Spring Has Sprung! – Sweet Days at Roosevelt Lake, Arizona

April 2019 – The travel stories on this blog often present the fantastic new discoveries we’ve made in our travels, but sometimes our life on the road progresses uneventfully. And so it has these past weeks.

Revisiting and staying in a place we know know and love, we’ve found that each day has slipped into the next without fanfare or breathtaking thrills. Life has been moving at a sweet and gentle pace!

Sunset in eastern Arizona-min

Sunset in eastern Arizona.

RV fifth wheel trailer under the stars-min

Camping under the stars.

After exploring a little bit of eastern Arizona, we made our way to Roosevelt Lake where Spring was in full bloom.

Roosevelt Lake Arizona-min

Roosevelt Lake

The water level in the lake had been at 49% when we’d visited in January, and was shockingly low. Many former coves and bays had been filled with trees.

Now the lake had swollen to 84% of full volume and showed few signs of slowing down. Lots of hiking trails and dirt roads we’d explored in January were now under 20′ of water!

Arizona Roosevelt Lake-min

Swollen banks and submerged trees!

Roosevelt Lake is the first lake in the chain of dammed lakes in the Salt River as it flows downstream, so this fast rise in the lake’s water level was due to rain and snow-melt upstream rather than the simple opening of floodgates in a dam. How wonderful to see the desert get such a nice big drink from Mother Nature!

Yellow wildflowers at Roosevelt Lake Arizona-min

Yellow flowers dance above the shores of Roosevelt Lake

Yellow, pink and purple wildflowers were in bloom in every nook and cranny of the desert. They craned their faces towards the sun. Some of the cactus varieties had begun to bloom too. Their flowers were big and vibrant, bursting out of the nasty thorny cactus arms in a gorgeous display. It was as if Nature were saying through these blossoms, “Never judge a book by its cover!”

Cactus flowers in Arizona Spring-min

The prickliest cactus bear the most beautiful flowers.

Cactus flowers in Spring in Arizona-min

For the 50 weeks a year that these flowers aren’t blooming you’d never guess what those other 2 weeks are like!

We took our new little RZR out on the roads through the desert to see if we could find more flowers. It wasn’t hard!

Polaris RZR with lupine wildflowers in Arizona-min

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Every now and then we’d get a whiff of a flowery fragrance wafting through the air. Buddy rode with his nose twitching eagerly.

Puppy sniffs the breeze in Polaris RZR-min

Buddy sniffs the air as we drive in the RZR.

For some reason some of the best wildflower displays seem to be along the edges of big paved roads and surrounding parking lots. We found some glorious bunches of flowers in and around Tonto National Monument.

Wildflowers in Arizona spring-min

The wildflowers were most plentiful along the paved highways!

Wildflowers in Arizona-min

And around Tonto National Monument too!

A few years ago we’d visited the Boyce Thompson Arboretum which specializes in Sonoran Desert plants, but the flowers blooming in the parking lot had soaked up all our energy and after two hours of roaming around the parking lot and filling our cameras with photos we’d had almost no energy left to see whatever was on display inside the Arboretum!

So it was here. Tonto National Monument has a delightful picnic area that is rarely used, but the wildflowers around the artfully situated picnic ramadas are lovely!

Wildflowers in Arizona-min

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Wildflowers in Arizona-min

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We couldn’t get over the rise in the lake’s water level, and we wandered down to the water’s edge many times to monitor its progress as it rose each day. Sunny hot days soon gave way to blustery cold days. The waves took on a menacing look and the patterns in the sky were beautiful as the dark clouds raced across the heavens.

Waves at Roosevelt Lake Arizona-min

Wind whipped the waves on the shore.

Curvy tree trunk and swirling cloud-min

An unusual curvy cloud and tree trunk.

Polaris RZR

Storm clouds by the shore.

Every single boat ramp around the lake was open, something we haven’t seen in years, and along with that, many campground loops near the boat ramps that had been closed for a long time were now open as well.

The flip side of that, though, was that one of the lowest lying boat ramps — the one that never has to close, even when the lake level drops super low — was almost completely submerged.

Submerged dock and boat ramp at Roosevelt Lake-min

Not only did you have to walk uphill onto the floating dock, the entire boat ramp was under water (left),
all the way up to the tippy top!

Mark drove the RZR through the water at the top of the boat ramp and had fun making waves.

Polaris RZR driving through water in Arizona-min

Mark had fun splashing in the water at the top of the boat ramp.

Polaris RZR leaves a wake in the water at an Arizona boat ramp-min

Weeee!

As Easter Weekend approached, more and more people came out to enjoy the lake. Hundreds of boats filled the parking lots and fishermen were eagerly casting.

Fishing at Roosevelt Lake-min

The anglers were out in droves, both on shore and in fishing boats.

Buddy’s favorite part of these peaceful days was lizard hunting. His preferred method of going after these lightning fast creatures is to leap in the air and pounce. We spent many happy hours watching him and trying to catch him in the act on our cameras. But it’s not so easy!

Puppy jumping in the lupine in Arizona-min

Leaping for lizards!

Puppy jumping in the wildflowers in Arizona-min

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While he chased the lizards and occasional jack rabbits we savored the brilliant colors of spring.

Pink Wildflowers in Arizona-min

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Wildflowers in Arizona-min

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Delicate wildflower in Arizona-min

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Arizona wildflowers

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Pink and yellow wildflowers in Arizona-min

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One evening the sky gave us an especially dramatic sunset. Above the horizon a huge cloud swirled and rolled over and around itself like a ball of pink cotton candy in the sky.

Sunset at Roosevelt Lake Arizona-min

Cotton candy!

Sunset across the lake brought some lovely reflections.

Sunset over Four Peaks Arizona-min

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And a full moon rose over the desert.

Full moonrise at dusk in Arizona-min

Full moon rising

Sometimes the best times in our travels are the quiet languid days when we slow down and bask in a beloved place once again!

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Rainbows and Wild Horses in the Arizona Desert!

February 2019 – For us, 2019 started out with a zoom when we bought a new-to-us Polaris RZR 900. But we set it aside for ten days so we we could do a quickie National Parks Snowstorm Tour to see Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon decked out in snow.

When we returned to Arizona’s Sonoran Desert and began to thaw out again, we were ready to ride.

Happy campers in Polaris RZR next to saguaro cactus-min

Two very happy campers ready for some adventure.

Polaris RZR and puppy at campsite in Arizona-min

Our campsite looks a bit different now with our new addition!

We had decided to triple tow the RZR on a small 5′ x 10′ utility trailer behind our fifth wheel trailer, and we were very uncertain how this arrangement would work out.

So, we were absolutely thrilled when we did our first 125 mile trip across the north edge of Phoenix, including a stop at an RV dump station in a fairly tight gas station, and found it went really smoothly!

UTV trail in the Arizona Sonoran Desert-min

The little RZR is our ticket to new thrills!

View from a Polaris RZR in Arizona-min

A new perspective.

Our biggest concern had been how this train of truck + 5th wheel trailer + utility trailer would handle in tight spaces. We do a lot more U-turns in our traveling lifestyle than we’d care to admit, and being able to reverse direction without becoming a bull in a china shop is important!

Polaris RZR on the trail in Arizona-min

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It turns out that because the utility trailer is really narrow — five feet wide as compared to the fifth wheel’s eight foot width — its wheels take a wider turning arc than those on the fifth wheel. What a surprise!

When we were maneuvering in the tight spaces of the gas station to get to the RV dump on the side, we inadvertently rolled the fifth wheel’s tires over a curb.

We expected to feel a second thump-bump of the utility trailer’s wheels going over the curb too, but when we watched the trailer behind us, it scooted smartly around the corner and stayed in the road the whole time with a few inches to spare.

Saguaro cactus and RZR UTV trail in Arizona-min

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Polaris RZR and old wind mill-min

Mark loves old windmills so we always stop to get pics of them!

Once we got our train detached and set up in a campsite, we started taking the RZR out on excursions. What a blast that little buggy is!

We have camped at Roosevelt Lake many times over the years, and have always wondered what lay in the distant mountains and valleys around the lake. Now we could get on the trails and find out.

Saguaro cactus on the Salt River in Arizona-min

Where the desert meets the water at Roosevelt Lake.

Ribbon of dirt trail in Arizona Sonoran Desert-min

A ribbon of road…

Saguaro cactus late afternoon sun on the Salt River-min

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There are quite a few dirt roads and 4×4 trails that head off into the hills, and we explored a lot of them.

Some we could have driven in the truck, and some we could have mountain biked, but most would have been impossible for either our truck or bikes.

Saguaro cactus in afternoon sun in Arizona-min

Late afternoon glow on the saguaro cacti high above the lake.

Puppy at Roosevelt Lake Arizona-min

After a little off-road riding it’s nice to stretch the ol’ legs on a hike!

Cactus and red rocks at Roosevelt Lake Arizona-min

Cactus and red rocks. What a combo!

It was satisfying to go down roads we couldn’t have accessed without the RZR. That is why we bought it, after all!

In a few places we came to trailheads. Some were sections of the cross-state Arizona Trail. It was neat to be able to hop out of the RZR and go do a couple miles of hiking without seeing a soul around.

Even though it was late January to early February, some of the higher elevation hillsides were covered with desert poppies. We also saw a few lupine blooming here and there! I don’t quite understand why the desert poppies would bloom at high elevations in January and at lower elevations in March, but Nature has its mysteries.

Poppies in the Arizona Sonoran Desert-min

We were very surprised to find some higher elevation hillsides covered with desert poppies.

Spring poppies and lupine in Arizona Sonoran Desert-min

There were lupine too!

Desert poppies in Arizona-min

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Some trails just petered out after a while, but one day we traveled deep into Tonto National Forest on a series of trails that seemed to go on forever. We passed a homestead and crossed quite a few cattle boundaries, opening cattle gates to let ourselves through and closing them behind us as instructed by signs on the gates.

In a few spots we saw cows and calves. We weren’t too excited about them, but Buddy perked right up and watched them closely.

At one point we looked up on a berm and there was a wild horse staring at us. Buddy dashed up the berm to touch noses with it and then he bolted back down again.

Wild horse and puppy in Arizona Sonoran Desert-min

“Hey little fella, come back here!”
Buddy ran back down the hill after saying hello to the wild horse.

These horses were definitely the wild kind we’ve seen along the Salt River before, but they were very tame and seemed as curious about us as we were about them.

Wild horse that is tame on the Salt River in Arizona-min

These horses were extremely curious about us.

Talking to wild horses of the Salt River-min

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Petting a wild horse in Arizona-min

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They had the familiar fuzzy faces that the wild horses of this area have, and they had no shoes on their feet.

Wild horse furry face in Arizona-min

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Their unusual calmness in our presence made us wonder if someone had been feeding them or working with them in some way. Their manes and tails weren’t covered with burrs the way many wild horses are, and they seemed to be well fed, no doubt due to the lush green grasses covering all the hillsides!

Wild horse with cactus in the Arizona desert-min

Classic — A wild horse standing between a saguaro cactus and an old cactus skeleton.

How cool to head into the National Forest and come across these special horses!

Wild horse and cactus in Arizona national forest-min

His friend struck a pose too…

We had a blast every time we went out for a ride. It seems that this RZR thing is going to be a lot of fun!

Polaris RZR in the Arizona Sonoran Desert-min

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Polaris RZR on the trail in Arizona desert-min

Room to roam.

Polaris RZR at an overlook in Arizona-min

What a view!

The funny thing, though, is that sometimes the most dramatic and beautiful things in life are those things that come to you on their own rather than you hunting them down in a RZR!

One day we went to the nearby town of Globe to do laundry and other errands. We decided not to pack our cameras because, well, what is there to take photos of on errand day at the laundromat? Besides, it was pouring pitchforks and we knew we were in for an all-day rain.

On our way back we noticed the sun peaking out of the clouds once in a while. Then suddenly we saw the most enormous rainbow crossing the entire hilly desert landscape alongside the truck.

OMG! Why didn’t we have our cameras?

Roosevelt Lake rainbow in Arizona-min

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It was a 30 mile drive to get back to the campground, and the rainbow followed us the entire way, its little pot of gold moving across the desert right below it just as fast as we were driving. At times there was a double rainbow!

Double rainbow Roosevelt Lake Arizona-min

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We couldn’t believe we were seeing this stunning spectacle with no way to photograph it, but we resigned ourselves to just enjoying the rainbow out the window and imagining the photos we would have taken in this spot and in that spot.

The shock, though, was that the rainbow was visible and with us for the entire 30 mile drive until we pulled into the campground.

Unfortunately, by the time we got back to our campsite, the rainbow was gone. We began unloading the truck, excited but dejected that we had missed this incredible rainbow photo-op.

Suddenly, as we made yet another trip out to the truck to bring in more stuff, we looked up and saw the rainblow forming in the distance. We both dove for our cameras and began snapping like mad. The rainbow’s colors intensified until we were both exclaiming that we had never seen a rainbow so bright!

The colors were so vivid that they reflected across the water even though the surface of the lake was slightly ruffled by a soft breeze.

Reflecting rainbow Roosevelt Lake Arizona-min

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Rainbow on an Arizona lake-min

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Rainbow at Roosevelt Lake Arizona-min

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We ran along the shoreline trying to find the best vantage point, and the rainbow just kept on glowing. We were astonished and elated.

That night the rain came down in buckets on our trailer. We woke the next morning to black clouds and more rain. No problem. Mark baked banana bread and life was good and toasty warm.

Late that afternoon the skies cleared and the sun came out for a little while. And then we had a repeat of the day before as a rainbow formed in the distance.

Storm clouds and rainbow at Roosevelt Lake Arizona-min

A rainbow peeks out from beneath the storm clouds in the distance.

The sun played hide-and-seek with the clouds, and the land brightened and darkened as the clouds frothed overhead.

Rainbow and clouds at Roosevelt Lake Arizona-min

The sun lit the foreground for a moment.

Light and shadow and rainbow and storm clouds in Arizona-min

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A dark shadow formed in the sky but the rainbow was still visible underneath. How wonderful!

Rainbow behind cloud shadow on Roosevelt Lake-min

A distinct shadow appeared in the sky above the rainbow.

What a thrill this was, and what a great surprise.

The days of rain eventually stopped, and although that was the end of the rainbows, the churning skies gave us some fabulous clouds that produced brilliant sunsets over the next few days.

Sunset in the Arizona Sonoran Desert-min

A glorious Arizona sunset.

Then one morning the sky was perfectly clear as the sun crested the horizon, and with that the celestial show was over for a while.

Lakeside sunrise in the Arizona desert

A new day begins.

We never know what to expect when we get up each day. Sometimes we go looking for adventure — and the RZR is proving to be a great way to get there — but sometimes the adventure finds us!

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Lost Dutchman State Park Campground – Arizona Gold in the Superstitions

February 2018 – Lost Dutchman State Park in Apache Junction, Arizona, just east of Phoenix, is one of our favorite RV campgrounds. Back when we first started RVing with our popup tent trailer, we visited Lost Dutchman State Park frequently.

Lost Dutchman State Park RV camping trip to the Superstition Mountains Arizona-min

The Superstition Mountains are the centerpiece of Lost Dutchman State Park in Arizona

We recently returned and were blown away once again by the beauty of this State Park and campground that is smack in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, tucked up against the stunning Superstition Mountains.

RV camping at Lost Dutchman State Park Arizona-min

Lost Dutchman State Park has beautiful RV campsites.

Not only are the campsites spacious and often positioned with a great view of the Superstitions, but there are hiking trails leading out from each of the campground loops that invite you into the desert. On one afternoon we were greeted by a pair of horseback riders as we hiked.

Horseback riding Lost Dutchman State Park Siphon Draw Trail to Superstition Mountains-min

Horses pass us on the hiking trail.

The sunrises and sunsets are colorful and dramatic, and we enjoyed walking the campground loop in the early morning and early evening light.

Saguaro cactus Lost Dutchman State Park Superstition Mountains sunset-min

Sunrise at Lost Dutchman State Park.

RV camping and mountain biking Lost Dutchman State Park Arizona-min

Mountain bikers enjoy the trails at Lost Dutchman.

For a change of pace from the hiking, mountain biking and desert scenery inside Lost Dutchman State Park, there are two popular tourist attractions just outside the gate: Superstition Mountain Museum and Goldfield Ghost Town.

The Superstition Mountain Museum has lots of buildings and artifacts from the early gold mining days of the mid-1800s and tells the story of Jacob Waltz, “the Dutchman” (actually German) who made a big gold strike in the Superstition Mountains but took the details of its whereabouts to his grave.

Chapel at Superstition Mountain Museum Apache Junction Arizona-min

The Chapel at the Superstition Mountain Museum.

I loved climbing into the stagecoach!

Superstition Mountain Stage Coach Line Arizona-min

Buddy wanted to see the view from the stage coach window.

There is a saloon and a jail and lots of gold mining equipment too.

Superstition Mountain Museum Saloon Apache Junction Arizona-min

Buddy couldn’t go into the saloon because he’s underage.

Jailhouse Superstition Mountain Museum Arizona-min

Jailbirds.

The Superstition Mountain Museum is a non-profit organization that works to preserve the history of the Superstition mountains. Just a mile or so away Goldfield Ghost Town brings history to life with a replica of a gold mining town, complete with a brothel, bank and apothecary shop.

Goldfield Ghost Town Lost Dutchman State Park Arizona RV trip-min

Goldfield Ghost Town has lots of boutique shops and gold mining artifacts.

Goldfield Ghost Town apothecary and other antique buildings-min

Goldfield Ghost Town

Gold panning at Goldfield Ghost Town Superstition Mountains Arizona-min

Goldfield Ghost Town

Between the buildings at Goldfield Ghost Town we caught glimpses of the Superstition Mountains.

Superstition mountains behind Goldfield Ghost Town on Arizona RV trip-min

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There are lots of things to do at Goldfield Ghost Town, including taking a gold mine tour. There are also various rides and guided tours that go out into the desert both by jeep and on horseback.

Cowboy at Goldfield Ghost Town Apache Junction Arizona-min

There are rides available by jeep, on horseback and by narrow guage railway train.

Horses ready to ride the Superstition Mountains Siphon Draw trail-min

Horses rest between rides.

There’s also a narrow guage railroad train ride around the property. As I looked down the tracks to see if a train was coming I saw a hobo and his dog walking towards me on the tracks!

Goldfield Ghost Town train track hobos Apache Junction Arizona-min

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There was even an old outhouse with a moon shaped window.

Goldfield Ghost Town outhouse-min

No ghost town is complete without an outhouse!

A certain someone decided to check out the facilities and then peeked out the window.

Buddy in the Goldfield Ghost Town outhouse-min

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A couple dressed in period outfits sang old folk songs by the side of the dirt road.

Musicians Goldfield Ghost Town Superstition Mountains Arizona-min

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A deceased fiddle player accompanied them in a nearby boutique shop!

Funny musician Goldfield Ghost Town Superstition Mountains Arizona-min

The music never dies.

There were lots of fun photo ops at both the Superstition Mountain Museum and Goldfield Ghost Town.

Wooden shutters Goldfield Ghost Town Apache Junction Arizona-min

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Goldfield Ghost Town Siphon Draw Arizona-min

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For RVers staying at Lost Dutchman State Park who appreciate a yummy cuppa joe and a muffin in the morning, there’s a terrific espresso coffee shop and bakery at Goldfield Ghost Town.

As we approached the door one morning, someone yelled from the deck, “Hey Mark and Emily!” It turned out our dog-loving friends Dick & Katie–who we hadn’t seen in two years–had noticed Buddy trotting up to the coffee shop and instantly recognized him from his pics on this blog. “I know that dog,” Katie said to Dick. Then they followed his leash up to our faces and recognized us too!

Buddy biscuits

Buddy was sniffing around at the pet store recently and found some Buddy Biscuits!

Lost Dutchman State Park is the only public government-run campground in the greater Phoenix area that has a dry camping loop with big-rig friendly non-hookup sites. The terrific benefit for winter RVers is that even though all the dry camping sites can be reserved in advance, the hookup sites are much more popular and get booked up before the dry sites do.

So, unlike other campgrounds in the area, it is possible to stay at Lost Dutchman in a beautiful campsite without reserving a campsite months in advance. If you decide to stay there at the very last minute, there is an overflow area in a paved parking lot too, so you most likely won’t be turned away.

Lost Dutchman State Park RV trip Superstition Mountains and saguaro cactus-min

Hiking at Lost Dutchman is a real treat.

Saguaro cactus Lost Dutchman State Park RV camping trip in Arizona-min

Golden hour in the Superstitions.

For photography buffs, the Superstitions light up with a beautiful golden glow in the late afternoon just before sunset.

Superstition Mountains Lost Dutchman State Park Arizona-min

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Saguaro cactus at sunset Lost Dutchman State Park RV camping Arizona-min

Sunset.

Sunrise is also very lovely at Lost Dutchman, with pink and orange skies framing the silhouette of the Superstition Mountains.

Sunrise RV camping at Lost Dutchman State Park Arizona-min

Sunrise.

Here are some books about the mystery of the Lost Dutchman and a hiking guide to the Superstition Mountains:

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More info about Lost Dutchman State Park, the Superstition Mountain Museum and Goldfield Ghost Town:

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Dolly Steamboat – Gliding Through the Arizona Desert on Canyon Lake

February 2018 – One of the most enjoyable ways to experience the beauty of the Sonoran Desert in Arizona is to take a boat ride on one of the lakes around Phoenix. Years ago we rode on the Desert Belle on Saguaro Lake and absolutely loved it. This past week we took a ride on the Dolly Steamboat on Canyon Lake.

Dolly Steamboat Canyon Lake Arizona RV trip

Dolly Steamboat floats through the Sonoran Desert on Canyon Lake in Arizona.

While we were camped in our RV on Canyon Lake, our new puppy Buddy loved going down on the beach, especially during our early morning photo sessions. He liked to show us how fast he could zip between the legs of our tripods.

Photography at Canyon Lake Arizona-min

Buddy shows us his slalom skills.

When he wasn’t busy doing that, he was sprinting across the lakeside lawn carrying his favorite pink rope toy.

Puppy Chow plays fetch at Canyon Lake RV Park-min

Canyon Lake Marina & Campground has a big open grassy area that’s great for playing fetch.

Late one afternoon while he was down on the beach playing with the waves, he noticed an inflatable boat that had been pulled up on the beach. Hmmmm… a boat ride might be pretty fun!

Boating at Canyon Lake Arizona-min

A little sailor dog is born.

While we were out walking the next morning I was busy snapping pics of our shadows on the ground when we looked up and noticed the Dolly Steamboat moored at the dock.

Walking with puppy at Canyon Lake Marina Arizona-min

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The Dolly Steamboat was patiently waiting to take her first group of passengers out for a nature tour on Canyon Lake.

Docked Dolly Steamboat at Canyon Lake Arizona on an RV trip-min

Dolly Steamboat on Canyon Lake

Dolly Steamboat docked at Canyon Lake Arizona-min

Dolly Steamboat rests at dawn.

A steamboat ride definitely seemed like it would be a lot of fun to do together.

Dolly Steamboat Canyon Lake Arizona RV trip-min

What would the pup think of a boat ride?!

Canyon Lake is a beautiful big, blue lake in the middle of the desert, and we had been getting lots of photos of it from the shore as we drove up and down the Apache Trail. But seeing a lake from the shore isn’t the same as seeing it from the water.

Canyon Lake Arizona RV Trip-min

Canyon Lake is a big blue expanse of water in the middle of the desert.

We talked about doing a boat ride on the Dolly Steamboat over dinner.

Puppy enjoys dinner in the RV-min

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And Buddy slept on the idea too.

Puppy relaxes in RV-min

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He slept right through the enormous rising full moon!

Full moon Canyon Lake Arizona RV trip-min

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He’s a very quiet little pooch, but he does know how to express himself and let us know what he wants.

Puppy Chow in our RV-min

“I’ve been really really good for days. Can I go on that boat ride now?”

The next day we went to stand in line at the Dolly Steamboat dock. A group of kids in front of us eagerly waited for Dolly to come in from her last excursion.

Kids wait for Dolly Steamboat ride at Canyon Lake Arizona-min

Kids wait for the Dolly Steamboat to arrive at the dock.

Finally, she appeared, and we made our way down the dock and onto the boat.

Dolly Steamboat Canyon Lake Arizona RV trip-min

There she is!

Walking down to the Dolly Steamboat ride on Canyon Lake Arizona-min

Mark and Buddy walk down the dock.

Captain Jason was very friendly.

Captain Jason Dolly Steamboat Canyon Lake Arizona RV trip-min

Captain Jason.

Seen from our truck window on the Apache Trail (Route 88), Canyon Lake doesn’t look all that big. But to our surprise, we traveled three miles into the hinterlands, winding our way through fabulous rock canyons that were studded with saguaro cactus.

Canyon Lake Arizona RV trip-min

Canyon Lake turns out to be a lot bigger than it seems from the Apache Trail.

Canyon Lake Dolly Steamboat ride in Arizona-min

The Dolly Steamboat heads into the canyon where it will disappear from view.

There is seating out on deck, and we found a seat at a table to take in the view.

Puppy on Dolly Steamboat Cruise Canyon Lake Arizona-min

There are wonderful seats on the deck that offer a great view.

While we marveled at the scenery, Buddy enjoyed the new smells.

Admiring views Canyon Lake Dolly Steamboat Arizona-min

Buddy tests the air with his nose.

We were startled at how rugged and dramatic the rock canyons were. As music by Enya played softly over the loudspeaker, we floated past exquisite desert landscapes.

The Captain was hoping to spot some big horn sheep, which are a fairly common sighting on this tour, but the herd was somewhere else that afternoon.

It didn’t matter, though, the scenery was so stunning.

Views on Dolly Steamboat Ride Canyon Lake Arizona-min

The rocky canyon is extremely craggy and rugged with saguaro cacti poking up all over the place.

Canyon Lake Scenery Dolly Steamboat Cruise Arizona-min

There were always more views around the next bend. There are two free boat-in campgrounds too!

The Dolly Steamboat has indoor seating down below, as well as snacks and goodies for sale.

Admiring the views Dolly Steamboat Canyon Lake Arizona-min

If it’s too hot on deck, there’s a cool spot in the cabin with big picture windows.

But Buddy’s favorite spot was a place in the shade up on deck where he got a dog’s eye view.

Puppy enjoys the view on Canyon Lake Dolly Steamboat Ride Arizona-min

Buddy found a cool spot of his own down a narrow passageway on deck.

Finally, after about an hour and a half of gliding through the desert on glassy water, it was time to head back in to shore.

Dolly Steamboat Canyon Lake Arizona RV trip-min

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If you are traveling through the eastern side of Phoenix, Arizona, and have an afternoon or evening to spare, take a ride on the Dolly Steamboat. They have starlit dinner cruises too!

Dolly Steamboat Cruise with puppy Canyon Lake Arizona RV trip-min

This simple little boat ride is a definite “must do” if you like the desert and want a scenic outing.

Note: The Apache Trail (Route 88 from Apache Junction to the Roosevelt Dam) is one of the most famous and popular scenic drives in central Arizona. It is full of hairpin turns and sweeping views, and there are serious drop-offs too! If taking your rig, scout with your tow vehicle or toad first. As of February 2018, the 18 mile paved portion is under construction for it’s entire length, and the winter traffic is significant, so allow plenty of time for delays — or wait until next year!

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More info about boat rides and camping near Canyon Lake, Ariziona:

Other fun rides we’ve done:

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Fall Colors and Wildlife on the Sonoran Desert Rivers in Arizona

December 2017 – The Sonoran Desert in Arizona is known for its cactus and warm dry climate, but one of our favorite things in the Sonoran Desert is the waterways – the rivers and lakes that flow through the arid land.

Sunset on Verde River Arizona RV camping-min

Sunset on the Verde River

While Spring is an awesome time to see wildflowers in the Sonoran Desert, the months of Fall are a beautiful time to explore the central Arizona waterways because the cottonwood trees and other riverside deciduous trees begin to change color.

RV camping on Arizona Verde River-min

The many waterways in Arizona are wonderful to explore.

Autumn comes later to the Sonoran Desert than most places, peaking sometime in November. Some of our favorite Arizona fall foliage images are in this article about Tonto National Forest here. They are from the eastern side of Phoenix just beyond the edges of the city of Mesa along the Salt River and the Verde River (“Green River”).

This year we returned to the banks of the Verde River once again to witness the colorful display.

Verde River Arizona RV camping-min

A thick bed of fallen leaves leads to the river.

The Verde River rises and falls depending on rainfall and water releases at the dam upstream. In some places the water had seeped up between the trees and made wonderful reflections surrounded by fallen leaves.

Verde River Reflections in Arizona-min

Reflections.

Big cottonwood trees reached out across the Verde River.

Verde River Camping in Arizona-min

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Suddenly a group of wild horses appeared on the far shore.

Wild horses on the Verde River in Arizona-min

Wild horses come for a drink on the opposite shore.

Central Arizona’s wild horses live in small family groups all along both the Salt River and the Verde River. We have seen them many times over in areas east of Mesa along the beautiful Bush Highway which parallels the Salt River.

Suddenly one of the horses crossed the river and approached quite close.

Wild horse Verde River Arizona camping trip-min

The wild horses of the Salt and Verde Rivers are much loved by Phoenix residents and visitors.

His tail and his mane were filled with burrs from running around in the prickly desert. It gave him a bit of a rastafarian look!

Wild horse in Verde River Arizona burrs in its tail-min

This guy’s tail and mane were thick with burrs.

Arizona wild horse with burrs in its mane-min

Quite a hairdo!

We wandered away from the river after the horses left and found some stately saguaro cacti with their arms outstretched toward the heavens.

Saguaro cactus near Four Peaks Arizona-min

Arizona is the only state where saguaro cactus grows, and they bring a lot of personality to every landscape.

A yucca plant erupted in a spray of gold along its spikey leaves as the sun lit it from behind.

Yucca plant in Arizona-min

A sunlit yucca.

Up on a wire we noticed a regal Harris Hawk surveying the scene below him.

Harris Hawk Lake Meade Utah RV trip-min

High wire act — a Harris hawk surveys his domain.

He moved very slowly, first staring in one direction and then staring in another, surveying the ground for any signs of scurrying feet that might make a good snack.

Harris

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Harris Hawk on an RV trip to Lake Meade Utah-min

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We have gotten a kick out of seeing various animals in our travels, including wild burros, buffalo, prairie dogs, mountain blue birds and herds of cows in the Black Hills of South Dakota this past summer (blog posts here and here).

Arizona’s most scenic spots off the beaten path offers the opportunity for some particularly special wildlife encounters too, and I wrote an article in the December issue of Motorhome Magazine describing the wide variety of animals we’ve seen in our Arizona RV travels.

Motorhome Magazine Feature Arizona Animals by Emily Fagan December 2017-min

Motorhome Magazine December 2017 issue
Article by Emily Fagan – Photos by Emily and Mark Fagan

Motorhome Magazine has posted the article online at this link: Animal Encounters in Arizona.

Dead tree in Arizona-min

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From snowy egrets to burrowing owls to peach faced lovebirds to sandhill cranes to hummingbirds and a whole host of four legged critters like big horn sheep and mountain lions (not to mention the wild horses), there are all kinds of animals to be seen all around Arizona!

Arizona is also famous for its beautiful sunrises and sunsets, and we caught a few along the Verde River.

Pink sky at sunset in Arizona-min

Sunsets in Arizona are stunning and surprisingly reliable!

Sunset on the Verde River on an Arizona RV trip-min

Twice the color!

Arizona sunset-min

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Sunset on the Verde River in Arizona-min

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Lots of snowbird RVers are headed to Arizona now and in the coming weeks, and we hope you all take a drive on the beautiful Bush Highway and catch a glimpse of the wild horses and perhaps a Harris hawk or two!

Happy days on an Arizona RV trip-min

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MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

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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 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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    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 some kind of craft available 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 who 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 a 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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    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

    Other fun excursions for RV travelers headed to Central Arizona plus some Indian Mystery:

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