I have a love/hate relationship with McDowell. Our first stay here two years ago was mostly done by me alone while TBG traveled back to the Seattle area. He returned with a bad cold, as many air travelers did, and shared those germs with me. That was December of 2019, which has given us pause in hindsight, especially knowing now what we didn’t know then. Maybe it was, and maybe it wasn’t, but those are germs under the bridge at this point.
What I remembered liking about this park from that stay was still true this time. It has large, well-spaced sites, it’s quiet, and it has several great trails that are not only nice to walk but smooth and flowy for cautious mountain bikers like me, so much so that I both walked and biked them on my own then. The biggest bummer about this park is that all connections — WiFi, cell, and OATV — aren’t fully reliable, and when the weather is still a smidge too warm with really crappy air quality, fighting with technology is even more frustrating than usual. Like all of these sub-suburban parks, it is conveniently close to shopping, but there is no nearby laundromat, and without a sewer hookup, our to-be-washed bags are overflowing.
We had Thanksgiving here, just the two of us which is how we’ve shared more of our Thanksgivings as a couple than not. Turkey, potatoes, stuffing, pumpkin — all of those have always been among my favorites, and we had them in some form for our little holiday. We used that delicious fuel for a Black Friday bike ride.
The McDowell VC, like all the regional parks, features a variety of reptiles on display indoors and an oasis built out back. There is a large tortoise enclosure, but the shelled critter(s) had already holed up for the season. There is only one bench in the area, and it is too close to the bird feeders to enjoy them properly.
No matter! I wasted no time in setting up my own bird sanctuary at our site.
In addition to the hummingbird feeder, I set up my Deluxe Bird Feeding Station! in the shade of one tree, hung the thistle bag in another, and put out a water dish. At TBG’s urging, I moved the water to the ground and added another, bigger, blue one that was soon the daily hub of vigorous bird-bathing. Some birds found it hard to wait their turn and while one was splashing, another would simulate bathing outside the tub. Hilarious! During the course of our 17-day stay, I saw 14 different bird species in my sanctuary and 29 overall in the surrounding area.
We walked one or more trails in the park every day, often early or after the sun dipped below the mountains but before full dark, though one evening walk was awfully close. Our favorite part of the park is the north end, and the North Trail, which has become hiker-only since our last visit. We have not been taking as many pictures as usual, mostly because of the poor lighting during the times we walked (too bright, too dim, too hazy.)
One day, I looked out to see a couple come walking up the road and right into our site. Just as I was about to fling open the window and express my ire, I fortunately remembered we were expecting them. It was Dave and Sharron of https://www.instagram.com/onlytherocks/ fellow full-time RVers who we have followed on IG for a few years now. They invited us to their site for Happy Hour around their propane fire pit, and we had a great time trading tales of the road. At one point, I was hearing a noise behind me in the dark, and shining my phone light into the brush, I discovered a mouse snuffling about. Bold as you please and not at all discouraged by my light, it scrambled over and latched onto my box of crackers. I shooed it away, and when we were packing up to head home, Dave joked that we were probably packing the mouse up with us. No joke, it seems we did! During the night, TBG heard the tell-tale scritching and discovered some neat little bites out of an avocado. Out came the disinfectant, and traps were laid in its suspected route. We waited…
In the meantime, we met up with our new friends again at their site the following morning for a hike around the park.
We had more great conversation time upon our return, and even more the next morning when we went over to say goodbye as they were heading out. Chances are good we will intersect them again in the future, and that will be a very happy day. Thank you, OTR, for the delicious beverages and wonderful visits!
Visible from our site was the famous fountain of Fountain Hills. We had not gone into town to see it during our last stay and decided we should probably go check out Fountain Park to see all the fuss was about this go-round.
The fountain goes off every hour on the hour from 0900-2100 for 15 minutes, with the ability to shoot up to 560′ into the air. It sits in the middle of a man-made lake and is surrounded by a paved walkway, gardens, playgrounds, lawns, and bordering those, shops and restaurants with pleasant views of the surrounding area.
The lake has become a favorite spot for several resident and migrating birds, as well. Have you ever seen a Coot’s feet up close? If not, zoom into the pic and be amazed by their really weird feet. If you examine the pic of the resting Hooded Mergansers more closely, you’ll see, like I did only when I downloaded the photo, that a little Peach-faced Lovebird sneaked into it. As we strolled around the lake, I was stopped by another walker who, noticing my binoculars, asked if I was a birder. I hesitated to say “yes” because when someone asks me that (and it happens a lot when you walk around with binoculars) the next question is inevitably going to be an identification one, and I worry I won’t know. I did admit to being a birder, though, and I was able to answer her question correctly. The answer was “Great-tailed Grackle.” That was an easy one, but if she looks up those shiny ducks below, that will be my mea culpa since I told her I thought they might be a domestic crossbreed, which is actually very common but was not the case here. Whoops.
We biked together four times, though we only took photos on two of those rides because speed-rolling through the dips and curves is super fun but stopping to take photos is not.
On another day, we drove 26 miles to access a trail that was, as the crow flies, only 3.9 miles away. Terrain can be tricky like that.
TBG chose Tom’s Thumb Trail in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. (his pic is so reddish because I inadvertently had my camera set on “sunset.” Oops.) We hiked a different trail in the same Preserve last time we were in the area and had recalled that we needed to pay for parking but not so this time. I have no idea why, especially since both are nicely developed with well-kept facilities. We certainly weren’t going to argue, though.
It was a wonderfully overcast day, giving us a break from the relentless southwest glare and making the dry grasses glow.
It also made the steady climb much more tolerable than it would have been on a sunnier day.
TBG gives a “thumb’s up” at the base of Tom’s Thumb, and if you look really closely, you’ll see another bird (in flight) just to the right of the rock that I didn’t see when I took the photo. We sat on a flat shelf near the base to have a rest and a snack, and wondered aloud what sort of birds made the large white poo patches on the rocks. I scanned the rocks with my binos and happened upon one of the poo-ers itself!
We thought it was a Kestrel and even told some other hikers that but upon further investigation when we got home, I learned it was a Prairie Falcon. See?! Now there is some lady out there telling people she saw mutant ducks and other people recounting their Kestrel sighting.
It was a great hike altogether, and the roundabout drive with a long road construction delay was worth it.
We divided the rest of our days between walking and riding and checking the tank lights to see if we would make it without the annoyance of a dump before we were ready to leave. We made it, but just barely.
Oh, about that mouse…
It took two days before the peanut butter coaxed it from wherever it was hiding (!) but if I’ve told the mice of the world once, I’ve told them a million times, “You there! Outside!”