Here we are, back in the desert again after just over a year gone. We like the desert, always have, but it will be our third out of four winter seasons down here with a lot of repeats as far as campgrounds go. Thus, we find ourselves at the first in what will be a series of four Maricopa County Regional Park stays, White Tank Mountain, where we were almost two years ago exactly. Predictably, I hung out the Sugar Pig feeder right away. A sweet little Verdin found it that evening, and the Costa’s and Anna’s arrived the next day.
We like these regional parks, as they offer large, well-spaced sites, good facilities, lots of trails, and great visitor centers. As is our custom wherever we stay, we hiked almost all of what this park has to offer the first time around, and we arrived feeling a bit uncertain about how we’d muster up a little enthusiasm to do it all again. As is also my custom, I sat down pronto with the paper map of the park’s trails and highlighted all we’d done before in order to be sure we’d pick up the remainder.
Another thing we like about these parks is that they have lots of scheduled activities, and I had my eye on a night-critters walk that was slated for the evening of our arrival. It asked that participants bring their own black light flashlight, and when I checked mine, it was dead, and it wasn’t the kind with replaceable batteries. It turned out that the program was full anyhow, but nothing was stopping me from having my own Creatures of the Night adventure, though I needed a new flashlight. I balked at the $21 price tag of the one they had at the VC, but it looked like a pretty nice one and came with its own changeable batteries, so I ponied up the dough. Armed with my new Scorpion Master!, I started around our campsite. That was all the further I needed to venture. I located three of the little devils quickly. It was the perfect Halloween fright! The one on the left we named Moonbeam, and we saw it every night in and on its cement-berm home.
During our first stay, the autumn weather had already cooled considerably and there were intermittent storms that blew through. Not so this time. It was still a little too hot for our tastes, and we restricted our walking to early-morning and pre-sunset outings, often one of each daily.
The crested saguaro at the Bajada trailhead hadn’t changed much in two years, except that it looked healthier at the bottom and had a little nob-baby on one arm.
The birds were plentiful. That Rose-breasted Grosbeak, who doesn’t drink nectar, came back about five times in an hour, each time to tap on and admire himself in the window. He had a thorn lodged in his left cheek just below his eye, and while he sat for long stretches on the feeder, I eased the window open in an attempt to try to catch him in order to pull the thorn. I got very close, but he wouldn’t let me capture him. I could, however, see it very well, and it didn’t seem to be hurting or really bothering him at all. I imagine this is not an uncommon predicament in the thorny desert. That Kestrel startled me one afternoon by swooping under the little bedroom window awning and landing flat against the window while I was sitting on the bed. It clung there for a few minutes before flying out to perch on a saguaro skeleton where it scolded a pair of Cactus Wrens that wanted to share the perch. During our two-week stay, I was entertained by over twenty species that I could spot just from the RV.
A trail we repeated on purpose was the short mile-long one to the seasonal waterfall. Previously, we had gone after a heavy rain, and the fall was a mere trickle down the rocks, so we knew that it would be dry this time, but it’s still one of the prettiest areas in the park.
Other than a young couple and their wedding photographer making too much giggling noise, and a big coyote traversing the hillside, we had the place to ourselves once the pavement ended.
Just as we neared the falls basin, we came across a fresh deer kill right in the trail.
Using our Trail Scene Processing Skills, we determined the deer had met its demise during the night, and it was surely a puma that was responsible. We also used our consummate critter knowledge to know that dallying in a puma’s kill-zone isn’t a wise idea. Hike over! We alerted a few incoming hikers and the park employees on our way back out.
Some morning walks were longer than others, and TBG went out a couple different times to alternately capture a few sunrise and moon photos.
We did one longer hike that was supposed to be just over 10 miles, but ended up being just over 12. TBG says I lied about the distance, but I say he took us around the wrong loop at the beginning. Fortunately, we had enough water and leg power to sustain us. (we did not, as the map data below suggests, have over 2k of gain — the canyon-y terrain messes with the GPS)
After a well-earned snack upon our return, I headed over to the shower house.
Wouldn’t you know, twelve miles of desert hiking yielded nothing, but try to make it 100′ feet to the shower house, and this 4′ rattlesnack just beside the path shook the nap right out of me. I jumped straight up and backwards, and another camper on her way to the restroom heard the rattling, too, and called out, “That one’s not happy with you!” No kidding, lady. I went back to the RV to inform TBG, who came out and took the above photo, then I continued on to wash the stink of fear off me.
As you’ll recall from my last post, we hid out and were anti-social for awhile. We wanted to be refreshed and recharged ahead of the Arizona Winter Social Season that commenced by a re-connection with our good friends The Lowes, who came off the road last year and settled in Wickenburg. We made an early-morning drive north from our location to their place, where we piled in their car to get out for a hike to begin the festivities.
They chose The Granite Mountain Hotshots Trail, one they’d done a few times but we hadn’t. As you’d imagine, it is a mixture of beautiful hiking and sobering way-points as you pass the 19 memorial plaques every 600′. At first, you wonder if you should be having a good time on this trail, but as you read each fallen Hotshot’s story, you are reminded that they fought to protect life and all the joy it brings, and you know it’s okay. The hike was a roller coaster of both terrain and emotions.
Thanks to MLSLowe for sharing her photos — the two with Steve, TBG, and me are hers.
The hike was just the beginning of our day-long merriment, and we headed back to their house where we were joined by their long-time friends and fellow full-timers who had just recently come off the road and settled in…Wickenburg! We had been virtually acquainted with Dave and Sue of Beluga’s Excellent Adventure for awhile, but it was an absolute delight to meet them in person. We had originally thought we were going out to eat, but ML and Steve had prepared a feast for all of us to enjoy on their wonderful back patio. That also made it possible for Dave and Sue to bring along their famous poodle, Lewis, the sweetest dog probably ever.
It was a smorgasbord of two flavors of grilled pork kebabs, green rice, quinoa, butternut squash, and green salad followed by a traditional Filipino dessert of cheesy (that’s white Cheddar if you want to know) Ube Rolls and a sip of dangerously delicious peanut butter whiskey. We had a marvelous time talking over great food with even greater friends, and we have definite plans to visit again on our way north in a few months.
We’re off now to Regional Park #2 for our next stay. It’s a repeat as well, but we have some new adventures penciled in for the surrounding area, and you never know what nature might throw at you. Hope to “see” you there!