Roosevelt Lake, Arizona
April 5-18, 2009 - We left Chanute, Kansas in a blast of cold headwinds.
Those miserable winds pummeled us all the way across Oklahoma, Texas
and New Mexico. We were totally windblown by the time we arrived in
Arizona, and we were utterly fed up with fighting it every time we set foot
outside the trailer. Our usual mileage of 10 mpg while towing dropped as
low as 7.7 through parts of Oklahoma, and for the entire trip across
country our average was a dismal 8.5.
The truck and
like heck when
we got to
we did too. So
it was with great excitement that I
opened our door and looked out
at the lake on our second
morning and felt not just warm
sun on my skin but the sweetest
of gentle breezes on my face.
This is one of those areas that is
a little jewel on our planet.
Coming into Windy Hill Recreation
Area there is a fantastic curvy
road, and I spent several happy
hours on two different days
running up and down the road
getting pictures of RVs as they
Roosevelt Lake was dammed in 1911, and at the time was the largest
man-made lake in the world. We had lived in Phoenix, next door to this
little piece of heaven, for years, yet we had never been there. I couldn't
believe how beautiful it was. If we had known about it, we would have
camped there every spring and fall weekend in our popup tent trailer.
The lake is open to boaters of all kinds, and a marina sits next to the
visitors center. There are lots of houseboats at the marina. What a fun
place to roost for a while.
We had ridden our bikes on just about every road in the area with
various organized bike rides over the years, but the one spectacular
road that runs alongside the lake was a whole new discovery for us.
seemed to be
in bloom when
we arrived, and
the high winds
every bit of dust
and pollution to
so the air was
crisp and clear.
The lake was
and the views
filled with the
We were blessed with a full moon
during our stay, and a group of birds
swooped back and forth in front of
the moon as it rose one evening.
The entire lake is smack in the
middle of Tonto National Forest, so
there is virtually no development
anywhere other than the slightly
developed campgrounds and an
Indian cliff dwelling site nearby. I
was amazed by how many
campgrounds there are, and how
many campsites within each
campground. The USFS has closed
several campgrounds and closed
many loops within the open
campgrounds, probably because
they just don't get enough
business to make it worthwhile to
maintain it all.
The campgrounds are set along little peninsulas, and many campsites
have a waterfront view. Whoever designed the campgrounds along this
lake did an outstanding job. There is boondocking too, but the
campgrounds are so spacious and pretty that we opted for a waterfront
site at the end of a peninsula instead.
Throughout our visit the cameras just kept clicking. In every direction
we turned there seemed to be another lovely shot. Friends of ours
were camped nearby, and each evening the discussion always seemed
to wander back to the various photos all of us had taken during the day.
One evening I
came back from a
bike ride to hear
about a clump of
clover and a bee.
This little bee had
supermodel for the afternoon, and we
had fun comparing all the different
photos of him.
The Sonoran Desert is one of my
favorite places. It extends from
Arizona into Sonora, Mexico, and is
extremely lush, filled with a wide
variety of flowers, birds and cactus. It
is the only place in the world where
the wise old saguaro cactus chooses
to live, and they rule the landscape
with a myriad of personalities, all
seeming to wave a greeting to their fellow cactus.
The saguaros that have a cluster of arms are often 150 years old or
more. Those cactus grew up in a very different world -- one with a
small river instead of a lake, for starters.
The main road hugs the lake for many miles, and on a few
days we ventured out to Tonto Basin, a small community at
the far north end of the lake. On those morning drives the
hillsides were alive with bright yellow flowers and towering
cactus, looking down at the lake. In the distance we could see
Four Peaks, an aptly named mountain range that makes a distinct
landmark on the horizon when looking east from Phoenix. Here we got
to see its back
A bridge spans
the river just
dam, and every
time you drive
by it begs you
to take a
On several days we went out in the
kayak and pedaled and paddled
around. The wind resumed its howling
every few days, so we had some
sloppy times on the water with the
spray flying. But there were some
really calm days too. Those were
times of heavenly relaxation and
The lake is an interesting habitat because it is in the
middle of the richest Sonoran Desert land, but
because the body of water is so large, ducks, grebes and even seagulls set up
housekeeping here too. Whenever we would go out in the kayak we were always
amazed to see hundreds of grebes swimming around. They would alert each other to
our presence with frantic calls, and as we approached, one by one they would dive
underwater. At the same time we could also hear the calls of the Gambel quail from
their perches in the desert scrub along the shore.
The fishermen complained
that the fishing wasn't too
good. That surprised us,
because we saw all kinds of huge fish leaping out of the water as we
paddled. Maybe their noisy powerboats were scaring off their catch.
The cycling in this area is spectacular as well.
There are a lot of organized rides sponsored by
the Arizona bike clubs that travel many of the
roads in this part of the state, however I know of
none that go along the lakeside road (route
188). It would be the perfect location for an
organized ride: stunning scenery, challenging
climbs, screaming descents, and lots of picnic
areas for rest stops.
Roosevelt Lake is a gorgeous place, and we
felt blessed to be able to spend a good bit of
A little cardinal sang his heart out on one of our last mornings.
He seemed so happy to be alive. Roosevelt Lake makes you feel
that way. Sadly, we eventually had to pack up and go. We drove
the beautiful lakeside road one last time and then turned west
once again to journey on to California.