Last December in Arizona, we experienced the best of this traveling life—we met up with old and new friends, stayed in gorgeous campgrounds, enjoyed spectacular hikes, and celebrated Christmas day with a tamale feast.
McDowell Mountain Regional Park, Phoenix
In mid-December, we pulled into our campsite at McDowell Mountain Regional Park, northeast of Phoenix. Our site looked like a zen desert garden, including artfully raked gravel. I immediately wanted to stay for two weeks, but alas, we only had five nights. Next time.
With more than 40 miles of multi-use trails, you can hike or bike to your heart’s content in the park. The biking is an absolute blast, with mostly gentle hills weaving through the cacti-studded landscape.
My photo opportunities for action shots on the beautiful trails were limited by 1) being on my bike, 2) Eric not AT ALL interested in stopping so that I could take photos of him, and 3) not wanting to end up sprawled in the cacti attempting to take photos while biking. So this is it, my one action photo, and it doesn’t show the coolest, curviest, cacti-studded trails.
Although the biking trails at the regional park are fantastic, we found the trails at nearby McDowell Sonoran Preserve more beautiful and interesting for hiking. We met up with our friend Leah, a fellow full-time adventurer we last saw on San Juan Island in September. We enjoyed great conversation and a perfect day on the six-mile Granite Mountain Loop Trail, with a bonus sighting of two Harris’s Hawks hunting in the saguaro forest below as we relaxed during lunch.
We took a break from biking and hiking to visit the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, which our friends MonaLiza and Steve highly recommended. The museum is a mind-boggling collection of instruments, with fascinating (and some really wild!) videos of traditional musical performances from more than 200 countries. In retrospect, we should have allowed for a full day in the museum, it’s that engaging.
On the way to the Musical Instrument Museum, we made a brief detour to check out Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home. Two museums in a day are one too many for us, but I wanted to just to walk the grounds, peek at the house from a distance, and enjoy mid-morning tea at the lovely outdoor tea cafe.
Lost Dutchman State Park, Phoenix
Moving on just 40 miles south and east, we arrived at Lost Dutchman State Park and settled into our site with an exceptional view of the Superstition Mountains. I try really hard to book good sites (not being next to a dumpster is high on my list) but it’s pure luck to get one of the best sites in a campground.
Lost Dutchman is an excellent park for hiking. Trails lead from the campground into the Superstition Mountains and range from easy-moderate (the 2.5 mile Treasure Loop Trail) to glad-we-did-it-but-wouldn’t-do-it-again (Siphon Draw Trail).
The Siphon Draw Trail is beautiful and interesting and only four miles round-trip to the basin and back, but the terrain is obnoxious. It’s one of those trails where you have to look down most of the time to keep from tripping over rocks. Friends and fellow travelers Pat and Shelly came by for dinner and a campfire—she was nursing a broken wrist and black eye from a bad fall she took on the trail a week earlier. After hiking the Siphon Draw Trail, I can see how it would be easy to catch a boot beneath a rock.
Our favorite of the hikes we did in the Superstitions is 10 miles from Lost Dutchman along the scenic Apache Trail. (Even if you don’t hike, it’s worth driving this road.) The Boulder Canyon Trail starts off with a steep uphill climb that immediately provides outstanding views of the lake and the surrounding Superstition Mountains.
The trail goes on for at least 8 miles; we hiked in about 2.5 miles to a panoramic viewpoint for lunch and turned around. From what I’ve read, the first 2.5 miles is the best part of the hike so that worked out just right (meaning I didn’t feel like I missed out on anything). If you do this hike, go early and grab a free parking spot across the road at Canyon Lake.
While at Lost Dutchman, we took a day trip to Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park, the largest botanical garden in Arizona. Originally the estate of a mining magnate turned conservationist, it’s a beautiful collection of native plants, with miles of hiking trails to explore. It’s a peaceful place to wander.
Moving On To Catalina State Park, Tucson
We love Tucson, and we love Catalina State Park. We were looking forward to returning to the park, and what made it even better was knowing that we were going to be meeting up with old and new friends.
Which brings me back to my thoughts about the wonderful people that we meet in this full-time RVing life. Seven years ago, I started our blog as a record of our travels and as a way of keeping in touch with our family and hometown friends.
As it turns out, most of the people who read and comment on our blog are fellow travelers, and those virtual friendships develop into real-life friendships more often than you would imagine. Just like in real life, sometimes the relationships are casual, “happy to see each other when our paths happen to cross,” while other friendships evolve into deeper connections where we stay in touch through texts, emails, and phone calls, and go out of our way to meet up in our journeys.
Our little rig at Catalina State Park:
Amazing how our slide-out gives us so much more space, isn’t it? Just kidding! We love the versatility and layout of our little 27′ trailer, but it is woefully inadequate for hosting more than four people for dinner. Mike and Kathie, whom we first met at Lake Powell several years ago, were staying at Catalina in their gorgeous big rig. They invited all of us over to share their space for a potluck holiday dinner. Ten people, a couple of dogs, and room to spare!
We had Christmas day dinner in the Southwestern tradition, with tamales, refried black beans, a Mexican salad with avocado and roasted corn, pumpkin cheesecake, and so much more. Best of all was the conversation and camaraderie. It’s always a good time when full-timers get together to share stories of the wonderful and challenging moments of this lifestyle.
Our few days in Tucson flew by all too quickly, but we managed a terrific evening with Laura and Kevin at Vivace, our favorite Tucson restaurant. Laura and I have been following each other’s blogs for a couple of years, and with a mutual appreciation for finding great food in our travels and her knowing exactly when I desperately need to see videos of goats in pajamas, we figured we would get along splendidly. And we did.
We were also delighted to reconnect with our long-time friends Fred and Jo, who traveled for 10 years before settling down to call Tucson home several years ago. Their blog was one of the first I read many years ago when we were considering traveling fulltime.
We did our usual hikes on the beautiful trails in Catalina State Park and knocked another one off our bucket list that we’ve been wanting to do for several years—the Seven Falls Trail in Sabino Canyon. We found the perfect hiking companions in Joodie and Mark, whom we recently connected with through our respective blogs and met in person for the first time at the Tucson festivities.
The Seven Falls Trail is beautiful, but what made the day exceptional was their great company. The eight-mile hike wasn’t nearly long enough for all that we had to talk about! We’ve been busy plotting how we can next meet up.
You think this post was long? Just wait. I’m on a roll to catch up, and I’m seriously considering one big postcard from Texas. Then again, there were some really cool adventures we had in Texas that I don’t want to leave out, just in case anyone is interested. And so that I can remember what we’ve done. :-)