Desert Hikes and RVing Friends ~ Cave Creek, AZ

dancing saguaro

Soft breeze, deep blue sky

desert delight round the bend

Saguaros dancing!

When I rounded the corner on the Spur Cross Trail, this saguaro, with his arms extended, looked to be dancing.  He didn’t seem to have a dance partner at the time and, given his prickly nature, I wasn’t about to oblige him either.

We have enjoyed a few hikes now while hangin’ out in the burbs north of Phoenix, taking advantage of these warm winter days.  Spur Cross Trail is one of many in what is the newest addition to Maricopa County’s Regional Parks system, Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area.  A moderate hike at 5.2 miles; link up Elephant Mountain Trail with this and you have a nice 7.5 mile trek.  We chose to just gaze at Elephant Mountain on this day as I was looking forward to another 7.5  miler the next day with the gals, friend Nina and her most precious pooch Polly.

Hiking destination for the girls’ outing was Pass Mountain Trail in Usery Mountain Regional Park.   Terry and I had done this hike last year so there was zero risk of me being found wandering aimlessly in the desert.  I do have quite the reputation for having a pitiful sense of direction, which I will not even attempt to deny. This trail offers sweeping desert vistas, mountain views, and saguaros dotting the landscape, a most enjoyable way for Nina and I to catch up on the adventures we each have had over the past few months.

Meeting other RVers is always an enjoyable part of this lifestyle.  What we didn’t know when we booked our reservation at Cave Creek Regional Park was that we would have the opportunity to meet another nomadic couple and they would be camped right next to us!  Stay tuned for my next post when I introduce you to our new RV friends.

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Kayaking on Saguaro Lake

One more day to kayak and the conditions are superb.  Unlike our maiden voyage, the water was like glass, with temps hovering around the 70º mark.  We had hoped to kayak the Salt River, but a quick check determined what we had suspected; the flow slows to a trickle in many spots and the thought of having to portage our boat over dry sections seemed to take the fun out of it for us.  So on to Saguaro Lake we go.

Saguaro Lake is a large lake formed by the Stewart Mountain Dam just minutes from Mesa and was a favorite water-skiing lake for me several years ago.  It was great to be out during the week, with little boating traffic and  such great weather.

Other than the nearly perfect conditions we found ourselves in, the excitement of the day was watching a bald eagle on the hunt.  This was a little stressful for me to watch as it was the playful coots that he was after!  I know, survival of the fittest and all, but given how much entertainment we had gotten from watching their antics, I could bearly stand to watch (not literally stand you know, as I was still in the kayak).  I found myself cheering for the coots while my husband admitted he was hoping for the eagle to score.  Thankfully, we were not around to see this “bald-headed” beauty snatch his lunch, but were able to get a couple of good photos of him.

Resting but watchful after the hunt
Too close for comfort so off I go!

It is time to say goodbye to the Phoenix area and head south to explore Tucson.  We had some great adventures while here but my greatest joy was in reconnecting with my brother Richard.  I am grateful for the short time we had together and hope for more while we are in Tucson.  Here’s to experiences for each of us that will make our spirits soar!

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Maiden Voyage

Today was the maiden voyage for our Sea Eagle 385FT kayak.  Yes, it has driven Terry crazy to have it sitting in our basement and not getting wet, as in out on a lake somewhere.  It has been windy for the past couple of days and today was no exception, but the decision had been made and there was no turning back. Our kayak was going into the water today!  My only hope was that we were not going in with her, as in over the side.  Even though we are in one of the warmest climates in the country right about now, the lake is something I want to enjoy from inside the kayak, not learning how to get back in once you have fallen over the side.

There are many beautiful lakes in the Phoenix area; yeah I know, it is a desert, but really.  We chose Canyon Lake as it was close by and has many coves suitable for kayakers.  Terry had already selected our boating route, the only problem being that we would need to paddle across the main body of the lake to get to the cove and we were looking at whitecaps as we looked out over the water. No matter, we are going, so we will figure that out once we get us and the kayak in the water.

Ok, I'm ready.
 All the mental checklists have been completed and we have a fully inflated kayak with all the accompanying gear (hope she holds water).  We put in, getting only our feet wet, as it should be.  Within a matter of seconds I feel a smack on the back of my head.  It seems that in his zealousness to push off he forgot that I was in the front of the kayak and whacked me in the head with the paddle!  Either that or he just wanted to be sure that I was awake and fully prepared to help us cross the white-capped lake.
After a few minutes of paddling and not getting too far in crossing the lake (and me having visions of ending up in the drink!) I suggested that perhaps we should look at other coves on this side of the lake and come out again on a calmer day to take his planned route and thankfully Terry agreed.
Paddling to get into some of the coves provided us with a good arm workout but once inside, the boating was great.  It was so peaceful and the American coot were so entertaining to watch.  Unfortunately we were not able to get close enough for a good photo as they are so elusive.
I have read that the American coot must run across the water before taking off in flight due to the shape of their wings.  Once in the air, they are great flyers.  When you see their feet, you can see just how they manage to run on water!
One cove that we paddled down became a little disconcerting for us as the reflection of the boulders and cliffs in the water took on an otherworldly nature.  We felt as if we were suspended between two worlds, not certain just where the shoreline ended and the surface of the water began.  It was quite an interesting experience.
Although we would have wished for a less windy day, we had a great time being out on the water and look forward to many more kayaking excursions.
View of the desert floor surrounding the lake
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Pass Mountain

Looking out our rear window, Pass Mountain seemed to be calling to us to come and explore so we decided to see what the Pass Mountain Trail was all about.  Having read some literature, it was rated as a strenuous 7.4 mile hike, with some steep rocky descents.  This is the part that filled me with a little trepidation but I was game to give it a try.

This was a great exercise hike, a trail full of ups and downs around the base of Pass Mountain, which is known as Scarface by the locals.  Crossing the saddle at the half-way mark, we arrived at the section described as a rocky, steep descent, but nothing like what I had feared.  It was very doable and offered spectacular views of the backside of Pass Mountain, with Four Peaks in the distance beyond.

Terry, in his element, out on the trail

Terry and I both agreed that we would not have rated this hike as strenuous, more like a moderate trek, with some pretty spectacular desert views.

We have hiked the only lengthy trails in Usery Mountain Park so it is time to branch out to the Superstition Mountains, situated in Tonto National Forest and known for its legend of the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine.  Many years ago we spent time hiking in this wilderness and are looking forward to exploring it once again.

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Usery Mountain Regional Park

The human spirit needs places where nature has not been rearranged by the hand of man.  ~ Author Unknown

I spent roughly 20 years in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area but never was very familiar with the east valley so it was exciting to me that Terry chose Usery Mountain Regional Park for our 2-week stay.  Located in east Mesa, Usery Mountain Regional Park is a 3700 acre desert delight located at the western end of the Goldfield Mountains, abutting Tonto National Forest.  What awaited us was 29 miles of trails devoted to hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding and some spectacular views from our RV site.

Pass Mountain, the geologic focal point of the park, is the view from our rear window.  A landscape studded with stately saguaros, that house owls and many other bird species within their skeletons, as well as ocotillo, barrel cacti, and teddy bear chollas, dotted the desert floor.

Our side yard

Wind Cave Trail is the most popular trail within the park, a 3.2 mile trek up the face of Pass Mountain, with an elevation gain of 800 feet.  This was a good first hike for us, a nice little leg workout with some great views of the valley from the top.

Given the precipitation that Arizona has had the past couple of months, the desert is bursting with life, full of color, so green.  We are already planning more hikes, both in Usery Mountain Park and the Superstition Mountains.