVs.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Boyce Thompson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Boyce Thompson Arborteum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

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.

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. 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.

Maricopa County Regional Parks

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Usery Mountain, a Maricopa County Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Looking for a quiet place to relax, do some bird watching, photography, hike a near-by trail, or do some great sightseeing?

With 10 regional parks totaling more than 120,000 acres, Maricopa County Regional Parks feature the nation’s largest county park system. More than 2.1 million visitors annually enjoy affordable outdoor recreation activities available in this diverse park system .

Favorite parks for camping, hiking, and other outdoor pursuits include Usery Mountain, Cave Creek, Lake Pleasant, San Tan Mountain, and White Tank Mountain. The positive surroundings and the competently maintained facilities attract people from near and far including numerous snowbirds that have discovered this central Arizona gem.

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

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

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

White Tank Mountain Regional Park: West Valley Icon

The White Tank Mountains rise west of Phoenix, forming the western boundary of the Valley of the Sun.

White Tank Mountain Regional Park: West Valley Icon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
White Tank Mountain Regional Park: West Valley Icon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Chandler to Buckeye, neat rows of beige roofs and asphalt streets turn to cracked desert dirt, a checkerboard of farm plots and residential communities, and the White Tank Mountains. Thousands of acres of rocky peaks rise steeply to up to 4,000 feet. They’re an icon in the westernmost part of the Valley, about 30 miles from central Phoenix.

Nearly 30,000 acres makes this the largest regional park in Maricopa County. Most of the park is made up of the rugged and beautiful White Tank Mountains. The range, deeply serrated with ridges and canyons, rises sharply from its base to peak at over 4,000 feet.

Infrequent heavy rains cause flash floodwaters to plunge through the canyons and pour onto the plain. These torrential flows, pouring down chutes and dropping off ledges, have scoured out a series of depressions, or tanks, in the white granite rock below, thus giving the mountains their name.

In 1863, when gold was discovered in central Arizona, one of the first roads heading north into that region passed by the eastern side of the mountain range. This road stretched from the Gila River into the new towns of Wickenburg and Prescott.

The road followed an old trail that took advantage of an important source of water in the middle of the desert. In the northeast portion of the White Tank Mountains was a natural basin or tank that held water year round. Named the “White Tank” for the white granite cliffs surrounding it, this large watering hole appears on maps and in journals as an important watering place from 1863 and 1895.

White Tank Mountain Regional Park: West Valley Icon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
White Tank Mountain Regional Park: West Valley Icon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The White Tank was the only water for 20 to 30 miles during those first few years of Arizona Territory history and gives the mountains their name.

The White Tank cannot be seen today as it was destroyed sometime between 1898 and 1902. Heavy rains caused the collapse of the cliff above the tank, filling it in. The exact location of the tank is now a mystery.

White Tank Mountain Regional Park offers approximately 25 miles of excellent shared-use trails, ranging in length from 0.9 mile to 7.9 miles, and difficulty from easy to strenuous. Overnight backpacking, with a permit, is allowed in established backcountry campsites. Day hikes can provide some breathtaking views of the mountains and panoramas of the Valley below. Horseback and mountain bike riders are welcome, although caution is stressed as some of the trails may be extremely difficult.

One of the most popular trails in the park is the Waterfall Canyon Trail which leads to a dark pool in a narrow box canyon. Right after a good rain there really is a waterfall. This trail also houses the “Petroglyph Plaza,” some of the finest petroglyphs in the park.

In addition, there are 2.5 miles of pedestrian-only trails. These include two short trails that are hard-surfaced and barrier free. Waterfall Trail is barrier-free for 1/2 of a mile. The handicap accessible portion now ends about 1/10 of a mile past Petroglyph Plaza. The short loop of Black Rock Trail, which is about 1/2 mile long, begins at Ramada 4.

All trails are multi-use unless otherwise designated. All trail users are encouraged to practice proper trail etiquette.

White Tank Mountain Regional Park: West Valley Icon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
White Tank Mountain Regional Park: West Valley Icon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Tank Mountain Regional Park offers 40 individual sites for tent or RV camping. All sites are developed with a water hook-up and 30/50-amp electrical service, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, a fire ring, and nearby dump station. Most sites are relatively level and will accommodate big rigs. All restrooms offer flush toilets and showers. All sites in the campground may be reserved online.

Details

White Tank Mountain Regional Park

Address: 20304 W. White Tank Mountain Road, PO Box 91, Waddell, AZ 85355

Directions: When traveling south on Loop 303, exit at Peoria Avenue, west (right) to Cotton Lane, south (left) to Olive Avenue, and west (right) 4 miles to the park gate; when traveling north on Loop 303, exit at Northern Ave., west (left) to Cotton Lane, north (right) to Olive Avenue, and west (left) 4 miles to the park gate (Note: There is NO off ramp on Loop 303 for Olive Avenue)

Phone: (623) 935-2505

Website: www.maricopacountyparks.org

Entry Fee: $6/vehicle

Camping Fee: $30

Camping Reservation Fee: $8

White Tank Mountain Regional Park: West Valley Icon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
White Tank Mountain Regional Park: West Valley Icon © 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

Read More

Best Kept Secret in World of RVing: Maricopa County Parks

One of the best kept secrets in the World of RVing are county park campgrounds.

Cave Creek Regional Park  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

County parks are often relatively small and off the beaten path. But if you’re looking for a quiet place to relax, do some bird watching, photography, hike a near-by trail, or do some great sightseeing, it might be well worth seeking out some of these neat spots.

A county park system worth checking out is Maricopa County Regional Parks in Arizona. The parks circle the Phoenix metropolitan area and are within a 45-minute drive from central Phoenix.

We discovered these county parks almost 30 years ago when camping at Usery Mountain Regional Park in Mesa while on a working travel sabbatical.

As well as returning to Usery Mountain several times, we have camped at or explored six additional regional parks—Buckeye Hills, Cave Creek, Estrella Mountain, Lake Pleasant, San Tan Mountain, and White Tank Mountain.

With 10 regional parks totaling more than 120,000 acres, Maricopa County Regional Parks feature the nation’s largest county park system. More than 2.1 million visitors annually enjoy affordable outdoor recreation activities available in this diverse park system .

Lake Pleasant Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Lake Pleasant Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Maricopa County Regional Parks began in 1954 to preserve the mountain areas for future generations to enjoy. A federal act in the 1970s called the Recreation and Public Purposes Act allowed Maricopa County to acquire thousands of acres of parkland from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) at $2.50 an acre. A combination of leased and purchased land has allowed this department to develop a regional park system that preserves open space and provides the residents of Maricopa County with an opportunity to enjoy “Natural Arizona.”

Each county park has its own unique characteristics offering recreation to Valley residents and visitors alike. Some parks offer boating, picnicking, golf, archery and shooting ranges. Others have camping and recreational vehicle camping facilities. Most offer hiking, picnicking, and mountain biking.

So many local attractions and the great variety of outdoor recreation are sure to keep you coming back over and over.

The positive surroundings and the competently maintained facilities attract people from near and far including numerous snowbirds that have discovered this central Arizona gem.

Details

Maricopa County Regional Parks

Phone: (602) 506-2930

Website: www.maricopa.gov/parks

San Tan Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
San Tan Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Adobe Dam Regional Park

Location: 23280 N. 43rd Avenue, Glendale, AZ 85310

Phone: (602) 506-2930

Buckeye Hills Regional Park

Location: 26700 West Buckeye Hills Drive, Buckeye, AZ 85326

Phone: (623) 932-3811

Cave Creek Regional Park

Location: 37019 N. Lava Lane, Cave Creek, AZ 85331

Phone: (623) 465-0431

Estrella Mountain Regional Park

Location: 14805 West Vineyard Avenue, Goodyear, AZ 85338

Phone: (623) 932-3811

Lake Pleasant Regional Park

Location: 41835 N. Castle Hot Springs Rd., Morristown, AZ 85342

Phone: (928) 501-1710

McDowell Mountain Regional Park

Location: 16300 McDowell Mountain Park Dr., Fountain Hills, Arizona 85255

Phone: (480) 471-0173

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Tan Mountain Regional Park

Location: 6533 West Phillips Road, Queen Creek Arizona 85242

Phone: (480) 655-5554

Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area

Location: 44000 N. Spur Cross Road, Cave Creek, AZ 85331

Phone: (480) 488-6601

Usery Mountain Regional Park

Location: 3939 N. Usery Pass Road, Mesa, AZ 85207

Phone: (480) 984-0032

White Tank Mountain Regional Park

Location: 13025 N. White Tank Mountain Road, Waddell, AZ 85355

Phone: (623) 935-2505

Worth Pondering…
The vast emptiness and overpowering silence of the desert and surrounding mountains sharpens your senses, enhancing self-contemplation, and stimulating creativity.

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

Read More