Roosevelt Lake, AZ – Desert Oasis

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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

trailer looked

like heck when

we got to

Arizona, and

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

drove past.

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

had blown

every bit of dust

and pollution to

kingdom come,

so the air was

crisp and clear.

The lake was

full to


and the views

in every

direction were

filled with the

promise of


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

an excited

discussion around

the campfire

about a clump of

clover and a bee.

This little bee had


become a

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

before the

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

time there.

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.