We can also tell you that it gets mighty cool at night in the Sonoran Desert
in the middle of winter.-- probably not as cold as it is at home right now, but
at or near freezing some nights. (Deserts also tend to cool down considerably at night in
the summer.) Even with two small electric heaters and our propane
furnace we've been hunkering down between heavy flannel sheets at night, with
two or three layers of fleece blankets over those and a bedspread on top of
everything. Fortunately, we haven't had any problems with the water freezing in
our tanks or in the hose to the water connection at our campsite.
We've had mostly dry, sunny weather with a couple days in early January that were rainy. I
took the opportunity to snap some photos of interesting clouds on those days:
The sunsets are more spectacular on cloudy evenings, too. The next photo is
also from the campground on
January 3, this time looking west toward the McDowell
It's obvious the area needed the inch or two of rain that fell. Within a few days the desert was noticeably greener
and we spotted more wildlife. There were
new little tufts of grass among the cacti and shrubs near
our campsite and along the trails, especially in the shade under trees
and near the washes.
They're known as "dry creeks" in some locales. Here's one of the
sandy washes we crossed on a run along the Granite Trail
on January 8:
Most of the washes at McDowell have been dry when we run across them on the
trails, even after the rain, but you can tell
water has flowed through them previously when the rain or snowmelt has been
Bottom line on the weather so far
Summer? No, thanks. I doubt we'll ever visit here in the summer! We'd
One of the reasons I love to visit new places is to learn more
about the cultural history of the area.
Phoenix is a rich medley
of Native American, Mexican American, and American West cultures. One
of the ten largest metropolitan areas in the country, Phoenix --
and adjacent cities like Scottsdale, Mesa, Tempe, Sun City, and
Glendale that make up its SMA -- is 'way more "modern
cosmopolitan" than "cowboy." There are numerous museums, art
galleries, theatres, the University of Arizona and other
colleges (yes, the ubiquitous University of Phoenix is here!),
upscale stores, ethnic restaurants, historical sights, and other
diversions for residents and visitors.
And it's huge, probably as spread out as metro Atlanta, where I lived
for twenty-five years. With "huge" comes not only a plethora of
opportunities for entertainment, education, recreation, and shopping, but also traffic
and crime. I've been away from a lot of that for nine years in
Billings and Roanoke, and Jim's never lived in a large
city like this, so it is a bit disconcerting to us. We have done our
best to avoid the rush hours and being in the city after dark.
When we arrived I made a list of about twenty places I wanted to
visit. We've been to only a few of them in the last two weeks,
however. There are two main reasons: 1) our desire to save
money on diesel fuel, which has increased in price significantly
since last summer, and
2) our even more ardent desire to avoid travel on congested urban
streets and freeways. Every time we think about going somewhere
we weigh the cost, time, and aggravation -- and usually end up
exploring more of McDowell Park or relaxing at the campground!
Appropriate freeway retaining wall design in Scottsdale, AZ.
Not only is the metro area itself humongous, but we're also
beyond the suburbs at McDowell Park. It took us two hours to drive
from Nardini Manor in the western 'burbs to the park on the
eastern metro fringes the day we moved our camper
here. We're very
happy with the spacious camp sites and beautiful desert vistas
(mountains in every direction!) -- but it's a 25-mile drive to
the nearest YMCAs in Mesa or Scottsdale and even farther to
favorite stores like Costco and REI that we don't have at home.
Heck, it's even that far to a nice super Wal-Mart.
The time and diesel fuel really add up if
we make the trip to Mesa or Scottsdale more than a couple times a week.
The city of Phoenix and most of the
places we wanted to see are even farther. Checking out Sunbird
Central, i.e. Quartzite, near the California border was a
consideration until we did the cost analysis. Nope -- easier to
stay put. Such places will have to wait
for future trips when we aren't so miserly.
Meanwhile, we've still been able to enjoy the unique
architecture of the region, various communities in the
metropolitan area, some of the surrounding mountains and parks,
and a wonderful little Mexican restaurant near the Mesa YMCA.
My list of "things to do on the next trip" is growing.
One is to explore
the Superstition Mountain area east of metro Phoenix in the huge Tonto National Forest. We could see the mountains from McDowell
Park but the closest we got to them on this trip was on a loop
drive we took that included Usery Mountain Regional
Park. (There's a photo of Usery in the
back to McDowell Park through the Goldfield Mountains, below,
and briefly checked out lovely Saguaro Lake:
Besides lots of things to do in and near Phoenix in future trips, I
also want to head north to the area between Prescott and
Flagstaff to see the beautiful Red Rocks area again and revisit
some interesting towns like Crown King, Cottonwood, Sedona, and
Jerome. I want to explore some of the fascinating ruins in that
area, too -- ancient Hohokam, Singuan, and other Native American cliff
dwellings and art that date back to 11,000 B.C. (e.g., Tuzigoot, Montezuma's Castle, Palatki, Honanki,
Wupatki, Walnut Canyon, and pictograph and petroglyph sites).
It's significantly higher up there than around Phoenix so
January weather is definitely more wintry. While we were
getting rain in two weeks ago, that area got several
inches of snow. You know how Jim avoids snow! We'll just have to
come out here in the spring or fall sometime. That would be a
better time to visit the Grand Canyon again, too.
HEY, WEIGHT FOR US!
One of the things I miss the most on our extended camping forays
is being able to do weight training like we do several times a
week at our YMCA at home.
We have the good fortune to be able to suspend our membership
for the months we're out of town (without having to pay to
rejoin when we return)
but we lose some upper-body fitness while we're traveling.
This trip is different.
our membership alive through January because the Phoenix area has YMCAs we can
use while we're here. Now it won't be as difficult to get back
into our weight routine when we return home. We've used
both the Scottsdale and Mesa Ys. They are nice, but not as big
or well-equipped as ours in Roanoke. We appreciate our facility
even more now!
To get most anywhere from McDowell Park we have to travel
through the very upscale town of Fountain Hills, named for this
impressive 560-foot high fountain
Scenic name-sake Fountain Park in Fountain Hills,
that is visible even several miles away on the near or far side
of the park when we're running the Pemberton Trail loop:
The fountain as seen from the
"near side" of the Pemberton Trail. 1-12-08
The fountain is turned on for fifteen minutes at the top of each
hour. Somehow we usually miss it when we're driving by it on
Saguaro Blvd. (since it's turned on only part of each hour
and only when it's not too windy). But we can see it from our campground
and the trails eight or ten miles
away, every hour on the hour from mid-morning till about 10 PM! Very cool, especially when
it's lit up at night.
I took the next shot on one of the main roads through Fountain
Hills from inside the truck as we drove out to the park the
Fountain Hills does not have a Wal-Mart or other big-box stores.
It's too swanky.
In fact, Fountain Hills doesn't even have a Laundromat. We have
to drive through the town and east toward the Verde River to
find a private campground with a laundry we can use, a drive
of about ten miles one way. (McDowell Park doesn't have laundry
facilities for campers, just the campground hosts who live
Despite some inconveniences we have thoroughly enjoyed spending lots of time
at the park and we'll miss it when we leave. We
run or walk every morning and have explored more of the trails than
some local runners. Even though we recovered very quickly
from ATY it's been a pleasure to chill out most afternoons, just doing
errands and chores, tinkering with the camper and truck, playing with the dogs,
visiting neighbors, reading, writing, taking
Jim and Tater enjoy a hike on the Pemberton
Trail January 4.
I've managed to keep busy enough that I'm 'way behind on this
journal, and that's one of my favorite hobbies. I'm taking lots
of notes and I'll collate all of it later when I'm back at my
familiar computer and have a speedy DSL connection..
Next entry: more photos, history, and other information
about McDowell Mountain Regional Park. Come along and see why we
love it so much!
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and
© 2008 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil