Our saguaro friends say "hi."
Holding the moon close.
Wearing a halo.
An early Cardinal travel trailer.
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.
Every saguaro has its own
Stray kitty says hello.
She'll be the new station cat for the
hot-shot firefighting crew.
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.
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, www.sistersonthefly.com, 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
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.