RV Camping with the Rock Art Petroglyphs in Gila Bend, AZ

For years we’ve driven back and forth between San Diego and Phoenix on I-8, zipping by the exit for Painted Rock Petroglyph Site. I’d always look out the window thinking wistfully, “Oooh, that must be so interesting!” but it is a ways off the interstate and we were always on a mission to get wherever we were going and didn’t have time to stop.

Painted Rock Petroglyphs Gila Bend Arizona

Sunset at Painted Rock Petroglyph Site near Gila Bend in Arizona

On a recent trip we decided to make Painted Rock Petroglyph Site our destination, and we scooted off the freeway onto a paved side road that wandered off into the desert.

Painted Rock Petroglyphs Gila Bend Arizona

Petroglyphs cover all the rocks and boulders at this site.

In a few short miles we arrived at the site and were delighted with what we found.

Painted Rock Petroglyphs Gila Bend Arizona

Some images are recognizable like the double parallel squiggly lines that probably indicate there’s water nearby.

The sun was setting and it cast a wonderful pink glow across the desert and the pile of rocks that is the centerpiece of the site.

Painted Rock Petroglyphs Gila Bend AZ

Sunset on a sun rock!

Following a trail around the rock pile, we found that petroglyphs literally covered almost every boulder, rock and small stone.

Unlike so many petroglyph sites where the rock art is located high up on a wall or far across a canyon, these petroglyphs were right there in plain site at our feet.

Painted Rock Petroglyphs Gila Bend Arizona

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On one side of the huge rock pile there’s a dry camping campground with lovely widely spaced sites. A few of the campsites are right alongside the trail where campers can have a view of petroglyph covered rocks right from the RV window!

The next day we wandered further and were amazed at the wide variety of patterns, designs and images we saw on these petroglyph adorned rocks.

Patterns Painted Rock Petroglyphs Gila Bend Arizona

A saguaro cactus stands watch over some petroglyphs.

Some of the designs were easy to decipher, like parallel squiggly lines that surely describe the water sources that can be found nearby in the Gila River.

Painted Rock Petroglyphs Gila Bend Arizona

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Others were just crazy designs that seem indecipherable.

Painted Rock Petroglyphs Gila Bend Arizona

Crazy patterns!

Almost every face of every rock had at least one design on it.

Pattern Painted Rock Petroglyphs Gila Bend Arizona

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There were also lizards with tails — very similar to the little guys we saw scurrying between the rocks — and some images of people too.

Bullseye Painted Rock Petroglyphs Gila Bend Arizona

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Bullseye Painted Rock Petroglyphs Gila Bend Arizona

A lizard and a bullseye.

It was also intriguing that there were quite a few bullseye types of designs. Some were concentric rings.

Man and Bullseye Painted Rock Petroglyphs Gila Bend Arizona

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Bullseyes and animals Painted Rock Petroglyphs Gila Bend Arizona

Concentric circles form two bullseyes.

And some were spirals. Was this accidental or did the two styles of circular designs have different meanings? Or were these things just random doodles after all?

Spiral Painted Rock Petroglyphs Gila Bend Arizona

A spiral pattern.

It is thought that these petroglyphs were pecked out of these rocks by the Hohokam people who lived in this area between 350 AD and 1400 AD, the same time frame spanning the Mayans in Central America and the ancient Khmer in Cambodia and Thailand.

There are ancient dwellings and rock art sites all over the southwest and they are impossible to protect from roaming vandals. Sometimes they bear scars from bullets or spray paint and sometimes an over eager collector has cut the entire face of the rock off to take elsewhere.

Navajo pattern Painted Rock Petroglyphs Gila Bend Arizona

A cool and complex pattern defaced with bullet marks.

Stealing defacing petroglyphs Painted Rock Petroglyphs Gila Bend Arizona

Someone chiseled the whole surface of the rock off to take elsewhere.

But there are still thousands of pristine images carved on rocks all over this area that have survived as much as 1,000 years or more in the hot desert sun. Staring at them stirred my imagination as I pondered what motivated the ancient people to leave this legacy of art work strewn across the massive expanse of barren and inhospitable landscapes that makes up this part of the Sonoran desert.

If you find yourself traveling on I-8 with your RV about 18 miles west of Gila Bend, Arizona, take a detour off the highway and check out the Painted Rock Petroglyph Site!

More links below.

RV camping boondocking Arizona

Painted Rock Petroglyph Site is a little gem for RVers about 90 miles southwest of Phoenix, Arizona!

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Peach Faced Lovebirds in Phoenix, AZ – Parrots in Cactus!

If you are walking down the city streets of Scottsdale or Mesa in the greater Phoenix, Arizona, area, you are bound to hear the squeaks of little green peach faced lovebirds as they fly between the trees and cactuses.

Peach faced lovebird parrot saguaro cactus Scottsdale Arizona

A peach faced lovebird perches on a saguaro cactus.

They nest in the holes in the saguaro cactuses that have been made by other birds (mostly woodpeckers and flickers), and they are just as adorable as can be when they peek out of these nesting holes and look down at you.

Peach faced lovebird in a saguaro cactus Scottsdale Arizona

A peach faced lovebird peeks out of a saguaro cactus

I have wanted to get a photo of one of these little cuties sitting in a saguaro for ages, and I had the chance a few days ago when we were visiting with our friend John Sherman, a professional wildlife and bird photographer who shoots for Arizona Highways. He knew of a saguaro cactus nearby where the peach faced lovebirds hang out in the late afternoons. 

Peach faced lovebird in saguaro cactus nest in Scottsdale Arizona

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He is a full-time RVer who lives in a wonderful custom built Class C motorhome, and he has a mouthwatering collection of photography gear.  He very kindly he let me borrow his humongous 150-600 mm Tamron lens (that I have been lusting after) to take a bunch of shots.

Wow, what a lens, and WOW what a fun experience! (And thanks, John, for the inspiration to buy one a few months later!).

Peach faced lovebird parrot saguaro cactus Phoenix Arizona

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I’m not used to lenses that hang out nearly a foot from the camera body, so it took me a while to wrestle the thing into submission and make it stay still in my hands. But the little birds in the arms of the saguaro cactus waited very patiently as I got myself sorted out, and once I started shooting, they seemed happy to pose.

What a surprise it was to see one lovebird in the flock that was a blue mutation!

Peach faced lovebird parrot blue mutation Scottsdale Arizona

A blue mutation of a peach faced lovebird!!

Peach faced lovebirds are not native to Arizona. They are actually native to southwestern Africa! However, over the years escaped pet birds have established themselves in the urban Sonoran Desert, and they have become naturalized citizens of the state.  All the flocks in the desert areas here are descendants of escaped pet birds.

Peach faced lovebird parrot blue mutation saguaro cactus Scottsdale Arizona

Pretty in pink…and pretty in blue!

They love the dry desert heat of the Sonoran Desert because it is just like their ancestral home across the ocean in southwestern Africa! They are savvy to bird feeders, and they make the most of whatever offerings they can find in residents’ back yards.  Wisely, they seem to have developed a palate for yummy Sonoran Desert goodies too.

Peach faced lovebird parrot Mesa Arizona

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Not all “introduced” species are appreciated, and certainly not all of them have endearing little personalities like these guys.  This part of Arizona seems to attract special feral animals, though, and last year I wrote about the wonderful wild horses we found living just beyond the Phoenix city limits.  Arizona’s wild parrots have been enjoyed for many years (here is an article from Bird Talk Magazine about them.

Peach faced lovebird parrot in Mesa Arizona

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Wild parrots can be found all over the country, and a few years back we bumped into a wonderful documentary about a flock of wild parrots that has taken up residence in San Francisco.  This is charming movie, Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, is one of our favorites (blush), and we have watched it time and again, as it always makes us smile.

Peach faced lovebird parrot in a palo verde in Mesa Arizona

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Where do these peach faced lovebirds live around Phoenix? Check out the streets between 52nd and 64th Street and Cactus Road to Thunderbird Road in Scottsdale. They can also be seen in the trees between Albertson’s and the Shell station across the parking lot at McDowell Road and Power Road in Mesa, here.

Peach faced lovebird parrot on saguaro cactus Scottsdale Arizona

You’ll hear these guys’ high pitched squeals long before you see them!

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ViewPoint RV & Golf Resort – RVer’s and Golfer’s Delight!

December 2015 – Before the holidays, we had the opportunity to enjoy a wonderful week-long stay at ViewPoint RV & Golf Resort in Mesa, Arizona. Even though our typical mode of RV travel is to boondock, which is decidedly more gritty than pulling into at an upscale RV resort park, we got a huge kick out of taking a brief time-out from our solar powered lives to enjoy the sweet amenities at this resort RV and mobile home community just outside the big city of Phoenix.

Viewpoint RV and Golf Resort Mesa Arizona

Pretty sunsets like this one ended every one of our days at ViewPoint RV & Golf Resort

It was here that we made the swap from our old 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 to our new 2016 Ram 3500 dually truck. And because the RV park is close to a Valley Metro Light Rail station, we were able to zip into town to see Alice Cooper in concert without having to worry about parking our big new truck in the city.

New 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 dually truck at ViewPoint RV Resort

Our new truck poses for us in our campsite at ViewPoint RV & Golf Resort

ViewPoint RV & Golf Resort is a sister park to the beautiful and action packed Monte Vista RV Resort a few miles away. And, like its sister, it is a true resort community, complete with a lovely swimming pool where a water aerobics exercise class was going on when we arrived.

Water aerobics Swimming pool exercise class ViewPoint RV Resort

What a spot for some wintertime water aerobics!

As the name implies, this is a golf oriented resort, and for visitors and residents alike there is an 18 hole golf course just steps away from your front door!

Viewpoint RV & Golf Resort Golf Course Mesa Arizona

A pretty fountain welcomes golfers onto the course

We aren’t golfers, but the course was being enjoyed by many. If there is a golf heaven on this earth, it has to be in the Sonoran Desert of central Arizona where each golf course you see is more stunning than the last!

Golfing at ViewPoint RV & Golf Resort Mesa Arizona

An 18 hole golf course is just steps from the RV park

There are lots of other outdoor pursuits for non-golfers in this RV park, and as we explored the community on foot and by bike, we found pickleball courts and shuffleboard courts too.

Pickleball at View Point RV Resort Mesa Arizona

The pickleball courts were busy!

Shuffleboard Courts ViewPoint RV Resort Mesa Arizona

Championship shuffleboard courts.

This winter snowbird community is largely made up of park model homes, and we had fun checking out the cute houses that line the lanes.

View Point RV Resort Homes

ViewPoint is a pretty community of park model homes that is fun to explore by bike or on foot.

A spacious RV park is located at one end of the community, and the sites are big and nicely spaced out. Each has a concrete slab. Most of the RVers we met there were staying for a few months or for the whole season.

Many of the rigs were actually vacant while we were there, because their owners had flown home for the holidays. But the few who were staying for Christmas said the whole park would be buzzing with activity from January through March.

Lobby View Point RV Resort Mesa Arizona

Santa welcomes us to the ballroom and theater!

This park is really well appointed with amenities of all kinds, and I was quite surprised when I poked my head in one door to find a library loaded with books. This library is very popular, and every time I passed by, I saw several people either reading at leisure or scanning the hundreds of book titles on the shelves.

Library at ViewPoint RV Resort Mesa Arizona

The library attracts readers with walls of books and comfy chairs

The gym was terrific and outfitted with excellent equipment, including one of my favorite machines that is really hard to find even in the biggest commercial gyms: a good quality rowing machine. Just outside the gym windows there is a hot tub, and we saw people soaking in it every time we hit the gym for a workout.

View Point RV Resort Gym Mesa Arizona

I really enjoyed my workouts at this gym — a “conventional lifestyle” luxury I miss!

Along with arts and crafts groups and a photography club that produced a hallway full of truly stunning photos in the main building, ViewPoint RV & Golf Resort also offers a huge variety of excursions to nearby and not-so-nearby attractions. A bulletin board lists daytrips and overnight jaunts to all kinds of exotic places, from Rocky Point in Mexico, to Tubac, Arizona, to the Grand Canyon and Copper Canyon and even a trip on the Verde Canyon Railroad.

For those that want to see these special places but don’t want to drive their RV to each one, what a great way to do some fun traveling while using this RV resort as a home base!

Travel bulletin board View Point RV Resort Mesa Arizona

Where do you want to go? This travel bulletin board is filled with inviting trips

ViewPoint RV & Golf Resort is a big community, and I was impressed that they have quite a few amenities right onsite, saving residents and visitors a car trip into Mesa. There’s no need to hunt down a hair salon somewhere in the city, because there is a hair salon located right on the resort grounds!

Beauty Salon View Point RV Resort Mesa Arizona

Walk to the beauty salon from your RV!

There’s also a really fun sports bar and restaurant next to the golf pro shop called Fat Willy’s. We wandered in late one afternoon to discover we had hit it on the best day of the week, Monday, when they offer $6 gourmet burgers and $3.50 pints of Kilt Lifter (a yummy Arizona craft beer). The place was so packed they had to set up extra tables and chairs in another room!

Fat Willy's Restaurant ViewPoint RV & Golf Resort Mesa Arizona

Fat Willy’s is a great little sports bar at the resort with delicious burgers at good prices

As one gal said to me during our stay, “If you’re bored here at ViewPoint, it’s your own fault, because there is always something going on!”

This is a popular place for snowbirds looking to get away from winter’s chill up north, and we discovered that lots of people come here along with friends and family who journey down from cold country for the winter.

When we were doing our laundry one day, we got chatting with a long-time winter resident and discovered she had purchased her park model home sight unseen with a phone call from Minnesota so she and her husband could join her sisters and their husbands who already had winter homes in the resort complex.

New homes for sale ViewPoint RV and Golf Resort Mesa AZ

The community is expanding with new park model homes.

She was thrilled with her winter digs and just loved the community.

We also met several full-time RVers as well as former RVers who had purchased park model homes here either to establish a home base for their travels or because the time had come for them to hang up the keys.

While we were there, ViewPoint RV & Golf Resort was in the middle of a big expansion, with new park model homes going in and some of the common areas getting upgraded.

Modular homes ViewPoint RV & Golf Resort Mesa Arizona

Having a cute little home base is a nice option for full-time RVers!

Staying at an upscale RV resort like this isn’t cheap, but we discovered the rates can be reduced significantly with a Thousand Trails Camping Pass.

The daily rates at ViewPoint RV & Golf Resort are $51/$65, in summer/winter while weekly rates are $306/$390 for the same periods with 20% off for Thousand Trails members. Monthly rates range from $1,097 in Jan-March to $806 in Oct-Dec to $519 in Apr-Sep., with Thousand Trails members receiving a 10% discount.

Sunset at ViewPoint RV & Golf Resort Mesa Arizona

Sunset at ViewPoint RV & Golf Resort

For RVers who want to settle into this park for the most popular months of December to March, the Thousand Trails Camping Pass saves $409 over those four months, which nearly pays for the pass itself, making it possible to camp within the Thousand Trails network for very little during the rest of the year.

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Snow in the Arizona Desert – A Beautiful Fairy Dusting!

January 2016 – A lot of folks that have never been to Arizona think of it as a very hot and dry place. That’s true in certain parts of the state at certain times of the year, but it isn’t always so!

Sonoran Desert in Snow Tonto National Forest Arizona

Snow and mist cover the mountains east of Phoenix, Arizona.

This past week the humidity level stayed above 80% for five straight days, and the rain fell relentlessly.

Boat on Roosevelt Lake Arizona Snow on Mountains

What a gorgeous morning on Roosevelt Lake!

The stunner of it all was that this moisture showed up as a beautiful blanket of snow in the mountains around the desert floor.

Saguaro cactus Four Peaks in Snow Arizona

A lone saguaro cactus looks up at the snowy mountains in the distance.

Tonto National Forest snow in mountains Roosevelt Lake Arizona

This is a spectacular area at any time, but snow really sets off those mountains!

What a great reward after a soggy week in our RV. We threw open the windows, even though it was only 50 degrees out, and let the sun pour in!

Roosevelt Lake Marina Arizona snow in mountains

Roosevelt Lake Marina – boating between snowy peaks!

This part of the desert can hit 120 degrees at the peak of summer, but the overnight lows have been flirting with the freezing point on the thermometer all this week. Nonetheless, the occasional die hard boater has cast off on Roosevelt Lake.

Boating Roosevelt Lake Arizona snow on Four Peaks

An enthusiastic boater takes to the water on the first day of sunshine.

A pack of coyotes lives nearby, and we’ve been hearing them a lot in the mornings and evenings. The other day we spotted one just a few feet away.

Coyote at Roosevelt Lake Arizona

A pack of coyotes has been singing and yipping a lot around us lately.

What a gorgeous animal! I was delighted when he turned to look at me.

Coyote portrait Roosevelt Lake Arizona

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And the scenery wasn’t bad either!!

Snow on Four Peaks and cactus Roosevelt Lake Arizona

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We were just loving the colors…

Snow on mountains Sonoran Desert Arizona Roosevelt Lake

What a place!

We hopped in the truck to take a drive and were amused to see cars and trucks coming down from the mountains with snow on the roofs. There were winter warnings for drivers too.

Winter Driving Conditions Arizona Desert

When we crossed one mountain pass we could tell the snowplows had been busy the night before. Wow!

Snow doesn’t last long in these parts, so we snapped as many pics as we could.

Snow in Sonoran Desert saguaro cactus  Arizona

So pretty.

This area is beautiful at any time of year, but the backdrop of the snowcapped mountains with the saguaro cactus and Roosevelt Lake was just fantastic.

Saguaro cactus snow capped mountains Roosevelt Lake Arizona

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Four Peaks snow at Roosevelt Lake Arizona

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Crossing the mountains on our way to Globe, the distant rippling mountain peaks were covered with snow.

Saguaro cactus snow capped mountains Tonto National Forest Arizona

This saguaro has upright arms.
When one has a droopy arm, it’s often because snow or ice weighed it down for a while!

This was a wonderful fairy dusting of winter. Just enough to give us the beauty from a distance without having to shovel!

House on snowy hill

A tiny house on a hill…

The daytime temps warmed up to the low 60’s and the snow began to vanish from the peaks in no time. But what a neat few days we had here in “hot” and “dry” Arizona!!

Cactus and snow Tonto National Forest Arizona

The snow won’t last long, but it gave us a lovely winter interlude!

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Tonto National Monument AZ – Workamping with the Ancients!

December 2015 – During our RV travels in central Arizona we took an outstanding volunteer-led tour of the ancient Indian “Upper Cliff Dwellings” at Tonto National Monument. We had already visited the “Lower Cliff Dwellings” on our own, as those are open to the public for exploration without a guide. But a visit to the Upper Cliff Dwellings can only be made if you take a guided tour.

Saguaro cactus with sunshine starburst

The hike up to Tonto National Monument’s Upper Cliff Dwellings goes through some beautiful scenery.

The cost was just the price of admission to the National Monument ($5 per person or free with a Federal Interagency Pass or Senior Access Pass). But that low cost was deceiving — this was no ordinary tour!

The depth of knowledge and enthusiasm of our guide, Susan Treneer, as she taught us about these ancient Indian ruins was unbelievable, and our whole group was fascinated as we listened to her explain the theories behind the history of this special place.

Upper Cliff Dwelling Tour hike Tonto National Monument Arizona

The hike was uphill but not too strenuous.

A group of about eight of us gathered at the Visitors Center and then hiked the 3 mile round trip up the steep hillside to the ruins and back. We began by going through some lovely riparian habitat (wetlands) where sycamores and other hardwoods were still showing off their autumn color.

Sycamore tree fall colors Arizona

A sycamore tree just off the trail in a riparian area.

Periodically, Susan stopped us as we hiked to explain the different vegetation we were seeing and to talk about the people who lived in the Tonto Basin 700 years ago.

Hike to Upper Cliff Dwellings Salado People Tonto National Monument Arizona

Susan pauses to tell us about the Salt River and the people who lived here centuries ago.

We climbed higher and higher on the hillside as we approached the cliff dwellings at the top, and the view of Roosevelt Lake grew more and more expansive below us.

Roosevelt Lake Arizona from Tonto National Monument

The views of Roosevelt Lake were outstanding.

Right before we entered the Upper Cliff Dwelling ruins, Susan brought out photos of some of the astonishingly beautiful and intricate pottery that the people of this place had made all those centuries ago. They are called the Salado People by archaeologists today, named for the Rio Salado (Salt River) that they lived near and which was dammed up in 1911 to create Roosevelt Lake.

Guided tour Upper Cliff Dwellings Tonto National Monument Arizona

Susan showed us photos of beautiful Tonto Basin pottery made right here centuries ago.

The Salado people were extraordinary potters, and their pottery has been found as far away as the Paquimé ruins in northern Mexico, some 350 miles or so southeast of Tonto National Monument.

Upper Cliff Dwellings Tonto National Monument Arizona

The people who built these ruins came down from Mesa Verde in southwestern Colorado and from other Colorado Plateau cliff dwelling communities.

Our guide, Susan, excitedly explained that no one really knows why the Salado built their homes in these caves so high up on the mountainside. She explained that the valleys were already filled with people living an agrarian lifestyle. Those old-timers had been raising cotton, beans, squash and corn in the Tonto Basin for 1,000 years already.

Ancient Indian upper cliff dwellings Tonto National Monument Arizona

The adobe structures had roofs made of saguaro cactus ribs and juniper. These are original!

The cliff dwellers were the newcomers to the area. They may have been artisans who wanted to make a life selling their unique tricolor pottery. Or they may have been workers for the wealthier farmers who lived below them. No one is 100% sure!

Ancient cliff dwellilngs Tonto National Monument Arizona

The adobe homes, storage rooms and workshops were built right into the caves.

All that is known is that they came down from the Colorado Plateau, and traveled through the Kayenta, Arizona, area, and ultimately set up housekeeping in the Tonto Basin and stayed for about 100 years.

Volunteer National Park Service Guide leads tour Tonto National Monument

Susan was extraordinarily knowledgeable about the ancient southwest cultures.

Susan’s enthusiasm for the subject was infectious, and it struck me that she was absolutely loving her wintertime volunteer job with the National Park Service at this special spot.

Salado cliff dwelling roof construction Tonto Basin Arizona

For archaeology buffs, working at a site that is being actively studied by scientists must be a thrill.

In between describing the tools and other relics that have been found at Tonto National Monument, she also told us that archaeology has been her lifelong interest. She hadn’t studied it formally or been a professional in the field during her career, but now, as a retiree, she was able to work alongside scientists and archaeologists studying this site and stay on top of the most recent findings and theories while “on the job” with the National Park Service. How cool is that?!

Tour group upper cliff dwellings Tonto National Monument Arizona

Most members of our group had traipsed through ancient ruins in Mexico and Central America
as well as all over the southwest.

Susan’s volunteer job requires 32 hours a week of work, and she has taken the position for a few months. In exchange, she receives an RV campsite with full hookups overlooking Roosevelt Lake. This may not sound like a very fair exchange if you multiply out the hours worked and the value of the campsite. Even if it were a resort campsite, like nearby Monte Vista RV Resort with its swimming pools, hot tubs, sports courts and art studios, the pay would equate to just $8.20/hour. However, there is a deeper meaning to doing this kind of work, and she was obviously thrilled to have the opportunity to learn about the ancient southwestern cultures in a professional setting and to share her passion with others.

Salado upper cliff dwellings Tonto National Monument Arizona

The public can only see the Upper Cliff dwellings on guided tours given on weekends.

Susan told me she has volunteered for the National Park Service for several years and has held similar positions at a few of the most significant ancient cliff dwelling ruins sites across the southwest, including Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon and the Gila Cliff Dwellings.

In one job, she didn’t work with the public but spent her days cataloging and storing ancient pottery. She said that having the opportunity to hold, examine and study 700 and 800 year old pots — some of them perfectly intact — was just thrilling.

National Park Service volunteer leads tour of Tonto National Monument Cliff Dwellings Arizona

These ruins were overflowing with artifacts and debris when they were first studied 100 years ago. In those days tourists were free to take home whatever artifacts they found lying around!

I asked Susan how she got started with the National Park Service, and she explained that when she started as a volunteer, she had to undergo an intensive 40 hour training class and also do a beginner’s stint as a campground host at Big Bend National Park (not her favorite line of work). But it was clear that the personal rewards she has found since starting work at the various cliff dwelling sites have been enormous.

Short doorway Salado cliff dwelling Tonto Basin Arizona

The Salado people weren’t all that short — 5’6″ was average for men, the same as their counterparts in Europe – but the floor of the caves has built up over time.

Her enthusiasm for all things ancient and puebloan — like the small “T” shaped window that looked out from the window onto modern day Roosevelt Lake where the free spirited Salt River once irrigated the farmlands — was truly infectious.

Upper Cliff Dwellings Salado People Tonto National Monument T-Window

The “T” window shape was used by the ancients in many places. We remember seeing this shape at the Mayan ruins in Palenque in southern Mexico.

Lots of folks think “work camping” is simply working as a campground host checking people in and out of a campground or cleaning the bathrooms. But as I learned from Susan, if you have a passion for a particular field of study that is a focus of a particular National Park, like the puebloan culture and associated archaeological ruins, volunteering is a fabulous way to apprentice yourself to get hands on experience and learn everything you can.

Salado Matate Tonto National Monument Arizona

Susan pointed out a “matate” grinding stone that remains on site.

When Susan started, she was given a two page reading list of books to study. She was thrilled. “I like the intellectual stimulation,” she said. She wanted to spend her retirement not just traveling but learning new things and expanding her horizons in every way.

700 year old corn cob

Corn was similar but a bit smaller back then. This corn cob is 700 years old!

More than once she mentioned the names of the archaeologists who are her favorite mentors. They are pioneering new work on the origins, migrations and lives of the ancient people of the southwest, and some of their theories challenge those of the researchers of prior decades. So, their work is new, their ideas are fresh, and they are breaking new ground in understanding what the earlier people of the southwest were really all about.

Corn cob in adobe wall cliff dwellings Arizona

A corn cob got mixed into the adobe mud during construction and ended up in a wall!

We were totally impressed by the high quality of this tour. It felt like we were on a guided field trip with a true scholar. Susan had brought materials with her to show and instruct us, and she pointed out relics that were found at the Upper Cliff Dwellings and remain onsite and that the public can’t see without a guide. Best of all, she gave us insights into the lives of the people of an earlier time.

Charlie Steen shovel from 1930's excavation Tonto National Monument Arizona

The remains of a shovel used by archaeologist Charlie Steen during the 1930’s excavation of these ancient ruins.

Perhaps even more important, she opened our eyes to the kinds of volunteer work that are possible within the National Park Service and on public lands in general. It isn’t always just cleaning up after tourists!

Susan did say, however, that there is a lot of competition for the premium volunteer positions, and that you have to build your credentials and your resume, just as you would with a paying job. After all, they aren’t going to trust just anyone off the street with handling and cataloging priceless pottery that is centuries old! But once you get yourself established in the system, there are intriguing opportunities to learn and to share — and to get an RV campsite with a view too boot!

View from Upper Cliff Dwellings Tonto National Monument Arizona

Looking out over Tonto Basin from the back of the cave

If you have a chance to travel to central Arizona with your RV, take a trip to Tonto National Monument in the Tonto National Forest and see these wonderful ruins.

If you are lucky enough to be able to RV seasonally or full-time as a retiree, perhaps you too will pursue a lifelong interest by taking a short term volunteer position on America’s public lands!

There’s more info and links below.

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Monte Vista RV Resort in AZ – Arts, Crafts and Sports Fun!

December 2015 – By some incredible stroke of good fortune, our traveling lifestyle has given us several opportunities to live at a resort. Most of those places were tropical resorts on Mexico’s Pacific coast that we anchored at as we sailed our boat from the northern border of Mexico to the southern one. In the weeks leading up to Christmas this year, however, we enjoyed the beautiful resort amenities of Monte Vista RV Resort with our RV in Mesa, Arizona.

Swimming Pool Monte Vista RV Resort Arizona

Monte Vista RV Resort boasts true resort style amenities.

The first thing we noticed when we arrived was the absolutely gorgeous swimming pool under the palm trees. Lots of people were in the water, and all around the edge of the pool folks were kicked back in lounge chairs sunning themselves. Was this really winter?!

Monte Vista Village RV Resort Swimming Pool

What a spot to spend some time!

Nearby, we saw a slew of tennis courts, and each one was in use. A tennis instructor was busy teaching a group of women the basics of tennis while their husbands looked on from the bleachers.

Monte Vista Village RV Resort Tennis Courts

There are tennis courts galore

There were pickleball courts and championship shuffleboard courts as well, but what really caught my eye was the beautifully appointed gym. So often the “gyms” in RV parks are tiny closets with an old treadmill and a few rusty handweights. Not here!

Besides a full complement of weight training equipment, free weights, benches and mirrors, in another room across the courtyard there were new and sparkling clean elliptical machines, treadmills and other aerobic exercise machines.

Arizona Monte Vista Village RV Park Gym

The weight room – a great place to shed those holiday pounds (yikes!)

But fancy and ritzy amenities only go so far. It is the spirit of a place that makes it fun for a visit, and Monte Vista is a really congenial and friendly community.

On our first night, we heard a knock on our trailer door and opened it to find our next door neighbor holding out a gift bag full of homemade baked goodies and wishing us a happy holiday season. We are accustomed to more solitary living in our life on the road, and it was such a heartwarming surprise to be welcomed this way.

Lunch with Louie Monte Vista Village RV Resort

From our next door neighbors to BBQ king Louie, Monte Vista is a very friendly community

The next day we found out that twice a week there is an outdoor barbecue called “Lunch With Louie” that is held in the courtyard. We were amazed when Louie told us he’s been bringing his portable cookout with burgers and hot dogs to Monte Vista RV Resort for 17 years! A few hours later, in the same courtyard, another fellow arrived with a karaoke setup for happy hour under the setting sun. What a hoot that was!

Over in the big ballroom, we poked our heads in the door one evening and found a ballroom Round Dancing class in progress.

Monte Vista RV Resort Ballroom Dancing

A Round Dancing class in the ballroom!

The couple teaching the class elegantly demonstrated the choreographed moves, and then eight or so couples mimicked their steps, gliding across the ballroom floor with fancy footwork.

Ballroom Dancing Monte Vista RV Resort Arizona

Dance classes are open to everyone that loves music and dancing!

There is so much to do at this RV resort that lots of folks stay within the grounds all day long. And no wonder. If you have the slightest artistic inclination, there is a new craft with an incredible studio and good instruction waiting for you at every turn.

Monte Vista Village RV Resort Stained Glass Studio

I was astonished by the range of arts and crafts studios, the quality of the instruction
and the beauty of the work being created!

The stained glass and fused glass studio blew me away. After a few hours of instruction, which is given regularly throughout the winter season, the studio is open for folks to come and create whatever their imagination can conceive of. An experienced monitor is present to answer questions, offer suggestions and give guidance. The works of art being created in that studio were just gorgeous

Stained Glass Studio Monte Vista RV Resort

How fun to learn how to make stained glass artwork like this!

For those that want to make jewelry or cut and polish gemstones, there is a lapidary and a silversmithing studio as well.

Monte Vista Village RV Resort Silversmith Class

If you aren’t afraid of using a torch, the silversmithing looks like a lot of fun.

Again, an intro class is given to newcomers regularly, and monitors are available during the copious hours that the studio is open so you can design and make whatever jewelry pieces you wish. One fellow told me he had made so much for his wife that she was decked out head to toe with jewelry all the time. Lucky her!

Lapidary Monte Vista Village RV Resort Arizona

A gemstone on its way to becoming a pendant for some lucky woman…

Some folks aren’t into holding a torch or soldering metal. They prefer the enclosed flames of a kiln and the soothing tranquility of making pottery and painting ceramics. For them, there is a pottery studio (learn to throw a pot on a wheel!) and a ceramics studio as well.

Monte Vista RV Resort Ceramics Studio

The ceramics studio has shelves of paints in every color of the rainbow.

All this stuff got my creative juices flowing, and like so many visitors who stop in for a week, I began to contemplate sticking around for longer.

Ceramics Studio Monte Vista Village RV Resort

The ceramics studio

Many of the people in this community are snowbirds who own or rent a park model, but others are full-time or seasonal RVers who want a place to unwind and relax during the cold winter months. Lots of men who have lived in an RV for a while really miss their workshop, garage or down-and-dirty Man Cave back home. Well, the size and variety of the power tools in the wood shop at Monte Vista are probably better than the equipment most guys have in their garage or basement at home!

Woodshop Monte Vista RV Resort

From stump to bowl… how cool to create the transformation!

The wood shop has its own building and there are several rooms of power tools and workbenches available for use. The smiles on the faces of the men designing everything from elegant cutting boards to artwork for the walls to larger furniture pieces to wooden bowls gave away the fun they were all having.

I was astonished to turn a corner and find a room devoted entirely to lathes. Then I met a fellow was building a beautiful replica of a carousel merry-go-round.

Carousel made in Wood shop

A carousel…what a marvelous work in progress!

Every year there is an Annual Spring Expo in the ballroom (March 12th in 2016) where the beautiful works created by Monte Vista’s artisans are put on display for everyone to admire.

More than one person told me the quality of the artwork at this expo was superior to that of the professionals that show off their wares at the nearby Fountain Hills Art Fair each winter. Having been to the Fountain Hills Art Fair many times, and now having wandered through the artisan studios at Monte Vista, I would have to agree!

It isn’t all specialty artiwork, though. One studio is set aside for a kind of “Art du Jour” freestyle class, and the day I poked my head in the door a group of women was making beautiful Christmas cards to send out to loved ones.

Art Studio Monte Vista Village RV Resort Arizona

Making Christmas cards is fun, but doing it with friends and lots of cool materials is even better.

With stencils, doilies, construction paper, scissors, glue and various trimmings, they were enjoying a lively conversation among themselves while reviving the long lost art of handmade Christmas greetings.

Not only are there sports and arts and crafts, but the card sharks have their own private, dedicated room as well, with Bridge tables set up just for that purpose.

Card Room Bridge Club Monte Vista Village RV Resort

A lively Bridge game was going on when I peeked in the “Card Room.”

The intriguing thing we found during our stay was how many people we met who had come to Monte Vista for a week or two at first and then returned for much longer stay the next season.

Full-time RVers Larry, an avid woodworker, and Jacquie, who was in a singing group, told us they had stopped in at Monte Vista for a week last winter and were so intrigued by all the activities that they decided to spend a full six months there this year so they could take advantage of everything on offer while at same time resting from their summer travels.

This makes a lot of sense. Freestyle wandering around the country is a dream lifestyle, but every so often it feels good to stop for a few months and catch you breath. And what a place to do it!

Monte Vista Village RV Resort Hot Tub

Care for a dip in the hot tub?!

We visited Monte Vista RV Resort during the off-season (October-December) and I was surprised at the reasonable rates. It was ~$500/month or ~$300/week. During the peak season of January-March, the rates jumpt to ~$1,000/month, but they drop to off-season prices again in April, a beautiful month in central Arizona.

Sunset fountain Monte Vista Village RV Resort Arizona

There is an active photography club here too with some really skilled photographers in it.
The many fountains in the park are a favorite subject, so we had to try our hand with the fountains too!

Monte Vista RV Resort is part of both the Encore and the Thousand Trails networks of RV Parks. A ~$550 Thousand Trails annual membership will net a 20% discount on the daily and weekly rates or a 10% discount on the monthly rates. Apply those discounts to any stay, and much of the year’s membership will be paid for, leaving you with 30 free overnight stays within the Thousand Trails network for the rest of the year (and just $3/night after that).

That’s a pretty good gig!

Monte Vista Village RV Resort Campsites

Our buggy settled in very nicely here!

The only caveat about Monte Vista RV Resort is that it is a very popular place. We thought it was hopping during our stay in mid-December, but everyone told us it was actually “slow” at that time because many people had gone home for the holidays!

So, if you want to be there when things are in high gear between January and March, be sure to book early!

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Merry Christmas – Arizona RV Style!

December 2015 – After enjoying the beauty of Roosevelt Lake and finding our favorite camping areas near Phoenix closed, we left the eastern side of Four Peaks and the ancient Indian cliff dwellings to spend two weeks in luxury at high end RV parks in Mesa. The wonderful thing about doing that at this time of year is that we have been enjoying the Christmas lights that the RVers around us have put up to decorate their rolling homes in the desert.

Christmas lights Airstream trailer RV park Arizona

An Airstream in lights!

ViewPoint RV & Golf Resort has an RV park tucked into a community of park model homes, and right now there Christmas lights decorating every row of RVs. Even better, the sunsets and sunrises in the last few days have been just gorgeous.

RV holiday lights and Arizona sunset

What a great sunset — and Christmas lights to boot!


This is a place that lots of so-called snowbirds flock to for winter warmth and entertainment. And at the holiday season, the RVs and single wide park models throughout the community are lovingly decorated to the hilt.

Christmas lights ViewPoint RV & Golf Resort Arizona

Pretty decorations on a park model at ViewPoint RV & Golf Resort.

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Over at Monte Vista Village RV Resort we met full-time RVers Larry and Jaquie who have been hosting the Grinch in front of their motorhome since he showed up a few weeks ago.

RV with Grinch decorations at Christmas Monte Vista RV Resort AZ

The Grinch is plotting how to steal Christmas at Monte Vista RV Resort

When our escort (we got an escort!) brought us into the RV park at ViewPoint on his golf cart, we saw a cactus with Santa hats on every arm in front of a park model we passed. We had to run back after we got set up and check it out. How cute!

Cactus with Christmas Santa hats ViewPoint RV & Golf Resort AZ

Christmas in the Arizona desert

Mesa, Arizona, sits between downtown Phoenix and the towering rock cliff faces of the beautiful Superstition mountains. How cool to see the mountains peaking up between two park model homes on the golf course.

Christmas ViewPoint RV & Golf Resort Superstition Mountains Arizona

The Superstition Mountains rise up behind park model homes on the ViewPoint golf course.

Just across from us, a fifth wheel trailer has a tree with gifts in front all ready for the big day.

ViewPoint RV & Golf Resort Christmas tree lights fifth wheel trailer

A tree and presents at sunset

I love walking around admiring Christmas lights at this time of year, and staying in these two RV resorts has given us a chance to see some great displays in front of both RVs and park model homes.

RV park Christmas Lights ViewPoint RV & Golf Resort Arizona

A beautiful sunset and Christmas lights at ViewPoint RV & Golf Resort

A few rows down from us, a motorhome that is polished to a glistening shine mirrors the reflection of a lighted Christmas tree in their yard.

Christmas tree reflected on side of motorhome

When one Christmas tree becomes two!

Nearby, a park model just begs for Christmas carolers to stop by…

ViewPoint RV & Golf Resort park model Christmas lights

Living large in a tiny house at Monte Vista Village RV Resort

Snow and ice can make for a beautiful White Christmas up north, but spending Christmas in an RV down south here in Arizona is pretty special too.

Let it snow on an RV at Christmas in Arizona

Let It Snow!! (ahem… up north only, please!)

Ho ho ho…

Monte Vista RV Resort Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all our RVing friends

For more info on these two RV resorts, check out these links. These parks are affiliates of the Thousand Trails RV park network, and with a Thousand Trails membership you can get a 20% discount on nightly and weekly stays or a 10% discount on a monthly stay. Good deal! I’ll be posting more info about our visits in both parks soon:

More detailed info about our experiences at these RV resorts in Arizona:

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Tonto National Monument AZ – Lower Cliff Dwellings

December 2015 – One of the treasures in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona is the exquisite sunrises and sunsets that light up the sky in vivid shades of pink and orange.

Arizona sunset fifth wheel trailer RV

Sunset over our fifth wheel

Another treasure that lies inside the Tonto National Forest near Roosevelt Lake high up on the mountain sides is the Tonto National Monument ancient Indian cliff dwelling ruins.

Lower Cliff Dwellings Tonto National Monument Arizona

Tonto National Monument Lower Cliff Dwellings

These ruins, built by the Salado people around 1300 A.D., are surrounded by saguaro cactus that stand so thickly on the hillside that, from a distance, they seem to transform the landscape into a pincushion! Up close, however, they are very tall.

Saguaro cactus Arizona Sonoran Desert

Saguaro cactus are very tall plants!

One of the best things about visiting the Tonto National Monument cliff dwellings is the half mile uphill hike to get to them. A narrow paved path takes numerous switchbacks up the hill, passing by dozens of beautiful saguaro cactus on the way to the ruins.

Tonto National Monument trail to Lower Cliff Dwellings

It is a half mile hike on a paved path through lush Sonoran desert to get to the ruins.

Saguaro at Tonto National Monument Lower Cliff Dwellings Arizona

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As the path climbs ever higher, the view of Roosevelt Lake down in the valley grows ever wider.

Tonto National Monument view of Roosevelt Lake Arizona

The hike to the lower cliff dwellings is short and steep but has some incredible views of Roosevelt Lake

Then the ancient ruins appear, built into a huge cave in a sheer rock wall cliff face.

Cliff Dwellings Ancient Indian Ruins Tonto National Monument Arizona

High rise apartments!

It is startling, after climbing up through all the natural vegetation of the Sonoran Desert, to come face to face with the remnants of a distant culture’s masonry creations. The current theory is that the 20,000 or so Anasazi people who had built and lived in the immense Mesa Verde cliff dwellings in Colorado had left there for some reason and moved south, a few of them making their way through northeastern Arizona to the Tonto Basin to live here.

Tonto National Monument Lower Cliff Dwellings Arizona

You can wander freely in and around the Lower Cliff Dwellings

As a point of reference, in this same time period over in Europe, Florence had become the heart of commercial and cultural activity, and the Renaissance (the rebirth of interest in classical literature, art and music) was in its earliest stages.

At Tonto National Monument, the 700 year old walls are still standing, although they have broken down over time. With a little imagination, we could visualize the structure as it once stood as we moved from room to room.

Anclient Cliff Dwellings Tonto National Monument Arizona

Crumbling walls that must have many a story to tell…

There were quite a few rooms, most of them quite small, just 8′ square or so. The rooms near the front of the cave have a view across the valley to the lake.

Tonto National Monument Arizona Lower Cliff Dwellings

The ruins are built into a huge cave. The outer rooms have an incredible view!

Little openings led from one room to another, and the rooms stretched to the back of the cave.

Tonto National Monument Lower Cliff Dwellings Arizona

The cave faces east, so after about noon, it is shaded and cool, even in the blistering heat of mid-summer.

Tonto National Monument has two sets of cliff dwellings that are open to the public, the Lower Cliff Dwellings and the Upper Cliff Dwellings.

Lower Cliff Dwellings Tonto National Monument Arizona

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Even though the Lower Cliff Dwellings are slightly smaller, the fun thing about them is that you are free to explore them at your own pace and they lie just 1/2 mile from the visitors center.

Tonto National Monument Salado Cliff Dwelling Ceiling

A few roofs made of juniper logs and saguaro ribs are still intact.

It’s a fairly steep hike to reach these ruins, but it is short, and the views along the entire trail are just wonderful.

Roosevelt Lake view Tonto National Monument Cliff Dwellings Arizona

Even if you’re not into ancient Indian stuff, the views are well worth the hike.

The hike to the Upper Cliff Dwellings is about 3 miles long, and those ruins are open to the public only on guided tours on the weekends. We took that hike too and will share photos in an upcoming post.

Saguaro cactus Tonto National Monument view of Roosevelt Lake Arizona

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Tonto National Monument makes a terrific daytrip from the Mesa and eastern Phoenix area, and it is an absolute “must see” if you are camping at one of the campgrounds at Roosevelt Lake.

Sunset on Four Peaks at Roosevelt Lake Arizona

Sunset over Roosevelt Lake

A word of caution to travelers taking a big RV to this area: The once stunningly scenic drive along US-60 from Superior to Globe is now a chaotic nightmare of construction (probably in preparation for the world’s largest copper mine that will be built between the two towns). Even though the distance is 10 miles longer, it is a much less stressful (and also very scenic) rout to take SR-87 (the “Beeline Highway”) from Fountain Hills north to Punkin Center and then go south on SR-88 to Tonto National Monument.

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A little more about Tonto National Monument

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Copper Mines, NOT CAMPING, in Tonto National Forest – Why?

PUBLIC LAND Goes PRIVATE and Cherished Winter RV Camping is CLOSED Forever

December 2015 – The beautiful fall colors around Roosevelt Lake Arizona are truly exquisite, and we have taken thousands of photos of the Sonoran Desert in both fall and spring along the Salt River during our RV travels in Arizona. After poking around on this website a bit and rummaging through our photos from last year, I realized I never posted some of my favorites. So here they are, just as lovely now as they were a year ago.

Autumn Leaves Salt River Bush Highway Blue Point Arizona

Autumn splendor along the Salt River in Arizona

But they are bittersweet too, because times are changing. Among these glorious photos, I found images I took last year in Globe and Ray Arizona that evoke a tragedy that’s currently unfolding. A little research into what’s going on has left me with one big question: WHY?

Fall colors in the Sonoran Desert Arizona Salt River

Arizona is filled with gold

Last year while we were camped in the Tonto National Forest, we went on several outstanding hikes that start at some of the trailheads and former camping areas that are sprinkled along the dramatic Bush Highway which runs alongside the Salt River east of Phoenix.

Autumn leaf reflections Salt River Arizona

The Salt River infuses the Sonoran Desert with color and life.

Pebble Beach was one recreation area that used to be very popular for winter camping and boondocking.

Pebble Beach on the Salt River

One of many stunning views hidden behind the “CLOSED” sign blocking car and RV drivers from
parking in the mammoth parking lots at Pebble Beach.

Pebble Beach Campground is a very large recreation area. Not only is there an enormous parking lot lined with dozens of shaded picnic ramadas, but it was built to include both a huge group camping area as well as individual and family camping. There were even campsites with hookups to accommodate multiple hosts, and there were multiple toilet buildings scattered throughout the area.

At one time, Pebble Beach was a very popular winter boondocking snowbird roost.

Pebble Beach Camping Area Tonto National Forest Closed

Storm clouds over Pebble Beach – No more winter camping here!

Sadly, it has been closed to winter use for several years and Tonto National Forest plans to keep it closed and keep all that infrastructure and beauty behind locked gates indefinitely.

Pebble Beach Bush Highway Mesa Arizona Salt River

This cool area at Pebble Beach lay just steps away from winter RV campsites by the picnic ramadas

Tragically, since his arrival in 2012, the supervisor of Tonto National Forest, Neil Bosworth (bio here, contact: nbosworth@fs.fed.us) has systematically closed all the winter camping areas on the Bush Highway.

Some camping areas are open in the summertime, but Arizonans don’t camp in the 120 degree heat of the Sonoran Desert in the summer months! They all go north to the cool mountains and camp at 5,000′ or higher to get out of the heat.

The list of campgrounds that used to be open for winter RV camping and are now closed permanently is:

  • Pebble Beach Campground (designated campsites, group camping, large enough for 50+ RVs)
  • Goldfield Recreation Area (formerly used for camping and large enough for 50+ RVs)
  • Phon D Sutton (formerly used for camping and large enough for 50+ RVs)

In addition, there’s a day use area that is closed in the wintertime too, so you can’t even park your car and look around:

  • Sheep Crossing (day use)

Fortunately for tourists and nature lovers, there is one gorgeous spot that has remained open for day use only, so at least it is possible to park and go exploring, even if you are not allowed to camp there. It is called the Water Users area. This is a Salt Water River summertime tubing drop-off spot that has several short trails that go down to the river.

Lost in the desert oasis landscapes of Arizona

The Water Users area is available for daytime visits.

The craggy rocks and colorful trees and reflecting water are just sensational.

Salt RIver Arizona in Autumn

I love reflections in the water.

Autumn leaves on Arizona's Salt River

The Salt River (“Rio Salado”)

Across the Bush Highway from Pebble Beach is the much smaller Blue Point day use area, and it is still open. Blue Point has a wonderful hiking trail that runs along the edge of the river. What’s puzzling is that the Sheep Crossing day use area next door to Blue Point is closed.

Huh? Oh well. We had fun getting reflection shots of the riverbanks.

Salt River Phoenix Arizona

The Blue Point day use area is across from Pebble Beach (closed) and next to Sheep Crossing (closed).

Up on a rocky precipice we saw a great blue heron keeping an eye out for fast moving fish.

Great blue heron Salt River Arizona

Waterbirds love the Salt River

The great blue heron wasn’t the only one fishing. A fisherman was casting his net in the river too.

Fishing on the Salt River

Fishermen love the Salt River. Heck, so do RVers!

The play of the light on his net and the light on the water and clouds was just beautiful.

Starburst over the Salt River in Phoenix Arizona

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The pretty trees and jagged rock faces along the Salt River lit up in brilliant golden hues every afternoon.

Blue Point in autumn colors on the Salt River in Arizona

Autumn Gold at Blue Point on the Bush Highway

Sadly, over the last few years, the Tonto National Forest has systematically closed all but the tiniest of winter camping areas along the Bush Highway. What’s left (at Coon Bluff) is open to camping only on weekends and is large enough for just 6-7 big rigs.

Last year and the year before, there were times when the one large remaining camping area, Phon D Sutton, had 50 RVs camping there.

With a demand like that, why would Tonto National Forest shut it down along with all the other camping areas that can accommodate hundreds and hundreds of RVs. Why would they leave just a handful of spaces open?

The parking area at Coon Bluff is so tiny that when RVs camp there, they take up most of the parking lot. What’s totally unfair to the locals is that the daytrippers, hunters and fishermen — who all deserve a decent parking spot for their outing in nature too — don’t have room to park their cars! When the Boy Scouts plan a weekend camping outing to Coon Bluff, the places is a mad house and the parking is insane.

Sunset Arizona Salt River

The Indoor Generation as well as snowbird winter RVers deserve a chance to enjoy places like this right outside their doorstep during dawn and dusk — especially when the facilities were already built by former leadership that wanted the public to be able to enjoy the unique beauty of the Salt River.

Up until October, 2015, the Forest Service allowed RVers to camp at the Phon D Sutton recreation area which can easily hold 50 big rigs in two enormous parking lots.

Last winter and the winter before it was frequently full of happy winter snowbird RVers, many of whom brought kayaks to enjoy the river, camera gear to photograph the egrets and bald eagles, and musical instruments to make music together.

What a stunning spot that was.

Arizona autumn colors Four Peaks Salt River Bush Highway_

Gorgeous Phon D Sutton offered parking lot dry camping but the views and experiences were unforgettable.

Unfortunately, as of October, 2015, Phon D Sutton is now closed to camping year round.

Phon D Sutton is still open as a day use area, but when we stopped by to check it out a few weeks ago, the whole place was eerily vacant, except for two cars, and there was gang graffiti on the bathroom doors and windows.

Fog Arizona Salt River

When large parking lots and bathrooms for throngs of people have been built so they can enjoy
a view like this, should the facilities be left to rot?

What a shame.

What a waste of good facilities and good money that went into building them.

Fog and mist saguaro cactus Arizona Sonoran Desert

A treasured view at former winter RV roost Phon D Sutton.

Last year I was lucky enough to have some wonderfully close encounters with the wild horses that live along the Salt River while we camped at Phon D Sutton.

Salt River Wild Horse Arizona

What a sight it was as this guy charged towards me.

Salt River Wild horses drinking

Down by the river the wild horses live a peaceful life.

When camping at Phon D Sutton, it was easy to rise in the dark and sneak down to the Salt River at dawn to watch the wild horses getting their morning drink.

Wild horses Salt River Phoenix Arizona

A glorious sunrise, complete with members of the wild horse herd getting a drink.

The Tonto National Forest wants to round up the wild horses and get rid of them!

Luckily, for the moment, protestations from the wild horse loving public have quashed that plan. The wild horses of the Salt River have a huge following and a support network that has fought valiantly and very publicly for them.

Part of their battle included two huge petitions that were signed by thousands. They also filed a lawsuit against Tonto National Forest.

Saguaro Cactus at sunset Arizona

A stunning sunset along the Bush Highway.

Perhaps a similarly passionate outcry from winter snowbird RVers from the north as well as local campers from Arizona would prevent our precious camping spots in this area from deteriorating into oblivion and would preserve the initial and very sizable investment that was made to build these public recreation areas years ago.

Phon D Sutton Recreation Area RV Camping Tonto National Forest

Phon D Sutton Recreation Area was beloved by all kinds of RVers and tent campers too.

But I’m not sure that the Tonto National Forest, noted by the current supervisor to be a “crown jewel” in the US Forest Service, even has public use or public recreation on its radar these days.

Right now, Tonto National Forest is mired in an earth shattering commercial use of its public land by non-Americans about 50 miles away from the Bush Highway at Oak Flat Campground. This is land that President Eisenhower specifically set aside for protection back in 1955 in an effort to avoid exactly what is happening today.

Saguaro cactus Arizona sunset

Protection of public land lasts only as long as our leaders want it to.

Foreign copper mining interests have acquired nearly four square miles of gorgeous Tonto National Forest land at Oak Flat Campground, a place that rock climbers cherish for its unique rock hoodoos and boulders.

Their new mine, Resolution Copper Mining, owned by British and Australian companies, will soon transform this unusual public land so they can get at the precious copper that lies 7,000′ down.

Copper Mine Globe Arizona 2

Here’s an open pit copper mine. This is the Ascaro Copper Mine located in Ray Arizona about 20 miles from the location of the new mine. This mine isn’t American owned either. It is owned by a Mexican company.

But how did foreigners get approval to build the world’s largest copper mine on America’s public land when little old snowbird RVers can’t even camp in places that were created specifically for public recreation and camping years ago?

The acquisition of this US Forest Service land parcel by Resolution Copper Mining was part of a land swap deal that got tacked onto the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, circumventing normal public notification and vetting.

Foreign mining companies Rio Tinto and BHP Copper formed Resolution Copper Mining, with 55% and 45% ownership respectively, and they are trading 8 small parcels of Arizona land totaling 5,344 acres that they already own for 2,422 acres of Tonto National Forest.

All the land will be appraised, and then Resolution Mining will either add cash to the deal if their land is of lesser value than the National Forest land or they will call it a donation if their land is worth more.

It is unclear if to me if the mineral value of the copper under the National Forest land will be included in the appraised value of what Tonto National Forest is giving up. Obviously, it should be.
Copper Mine Globe Arizona

Copper mining. The ribbons are roads and there are tiny trucks driving on the roads

The deal was pushed through by people who believed that the mine would create lots of jobs in a state that has 6.7 million residents and that it would bring money into the state by way of tax revenue as well.

According to Resolution Mining, after the mine is built, there will be 1,400 steady mining jobs during the peak years it is in operation and they anticipate paying $20 billion in taxes to the Feds and Arizona during they years the mine is profitable (provided they don’t take advantage of income tax loopholes and claim $0 profit).

Reports say it will take about 40 years to extract all the copper. After that, the few mining jobs will end, the copper in the ground will have been sold, with profits going abroad, and Arizona will be left with whatever mess and tailing piles Resolution Copper Mining decides to leave behind.

Copper Mining Globe Arizona

The future of the American people’s Tonto National Forest?

What exactly will this mine will look like? The wording of the deal exempts Resolution Copper Mining from abiding by any environmental mandates, so the new mine could easily be a dusty open pit, because that method of mining copper is cheapest and most profitable for the mine owners.

Reports have claimed the new mine will be a gaping crater two miles across and 1,000 feet deep and that a 500′ tall mountain of waste tailings will be dumped on another parcel of Tonto National Forest land within view from beautiful Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Ummmm…. 500′ tall equates to 50 stories high!

Asarco Copper Mine Ray Arizona

The new Resolution Copper Mine will be much larger than this one — the world’s largest!

But the Resolution Copper Mining website says it will all be done underground by carving the ore out of the rock using the “panel caving” method rather than the “open pit” mining method, and that a waste tailings site hasn’t yet been selected.

Saguaro cactus next to an Arizona copper mine

Saguaro cactus are up in arms about the mining techniques in use at Ascaro copper mine.

The only groups loudly voicing concern right now are the Native Americans, some of whom claim Oak Flat is a sacred area, and rock climbers who love the rock boulders so much they hold major competitions there.

Ironically, the public was outraged a few years ago when a Boy Scout troop leader deliberately knocked over a single red rock hoodoo at Goblin Valley State Park in Utah.

Somehow, that infraction doesn’t seem to compare with this.

The copper on this public land will fetch tens of billions of dollars for the mine owners, depending on copper prices during the period that the mine is in operation.

Enjoy Your National Forest

A sign behind the locked “Road Closed” gates at the Pebble Beach camping area.

So WHY has the Tonto National Forest Service closed the winter camping areas on the Bush Highway?

Are these campgrounds closed because Tonto National Forest doesn’t have the money to maintain them?

No! The leaders of Tonto National Forest have publicly proven that Tonto National Forest is sitting on minerals that are worth billions to eager and rich commercial buyers overseas.

If the leaders were skilled at negotiation, they could have made an enormous profit from the sale of land. But they decided not to bother!

Even more dramatic, Tonto National Forest has a truly gargantuan potential for cash revenue if they arranged the terms of the land deal to include receiving a percentage of the mammoth profits the foreign companies will make from everything they extract from or produce on that land.

But they didn’t even bother to negotiate for just 1% of the profit that these foreigners will be making by mining America’s public land.

Obviously, Tonto National Forest is an exceedingly rich forest, however, its stewards don’t seem to understand the basic economics and the rudiments of doing business or negotiating!

Are the camping areas close because Tonto National Forest wants to protect the delicate environment?

Obviously, that isn’t true either, because they have no problem decimating parts of the “crown jewel” in the Forest Service to build a copper mine. Even if the “panel caving” method of mining is used, it is expected that the mine will one day collapse, leaving a gaping four square mile pit.

Saguaro cactus under a rainbow in Arizona

What is the Tonto National Forest’s motive for closing the
Bush Highway camping areas?

So what is the motivation of Tonto National Forest to close the camping areas that earlier leadership kept open for winter RVers?

It isn’t a lack of money. And it isn’t a desire to protect the environment.

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Fall Color in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert near Roosevelt Lake

November 2015 – The climb up lofty Mt. Graham in southeastern Arizona had given us some beautiful autumn colors, and we were treated to even more as we drove our RV into central Arizona.

Autumn leaves Sonoran Desert riparian area Roosevelt Lake Arizona

Autumn splendor in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert

Fall color Sonoran Desert Riparian area Arizona

Colorful trees stood alongside the rivers, streams and washes.

We scooted along Route 88 to Roosevelt Lake and did some exploring along the shores of this beautiful body of water, the largest lake in the middle of the state. We had arrived at the peak of the Sonoran Desert’s fall foliage season.

Autumn colors Roosevelt Lake Arizona

One of many gorgeous views across Roosevelt Lake

It may not seem possible that a desert would have a fall foliage season, but the Sonoran Desert’s wetland areas along streams and washes (called “riparian” habitats) are loaded with wonderful sycamores and cottonwoods that turn vivid yellow and orange come fall.

Roosevelt Lake was created in 1911 by damming up the Salt River, and the water level rises and falls. Right now it was very low — the lake was just 40% full — and yellow trees filled an area that at times has been filled with water.

Autumn color Roosevelt Lake Arizona

Golden trees fill the void while the lake is down.

We found lots of rounded, smooth rocks along one part of the lake.

Roosevelt Lake Arizona pebble beach

A rocky shore

Even where the colors were muted, little bits of autumn flame peeked through, and the colors in late afternoon were just gorgeous.

Fall leaves sycamore trees Arizona desert

Fall colors reflected in the water.

Four Peaks Arizona Roosevelt Lake

A view of Four Peaks across the lake and desert

Roosevelt Lake autumn color Arizona

Compare this to the previous pic – Lighting is everything!

In one spot, Mark discovered a lone yellow wildflower looking up and opening its petals to the sun.

Wildflower Arizona desert

A tiny wildflower looks up from the ground.

Roosevelt Lake is an enormous lake whose southern shore runs for some 50 miles. In many places the saguaros were all standing around in groups. They seemed to be conversing in the morning sun. I wonder if they were sharing memories of a time when this lake was just an unpredictable river.

Sonoran Desert saguaro cactus Roosevelt Lake Arizona

Saguaro cactus commune in the morning sun by the lake.

On the far shore of the lake there were rolling hills of red sand. What a beautiful sight!

Roosevelt Lake Arizona Saguaro Cactus

Colors of the desert.

Saguaros are the sentinels of the desert, and they seemed to be keeping an eye on things at the lake.

Saguaro cactus Roosevelt Lake Arizona

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Meanwhile, down by the water’s edge, campers had set up their RVs right on the beach.

Lakeside RV boondocking Roosevelt Lake Arizona

Lakeside camping.

What a fantastic place to camp! Unfortunately, several of the boondocking areas along Roosevelt Lake were closed. We were told the closure was temporary, from mid-November to mid-February, and it was to protect the Canada geese.

Apparently the powers that be have never been to the green grassy areas in nearby Scottsdale where the Canada geese are thriving! Needless to say, there wasn’t a goose to be found.

RV boondocking Popup tent trailer Roosevelt Lake Arizona

Room with a view.

But there were two spots open, and RVers were enjoying beautiful waterfront campsites with views to die for.

RV boondocking Roosevelt Lake Arizona

Not a bad place to be!

And of course the sunsets were spectacular…

Roosevelt Lake sunset Arizona

An Arizona sunset at the lake.

For RV travelers who want to experience the Sonoran Desert in the peak of autumn glory, the season is the last two weeks of November, and the colors can be found anywhere there’s water.

RV Arizona sunset fifth wheel trailer

What a place!

Roosevelt Lake has hundreds of dry camping campsites in several different formal campgrounds as well as boondocking available along the lake. You need to get a Tonto Pass ($6 per night ($3 for seniors)), and they are sold at the convenience stores in the communities that lie at the eastern and western ends of the lake. Beginning in January, 2016, the rates will increase to $8 per night ($4 for seniors). There are flush toilets and hot showers at the Windy Hill and Choilla campgrounds.

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