Copper Mines, NOT CAMPING, in Tonto National Forest – Why?

PUBLIC LAND Goes PRIVATE and Cherished Winter RV Camping is CLOSED Forever

December 2015 – The beautiful fall colors around Roosevelt Lake Arizona are truly exquisite, and we have taken thousands of photos of the Sonoran Desert in both fall and spring along the Salt River during our RV travels in Arizona. After poking around on this website a bit and rummaging through our photos from last year, I realized I never posted some of my favorites. So here they are, just as lovely now as they were a year ago.

Autumn Leaves Salt River Bush Highway Blue Point Arizona

Autumn splendor along the Salt River in Arizona

But they are bittersweet too, because times are changing. Among these glorious photos, I found images I took last year in Globe and Ray Arizona that evoke a tragedy that’s currently unfolding. A little research into what’s going on has left me with one big question: WHY?

Fall colors in the Sonoran Desert Arizona Salt River

Arizona is filled with gold

Last year while we were camped in the Tonto National Forest, we went on several outstanding hikes that start at some of the trailheads and former camping areas that are sprinkled along the dramatic Bush Highway which runs alongside the Salt River east of Phoenix.

Autumn leaf reflections Salt River Arizona

The Salt River infuses the Sonoran Desert with color and life.

Pebble Beach was one recreation area that used to be very popular for winter camping and boondocking.

Pebble Beach on the Salt River

One of many stunning views hidden behind the “CLOSED” sign blocking car and RV drivers from
parking in the mammoth parking lots at Pebble Beach.

Pebble Beach Campground is a very large recreation area. Not only is there an enormous parking lot lined with dozens of shaded picnic ramadas, but it was built to include both a huge group camping area as well as individual and family camping. There were even campsites with hookups to accommodate multiple hosts, and there were multiple toilet buildings scattered throughout the area.

At one time, Pebble Beach was a very popular winter boondocking snowbird roost.

Pebble Beach Camping Area Tonto National Forest Closed

Storm clouds over Pebble Beach – No more winter camping here!

Sadly, it has been closed to winter use for several years and Tonto National Forest plans to keep it closed and keep all that infrastructure and beauty behind locked gates indefinitely.

Pebble Beach Bush Highway Mesa Arizona Salt River

This cool area at Pebble Beach lay just steps away from winter RV campsites by the picnic ramadas

Tragically, since his arrival in 2012, the supervisor of Tonto National Forest, Neil Bosworth (bio here, contact: nbosworth@fs.fed.us) has systematically closed all the winter camping areas on the Bush Highway.

Some camping areas are open in the summertime, but Arizonans don’t camp in the 120 degree heat of the Sonoran Desert in the summer months! They all go north to the cool mountains and camp at 5,000′ or higher to get out of the heat.

The list of campgrounds that used to be open for winter RV camping and are now closed permanently is:

  • Pebble Beach Campground (designated campsites, group camping, large enough for 50+ RVs)
  • Goldfield Recreation Area (formerly used for camping and large enough for 50+ RVs)
  • Phon D Sutton (formerly used for camping and large enough for 50+ RVs)

In addition, there’s a day use area that is closed in the wintertime too, so you can’t even park your car and look around:

  • Sheep Crossing (day use)

Fortunately for tourists and nature lovers, there is one gorgeous spot that has remained open for day use only, so at least it is possible to park and go exploring, even if you are not allowed to camp there. It is called the Water Users area. This is a Salt Water River summertime tubing drop-off spot that has several short trails that go down to the river.

Lost in the desert oasis landscapes of Arizona

The Water Users area is available for daytime visits.

The craggy rocks and colorful trees and reflecting water are just sensational.

Salt RIver Arizona in Autumn

I love reflections in the water.

Autumn leaves on Arizona's Salt River

The Salt River (“Rio Salado”)

Across the Bush Highway from Pebble Beach is the much smaller Blue Point day use area, and it is still open. Blue Point has a wonderful hiking trail that runs along the edge of the river. What’s puzzling is that the Sheep Crossing day use area next door to Blue Point is closed.

Huh? Oh well. We had fun getting reflection shots of the riverbanks.

Salt River Phoenix Arizona

The Blue Point day use area is across from Pebble Beach (closed) and next to Sheep Crossing (closed).

Up on a rocky precipice we saw a great blue heron keeping an eye out for fast moving fish.

Great blue heron Salt River Arizona

Waterbirds love the Salt River

The great blue heron wasn’t the only one fishing. A fisherman was casting his net in the river too.

Fishing on the Salt River

Fishermen love the Salt River. Heck, so do RVers!

The play of the light on his net and the light on the water and clouds was just beautiful.

Starburst over the Salt River in Phoenix Arizona

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The pretty trees and jagged rock faces along the Salt River lit up in brilliant golden hues every afternoon.

Blue Point in autumn colors on the Salt River in Arizona

Autumn Gold at Blue Point on the Bush Highway

Sadly, over the last few years, the Tonto National Forest has systematically closed all but the tiniest of winter camping areas along the Bush Highway. What’s left (at Coon Bluff) is open to camping only on weekends and is large enough for just 6-7 big rigs.

Last year and the year before, there were times when the one large remaining camping area, Phon D Sutton, had 50 RVs camping there.

With a demand like that, why would Tonto National Forest shut it down along with all the other camping areas that can accommodate hundreds and hundreds of RVs. Why would they leave just a handful of spaces open?

The parking area at Coon Bluff is so tiny that when RVs camp there, they take up most of the parking lot. What’s totally unfair to the locals is that the daytrippers, hunters and fishermen — who all deserve a decent parking spot for their outing in nature too — don’t have room to park their cars! When the Boy Scouts plan a weekend camping outing to Coon Bluff, the places is a mad house and the parking is insane.

Sunset Arizona Salt River

The Indoor Generation as well as snowbird winter RVers deserve a chance to enjoy places like this right outside their doorstep during dawn and dusk — especially when the facilities were already built by former leadership that wanted the public to be able to enjoy the unique beauty of the Salt River.

Up until October, 2015, the Forest Service allowed RVers to camp at the Phon D Sutton recreation area which can easily hold 50 big rigs in two enormous parking lots.

Last winter and the winter before it was frequently full of happy winter snowbird RVers, many of whom brought kayaks to enjoy the river, camera gear to photograph the egrets and bald eagles, and musical instruments to make music together.

What a stunning spot that was.

Arizona autumn colors Four Peaks Salt River Bush Highway_

Gorgeous Phon D Sutton offered parking lot dry camping but the views and experiences were unforgettable.

Unfortunately, as of October, 2015, Phon D Sutton is now closed to camping year round.

Phon D Sutton is still open as a day use area, but when we stopped by to check it out a few weeks ago, the whole place was eerily vacant, except for two cars, and there was gang graffiti on the bathroom doors and windows.

Fog Arizona Salt River

When large parking lots and bathrooms for throngs of people have been built so they can enjoy
a view like this, should the facilities be left to rot?

What a shame.

What a waste of good facilities and good money that went into building them.

Fog and mist saguaro cactus Arizona Sonoran Desert

A treasured view at former winter RV roost Phon D Sutton.

Last year I was lucky enough to have some wonderfully close encounters with the wild horses that live along the Salt River while we camped at Phon D Sutton.

Salt River Wild Horse Arizona

What a sight it was as this guy charged towards me.

Salt River Wild horses drinking

Down by the river the wild horses live a peaceful life.

When camping at Phon D Sutton, it was easy to rise in the dark and sneak down to the Salt River at dawn to watch the wild horses getting their morning drink.

Wild horses Salt River Phoenix Arizona

A glorious sunrise, complete with members of the wild horse herd getting a drink.

The Tonto National Forest wants to round up the wild horses and get rid of them!

Luckily, for the moment, protestations from the wild horse loving public have quashed that plan. The wild horses of the Salt River have a huge following and a support network that has fought valiantly and very publicly for them.

Part of their battle included two huge petitions that were signed by thousands. They also filed a lawsuit against Tonto National Forest.

Saguaro Cactus at sunset Arizona

A stunning sunset along the Bush Highway.

Perhaps a similarly passionate outcry from winter snowbird RVers from the north as well as local campers from Arizona would prevent our precious camping spots in this area from deteriorating into oblivion and would preserve the initial and very sizable investment that was made to build these public recreation areas years ago.

Phon D Sutton Recreation Area RV Camping Tonto National Forest

Phon D Sutton Recreation Area was beloved by all kinds of RVers and tent campers too.

But I’m not sure that the Tonto National Forest, noted by the current supervisor to be a “crown jewel” in the US Forest Service, even has public use or public recreation on its radar these days.

Right now, Tonto National Forest is mired in an earth shattering commercial use of its public land by non-Americans about 50 miles away from the Bush Highway at Oak Flat Campground. This is land that President Eisenhower specifically set aside for protection back in 1955 in an effort to avoid exactly what is happening today.

Saguaro cactus Arizona sunset

Protection of public land lasts only as long as our leaders want it to.

Foreign copper mining interests have acquired nearly four square miles of gorgeous Tonto National Forest land at Oak Flat Campground, a place that rock climbers cherish for its unique rock hoodoos and boulders.

Their new mine, Resolution Copper Mining, owned by British and Australian companies, will soon transform this unusual public land so they can get at the precious copper that lies 7,000′ down.

Copper Mine Globe Arizona 2

Here’s an open pit copper mine. This is the Ascaro Copper Mine located in Ray Arizona about 20 miles from the location of the new mine. This mine isn’t American owned either. It is owned by a Mexican company.

But how did foreigners get approval to build the world’s largest copper mine on America’s public land when little old snowbird RVers can’t even camp in places that were created specifically for public recreation and camping years ago?

The acquisition of this US Forest Service land parcel by Resolution Copper Mining was part of a land swap deal that got tacked onto the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act and signed into law by President Obama, circumventing normal public notification and vetting.

Sadly, back in 1955 President Eisenhower had protected this very parcel, knowing that the copper vein below the surface was massive, and now it will be destroyed by non-Americans with almost no benefit going to either American citizens or the American government.

Foreign mining companies Rio Tinto and BHP Copper formed Resolution Copper Mining, with 55% and 45% ownership respectively, and they are trading 8 small parcels of Arizona land totaling 5,344 acres that they already own for 2,422 acres of Tonto National Forest.

All the land will be appraised, and then Resolution Mining will either add cash to the deal if their land is of lesser value than the National Forest land or they will call it a donation if their land is worth more.

It is unclear if to me if the mineral value of the copper under the National Forest land will be included in the appraised value of what Tonto National Forest is giving up. Obviously, it should be.
Copper Mine Globe Arizona

Copper mining. The ribbons are roads and there are tiny trucks driving on the roads

The deal was pushed through by people who believed that the mine would create lots of jobs in a state that has 6.7 million residents and that it would bring money into the state by way of tax revenue as well.

According to Resolution Mining, after the mine is built, there will be 1,400 steady mining jobs during the peak years it is in operation and they anticipate paying $20 billion in taxes to the Feds and Arizona during they years the mine is profitable (provided they don’t take advantage of income tax loopholes and claim $0 profit).

Reports say it will take about 40 years to extract all the copper. After that, the few mining jobs will end, the copper in the ground will have been sold, with profits going abroad, and Arizona will be left with whatever mess and tailing piles Resolution Copper Mining decides to leave behind.

Copper Mining Globe Arizona

The future of the American people’s Tonto National Forest?

What exactly will this mine will look like? The wording of the deal exempts Resolution Copper Mining from abiding by any environmental mandates, so the new mine could easily be a dusty open pit, because that method of mining copper is cheapest and most profitable for the mine owners.

Reports have claimed the new mine will be a gaping crater two miles across and 1,000 feet deep and that a 500′ tall mountain of waste tailings will be dumped on another parcel of Tonto National Forest land within view from beautiful Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Ummmm…. 500′ tall equates to 50 stories high!

Asarco Copper Mine Ray Arizona

The new Resolution Copper Mine will be much larger than this one — the world’s largest!

But the Resolution Copper Mining website says it will all be done underground by carving the ore out of the rock using the “panel caving” method rather than the “open pit” mining method, and that a waste tailings site hasn’t yet been selected.

Saguaro cactus next to an Arizona copper mine

Saguaro cactus are up in arms about the mining techniques in use at Ascaro copper mine.

The only groups loudly voicing concern right now are the Native Americans, some of whom claim Oak Flat is a sacred area, and rock climbers who love the rock boulders so much they hold major competitions there.

Ironically, the public was outraged a few years ago when a Boy Scout troop leader deliberately knocked over a single red rock hoodoo at Goblin Valley State Park in Utah.

Somehow, that infraction doesn’t seem to compare with this.

The copper on this public land will fetch tens of billions of dollars for the mine owners, depending on copper prices during the period that the mine is in operation.

And then that copper will be sold to Americans — at a profit to the foreigners, of course!

Enjoy Your National Forest

A sign behind the locked “Road Closed” gates at the Pebble Beach camping area.

So WHY has the Tonto National Forest Service closed the winter camping areas on the Bush Highway?

Are these campgrounds closed because Tonto National Forest doesn’t have the money to maintain them?

No! The leaders of Tonto National Forest have publicly proven that Tonto National Forest is sitting on minerals that are worth billions to eager and rich commercial buyers overseas.

If the leaders were skilled at negotiation, they could have made an enormous profit from the sale of land. But they decided not to bother!

Even more dramatic, Tonto National Forest has a truly gargantuan potential for cash revenue if they arranged the terms of the land deal to include receiving a percentage of the mammoth profits the foreign companies will make from everything they extract from or produce on that land.

But they didn’t even bother to negotiate for just a 1% royalty on the profit that these foreigners will be making by mining America’s public land.

Obviously, Tonto National Forest is an exceedingly rich forest, however, its stewards don’t seem to understand the basics of economics or the rudiments of doing business and negotiating!

Are the camping areas closed because Tonto National Forest wants to protect the delicate environment?

Obviously, that isn’t true either, because they have no problem decimating parts of the “crown jewel” in the Forest Service to build a copper mine. Even if the “panel caving” method of mining is used, it is expected that the mine will one day collapse, leaving a gaping four square mile pit.

Saguaro cactus under a rainbow in Arizona

What is the Tonto National Forest’s motive for closing the
Bush Highway camping areas?

So what is the motivation of Tonto National Forest to close the camping areas that earlier leadership kept open for winter RVers?

It isn’t a lack of money. And it isn’t a desire to protect the environment.

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Fall Color in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert near Roosevelt Lake

November 2015 – The climb up lofty Mt. Graham in southeastern Arizona had given us some beautiful autumn colors, and we were treated to even more as we drove our RV into central Arizona.

Autumn leaves Sonoran Desert riparian area Roosevelt Lake Arizona

Autumn splendor in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert

Fall color Sonoran Desert Riparian area Arizona

Colorful trees stood alongside the rivers, streams and washes.

We scooted along Route 88 to Roosevelt Lake and did some exploring along the shores of this beautiful body of water, the largest lake in the middle of the state. We had arrived at the peak of the Sonoran Desert’s fall foliage season.

Autumn colors Roosevelt Lake Arizona

One of many gorgeous views across Roosevelt Lake

It may not seem possible that a desert would have a fall foliage season, but the Sonoran Desert’s wetland areas along streams and washes (called “riparian” habitats) are loaded with wonderful sycamores and cottonwoods that turn vivid yellow and orange come fall.

Roosevelt Lake was created in 1911 by damming up the Salt River, and the water level rises and falls. Right now it was very low — the lake was just 40% full — and yellow trees filled an area that at times has been filled with water.

Autumn color Roosevelt Lake Arizona

Golden trees fill the void while the lake is down.

We found lots of rounded, smooth rocks along one part of the lake.

Roosevelt Lake Arizona pebble beach

A rocky shore

Even where the colors were muted, little bits of autumn flame peeked through, and the colors in late afternoon were just gorgeous.

Fall leaves sycamore trees Arizona desert

Fall colors reflected in the water.

Four Peaks Arizona Roosevelt Lake

A view of Four Peaks across the lake and desert

Roosevelt Lake autumn color Arizona

Compare this to the previous pic – Lighting is everything!

In one spot, Mark discovered a lone yellow wildflower looking up and opening its petals to the sun.

Wildflower Arizona desert

A tiny wildflower looks up from the ground.

Roosevelt Lake is an enormous lake whose southern shore runs for some 50 miles. In many places the saguaros were all standing around in groups. They seemed to be conversing in the morning sun. I wonder if they were sharing memories of a time when this lake was just an unpredictable river.

Sonoran Desert saguaro cactus Roosevelt Lake Arizona

Saguaro cactus commune in the morning sun by the lake.

On the far shore of the lake there were rolling hills of red sand. What a beautiful sight!

Roosevelt Lake Arizona Saguaro Cactus

Colors of the desert.

Saguaros are the sentinels of the desert, and they seemed to be keeping an eye on things at the lake.

Saguaro cactus Roosevelt Lake Arizona

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Meanwhile, down by the water’s edge, campers had set up their RVs right on the beach.

Lakeside RV boondocking Roosevelt Lake Arizona

Lakeside camping.

What a fantastic place to camp! Unfortunately, several of the boondocking areas along Roosevelt Lake were closed. We were told the closure was temporary, from mid-November to mid-February, and it was to protect the Canada geese.

Apparently the powers that be have never been to the green grassy areas in nearby Scottsdale where the Canada geese are thriving! Needless to say, there wasn’t a goose to be found.

RV boondocking Popup tent trailer Roosevelt Lake Arizona

Room with a view.

But there were two spots open, and RVers were enjoying beautiful waterfront campsites with views to die for.

RV boondocking Roosevelt Lake Arizona

Not a bad place to be!

And of course the sunsets were spectacular…

Roosevelt Lake sunset Arizona

An Arizona sunset at the lake.

For RV travelers who want to experience the Sonoran Desert in the peak of autumn glory, the season is the last two weeks of November, and the colors can be found anywhere there’s water.

RV Arizona sunset fifth wheel trailer

What a place!

Roosevelt Lake has hundreds of dry camping campsites in several different formal campgrounds as well as boondocking available along the lake. You need to get a Tonto Pass ($6 per night ($3 for seniors)), and they are sold at the convenience stores in the communities that lie at the eastern and western ends of the lake. Beginning in January, 2016, the rates will increase to $8 per night ($4 for seniors). There are flush toilets and hot showers at the Windy Hill and Choilla campgrounds.

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Arizona’s Stunning Apache Trail Scenic Drive

The Apache Trail is one of the most breathtaking scenic drives in central Arizona, and we recently had a chance to trace its path once again. It runs along Route 88 between Apache Junction and Roosevelt Lake, just east and south of Phoenix. Following the Salt River past Canyon Lake and Apache Lake, it twists through some truly stunning Sonoran Desert landscapes of rugged rocks and sassy saguaros. Here are a few highlights from that gorgeous daytrip:

5 406 Apache Trail on the Salt RIver in Arizona

Cactus grow amid red rocks down to the water’s edge.

Apache Lake on the Apache Trail in Arizona

Apache Lake is a rich blue in the growing afternoon light.

Scenic drive from Apache Junction to Roosevelt Lake Arizona

There is a dramatic overlook at Canyon Lake

Apache Trail in Arizona

Rugged rock cliffs fill the views along the way

Saguaro cactus along the Apache Trail in Arizona

Saguaro cactus stand watch over both sides of the trail.

Salt River views along the Apache Trail from Apache Junction to Roosevelt Lake Arizona

The Apache Trail winds along the Salt River through red rock studded Sonoran Desert

If you are in the Phoenix area in Arizona, this is a “must see” daytrip, especially as the wildflowers begin to bloom in late February and March!!

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A Majestic Scenic Drive in Arizona – The Bush Highway

January, 2015 – After three months of being in a holding pattern around Phoenix, Arizona, we are stretching our travel legs once again.  But before we leave, I wanted to give you a glimpse of one of our favorite scenic drives in all of Arizona:  the Bush Highway between the 202 Loop in Mesa and Route 87 (the Beeline Highway) in Fountain Hills. This is a jaw-dropping roller coaster ride that goes through some truly magnificent Sonoran Desert scenery.  Saguaro cacti stand tall, set against a backdrop of colorful cliffs that come alive in rich hues of brown and burnt orange at dawn and dusk.

Bush Highway Scenic Drive in Phoenix Arizona

The Bush Highway is one of central Arizona’s most inspiring scenic drives.

Yesterday afternoon, we drove it once again, catching the “golden hour” light between 3:30 and 5:00. Even though we have driven this road and ridden it on our bikes dozens of times, I found myself hanging out the truck window yet again, snapping pics and marveling at the sheer wonder of it all.

Sonoran Desert scenery near Phoenix Arizona

The rugged scenery along this drive features sweeping Sonoran Desert vistas and dramatic cliffs.

The road follows the Salt River, and at various scenic overlooks you can get a wonderful glimpse of glassy water reflecting the colorful cliffs. We ran down to the water’s edge and picked our way over the rounded river rocks. The clouds were thick and low on the horizon.  By turns, the sun came and went, making the sheer rock walls glow warm and then withdraw to cool shade.

Views along the Salt River near Phoenix Arizona

Along the water’s edge at the Salt River.

About midway on the drive, we passed Saguaro Lake, which has a small marina filled with pleasure boats that were gleaming in the sun. We didn’t go down to the lake this time, although there is a restaurant there with an outdoor patio that is an ideal spot for lunch overlooking the exquisite view.

Saguaro Lake Marina Phoenix Arizona

The boats at the Saguaro Lake Marina glisten in the sun.

We carried on a little further instead, to a spot in the road where we had a wonderful view of the Four Peaks mountains. They were wreathed in soft, wispy clouds that hovered around them in a gossamer veil.

701 Four Peaks Mountains in Arizona wreathed  in wispy clouds

After soaking in this gorgeous view, we turned around to drive back. A lovely sunset light show began to take shape around us. Once we had gone a few miles, we stopped to look back towards Four Peaks. The wispy clouds were still floating around the mountains, and the peaks were turning pink.  A beautiful saguaro standing next to us seemed to be enjoying the sunset colors on the mountains too!

A saguaro cactus next to Four Peaks mountains at sunset in Arizona

Behind us, in the distance, we see Four Peaks turning pink!

What a majestic landscape, and how lucky we are to be able to spend time in such a beautiful place.  If you are visiting Phoenix and are looking for a pretty day trip out into the Sonoran Desert, take a drive on the Bush Highway!

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Burrowing owls in Gilbert, Arizona – They’re a Hoot!

We spent a few hours hoo-hoo-ing with the owls at Zanjero Park in Gilbert, Arizona, the other day. What a great spot for a day trip! Our friend Rick had told us about it, and he showed us some amazing photos he’d taken there. So off we went to do a little owling.

A burrowing owl in Phoenix Arizona

A burrowing owl checks us out!!

Zanjero Park is is on the southern part of the 202 loop on the southeastern edge of Phoenix, Arizona. As we drove towards it, we wondered if we’d come to the right place, because it is as nondescript as can be. It’s in farm country and takes up just a few acres, and it is pressed right up against the highway berm! There’s a dirt parking lot and a small sign identifying the park and a larger sign explaining what this unique owl habitat is all about. And that’s about it!

A burrowing owl at Zanjero Park in Gilbert AZ

You rang?

Burrowing owls like to live in tunnels, so volunteers have erected tunnels for them using large diameter pipe. Each owl house has a front door and a back door, and the owls like to hang out by their doors and watch the wold go by. There are about 15 or so owl burrows scattered along the ground next to the paved walkway though the park.

An owl looks out of his burrow

Whatcha lookin’ at ??

What’s funny is that his is not a particularly scenic park. The highway traffic zooms by right next door, and it is definitely not a place that shows off Arizona’s gorgeous Sonoran Desert landscape that we love so much. However, despite being rather bleak and barren, it sits right next to a farm field full of yummy mice, and that’s why the owls like to live here and why the volunteers decided to help them out.

Burrowing owl Zanjero Park Gilbert AZ

Maybe I’m just a softy old bird lover, but these guys are darn cute!!

We went at high noon, and much to our surprise, the owls were wide awake and out and about. We saw at least six pairs of burrowing owls lounging around on their front stoops as we strolled down the short paved walkway. In hindsight, morning or evening might be an even better time to visit if you want to take pics, because the owl burrows are lined up along the south side of the walkway, so at noontime you are staring into the sun as you spy on these cute little guys.

If you are staying near Phoenix and are looking for something fun and different to do, go visit the burrowing owls of Zanjero Park, it’s a hoot!

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Roosevelt Lake – Lakeside Camping in AZ

Roosevelt Lake Windy Hill Campground

Brittlebush flowers light up Roosevelt Lake

April, 2014 – We had spent the winter months in Phoenix, Arizona, enjoying beautiful hikes and gorgeous waterways, and observing pretty birds and wild horses.

But the desert was heating up with the arrival of Spring, and so were we!

So we headed just a little further east to Roosevelt Lake where the temps are always just a few degrees cooler. Continue reading

Wild Horses of the Salt River in Phoenix

Horseback riders on the dusty trail

Horseback riders on the dusty trail.

April, 2014 – The phrase “wild west” evokes images of horses and cowboys and wide open spaces.

While we were visiting Phoenix Arizona these past few months, we ran into lots of different horses and riders out on the desert trails.

Some suddenly appeared in a cloud of dust, materializing on the trail as if in a mirage, or as if walking right out of a movie.

Their cowboy hats and boots and spurs completed the picture to perfection.

Others rode a fine line between the modern digital age and the wild west of yore, holding the horse’s reins in one hand while chatting away on a cell phone with the other. Continue reading

Phoenix on the Wing – Waterbirds of Arizona!

Artist easel in the Sonoran desert

An artist creates his vision in the desert

March, 2014 – The Phoenix area is full of beautiful hiking trails, and the Windy Cave Trail at Usery Mountain is just one of many lovely places to experience the Sonoran desert.

We wandered out into the desert on marked trails and unmarked roads to go hiking — or at least to go for a walk — every day during our stay on the outer eastern edges of the city.  There was always something new to see.

One morning we came across an art class that had set up easels all through the desert.

Wildflower

Spring is springing!

The group of artists was huddled around the teacher as we hiked past, and we found Continue reading

The Wind Cave Hike in Phoenix AZ – The Hills are Alive!

Wind Cave Trail Arizona

An ocotillo greets us at the start of the hike.

Early March, 2014 – We had been enjoying the rivers and waterways and Saguaro Lake in Phoenix, Arizona, but the cactus filled desert was never far away.

Mark at the Wind Cave trail bottom

Ready for hiking!

Cactus looking down towards brittlebush

Usery Mountain Regional Park has a beautiful campground and some great hiking.

One hike in particular, the Wind Cave Trail, came highly recommended by our friends, Mike and Donna (FlyingTheKoop.com). They once called this area home and have hiked it many times.

Brittlebush blooming with cactus

The yellow brittlebush were in bloom all around us.

This is an uphill hike that climbs straight up for a mile and a half, making lots of switchbacks on the way.

The bright yellow brittlebush flowers had just started to bloom, and there were sprays of golden flowers everywhere.

Emily poses with brittlebush

There’s nothing like getting out on a warm, sunny, early spring day!

And the saguaros were standing around having their usual conversations too.

One cactus looked like it was whispering in the ear of another!

Two saguaros on Windy Cave hiking trail

“Psssst…can you keep a secret??”

Wind Cave is a popular hike, and we met a lot of other hikers on the trail.

A large group came up behind us, walking sticks and cameras in hand.  It was a beautiful day to be out.

Busy day on Usery Mountain Wind Cave Hiking Trail

We had lots of company on the trail.

What sets this hike apart is the lichen that covers the sides of the cliffs in a broad band along the top of the mountain.

The faces of the cliffs are shaded in the morning, though, so when we started up the switchbacks, the color on the cliff faces was muted at first.

Saguaro cactus looks down from top

Waving “hi” to his buddy down below.

Saguaro cactus looks up the mountain

The rising sun lit up one saguaro

In the shadowed lighting, it seemed like a rather ordinary, though lovely, Sonoran desert hike.

Then the sun began to peek around the edges of the mountain.

Its warm rays lit up a solitary cactus that stood away from the cliffs.

This guy seemed to be looking up at his saguaro buddy who was staning on a little higher ground above him and waving.

 

Saguaro cactus with valley below

An ancient, pock-marked cactus has enjoyed this view for over a century.

As we climbed higher and higher, the views across the valley begame bigger and bigger.

Saguaro cactus in the lichen

The sun and shadows played hide and seek with the cactus among the rocks.

 

 

Lizard on hiking path

A lizard scurried past…

At our feet, we saw lizards scampering across the trail.

We listened to the Gambel’s quails and cactus wrens calling all their friends.

The Phoenix area is known as the “Valley of the Sun,” but as you travel around town, it doesn’t feel like a traditional v-shaped valley. Instead, it is a vast, flat, desert floor that stretches to eternity in all directions, broken up here and there by little pyramid peaks.

 

Brittlebush and palo verde on hiking trail

We were hiking up a pretty tall peak, and the trail didn’t take a break anywhere — it was up, up, up. We progressed very slowly.  It was just too pretty to rush, and we ended up taking photos with every step.

People at the Wind Cave

There was a crowd waiting for us at the Wind Cave

When we finally reached the top, all the hikers who had passed us were taking a load off in the cool shade of the Wind Cave itself. It isn’t really a “cave” but is more of a sheltered spot that’s perfect for enjoying the views.

Chipmunk peeks around corner

A little chipmunk peeks over a rock at us.

The rocky cliff has an inward curving wall, providing welcome shade and inviting people to sit for a spell, eat a little something, and catch their breath.

Lots of chipmunks live up here, and they have learned that hikers carry yummy snacks like granola bars.

Chipmunk stops momentarily

The chipmunks kept us entertained as we ate a snack.

Lichen covered rocks on Windy Cave Hiking Trail

The beauty of the Wind Cave trail unfolds
as the sun rises.

These little guys were very brazen, and walked right up to all of us to see if we were had something to share.

Of course, who can resist a cute little furry face looking up at you hopefully? We all gave in and found a few crumbs to spare.

The chipmunks eagerly grabbed their snacks and ran off a few paces to nibble away, holding the treats in their little hands as they ate.

By the time we started down, the sun was hitting the lichen covered cliffs beautifully.

Lichen on cliffs Wind Cave Trail Arizona

The cliffs are clad in orange and yellow lichen.

Three saguaros and lichen on cliffs on Usery Wind Cave hiking trail

The craggy rock faces seemed to be showing off their bright yellow and orange wardrobe, and the vivid colors made a wonderful backdrop for the saguaro cactuses along the trail.

We wandered down the trail to the valley floor and noticed the clouds were moving very quickly across the sky.

Looking over valley on Wind Cave hiking trail

A hiker takes in the view of the valley, but the backdrop behind him is just as stunning.

Triplet saguaro cactuses

Fast moving clouds frame a trio of saguaros

Mark took out his neutral density filter and let the moving clouds create a kind of crown around a trio of saguaros.

While he was busy setting up the shot, he noticed a tiny hummingbird sitting on a wee little nest behind a thick veil of branches and leaves in a small tree.

He approached the hummer and she didn’t move.  She just sat tight, watching his every move.

He hurried away to find me, because I had a long lens with me, and I rushed back to see if I could catch the little bird.

 

Hummingbird on nest

A hummingbird sits on her nest deep inside a tree.

Gosh, she was buried way back deep inside those branches.  I moved closer and she flew off her nest.

Inside were two miniature little eggs.

They were so tiny, I was afraid they would get chilled really quickly while mom was off the nest. So I stepped away, and she returned and wiggled her tail end a bit as she settled back down on her eggs.

Yellow wildflower

An early sign of spring!

 

 

Purple wildflower

The wildflowers are starting!

Then more hikers came down the trail and she flew off again.

Her nest site was well protected, but lordy, she could have chosen a spot a little further from the trail!

Oh well.  I managed to fire off a few shots of her sitting on her soon-to-be family, and then left her in peace.

Spring was definitely in the air.

Not only were a few birds starting their families, but some wildflowers were beginning to show their colorful little faces too.

We were really excited by the early arrival of spring, and we were hopeful that soon the whole Sonoran desert would be alive with flowers.

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