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

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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.

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National Trails Day: Let’s Take a Hike

In 1993 the American Hiking Society sponsored the first National Trails Day hike.

Hiking around Swan Lake in Sumter, South Carolina. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Hiking around Swan Lake Iris Gardens in Sumter, South Carolina. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over the next 20 years the event has grew to more than 2,000 events ranging from guided hikes to paddling excursions and similar outdoor adventures.

American Hiking Society’s National Trails Day is the country’s largest celebration of trails.

This year’s 22nd annual celebration will be held on Saturday, June 7. Mark your calendar to prepare for this year’s big celebration.

National Trails Day events include hikes, biking and horseback rides, paddling trips, birdwatching, geocaching, gear demonstrations, stewardship projects, and more.

Many national parks, state parks, county parks, USDA Forest Service, National Wildlife Refuges, BLM, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, US Fish & Wildlife Service, outdoor learning centers, land trusts, and state trails associations have scheduled special events to mark this special day.

To find an event near you, click here.

In a single day in 2013 on National Trails Day…

2,255 activities took place in all 50 states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico, engaging more than 134,000 people on trails.

24,300 trail volunteers participated in 528 projects and maintained 2,084 miles of trail, resulting in $2.4 million of sweat equity.

69,000 hikers attended 1,132 hikes and covered a cumulative distance of 313,000 miles.

11,000 bikers attended 140 bike rides and covered a cumulative distance of 172,000 miles.

Hiking the trails at Blanco State Park in the Texas Hill Country. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Hiking the trails at Blanco State Park in the Texas Hill Country. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6,400 paddlers attended 57 paddling trips and covered a cumulative distance of 38,000 miles.

1,400 equestrians attended 35 horseback riding trips and covered a cumulative distance of 16,000 miles.

Why Celebrate Trails

America’s 200,000 miles of trails allow us access to the natural world for recreation, education, exploration, solitude, inspiration, and much more. Trails give us a means to support good physical and mental health; they provide us with a chance to breathe fresh air, get our hearts pumping, and escape from our stresses. All it takes is a willingness to use them.

National Trails Day also aims to highlight the important work thousands of volunteers do each year to take care of America’s trails. Trails do not just magically appear for our enjoyment; their construction and maintenance takes hours of dedicated planning and labor. So give thanks to your local volunteers and consider taking a day to give back to your favorite trail.

National Trails Day evolved during the late ‘80s and ‘90s from a popular ethos among trail advocates, outdoor industry leaders, and political bodies who wanted to unlock the vast potential in America’s National Trails System, transforming it from a collection of local paths into a true network of interconnected trails and vested trail organizations. This collective mindset hatched the idea of a singular day where the greater trail community could band together behind the National Trails Day moniker to show their pride and dedication to the National Trails System.

Details

National Trails Day

American Hiking Society’s National Trails Day is a nationally recognized trail awareness program that occurs annually on the first Saturday of June and inspires the public to discover, learn about, and celebrate trails while participating in outdoor activities, clinics, and trail stewardship projects.

Hiking the trails at Guadalupe River State Park, Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Hiking the trails at Guadalupe River State Park, Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Individuals, clubs, and organizations from around the country host National Trails Day events to share their love of trails with friends, family, and their communities.

National Trails Day introduces thousands of Americans to a wide array of trail activities: hiking, biking, paddling, horseback riding, trail running, and bird watching and more.

National Trails Day is a registered trademark of American Hiking Society.

To find an event near you, click here.

American Hiking Society

As the national voice for America’s hikers, American Hiking Society promotes and protects foot trails, their surrounding natural areas, and the hiking experience.

Address: 1422 Fenwick Lane, Silver Spring, MD 20910

Phone: (301) 565-6704

Website: www.americanhiking.org

Worth Pondering…

In every walk with nature, one receives more than he seeks.

—John Muir

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Best Kept Secret in Camping: Maricopa County Parks & BOGO

One of the best kept secrets in the World of RVing is campgrounds located in county parks!

A delightful end to another day in paradise at Usery Mountain Regional Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But where are they, and how do you find them? Sometimes they’re located in Woodall’s and Trailer Life Campground Directory. Often times they’re not.

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, 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 all are within a 45-minute drive from central Phoenix. And unlike Arizona State Parks, no Maricopa County park has been closed or has suffered cutback in services.

With 10 regional parks totaling more than 120,000 acres, Maricopa County Regional Parks feature the nation’s largest county park system. So many local attractions and the great variety of outdoor recreation are sure to keep you coming back over and over.

The park system 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.

Enjoy the beauty of sunrises and sunsets at Cave Creek Regional Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 and visiting snowbirds with an opportunity to enjoy “Natural Arizona.”

Please note: Not all parks have developed camping facilities.

All trails within the Maricopa County Park System are for non-motorized use only.

BOGO

Cooler weather brings great opportunities for those campers and RVers who enjoy the outdoors.

Maricopa County Parks and Recreation Department is offering free camping. Park visitors who pay the camping fee for one night at a desert mountain county park will receive the next night of equal or lesser value for free.

The offer is good at Usery Mountain Regional Park, Cave Creek Regional Park, Estrella Mountain Regional Park, McDowell Mountain Regional Park, and White Tank Mountain Regional Park.

The buy-one-get-one (BOGO) promotion applies to camping stays between October 1 and November 11.

To receive the free night, contact the Parks call center (see below). Reservations booked online or before July 1 are not eligible.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park is a scenic water recreation area in the northwest Valley. The breathtaking views offer visitors a great place to relax, whether it is from a boat or shoreline picnic or camping site. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Details

Maricopa County Regional Parks

Phone: (602) 506-2930

Website: maricopa.gov/parks

Cave Creek Regional Park

Cave Creek offers 38 developed camping sites suitable for RVs of all sizes, with water and electric hook-ups. Group camping available.

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

Phone: (623) 465-0431

Website: maricopa.gov/parks/cave_creek

Estrella Mountain Regional Park

Estrella Mountain offers seven developed camping sites suitable for RVs of all sizes, with water and electrical hook-ups. Group camping available.

Location: 14805 West Vineyard Avenue, Goodyear, AZ 85338

Phone: (623) 932-3811

Website: maricopa.gov/parks/estrella

McDowell Mountain Regional Park

McDowell Mountain offers 76 developed camping sites suitable for RVs of all sizes, with water and electrical hook-ups. Group camping available.

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

Phone: (480) 471-0173

Website: maricopa.gov/parks/mcdowell

Usery Mountain Regional Park

Usery Mountain offers 73 developed camping sites suitable for RVs of all sizes, with water and electrical hook-ups. Group camping available.

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

Phone: (480) 984-0032

Website: maricopa.gov/parks/usery

White Tank Mountain Regional Park

White Tank Mountain offers 40 semi-developed sites with no water/electrical hook-ups. Group camping available.

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

Phone: (623) 935-2505

Website: maricopa.gov/parks/white_tank

Worth Pondering… 

Your future depends on many things, but mostly on you.

—Frank Tyger

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Park and Recreation Accreditation Reaches 100

More than 100 park and recreation agencies across the United States are now accredited through the Commission for the Accreditation of Parks and Recreation Agencies (CAPRA), the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) announced in a Friday (December 9) news release.

CAPRA accreditation is a mark of distinction and indicates that an agency has met rigorous standards related to management and administration of lands, facilities, resources, programs, safety, and services.

“Accreditation proves you are one of the best—that your agency seeks to excel and you are working in accordance with approved professional practices,” says Tara Fitzpatrick-Navarro, vice president of membership and professional development at NRPA. “With more than 100 agencies accredited, we are encouraged by the fact that agencies recognize the essential necessity and the inherent benefit accreditation brings not only to the agency itself but to the community served by parks and recreation.”

To achieve CAPRA accreditation, park and recreation agencies must demonstrate compliance with 144 recognized standards and, as part of the accreditation process, document all policies and procedures. Often the process helps identify efficiencies and heighten areas of accountability, all of which translate into higher quality service and operation.

Hawk demonstration at the Arizona Desert Museum in Tucson, Arizona. The City of Tucson Parks and Recreation Department is an accredited agency. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The process for accreditation involves self-assessments, a formal application, a site visit by a team of trained visitors that results in a written report, and a semi-annual meeting of the commission to grant accreditation. Once accredited, the agency must uphold the standards and is reviewed again in five years.

Accreditation is available to all entities administering park and recreation systems, including municipalities, townships, counties, special districts, regional authorities, councils of government, schools, and military installations.

Details

National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA)

The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) is a national not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing park, recreation, and conservation efforts that enhance quality of life for all people. Through its network of 20,000 recreation and park professionals and citizens, NRPA encourages the promotion of healthy lifestyles, recreation initiatives, and conservation of natural and cultural resources.

Address: 22377 Belmont Ridge Road, Ashburn, VA 20148-4501

Phone: (800) 626-NRPA (6772)

Website: nrpa.org

Commission for the Accreditation of Parks and Recreation Agencies (CAPRA)

Great White Egret stalking its prey at Corkscrew Sanctuary near Naples, Florida. Collier County Parks and Recreation Department is an accredited agency. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies (CAPRA) recognizes park and recreation agencies for excellence in operation and service. CAPRA accredits departments and agencies that provide park and recreation programs and services.

Agency accreditation is available to all entities administering park and recreation systems, including municipalities, townships, counties, special districts and regional authorities, councils of government, schools, and military installations.

Website: nrpa.org/CAPRA

CAPRA Accredited Agencies

There are currently 104 accredited park and recreation agencies in the United States.

To access the complete list of accredited agencies, click here.

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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Tips for Choosing RV Parks/Campgrounds

Choices for RV parks and campgrounds include luxurious RV resorts, activity-filled family destinations, 55+ parks, secluded natural settings, and basic parks conveniently located for an overnight stay. Prices also run the gamut.

Campsite at Devil’s Garden Campground in Arches National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is a variety of campgrounds, each offering different amenities and activities. These include private RV parks; casino camping; membership parks; national, state, and county park campgrounds; Army Corps of Engineers parks; national and state forest campgrounds; and service club facilities.

Consider Your Needs

What are the best tips for choosing a campground and campsite that you and your family will love?

Nothing can make or break your RV trip like choosing a campground not suited to your family’s needs and interests. When selecting a park, think about your camping style and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you camping with a young family?
  • Are you an active couple looking for outdoor adventures?
  • Are you snowbirds who enjoy on-site activities and the opportunity to meet new friends?
  • How large is your RV?
  • What amenities do you require? Full hook-ups? 30- or 50-amp electric service?
  • Are you looking for a rural or urban setting?
  • What is your nightly/weekly/monthly camping budget?
  • Do you travel with pets?

Locating and Researching Campgrounds

Bay Colony RV Resort, Dickinson, Texas (located between Houston and Galveston). © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The photos on the RV park website and brochure look amazing. Too bad they didn’t show the busy railroad tracks 50 feet away, the biker club next door, or the “shopping plaza under construction” sign.

Whether you plan to stay one night, a weekend, a week, or longer, there are campgrounds throughout the U.S. and Canada to meet your needs. All are unique. No two parks are the same. Each campground will provide something a little different.

There are numerous ways to locate and research campgrounds. A good place to begin is a campground directory such as Woodall’s or Trailer Life Directory.

Ratings help you select the appropriate park for your particular needs and interests. Keep in mind that the final ratings are a composite of several different areas of interest.

Woodall’s assigns two ratings to each privately owned campground/RV park. One rating is assigned to the facilities at the park—sites, roads, service buildings, restrooms, and hookups. A separate recreation rating is also assigned. Both facilities and recreation ratings range from 1 W to 5 W with 5 W being the best.

Trailer Life Directory uses a triple-rating system—completeness of facilities, cleanliness and physical characteristics of restrooms and showers, and visual appearance and environmental quality. All three ratings are on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best. Less than one percent of parks or campgrounds receive a rating of 10. Campgrounds with a 10/10/10 rating have more facilities, are better maintained, and are more visually appealing than 5/5/5-rated campgrounds.

Camping at Catalina State Park, near Tucson, Arizona.© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Contact the Campground

Contact the campground and ask specific questions about their policies and their park. Questions to ask include:

  • Rental rates (nightly, weekly, monthly per your needs) including taxes? Any discounts available?
  • Availability of Wi-Fi and cable TV?
  • What is included in the above rate—full hook-ups, 20-30-50-amp electric service, Wi-Fi, cable TV?
  • What are the park’s amenities—club house/activity room, pool, spa, rest room and shower facilities, laundry?
  • Is the park big-rig friendly? Length and width of sites?
  • Are sites relatively level?
  • Do the sites have concrete pads, grass, gravel, or dirt?
  • Will I have difficulty obtaining a satellite TV signal?
  • What is your pet policy? Restrictions on certain dogs breeds?
  • What is your reservation policy? Is a credit card required to hold a site? If so, is it processed immediately?
  • What is your cancellation policy?
  • What are your office hours? Check-in procedure for late arrivals?
  • Make note of the name of the person you talked to.

Note: This is the first of a two-part series on Selecting an RV Park/Campground

Part 2: Selecting a Campground/Campsite Checklist

Worth Pondering…

But do not ask me where I am heading,

As I travel in this limitless world

Where every step I take is my home.

—Eihei Dogen

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‘Tis the season for Christmas lights

‘Tis the season for Christmas light displays. Below is a selected list of ten of the best places in the U.S. Sunbelt to see Christmas lights and other seasonal displays. No guarantee, but they’re all worth a look—and don’t forget to pack your digital camera and tripod.

RV to the Holiday Festival of Lights, James Island County Park, Charleston, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama
Theodore
Bellingrath Gardens

Magic Christmas in Lights
Dates: November 26-December 31, 2010; closed December 25
General information: Stroll through 3 million sparkling lights and over 928 displays throughout the 65-acre Garden estate. The Bellingrath Home is decorated in its holiday finery and poinsettias encompass the Gardens. Nightly choral performances held on the South Terrace.
Admission: Magic Christmas in Lights Only $12.00; Magic Christmas in Lights and Bellingrath Home Tour $20.00; tickets available for purchase online
Directions: Located 20 miles southwest of Mobile; from Interstate 10, take exit 15A (Hwy 90 West/Theodore exit). Travel approximately 2 miles and turn left at the Bellingrath billboard onto Bellingrath Road; 6 miles south on Bellingrath Road and turn left into Bellingrath Gardens.

Arizona
Sedona

Red Rock Fantasy XX
Dates: November 18, 2010-January 1, 2011; Friday and Saturday, 5:00-10:00 p.m.; Sunday-Thursday, 5:00-9:00 p.m.
Admission: $5, seniors $4
Directions: Located Los Abrigados Resort & Spa, 160 N. Portal Lane, Sedona

California
Newport Beach

102nd Annual Christmas Boat Parade

Multi-million dollar yachts, kayaks, canoes, and other small boats light up the Newport Beach harbor as a dazzling array of holiday lights and music fill the air. Photo courtesy Christmas Boat Parade

Dates: December 15-19, 2010
General information: Multi-million dollar yachts, kayaks, canoes, and other small boats light up the harbor as a dazzling array of holiday lights and music fill the air. The Christmas floats wind their way some 14 miles around the harbor to give viewers in restaurants, yacht clubs, on public beaches, and in private homes an incredible sight that has delighted millions of people for a century. The Christmas Boat Parade has been hailed as “one of the top ten holiday happenings in the nation” by the New York Times.
Admission: Free
Directions: 2010 parade route; starts off Bay Island at 6:30 p.m. and ends at the same site at approximately 9:00 p.m.

Palm Desert
The Living Desert

WildLights Holiday Lights Festival

Dates: December 17-23, 2010; December 26, 2010-January12, 2011, 6:00-9:00 p.m.
General information: A festive light display featuring more than 750,000 twinkling lights that turns the desert into a holiday winter wonderland. Special visits from Santa Claus, live music, wood-burning fireplaces, hot apple cider, hot chocolate, s’mores and more!
Directions: Located at 47900 Portola Avenue, Palm Desert
Admission: $8.00; Living Desert members, $6.25; children $5.75

Florida
Melbourne

10th Annual Space Coast Lightfest

Dates: November 23-December 31, 2010; 6:00-9:30 p.m.
General information: A holiday themed drive-through event at Wickham Park featuring shimmering lights and dazzling animated displays.
Directions: Located at Wickham Park, 2500 Parkway Drive, Melbourne
Admission: $10/car

Georgia
Pine Mountain

Callaway Gardens

19th annual Fantasy in Lights

No gift you receive this year will be more valuable than time spent with family. Build memories as you experience together the magnificent splendor of Fantasy In Lights. Photo courtesy Callaway Gardens

Dates: November 19-December 30, 2010 starting 6 p.m.
General information: Nestled amidst wooded landscape of Callaway Gardens, Fantasy in Lights is the Southeast’s most spectacular holiday light and sound show with more than eight million twinkling lights. This spectacular show has attracted almost two million visitors since it opened in 1992.
Directions: Located in Pine Mountain, 60 minutes southwest of Atlanta and 30 minutes north of Columbus
Admission: Rates vary with date selected and range from $16.00 to $25.00; advance sales offer a discount over same-day purchases

South Carolina
Charleston

James Island County Park

21st Annual Holiday Festival of Lights

Dates: November 25-December 23, 2010
General information: A 3-mile driving tour through millions of sparkling lights and hundreds of light displays at James Island County Park.

Directions: Located at James Island County Park on Riverland Drive in Charleston
Admission: $10/car

To be continued tomorrow…

If you have visited any of the above Christmas light displays or others not listed, please leave your comments below. Your insights may help others have a fantastic holiday experience.

Worth Pondering…
Life is a succession of moments. To live each one is to succeed.

—Conita Kent

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Snowbird destinations: Florida, Part 3

Florida, Minus the Mouse

Yes, Central Florida is a family vacation paradise, home of endless theme parks, and countless cute costumed characters.

But what to do when you’ve overdosed on “cuteness,” when you just can’t stomach another roller coaster ride, when the idea of one more amusement park fast food snack seems just too much to take?

Well, you head for the beaches—of course!

The Beachy Florida

The white sands of the beaches along the Florida Panhandle. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beaches account for over 1,300 miles of Florida coastline, with two distinct waterfronts—the Atlantic Ocean on the east coast and the Gulf of Mexico on the west coast.

The Sunshine State’s world-famous beaches are second-to-none. Seldom do you see a “Best Beaches” list that doesn’t include at least two or more from Florida.

As “Dr. Beach”, coastal expert Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, Director of Florida International University’s Laboratory for Coastal Research, has selected the annual Top 10 Beaches since 1991. Fifty criteria are used to evaluate beaches, which include water and sand quality as well as safety and environmental management. An internationally known coastal scientist, Dr. Leatherman has published 16 books and hundreds of scientific articles about storm impacts, erosion, and ways to improve beach health and safety.

In his 20th annual (2010) Top 10 Beaches list Dr. Beach selected Siesta Beach on Siesta Key at Sarasota and number 2 and Cape Florida State Park (also known as Bill Baggs Cape) in Key Biscayne number 10. On Sierra Beach, he wrote, “With some of the finest, whitest sand in the world, this beach attracts sand collectors from all over. Siesta Beach has clear, warm waters that serve for ideal swimming.  The beach is hundreds of yards wide in the shape of a crescent, due to anchoring of onshore rocks to the north and a unique underwater formation of coral rock and caves, providing for great snorkeling and scuba diving.  This beach is great for volleyball and other types of recreational fitness.”

Along the Gulf Coast on Amelia Island. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located at the south tip of Key Biscayne, Cape Florida State Park “provides clear, emerald-colored waters and gentle surf.  This fine, white coral sand beach is great for swimming, as waves are knocked down by a large sand shoal offshore.  In addition, the Cape Florida Lighthouse allows for a breath-taking view of this beautiful beach.”

Past national winners from Florida include:

2008: Caladesi Island State Park, Dunedin/Clearwater

2005: Fort DeSoto Park, North Beach, St Petersburg

2002: St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, Port St. Joe

1995: St. Andrews State Recreation Area, Panama City

Enjoy life in the slow lane at Long Point County Park along Florida's Atlantic Coast. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1994: Grayton Beach State Recreation Area http://www.floridastateparks.org/graytonbeach/default.cfm ,Santa Rosa Beach

1992: Bahia Honda State Recreation Area, Big Pine Key

The Everglades

Everglades National Park was established in 1947 and encompasses more than 1.5 million acres on the southern tip of Florida, south and west of Miami. The park headquarters are about 10 miles southwest of Florida City and Homestead. It has three major access points—one near Miami on the East Coast, another near Naples on the West Coast, and one in between at Shark Valley.

Everglades is the largest national park east of the Rocky Mountains. Freshwater and saltwater merge together producing the vast biological difference that makes the area so unique.

The largest subtropical wilderness in the United States, the Everglades has been designated a World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve, and Wetland of International Importance.

Here, you’ll see mangrove trees, sawgrass prairies, alligators, and a multitude of birds.

One of the first things you’ll notice when you arrive in the Everglades is the wide expanse of sawgrass prairie. An apt name for this prevalent type of vegetation: rubbing against one of its serrated stalks feels like you’ve dragged a handsaw across your flesh.

In 1947, Marjory Stoneman Douglas called this part of the Everglades a “River of Grass”. Before Florida was so developed, this “river” ran 120 miles from Lake Okeechobee south to the Gulf of Mexico, spanning 50 miles across but less than one foot deep.

For wildlife lovers, the numbers are staggering: More than 400 species of birds have been identified in the park, as well as 25 species of mammals, 60 species of amphibians and reptiles, and 125 species of fish. Among rare or endangered animals are the American crocodile, Florida panther, and West Indian manatee.

The park can be explored by airboat, regular boats, tram tours, and canoe or kayak. Everglades National Park has 156 miles of canoe, kayak, and walking trails.

In what passes for winter in South Florida, sunny days in the mid-to high 70s are common. In the hot, humid summer, the shallow swamps fill with mosquitoes. There are only two seasons here—hot and hotter. Some people call it “mosquito and fewer mosquitoes”.
The eastern access charges entry fees and provides the greatest range of activities—camping, biking, hiking, and visitors centers. Shark Valley offers tram tours and bike rentals. At the western access, you’ll find airboat, swamp buggy, and boat tours of Ten Thousand Islands.

To be continued…

Worth Pondering…
The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.

—John Muir

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San Tan Mountain Regional Park, AZ

This is the final article in a 5-part series on Maricopa County Regional Parks.

San Tan Mountain Regional Park, one of ten Maricopa County Regional Parks, consists of 10,200 acres in the southeast Valley.

Located in the Southeast Valley (of the Sun), San Tan Mountain Regional Park is a hikers' delight. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located just south of the Maricopa/Pinal County line near the Town of Queen Creek, the San Tan Mountain Regional Park has been used for decades for various recreation activities such as hiking, equestrian riding, and wildlife photography. The park is rich with unique historical, cultural, and biological resources.

This oasis of natural beauty is characterized by dramatic cliffs and rugged hills, meandering washes, and rolling bajada; and ranges in elevation from about 1,400 feet to over 2,500 feet.

Goldmine Mountain dominates the northern section of the park, and a spectacular San Tan Mountain escarpment cuts across the southwestern corner.

The vegetation changes from creosote flats to dense saguaro forest. In places, chain-fruit cholla stands higher than your head. Elsewhere, clumps of teddy bear cholla glow in the sunlight, looking almost soft enough to pet. (But don’t try it.)

Since the park is relatively undeveloped, your chances of seeing wildlife are good. Along with a variety of birds and lizards, you may spot chipmunks, rabbits, coyotes, and a snake or two.

The newly developed San Tan Mountain Regional Park is a great place for a picnic. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This park is actually in Pinal County but is under the jurisdiction of Maricopa County Parks because Pinal County has not had the population to provide a tax base for park improvements. For many years this park area has had many horse trails, jeep roads, and unimproved trail routes.

The park lies just northeast of the large Gila Indian reservation. Much of the western area of the San Tan mountains is in the reservation and permission is required to hike in that area. However the actual park area has been set aside for future development.

Due to the two county involvement and the lack of funds (not surprising), delays in the planning and park work have slowed its development.

The history of the area is really the Gila Indians area before this was designated as a city park.

San Tan Mountain Regional Park has a Visitor’s Center. Here visitors can pick up information about the park, purchase souvenir items, visit with park staff, and see the wildlife exhibits or tortoise habitat.

Restroom facilities are available.

The park is slated for future development.

For San Tan Mountain Regional Park map, chick here.

Hiking
With about 45 miles of trail throughout the park, there are plenty of options, including trails that are less than three years old. The San Tan, Goldmine, and Moonlight trails opened in mid-2007; each is about 4 miles long. Winding south, the San Tan Trail offers a gentle walk as you travel gradually higher. After winding southwest past views of the San Tan Mountains, you’ll spot Camelback Mountain to the north and may catch a silhouette of downtown Phoenix.

Ample hiking trails amid the desert flora at San Tan Mountain. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another visitor favorite is the Malpais Hills Trail as it displays a unique perspective of Rock Peak and the Malpais Hills.

For a little more of a challenge, hike the Goldmine Trail along the lowest flanks of Goldmine Mountain. The up-and-down trail connects with Moonlight and San Tan trails after about 2.5 miles. From this point Moonlight Trail which takes you east about 1.2 miles to the trailhead for a 3.7-mile loop.

All trails are multi-use unless otherwise designated.

Always remember to carry plenty of water and let someone know where you are going.

For San Tan Mountain Regional Park trail map, click here.

Camping is prohibited. San Tan Mountain Regional Park is Day Use only.

Location and directions
6533 West Phillips Road, Queen Creek Arizona 85242

From Mesa travel south on Ellsworth Road, which eventually turns into the Hunt Highway going East. Take the Hunt Highway, turning right onto Thompson Road. From Thompson Road, turn left on Phillips Road and park in the designated parking area. The turn-offs to Thompson Road and Phillips Road are both signed for the San Tan Mountain Regional Park.

From Florence/Coolidge take Hunt Highway north, turning left onto Thompson Road From Thompson Road, turn left on Phillips Road and park in the designated parking area.

For map, click here.

Worth Pondering…
North America is laced with nooks and crannies, good places that go undiscovered by many mainstream travelers.

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Lake Pleasant Regional Park, AZ

Lake Pleasant Regional Park, one of ten Maricopa County Regional Parks, is a scenic water recreation area in the northwest Valley.

Spring wildflowers attract Snowbirds and local residents during March and April. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The breathtaking views offer visitors a great place to relax, whether it is from a boat or shoreline picnic or camping site.

Lake Pleasant is created by the Waddell Dam which obstructs the Agua Fria River creating a huge watershed and recreational area. The Central Arizona Project Aqueduct diverts water from the Colorado River to the lake.

The park offers numerous activities including camping, boating, fishing, swimming, hiking, picnicking, photography, and wildlife viewing.

Information is available at the Lake Pleasant Visitor Center about the Central Arizona Project, Waddell Dam, Lake Pleasant Park, the history of the area, and desert wildlife.

The Center also contains as a gift shop.

Step out onto the balcony surrounding the Visitor Center to get a beautiful view of Lake Pleasant and an up-close look at Waddell Dam.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park, within the area controlled by the Northeastern Yavapai during the historic period, was inhabited by Hohokam peoples during the prehistoric era. Five archeological sites were located during an archeological study of the Lake Pleasant area. Included in these five archeological sites were a stone workshop, a farmhouse, a defensive site, and two small villages. Undoubtedly many more sites were once present along the Agua Fria but have gone under the waters of Lake Pleasant. The five sites located during the study were occupied during the period A.D. 700 to 1450.

Wildflowers at Lake Pleasant Regional Park, April 2010. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Lake Pleasant Regional Park area, while historically part of the mining and range industries of Central Arizona, had no significant influence upon either. Prospectors met only with frustration. The few mines that did exist in the Lake Pleasant area were short-term projects.

There was no lack of prospectors who roamed the area in hopes of finding their bonanzas. Mollie Sawyer Monroe and Jacob Snively were among the more colorful.

Mollie Monroe, an eccentric female prospector during the 1860s and early 1870s, was a co-discoverer, along with her common-law husband George Monroe and others, of Castle Hot Springs. In 1877 Mollie was sent to Stockton, California, where Arizona’s mental patients were kept, after being declared insane. She died in 1902 at the State Hospital in Phoenix.

Jacob Snively, a man of unbounded energy as a prospector in California and Arizona, was notorious for his leading part in the Texas Revolution. He prospected the area about the same time as Mollie Monroe. Snively was killed by Big Rump (Wa-poo-i-ta), an Apache chieftain, in 1871 near the White Picacho, a prominent landmark about 18 miles northwest of the Park.

Hiking
Lake Pleasant Regional Park offers three trails for hiking use only.

Let's Go RVing to Lake Pleasant Regional Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Roadrunner Trail is a scenic 0.8 mile (1.3km) trail which overlooks Lake Pleasant and links the Visitor Center with picnic areas A, B, and the 10-lane boat ramp. There are a number of smaller trails that lead to the lake from Roadrunner Trail. Access to Roadrunner Trail is from the northeast corner of the Visitor Center parking lot.

The Pipeline Canyon Trail, the main hiking trail at the park is 2 miles (3.2km) in length. A floating bridge has been installed to connect the two sections of the trail during high water levels.

The Visitor Center Trail is a 1.5 mile (2.4km) trail which connects the Roadrunner Campground to the Visitor Center. This trail has interconnecting loops and some interpretive signage which makes it an ideal hike for visitors to stroll about, while enjoying the desert. Access to the Visitor Center Trail is from the northwest corner of the Visitor Center parking lot.

Always remember to carry plenty of water and let someone know where you are going.

Boating
Lake Pleasant Regional Park offers two boat launching ramps: 4-lane and 10-lane. Both ramps have restroom facilities, paved parking lots, and are functional to a water elevation of 1,600 feet. The 10-lane parking area allows for 480 vehicles, 355 vehicles with trailers, and 124 cars. The 4-lane ramp is located at the north end of the lake and the parking area allows for 112 vehicles with boat trailers.

Camping
Lake Pleasant Regional Park offers 148 sites for RV and tent camping.

Lake Pleasant offers 72 developed camping sites suitable for RVs of all sizes, with water and electrical hook-ups at Roadrunner Campground and another 25 at Desert Tortoise Campground; and 41 semi-developed sites at Desert Tortoise Campground

Hedgehog cactus in bloom at Lake Pleasant, a Maricopa County Regional Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each developed site has water, electricity, covered ramada, picnic table, barbecue grill, and fire ring. Each semi-developed site and tent site has a covered ramada, picnic table, barbecue grill, and fire ring.

Other facilities include modern washrooms with flush toilets and hot showers, and a dump station. All sites are first-come, first served. In the event that the campground is full when you arrive, the park has an overflow area where you can park until a space becomes available.

For a map of Desert Tortoise Campground, click here.

For a map of Roadrunner Campground, click here.

Nightly camping fee for developed sites is currently $25.00 including tax, for semi-developed sites $17, and primitive $10.

Day use fee is $6.00.

Location and directions
41835 N. Castle Hot Springs Rd., Morristown, AZ 85342
Located on the northern edge of Peoria and about 45 minutes from downtown Phoenix, the park has several entrances. To get to the main area, take I-17 north to Carefree Highway (SR 74). Exit Carefree Highway and travel west 15 miles to Castle Hot Spring Road, and north 2 miles to Lake Pleasant Regional Park entrance.
For map, click here.

Please note

Maricopa County parks will be unveiling a new reservation system this winter. Campers have been asking for a system that would allow them to reserve a campsite prior to arriving at the park.

Free camping
Maricopa County Parks and Recreation Department is offering free camping at most county park campgrounds until Wednesday, November 10, 2010. This free camping program is NOT being offered at Lake Pleasant.

Worth Pondering…
I am part of all that I have met
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro
Gleams that untravell’d world, whose margin fades
Forever and forever when I move.
—Alfred Lord Tennyson

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