Phoenix Parks – Saguaros and Sisters

Our saguaro friends say "hi."

Holding the moon close.

Wearing a halo.

An early Cardinal travel trailer.

1940's vintage

Another vintage Cardinal.

Saguaro holding pen.

First glimpse of Bartlett Lake.

These saguars have looked down this hillside for

more than a hundred years.

View of Bartlett Lake.

Pretty roads wind through the park.

From high on a ridge.

Cholla cactus catches the rays.

Lakeside Camping

Yellow Cliffs

Every saguaro has its own


Campground Full.

Not !!!!

Stray kitty says hello.

She'll be the new station cat for the

hot-shot firefighting crew.

Bartlett Dam.

North end of the lake.

Another great kayak ride.

A blue heron stalks the


The Bicycle Haus team takes a break in their 85 mile ride.

Dirt roads wander through the desert.


Swoopy saguaro

Warm (prickly)


After old age.

White Tanks & Bartlett Lake, Arizona

Early November, 2009 - We left Havasu Springs Resort ready for an exciting

change of pace:  White Tanks Regional Park on the west side of Phoenix.  This is a

pretty park and campground set smack in the middle of some of the nicest Sonoran Desert

there is.  We couldn't help but smile as the saguaro cactuses greeted us with arms held high.

The overall climate in central Arizona's Sonoran Desert

doesn't feel much different than the Mojave Desert of

Nevada, California and northwestern Arizona, but what a difference in vegetation.  It is lush

and vibrant, filled with unusual plant life, singing birds and hopping bunnies.

The central figure in this desert is the saguaro cactus, and they give the area its charm.  Each

one is unique, striking a pose with arms raised that suggests an almost reverent spirit.  These

precious and protected plants define the landscape, and as we drove into the park we felt like

we were coming home.

We woke up the next morning to find that one

section of the campground had been taken over

by a raft of tiny, ancient trailers.  Their owners, all

women, were gathered around a campfire,

and we learned that this was a rally of the

group "Sisters on the Fly."

Priscilla, one of the first members of the

group, invited me into her 1948 Pleasure

Craft trailer (unfortunately I never got a

photo).  The woodwork was beautiful,

but it was the antique refrigerator with

its heavy external latch that caught my

eye.  "That's what sold me on this

trailer," she said.  "That and this stove

here."  Both appliances were original,

and Priscilla was too.  What a great

gathering of ladies and buggies.

With their sporty air of independence,

laced with a touch of sass, these gals

seemed to have a great weekend

together.  I later checked out their

website,, and thoroughly enjoyed their "Caravan Trailers"

link.  It is a gallery of photos of their members' fantastic vintage trailers, many featuring

wonderful and humorous paint jobs.  Started ten years by two sisters, the club has

grown to over 1000 members.  What fun.

We left White Tanks to spend a little time at Bartlett Lake.  On the

way out we passed the sad sight of what happens to saguaro

cactuses when developers do their thing.  In order to build a new

library, something that will enhance the human community

immensely, the lovely Sonoran Desert abutting the park must be

cleared.  In the process, the cholla cactus, mesquite, and creosote

bushes get mowed down without a thought.  The saguaros,

however, are protected and endangered, so they get moved to a

holding pen for later transplanting.  Seeing all these fun little

personalities standing in a jail cell, arms up, awaiting an unknown

fate, always makes my heart ache.  It happens all over central

Arizona all the time, but that doesn't make it any easier to witness.

It is unfortunate that the most lush and gorgeous of our American

deserts has also turned out to be such a popular place to live.  There are thousands of square miles of barren Mojave desert, but

the beautiful Sonoran desert that is unique to Arizona and northern Mexico has been systematically dismantled in Arizona for the

last century in order to make way for the urban sprawl of Phoenix and Tucson.  If only those cities had been founded in a place that

didn't lose its unique beauty when bulldozed.

The road to Bartlett Lake is one of the area's most scenic.  The

lake pops into view as you round a bend, and grows larger and

larger as you descend towards it.

Taking many bike rides along the roads that wind through this

part of the Tonto National Forest over the next few days, I kept

holding us both up by stopping to get photos.

This rich desert landscape is

otherworldly, although it is alive with

animal activity.  The prickly plants of

all shapes and sizes ring out with the

unique calls and rustlings of the

Gambel's quails, curve-billed

thrashers, cactus wrens and gila


Teddy bear chollas look so cuddly I

always find myself stomping into the desert to get a closer

look, only to find myself sitting with a pair of pliers later,

yanking their long thick thorns out of the soles of my shoes.

There is dispersed camping along the lake's shores, and

because the lake was being drained to an unusually low

level during our visit, to allow for dam repairs, the choice of

campsites was immense.

We rode down to the Yellow

Cliffs and circled back to our

campsite.  This area is layered in

memories for us, as we used to

ride our bikes out here

frequently to "get in some miles" and get away from the city, Mark

used to bring his kids here to swim, and we spent some happy

nights here in our popup as well.

Shortly after we pulled into our

campsite, we heard an incessant

meowing.  A little black and white kitty

suddenly came over to us and started

rubbing herself on our legs.  Where did

she come from?  The nearest house is in a huge masterplanned

community of mansions 14 miles away.  There was no way this

little cat had come that far.  Her coat was still clean and she was

perfect coyote snacking size.  We guessed she had been

abandoned or had snuck out of someone's car during a visit to

the lake in the last day or two.

We gave her some tuna,

and watched her lustily

chow down and lick the can

clean.  She promptly

adopted our top front step

as her own and spent the

afternoon watching the

world through half-closed

eyes from that vantage

point.  We couldn't keep her

and kept racking our brains

to come up with a friend in the area who might need

a cat these days.  None came to mind.

But at that moment a US Forest Service truck pulled

up and two young fellows jumped out.  They were

on the hot-shot forest fire crew for Tonto National

Forest and were busy trimming trees while waiting

for the next forest fire to break out.  They took one

look at the little kitten and fell in love too.  "Our

station cat was really old and he just died," one of

them said.  "We need a new station cat!"  How cool

is that.  The guys said they still had a stack of cat

food back at the station too.  The kitty hung out in

the shade near the fire fighters for the rest of the

day, and they whisked her off to the station once

their shift ended.  Truly one of the best stray cat

stories I've ever seen.

We've been to Bartlett Lake

countless times but had never

explored its back roads that wind

behind the dam.  After a steep

climb we got a great view of the

lake and then descended to the

river beyond the dam where there

are small campsites.

We even got out on the kayak and had

a chance to get up close and personal,

checking out the exposed shoreline.  A blue heron was patiently

fishing nearby.

One Saturday morning we got a glimpse of our old lives as the

Bicycle Haus bike team arrived from Scottsdale, flying down the

final screaming descent towards the lake.  We rode with

them back up to the ranger's station, some 14 miles from

the lake, and were glad we didn't have another 30 miles to

go after that to get to the starting point like they did.

Instead, we wandered along the roads at a slow pace, taking

leisurely photos of our dear friends, the saguaros.

In the backs of our minds we were mulling over what to do once

the winter weather started to arrive.  We didn't know just yet, but

new and different kinds of adventures were in store for us on the

Caribbean island of Grenada.