Arizona’s Coolest Small Towns Are Filled with Cowboys, Wine, and Mysticism

It’s a state of friendly burros, cosmic vortexes, and living history

In its not-so-ancient past, Arizona’s dusty desert expanses were home to Indigenous tribes, headstrong cowboys, and hopeful miners looking to strike gold. But despite its Old Western roots and relatively recent statehood, Arizona has become one of the country’s fastest-growing states with its capital of Phoenix firmly planted as the United States’ fifth largest city attracting nearly 50 million tourists each year to trek the Grand Canyon, see a Spring Training game, or party at the Phoenix Open.

Arizona’s small towns are wildly different, yet it’s here that Arizona’s legendary past meets its bright future as ancient civilizations and experimental communities coexist. From ghost towns and gunfight reenactment sites to vortex centers, the unconventional can be explored in the state’s least-populated cities. Arizona has always been prime road-trip country—and these are the towns that deserve a spot on any itinerary.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome 

A scenic hillside village in Verde Valley, Jerome was once a vibrant copper-mining town. Today, it’s famous for its rampant ghost stories, many of which revolve around historic hospital-turned inn―Jerome Grand Inn. While the city’s decline in residents following the mining rush earned it a reputation as a “ghost town,” it’s really anything but. Its popularity as a tourist destination has grown in recent years and it’s now home to eateries like the Haunted Hamburger, art galleries, and, of course, ghost tours for more adventurous visitors. It’s also growing as an Arizona wine hotspot thanks to spots like Caduceus Cellars.

Route 66 near Winslow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winslow

Winslow was notably immortalized in The Eagles’ hit song “Take it Easy,” but the northeastern town of roughly 10,000 has deep roots in Arizona history beyond rock. It began as a railroad hub before reinventing itself as a tourist stop along the iconic Route 66. Today, a visit to Winslow isn’t complete without paying homage to the aforementioned Standin’ on the Corner Park and statue commemorating the song reference, souvenir shopping at the Western-themed Arizona 66 Trading Company, or strolling through the Old Trails Museum. For something more adventurous, hit the nearby Meteor Crater site, the haunted Apache Death Cave, and several ancient Native American ruins.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bisbee 

Nestled among rolling hills just 11 miles from the Mexican border, Bisbee is another mining town-turned-tourist destination—but its knack for kitsch and bright colors easily makes it a favorite eclectic desert town. Its free-spirited nature and unusual architecture have even earned it the moniker “Mayberry on Acid.” Bisbee has been gaining popularity with Arizona locals and out-of-state tourists alike since the’ 90s thanks to its array of art galleries, antique shops, and one-of-a-kind boutiques. However, it’s also worth going back in time to the town’s roots by checking out sites like the Queen Mine—where visitors can don a miner’s outfit and head 1,500 feet underground—and the Mining & Historical Museum.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone 

Like many other Old West relics, Tombstone which refers to itself as “the town too tough to die” predates Arizona’s statehood having carried the spirit of the Wild West for approximately 150 years. It’s so well preserved that the ghost of Wyatt Earp could roll in and feel like nothing has changed. And, you can safely relive the town’s rowdy roots with daily gunfight reenactments, a trip to the former bar and brothel at The Bird Cage Theater, or an illuminating trek through the Goodenough Mine that skyrocketed the town to Southern Arizona fame.

Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cottonwood

Jerome may be emerging as a mini wine destination but nearby Cottonwood is the capital of Verde Valley’s fast-growing wine scene. Home to Arizona Stronghold Vineyards, colorful and quirky Old Town Cottonwood has established itself as an off-the-beaten-path food and drink destination thanks to places like Merkin Vineyards Tasting Room. Its proximity to the hiking trails of Coconino National Forest offers an added bonus. Here, you can eat and sip wine then walk it off in one of the most gorgeous patches of forest in the US.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oatman

There is perhaps no better small-town welcoming committee than a group of friendly donkeys. Such is the case in Oatman where visitors will see the wild burros that freely roam the streets. The oldest continuously-inhabited mining settlement in Arizona, the town has stayed (relatively) populated thanks to its desirable location on Route 66—which it pays hearty homage to with a main street full of themed souvenir shops. It’s also notably home to the Oatman Hotel where actor Clark Gable and starlet Carole Lombard are rumored to have stayed after getting hitched in the nearby town of Kingman. 

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona 

While Sedona’s popularity with tourists has been on a steep incline, it still has a relatively small year-round population which clears it for a spot on this list. It’s a must-visit thanks to its stunning red rocks and outdoor activities, a culinary scene that’s blossomed thanks to restaurants like the award-winning Mariposa, and the legendary mystical properties that have earned it a reputation as an energy vortex. And if you’re feeling really daring, you can even slide down the town’s 80-foot long natural water slide at Slide Rock State Park.

Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prescott

As Arizona’s original capital, this haven in the pine forests between Phoenix and Flagstaff has more than earned its spot among Arizona’s most captivating towns. While it retains a bit of Western charm like many of the state’s other small towns, it also offers a unique, laid-back atmosphere featuring events like art fairs at the Courthouse Plaza and shows at the historic Elks Theatre. It’s also the perfect town if you’re in the mood to explore a great beer scene. Hit the ever popular Prescott Brewing Company or The Palace, an iconic saloon that’s been slinging drinks since 1877. Plus, just a few miles away from downtown, visitors can enjoy all kinds of outdoor activities—from fishing to kayaking—at scenic Watson Lake and Lynx Lake.

Worth Pondering…

To my mind these live oak-dotted hills fat with side oats grama, these pine-clad mesas spangled with flowers, these lazy trout streams burbling along under great sycamores and cottonwoods, come near to being the cream of creation.

—Aldo Leopold, 1937

Why RV?

Why RV vacations are the best

Do you want to live life on your own schedule in your own way? Do you want to be part of the landscapes you’ve only looked at in photos? Then you will love the RV lifestyle. Millions of folks have opted to live out their dreams and adventures in a recreational vehicle. Here is why you should too.

Spending time outdoors in Arches National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reason # 1: Convenient Travel

The RV lifestyle is exploding due to COVID. The uptick in the number of camping trips Americans and Canadians are taking is not exactly a surprise given that it allows people to change their surroundings without greatly increasing the risk of contracting COVID. One thing we’ve been reminded of is that spending time outdoors brings a world of physical and mental benefits. Medical professionals advise us to socially distance from one another and tell us that when we spend time with others, it’s preferable to do so outside rather than indoors. This advice seemed tailor-made for the RV lifestyle.

Going for a hike in Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reason # 2: Connect With Nature

A dose of nature does wonders for one’s well being. Anyone who has ever stepped foot in the forest or dipped a toe in a lake or creek likely knows this but nature is a happy-maker. A walk outdoors is more than just a great pick-me-up. It can be a calming and regenerative exercise improving your mood and easing anxiety, stress, and depression. Go outside! Go on a scenic drive! Go to a state park! Go for a hike! And find the peace that nature provides! With an RV, the whole world is right outside your front door, ready to be explored.

Camping at Whispering Hills RV Park, Georgetown, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reason # 3: Common Bond

When you RV, you’re never alone. From families to couples to solo travelers, all RVers have one thing in common: an urge to see the world on their own terms. When you pull into a campground or RV park, you know you’ll be surrounded by likeminded people who make up one of the most tight-knit communities around.

Freightliner Club Rally © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reason # 4: Join a Community

RV memberships and clubs provide numerous services including a community for RVers. One reason for selecting an RV club is for cost savings and discounts on various RV parks. The discounts can vary from 10 to 50 percent and have restrictions on when they are valid. The choice of RV clubs also depends on the location of the campgrounds where the discounts are available and your current and future travel plans.

Staying active while camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reason # 5: Travel with Comfort

Your home comes with you. A comfortable bed. A full kitchen. A restroom. A shower. An entertainment center. In an RV, it’s all with you. And the open road is yours for the taking. And when you RV, you can tailor your adventures from where you go to how and where you sleep to how you keep everyone active and entertained. RVing lets you make every adventure completely your own. It’s your schedule, your wish list, your road map, and your world to explore. Hike, bike, climb, kayak, ride horses, swim, and make the world your playground.

Everything you need is here © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reason # 6: Everything you Need is with You

A pile of books. Your favorite coffee mug. Board games and video games. A cabinet packed with snacks. RV travel allows you to bring the comforts of home anywhere you go which is a relief for people who struggle to fit the essentials into an airplane carry-on. Just be aware that packing too much stuff into your RV can be a safety hazard. Every RV has a cargo carrying capacity—you can find this number on a label typically inside a cabinet or closet. The cargo carrying capacity is the weight of everything—people and stuff—you can safely carry in your RV. Exceeding capacity is dangerous, as it can strain your brakes, axles and tires, and potentially cause an accident.

Enjoying a sunset at Two Rivers Landing, Sevierville, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reason # 7: Family Togetherness

Nothing bonds families together like being together. Breathing the same air. Seeing the same sunrises and sunsets. Bringing on landscapes and campfire stories, not TV shows. RVing brings you closer to natural beauty. And to those you love.

Zip line adventure © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reason # 8: Retire in Style

Your time. Your way. Make the road your new home. Best estimates indicate 750,000 to one million seniors call their RV home—and the ranks are growing. Go anywhere you want. Stay as long as you like. The possibilities are endless and the choices are all yours. So whether you become a full-time RVer, a snowbird, or simply travel from time to time, RVing is a great way to design your own life and your own adventures. Live your dream.

Traveling Scenic Byway 12, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reason # 9: Simply the Best Way to Travel

Anywhere the road takes you, you can go. Travel by RV allows you to fully appreciate the country around you and the people you meet on the way. If you’re not a fan of meeting people, there’s opportunity to avoid them as well. Never before has a vacation method been so affordable, yet so flexible. If you haven’t looked into RV camping you’re missing out on a great thing. RVs are simply the best way to vacation.

Worth Pondering…

No matter where we go in our motorhome, that sense of independence is satisfying. We have our own facilities, from comfortable bed to a fridge full of our favorite foods. We set the thermostat the way we like it and go to bed and get up in our usual routine.

Now is the Time to Discover Madera Canyon, a Hiking and Birding Paradise

Madera Canyon is a retreat for birds and humans alike with cooler weather, extensive trail systems, and mountainous scenery

Madera Canyon is nestled in the northwest face of the Santa Rita Mountains east of Green Valley and 30 miles southeast of Tucson, Arizona. Its higher elevation offers relief to desert dwellers during the hot summer months and allows access to snow during the winter.

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A renowned location for bird watching, Madera Canyon is a major resting place for migrating species while the extensive trail system of the Santa Rita Mountains is easily accessed from the Canyon’s campground and picnic areas. Madera Canyon has a long and colorful history. The Friends of Madera Canyon, a cooperating volunteer group, helps the Forest Service maintain recreation sites and provides brochures and education programs.

Mount Wrightson, Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Madera Canyon, originally known as White House Canyon, is one of the largest of the deep, wooded ravines in the Santa Rita Mountains, one of southeast Arizona’s sky islands—isolated high elevation regions surrounded on all sides by much lower land. Orientated approximately north-south, towards its upper end the canyon splits into several tributaries that drain the slopes of 9,453 foot Mount Wrightson, the highest peak in the range. The canyon contains a shallow but permanent creek fed by springs along tributary streams.

There is no gate or sign indicating you are in the Canyon, except for a sign on a right-hand turn to the Visitor Information Station. Brochures and information (but not passes) are available here.

Proctor Parking Area, Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is also the entrance to the Proctor parking area, handicap accessible trail, and beginning of the Bud Gode Interpretive Nature Trail.

Continuing up the paved road will bring you first to the Whitehouse parking and picnic area. The next parking area is the Madera parking area with picnic sites on both sides of the road. Next is the Santa Rita Lodge on the right where you can park to look at birds at the many feeders.

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Further up the road at an elevation of about 5,000 feet is the Amphitheater parking area with access to the Nature Trail. Continuing up the canyon you’ll find the Madera Kubo Cabins, another bridge, the Chuparosa Inn B & B, and the large Mount Wrightson Picnic Area and trail heads with parking, numerous picnic sites, and rest rooms.

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Both the riparian valley floor and the thickly vegetated slopes are home to a large variety of plants, reflecting the crossroads location between the Sonoran Desert and the mountains. As a result the canyon is a famed wildlife location, in particular for birds with over 250 recorded species. The resident birds including hummingbirds, owls, sulphur flycatchers, wood warblers, elegant trogan, wild turkeys, and quails, as well as numerous migrating birds. Other notable wildlife includes coati, black bear, raccoon, mountain lion, bighorn sheep, bobcat, and ring-tailed cat.

A three mile paved road winds up the lower reaches of the canyon beside Madera Creek ending at a fork in the stream just before the land rises much more steeply. Along the way are three picnic areas, a side road to a campground, and five trailheads. Nearly 100 miles of paths climb the valley sides to springs, viewpoints, old mines, and summits including Mount Wrightson. Apart from the creekside path all trails are lightly used. Most visitors are here for picnics, splashing in the stream, and short walks along the canyon floor where the most fruitful bird-watching locations are found.

Old Baldy Trail, Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Madera Canyon is known for exceptional and varied hiking trails. The Mount Wrightson trailhead provides access to several trails including the Super Trail and Old Baldy trail where experienced hikers can climb to higher levels. These two trails to its summit cross one another twice and make a figure eight. The vertical climb covers 4,013 feet from the Mount Wrightson Picnic/Trailhead Parking Lot. For these trails, hiking boots and layered clothing for temperature change are recommended. Always bring drinking water and stay on the trails. Hiking brochures with detailed trail maps are available at each trail head and the Santa Rita Lodge.

Madera Creek along a Proctor Area trail, Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the Proctor area, a paved loop trail suitable for wheelchairs and walkers offers occasional benches for resting. The trail follows Madera Creek and provides access to the beauty of the lower canyon. Another paved loop trail at Whitehouse is often used by visitors requiring wheelchairs.

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To reach Madera Canyon from Tucson, take the I-19 south towards Nogales and use the Continental Exit 63. Then, follow the Whitehouse Canyon Road east towards the Santa Rita Mountains. The strange elephant-head-shaped mountain located to your right indicates you are on the correct road.

A Coronado National Forest or Interagency (America the Beautiful) pass must be displayed.  Day use passes can be purchased at the site for $8. 

Old Baldy Trail, Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

The trip across Arizona is just one oasis after another. You can just throw anything out and it will grow there.

—Will Rogers

Saguaro-speckled Desertscapes of Cave Creek Regional Park

The unspoiled Sonoran Desert vegetation of Cave Creek Regional Park invites visitors to become enveloped in a tranquil, largely undisturbed natural world

Solitude and sweeping views in all directions reward those willing to make a relatively short hike in this 2,922-acre park. Cave Creek Regional Park has more than 11-miles of joint-use trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. In additional campsites with excellent facilities along with individual picnic sites beckon the whole family.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cave Creek which is located north of Phoenix became part of Maricopa County’s regional park system in 1963.The park sits in the upper Sonoran Desert and ranges in elevation from 2,000 feet to 3,060 feet. This desert oasis offers hikers, bikers, and equestrian majestic views. The Go John Trail loops around a mountain to provide the illusion of being miles away from civilization. In the 1870s, fever stricken gold seekers staked their dreams on the jasper-studded hills. Guided trails to these sites give visitors an opportunity to travel back in time.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cave Creek was named for the small stream that rises in the hills to the northeast and flows southwesterly for 25 miles before reaching Paradise Valley. The stream, in turn, was named from a high, overhanging bluff along its west bank that forms a wide, open cavern about two miles north of the present day Cave Creek.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cave Creek History

The Cave Creek area has a rich archeological foundation. Ancient Hohokam Indians stayed in the area from around 800 A.D. until 1400 A.D. Many reminders of their living in the area still remain. Stone huts, pit houses, terraced field, and irrigation ditches were left behind. There are also many petroglyphs that were carved by the Hohokam and others.

During the 1400s, bands of Apache Indians began drifting into the area. They brought with them a different lifestyle than the Hohokams. Instead of farming, the Apaches lived by hunting, gathering, and raiding. The 1500s saw the arrival of Spanish explorers. The Spanish found the desert to be very inhospitable. On their maps, central Arizona was labeled as “deplobado” meaning, “desolate wilderness.”

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mining began to become a focal point in central Arizona history in 1863. The call “Gold in the Bradshaws” rang out. Fabulous rich gold outcroppings were found in high peaks such as Antelope Hill. In 1864, Henry Wickenburg uncovered the richest strike, the Vulture Mine. Miners were sure that the Aqua Fria River, New River, Cave Creek, and the stream of the Tonto were also rich with gold.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A few miners tried to find the treasures but the Apaches ran them out of the area. Ranchers and farmers followed lured by reports of mild climate, plentiful water, tall timbers, and lush grass. All of the reports failed to mention that hostile Indians surrounded the area. Of all the tribes in the area, the Apaches were the most feared. They were highly mobile, unpredictable, and difficult to capture.

Newcomers to the State appealed to the Federal Government for assistance. The Civil War was demanding the need for every soldier. Washington leaders decided they did not want to lose the potential gold production capabilities of Arizona. In 1863, Arizona was declared a new and separate territory, splitting off from the territory of New Mexico.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Governor was sent to Arizona along with a small force of troops to Fort Whipple in Prescott. In 1865, the army sent a small force of 300 volunteers from California to establish Fort McDowell. Fort McDowell was located 18 miles east of Cave Creek. One year after the Californians arrived, a regular army infantry unit settled into Fort McDowell. For 15 more years, skirmishes, ambushes, and bloody confrontations raged between the soldiers and the Apaches.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just North of Cave Creek, the area of Bloody Basin was the site of a bitter skirmish on March 27, 1873. Army scouts trailed a group of Apaches to the top of Turret Peak. The scouts crept up the peak during the night. At dawn they captured or killed nearly all of the Apaches. The pressure on the Apaches began to have its effects. With the army destroying any discovered food storage areas, the Apaches were beginning to suffer. Hunger drove the Apaches to surrender. By 1877 about 5,000 Indians from various tribes shared the San Carlos Reservation. The time of the Apaches along Cave Creek was over and a new era of mining was coming to Cave Creek.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cave Creek Hiking Trails

Cave Creek Regional Park offers over 11-miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Park trails range in length from 0.2 miles to 5.8 miles and range in difficulty from easy to difficult. If you are looking for an easy, relatively short hike the Slate Trail is recommended. If you are looking for a longer, more difficult hike, try the 5.8-mile Go John Trail. The trails within the Cave Creek Regional Park are very popular with dramatic elevations and spectacular views of the surrounding plains. All trails are multi-use unless otherwise designated. All trail users are encouraged to practice proper trail etiquette. Always remember to carry plenty of water and let someone know where you are going.​ Heavy sole shoes are a must as well as sunscreen, and a large-brimmed hat (I recommend a Tilley hat).

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cave Creek Picnic Areas

Cave Creek Regional Park offers a Day-Use Picnic Area and a Group Picnic Area. The day use picnic area has 51 individual picnic sites, each providing a table and barbecue grill. Drinking water and restrooms are available in the Day-Use Area and sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. For large groups wanting to picnic together, weddings, or office parties, consider renting a ramada. Cave Creek Regional Park has four large ramada areas with picnic tables, barbecue grills, drinking water, electrical outlets, campfire pits, and a nearby playground.

These ramadas can be reserved for a fee in four-hour increments. If not marked as reserved, they are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping at Cave Creek

The campground consists of 55 campsites for RV camping. The average site size is 40 feet; however, pull through sites may accommodate up to a 60-foot RV with water and electrical hookups, a picnic table, and a barbecue fire ring. Cave Creek Regional Park provides restrooms with flush toilets and hot water showers. A dump station is available for use by registered campers at no additional cost. All sites in the campground may be reserved online at maricopacountyparks.org.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cave Creek Regional Park

Location: From central Phoenix, take I-17 north to Carefree Hwy (SR 74). Exit Carefree Hwy. and travel east to 32nd St. (7 miles). Turn north on 32nd St. to the Cave Creek Regional Park entrance.

Admission: $7 per vehicle.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

This was as the desert should be, this was the desert of the picture books, with the land unrolled to the farthest distant horizon hills, with saguaros standing sentinel in their strange chessboard pattern, towering supinely above the fans of ocotillo and brushy mesquite.

—Dorothy B. Hughes

Schulenburg: Dance Halls, Painted Churches & Good Eats

Settlers immigrated to Schulenburg in the 1800s and brought with them culture, food, and faith which you can experience today in rural Texas

Schulenburg, like many of the small central Texas towns, was settled by German and Czech settlers in the mid-nineteenth century. Founded in 1873 when the railway officially came through town, it grew to 1,000 residents by 1884. With 2,852 residents in 2018, the town is still rich with the German/Czech culture.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Praha © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A major attraction in the Schulenburg area is the Painted Churches. You can take the tour through the Chamber of Commerce or take a self-guided tour which is what we did. The churches look like plain white steeple buildings but step inside you and you’ll be in a jewel box of colors and detail. Four of the fifteen historical churches can be toured Monday through Saturday. The others are either an active parish which you can visit on Sunday or no longer active with prior arrangements required for a visit.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church in High Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go inside a plain white steeple church and you will find a European styled painted church of high gothic windows, tall spires, elaborately painted interiors with brilliant colors and friezes created by the German and Czech settlers in America.

The four we visited are: St. Mary Catholic Church in High Hill, Sts. Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in Dubina, St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Praha, and St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Ammannsville, known as “The Pink One.”

Original Kountry Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s not surprising that the Czechs and Germans brought their religious traditions to Texas, but it is surprising that they were able to construct such magnificent churches on the Texas frontier.

You can start your day by indulging in the Czech breakfast of champions: kolaches. While Texans ascribe the name to both the fruit and meat variety (pig-in-a-blanket) of this bready pastry, I’m drawn to the buttery goodness of traditional fruit kolaches at the Original Kountry Bakery. The first one melted in my mouth so quickly that I had to grab a few more to go. Kountry Bakery’s stew and chilli are also lunchtime favorites. And the best part about eating lunch at Kountry Bakery are all the sweets to pick up for desert.

Potter Country Store © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With a giant squirrel sign outside shouting “How ’Bout Them Nuts,” I had no choice but to stop at the Potter Country Store offering local pecans in every form and flavor, including raw, roasted, chocolate-covered, and stuffed in pies. Potter Country Store has been operating since 2001 when they had a small store about 6 miles south of Schulenburg on Highway 77. They soon outgrew that store and opened a new location in 2007 at I-10 and Highway 77 in Schulenburg.

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

They provide fresh in-shell, cracked, and shelled pecans that come from their own Potter Pecan Orchards. They also have a variety of gourmet roasted pecans that are made in-house using their own recipes. A few of their favorites include Cinnamon Sugar, Carmel, Red Velvet, Sweet Heat, Salted, Blackberry, Hot Chili Spice, and Chocolate dipped. Other popular treats are their homemade pecan pies, pecan Roca, and fudge. They also carry unique gifts and personal items such as jewelry, purses, home décor, boutique clothing, and lots more.

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Downtown on Schulenburg’s Main Street is the Texas Polka Museum. It’s full of instruments, pictures, outfits, and a map showing every polka band in the Lone Star State. The Polka Museum highlights the history of this area’s unique German and Czech-style polka music. You can learn about the music that immigrants brought to the area in the 1880s and how it inspired later generations of country artists and even rock and roll music. If your feet aren’t tapping by the time you leave, then “Czech” your pulse.

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then, learn about their heritage and culture by visiting the Schulenburg Historical Museum. Originally opened in 1894, Sengelmann Hall features a big wooden bar and long family-style tables. Live music is a popular draw here and the food is better than ever thanks to Momma’s at Sengelmann’s which serves up homemade pizza, burgers, and pork schnitzel. Order with a big German beer and toast “Prost”.

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Stanzel Model Aircraft Museum is dedicated to local brothers who pioneered miniature aviation. Victor Stanzel started carving balsa wood into model airplanes in 1929. Joined by his brother Joe, the brothers turned the hobby turned into a thriving business. Their most well-known plane, the “Tiger Shark,” was the first control-line model kit in the world. The well-designed complex was packed with drawings, old machines, and the stories of how Victor and Joe Stanzel founded one of the most-loved model plane companies in America.

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

No matter how far we may wander, Texas lingers with us, coloring our perceptions of the world.

—Elmer Kelto

Exploring Historic Denham Springs and Livingston Parish

Livingston Parish is filled with things to do, places to see, and a treasure trove of Southern Louisiana charm and culture

Shortly after settling into Lakeside RV Park we oriented ourselves to the area (Livingston Parish) with a day trip to Denham Springs. Livingston Parish is located between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

Lakeside RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Easy-on, easy-off (I-12; Exit 22), Lakeside RV Park is big-rig friendly with back-in and pull-through sites. Our back-in site is in the 55-60 foot range with 50/30-amp electric service, water, and sewer centrally located. No cable TV. Wi-Fi worked well from our site; no problem locating satellite. All interior roads and sites are concrete. Site amenities include picnic table and fire pit.

Denham Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Denham Springs is located just a few miles east of Baton Rouge and is easily accessible via I-12 (Exit 10). At Denham Springs we wandered the Historic Downtown/Antiques Village and stopped at Mr. McDavid’s Specialty Meats to purchase pork boudin and smoked boudin.

Mineral Springs near the Amite River about one-half mile west of the present historic downtown drew settlers to the area. The springs attracted visitors who came to bathe in the reportedly-therapeutic mineral waters, and a resort developed around them.

Denham Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The settlement was known at different times as Benton’s Ferry, Amite Springs, Hill’s Springs, and lastly, Denham Springs. The name came from William Denham, a Mississippi native who moved to the area and married Mercy Houge, daughter of Alexander Houge, one of the two original landholders.

By the 1960s-70s, commerce stagnated and businesses closed. Denham Springs became a bedroom community as many residents commuted to Baton Rouge to work and shop. Downtown buildings were shuttered for many years until the 1980s when first one and then another and then more antique stores and other shops opened for business. Today the downtown is a designated Main Street Community and is known throughout the South for its antiques, arts, and specialty shopping.

Denham Springs City Hall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our first stop on the walking tour was the Old City Hall in the heart of the downtown historic district. This historic building currently houses the Welcome Center, a small museum, and serves as a civic gathering place. This stately building is on the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1940, this building is constructed of poured concrete and includes two stories and a basement—a unique feature in this part of the country.

Driggers Park mural, Denham Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Benches in Driggers Park, a small “pocket” park in the heart of the historic downtown district, allow visitors to rest a few minutes as they explore and shop the Antiques Village. We took time to admire the beautiful mural painting of the historic Springs Hotel and the mineral springs which drew settlers to the area in the early 1900s. A photograph of this hotel was the inspiration for the painting of the mural in 2014. The photograph currently hangs in the Old City Hall.

Denham Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The oldest continuously operated business in the historic downtown district is the Benton Brothers. The business was established in 1938 by brothers Leslie, Edwin, and Robert Benton, one of the oldest families in this area. The three buildings on this site once housed an appliance/furniture business.

Denham Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

General building deterioration caused the three buildings to be demolished. A new store was built in 1973 and a brick facade was added in 1986. It is still owned by the Benton family and now operates as an antiques mall.

The first moving picture to be shown in Denham Springs was screened in the Farmers Association Building (circa 1917) in 1923. Later, Savoy’s Grocery operated in this building.

Denham Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Livingston Parish was one of the hardest hit areas in the catastrophic flood of August 2016 with an estimated 75 percent of the homes a total loss. A low-pressure front remained nearly stationary over the area for days with rainfall rates of up to 2-3 inches an hour resulting in a total rainfall of 25-30 inches. The storm dumped three times as much rain on Louisiana as Hurricane Katrina, enough to fill Lake Pontchartrain about four times. Eight rivers reached record levels including the Amite River which crested at nearly 5 feet above the previous record in Denham Springs. The Historic District was under water. At one point, a 62-mile section of Interstate 12 was closed because of flooding. Lakeside RV Park escaped flooding since it is located on higher ground.

Denham Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Goodbye joe, me gotta go, me oh my oh
Me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou
My yvonne, the sweetest one, me oh my oh
Son of a gun, well have good fun on the bayou.

—Hank Williams, Sr.

Ribbon of Green: Sabino Canyon Offers Desert Beauty

The wonders of the desert foothills and rocky gorges of the Santa Catalina Mountains are marvelous and accessible

Hello again. I am really glad to see you and just want to say: thank you for being here.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the northeast edge of Tucson along Sabino Creek lies Tucson’s worst-hidden secret! Sabino Canyon is a premiere place to hike, picnic, or just take in Mother Nature at her finest. The saguaro-draped foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson offer numerous scenic ravines but two of the most scenic are Sabino Canyon and Bear Canyon, ten miles northeast of the city center. Both feature a stream that forms seasonal pools and waterfalls, steep-sided slopes bearing many saguaro, and other Sonoran Desert cacti and plants with rocky peaks rising high above.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The soaring mountains, deep canyons, and the unique plants and animals of the Sonoran Desert found here draw over a million visitors a year to the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area. Of the two, Sabino is more developed and more visited, having a paved road running 3.8 miles up the lower section along which are various picnic sites, trailheads, and viewpoints.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sabino is believed to have formed some 12 million years ago. Then, an earthquake in 1887 dislodged massive boulders lining the canyon walls which crashed down to the valley below. Sabino Canyon was carved out by Sabino Creek which flows with water intermittently during the year including across the roadway in several locations. Water features that can be accessed in the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area include Seven Falls, Hutches Pool, Sabino Dam, and Lake Sycamore Reservoir.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another paved road reaches the mouth of Bear Canyon then a trail continues upstream and although the landscape in both is similar, Sabino Canyon receives more water so is generally a greener, cooler place as the streamway is more shaded and the pools persist longer. The single most impressive feature in Bear Canyon is Seven Falls where the waters cascade down a steep ravine creating an enchanting sequence of waterfalls and pools. Both canyons are usually dry by mid-summer.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Feel the magic of nature as you ride the Sabino Canyon Crawler, a convenient, narrated shuttle through the wonders of Sabino Canyon. The electric shuttle journey begins at the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area Visitor Center and carries passengers on a one-hour round trip allowing them to exit the shuttle at Stops 1 through 9 to soak in the grandeur of the canyon at their own pace. The tram turns around at Stop 9 and heads back down to the Visitor’s Center at which point riders may remain on board or hike back down. Several restroom facilities are located near Sabino Creek. Sabino Canyon also features a dozen picnic areas including at the Visitor Center, Lower Sabino Canyon, Sabino Dam East, Cactus Picnic Area, and Bear Canyon Overlook.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bear Canyon leads to the gorgeous Seven Falls, an intermittent series of waterfalls just east of Sabino Canyon. The hike (moderate to difficult) to Seven Falls is 8.4 miles round trip from the Visitor Center. Hop on the tram to shorten the hike.

Sabino Canyon Tours’ Bear Canyon Trail tram is a non-narrated 2 mile ride that travels to the trailhead of Seven Fall. The 30-minute shuttle round trip in Bear Canyon currently has three stops where hikers can access a myriad of trails including the popular Seven Falls Trail. Visitors may get off the tram at any of the stops and re-board later. Trams arrive on average every hour.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If riding the tram does not stir your sense of adventure, there are miles of hiking trails that wander throughout the area and lead deeper into the Santa Catalina backcountry. Admire towering saguaros, listen for the trickle of Sabino Creek, enjoy the many wildflowers, or watch for glimpses of wildlife activity from coyotes to mountain lions, hawks to rattlesnakes, and hummingbirds to lizards.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The trailhead for numerous trails in Sabino Canyon and Bear Canyon are accessible by riding the shuttle. Once you hop off the shuttle to explore the canyon you can hike back to the Visitor Center or simply show your ticket to the driver at any stop to get back on board any shuttle with available seats for a comfortable ride to the drop-off area.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of the various trails in the area, one starts next to the parking area—a short, self-guided Desert Nature Trail with informative signage about local plants and animals. Other trails are found along the Sabino Canyon Road. The Phoneline Trail (#27) is perhaps the most popular; starting 1.4 miles from the visitor center it climbs up the south side of the canyon then follows it for several miles before descending to the far end of the road where it intersects the Sabino Canyon Trail (#23), a route that continues further north into the mountains. Another short path, the Sabino Lake Trail (#30), leads to a seasonal reservoir along Sabino Creek, a good location for bird watching.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

This was as the desert should be, this was the desert of the picture books, with the land unrolled to the farthest distant horizon hills, with saguaros standing sentinel in their strange chessboard pattern, towering supinely above the fans of ocotillo and brushy mesquite.

—Dorothy B. Hughes

Connect with Nature at McDowell Mountain Regional Park

There’s a whole world of outdoor adventure awaiting you right outside the city of Phoenix

Nestled in the lower Verde River basin, this 21,099-acre park is a desert jewel in the northeast Valley. Elevations in the park rise to 3,000 feet along the western boundary at the base of the McDowell Mountains. Visitors enjoy over 50 miles of multi-use trails and spectacular views of the surrounding mountain ranges. A stroll through the park will allow visitors to likely see deer, javelina, birds, and coyotes.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

McDowell Mountain History

Arizona… a place of legends still conveyed through movies, T.V., the written word, and many storytellers. Maricopa County through its Regional Park system encompasses areas where many stories originated. McDowell Mountain Regional Park is one such place where history is not only a form of speculation with its Indian petroglyphs and archaeological sites but considerable amount of it actually transpired and has been documented.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over 2,000 years ago nomadic big game hunters spread into southwest North America. Next, the Hohokam Indians who evolved from the earlier Cochise culture plus immigrants from Mexico occupied much of Southern Arizona from about 2,000 years ago to 1450 A.D. The Spanish arrived between 1540 and 1542 under the leadership of Francisco Vázquez de Coronodo. At that time, the areas near the confluence of the Salt and Verde Rivers was home to between 4,000 and 10,000 Hohokam Indians. Native activities ranged from intensive agriculture with river irrigation to nomadic hunting and gathering. McDowell Park contains the remains of several such hunting and gathering sites within its boundaries.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1865, Camp McDowell was founded on the west bank of the Verde River. Remaining a permanent military post until 1890, it was the only fort inside present boundaries of Maricopa County. Remains of the fort still exist in the present day village of Fort McDowell, a few miles southeast of McDowell Mountain Park. Due to the presence of Camp McDowell and the protection it offered, settlement in the Salt River Valley was permanent. On February 12, 1871, Maricopa County was created to serve the growing population.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

McDowell Mountain Hiking Trails

McDowell Mountain Regional Park offers over 40-miles of hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding trails. Park Trails range in length from 0.5-miles to 15.3-miles and range in difficulty from easy to strenuous. Those looking for an easy hike should try the North Trail at 3.1-miles. Those looking for a good workout for themselves or their horses should try the Pemberton at 15.3-miles. All trails are multi-use unless otherwise designated. All trail users are encouraged to practice proper trail etiquette. Always remember to carry plenty of water and let someone know where you are going. Heavy sole shoes are a must as well as sunscreen, and a large-brimmed hat (I recommend a Tilley hat).

McDowell Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On January 10th 1998 McDowell Park opened the 1st of 3 loops of a new competitive track. Today, the track offers three loops totaling 15 miles: one for the experts, one for intermediate riders, and one for the average rider. Each loop offers a variety of obstacles to test the riders’ skills. The track consists of steep inclines, swooping turns, technical descents, and rugged terrain. This competitive track is geared for mountain bikers who want to test their skills. Joggers and equestrian riders are welcome to give the track a try too. The Long Loop of the track was designed for the average rider but is used by all. The Sport Loop is for intermediate riders and experts. The Technical Loop is for the expert rider. This portion of the track offers swooping turns, very technical descents, and steep inclines.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

​McDowell Mountain Picnic Areas

McDowell Mountain Regional Park offers two picnic areas totaling 88 picnic sites. Each site has a picnic table, restroom, playground, and barbecue grill. Picnic sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping at McDowell Mountain

McDowell Mountain Regional Park offers 76 individual sites for tent or RV camping. Each site has a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45-foot RV and is a developed site with water and electrical hook-ups, dump station, a picnic table, and barbecue fire ring. All restrooms offer flush toilets and showers. The south loop of the campground also offers handicapped-accessible restrooms. All sites in the campground may be reserved online at maricopacountyparks.org.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Large groups can reserve one of three campgrounds within McDowell Mountain Regional Park. The Group Campgrounds can be reserved for a fee and requires a commitment of six units to utilize the facility for dry camping. Group Campgrounds provide a 3-acre parking area to accommodate up to 30 RV units and offer restroom with flush toilets and hot water showers, a covered ramada with 6 picnic tables, a large barbecue grill, and a large fire ring for campfires.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

McDowell Mountain Regional Park

Location: From central Phoenix, take Loop 202 east to Beeline Highway (SR 87). Continue northeast on SR 87 to Shea Blvd. Travel west on Shea Blvd. to Saguaro Blvd.; turn north. Continue through Town of Fountain Hills to Fountain Hills Blvd; turn right and travel four miles to the McDowell Mountain Regional Park entrance.

Admission: $7 per vehicle.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

This was as the desert should be, this was the desert of the picture books, with the land unrolled to the farthest distant horizon hills, with saguaros standing sentinel in their strange chessboard pattern, towering supinely above the fans of ocotillo and brushy mesquite.

—Dorothy B. Hughes

What Makes Arizona Such a Hotspot for Snowbirds?

Arizona not only has a warm, dry climate in the winter, it is also home to some of the Southwest’s most dramatic scenery

Every winter, Arizona sees an influx of snowbirds from out of state. They come to enjoy the mild sunny winters and to escape their snowy season back home. Many come from Northern states like Washington and Minnesota and from Canada.

Lake Pleasant © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But what brings snowbirds to Arizona specifically? And once they’re here, what’s their economic impact on the state? According to the Arizona Office of Tourism, around 964,000 Canadian visitors were responsible for $1 billion of the $26.5 billion in tourism spending last year. This past September, visitors spent $752 million overall, but that’s down 60 percent from the $1.9 billion expected in a normal year.

Along the Colorado River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall in Love with Arizona

Whether your relationship with Arizona is exciting and new or has stood the test of time, the new beginnings of spring are filled with endless outdoor recreation possibilities. Appreciation of fresh, new growth and exploring Arizona’s most beautiful places keeps your love of this gorgeous state alive. Come along with me as I fall in love with Arizona all over again by sharing some great places and activities to help you enjoy the outdoors right now or next month during spring break.

Golfing at La Paz County Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona Spring Break 

Whether you’re in Arizona for a Cactus League Spring Training baseball game or a spring break getaway, I’m here for you with you great ideas about how to spend your time in the sun! And if you’re a snowbird, and you want to explore more of the state while the weather’s perfect, consider some of these fun road trip ideas.

Camping at La Paz County Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona’s West Coast

Lake Havasu State Park is well known as a destination for spring breakers but there are three other state parks along the Colorado River that offer the same amazing boating, jet-skiing, fishing, beach-front relaxing, and springtime exploring. Just 25 minutes downriver from Lake Havasu, Cattail Cove has plenty of camping and RV spots, great hiking trails to satisfy your adventuresome side, and beautiful beaches. A bit south you will find Parker, home to Buckskin Mountain and River Island state parks. Nestled along the Colorado River 8 miles north of Parker, La Paz County Park facilities include 114 camping sites with utilities, riverfront ramadas with cabana, dry camping, tennis courts, beachfront walkway, golf course, playground, and softball fields. Jump on your jet-ski, paddleboard, or float tube, and bask under the Arizona sun.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Inland a bit, but still generally considered Western Arizona, Alamo Lake State Park sits nestled within the springtime glory of the Sonoran Desert. Here you’ll find the best bass and crappie fishing in the state, beautiful and spacious camping options, and miles upon miles of off-highway vehicle use opportunities. Situated comfortably in a remote location, this lake park offers unbeatable stargazing, and the peace and quiet that makes for a perfect relaxing spring break.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock Country

Arizona visitors here to enjoy some spring training baseball or spring break getaway may want to set aside some time to check out Arizona’s Red Rock Country. There are five state parks in the Sedona area and one of them offers campsites and cabins so you can extend your stay and make the park your home.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Ranch State Park is located in Cottonwood. This spacious park has three lagoons, tall cottonwood trees, and the lush Verde River Valley within easy reach. Bring your kayak or canoe, and settle in to your camp spot before exploring the other nearby parks.

Next, hop in the car and head to Fort Verde State Historic Park for a tour of the best-preserved fort in the state from the Indian Wars period. This historic destination showcases Buffalo Soldiers, officer’s quarters, and doctor and surgeon areas. Plus, enjoy sweeping views of Camp Verde.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To truly experience the famous rusty hues of Sedona take a drive to Red Rock and Slide Rock state parks. Enjoy a stroll through Oak Creek Canyon at Slide Rock and take a dip in the cool mountain stream before venturing south again and hitting the trails at Red Rock State Park.

Jerome State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After your tour of the Sedona area, spend about 40 minutes driving to the quaint little artist town of Jerome. Before heading up the hill to eat, stroll through galleries or shop your way through Jerome’s scenic streets, stop in at Jerome State Historic Park housed in the Douglas Mansion. This museum is a trip back in time to Jerome’s mining-town past with exhibits and examples of life in the early 1900s.

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Discover Montezuma Castle National Monument, a historic five-story Native American dwelling carved out of an ancient limestone cliff with twenty rooms. Begun during the twelfth century, it took about three centuries to complete. Explore the museum and wander the trails through a picturesque sycamore grove at the base of towering limestone cliffs. Afterwards, have lunch in the picnic area along the shore of Beaver Creek.

Tuzigoot National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore the legacy of ancient peoples in a desert hilltop pueblo. Starting in A.D. 1000, the Sinagua built the 110-room Tuzigoot pueblo including second and third story structures. The tribe was largely agricultural and had trade routes that spanned hundreds of miles. A self-guided, 1/3-mile loop trail traces through the pueblo. The hilltop view offers expansive scenery of the Verde River and Tavasci Marsh.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona’s Desert Corridor

After decent fall and winter precipitation the southern parks should be awash in amazing wildflower blooms. Even during years without sufficient rainfall these parks still give off gorgeous spring views and laid back desert vibes. Springtime weather is great for hiking and the vibrant spring sights and mild temps just can’t be beat. Stick close to Phoenix at Lost Dutchman State Park in Apache Junction, your key to exploring the famed Superstition Mountains. Enjoy some desert camping or stay in one of the new cabins. Hike trails like the moderate Treasure Loop or summon up your determination and hike the more difficult Siphon Draw to Flat Iron. 

Cave Creek, a Maricopa County Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Maricopa County Parks offer hiking and biking trails, bird watching, picnicking, and camping. Some parks also offer horseback riding, golf, boating, fishing, and archery. There are 12 parks in Maricopa County which ring around the Phoenix metro area. 

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Step into the mysteries of history. At the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, you’ll find the Ancient Sonoran Desert People’s farming community including the preserved “Great House,” or “Casa Grande.” An estimation of dating puts the origins of this structure around 1350 and the abandonment thereof about a century later in 1450.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park, 90 minutes south of Phoenix and just 30 minutes north of Tucson, is a great place to stop on your Sonoran Desert adventure. Picacho Peak’s campgrounds make a great home base within view of the iconic peak and plenty of hiking opportunities stretching across the vast desert landscapes.

Catalina State Paek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just 30 minutes southeast of Picacho in Tucson you’ll find Catalina State Park, an incredible experience at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains. Catalina’s trails will lead you to beautiful creeks and waterfalls you never thought you could experience in the arid Sonoran Desert. Or set up your campsite here and call this park home for the week with easy access to new adventures.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Warm days and cool nights make February and March an ideal time to visit Saguaro. The national park has two areas separated by the city of Tucson. The Rincon Mountain District (East) has a lovely loop drive that offers numerous photo ops. There’s also a visitor’s center, gift shop, and miles of hiking trails. The Tucson Mountain District (West) also has a scenic loop drive and many hiking trails including some with petroglyphs at Signal Mountain.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The saguaro-draped foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson harbor countless scenic ravines but two of the prettiest are Sabino Canyon and Bear Canyon, ten miles northeast of the city center. Both feature a stream that forms seasonal pools and waterfalls, steep-sided slopes bearing many cacti and other Sonoran Desert plants, with rocky peaks rising high above.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Southern Arizona

Look no further than Patagonia Lake State Park as a hub for your southern Arizona spring break adventures. This hidden gem boasts a gorgeous lake with boat-in campsites, white sand beach, and awesome fishing. The RV and tent sites provide quick access to the swimming area and opportunities for birding, hiking, and exploring. This fantastic destination is within reach of several southern Arizona parks, like Tombstone Courthouse, Tubac Presidio, and adjacent Sonoita Creek Natural Area.

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wilcox, a southeastern Arizona town attracts visitors who come for its wineries and tasting rooms, to hike in Chiricahua National Monument, and to see the sandhill cranes. The majestic birds winter in the Sulphur Springs area. Thousands of cranes roost in Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, a shallow lake that is a flurry activity at sunup and sundown when birds depart and return in a swirling cloud of feathers.

Organ Pipe National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, located on the border with Mexico, the star is obviously the organ pipe cactus. Saguaro and cholla cactus, palo verde, ironwood, jojoba, elephant tree, mesquite, agave, creosote bush, ocotillo, and brittlebush also contribute to the desert landscape. The 21-mile Ajo Mountain Drive is a one-way road that winds and dips and provides access to some of the finest scenery in the monument. Twin Peaks Campground has 208 sites that are generally level, widely spaced, and landscaped by natural desert growth.

Worth Pondering…

Newcomers to Arizona are often struck by Desert Fever.

Desert Fever is caused by the spectacular natural beauty and serenity of the area.

Early symptoms include a burning desire to make plans for the next trip “south”.

There is no apparent cure for snowbirds.

Where It All Began: My Love Affair with the Southwest

Usery Mountain Regional Park is a staggeringly beautiful place. It’s as “Arizona” as it gets.

The Spanish found the desert to be very inhospitable. On their maps, central Arizona was labeled as “deplobado” meaning, “desolate wilderness.” My initial reaction was not that different!

Usery Mountain is where my love of and discovery of The Southwest began. That would be early April 1987 when we spent a week in site 48.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At that time, I wrote in my journal: “The spectacular desert mountain scenery here is breathtaking. When we first arrived in Arizona our reaction was why would anyone winter in this dreary, harsh, unforgiving desert environment, let alone live here. The Sonoran Desert grows on you with a beauty all its own. And the beauty of Usery Mountain is absolutely stunning.”

And we have enjoyed camping here numerous times since.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located on the Valley’s east side, this 3,648-acre park became part of Maricopa County’s regional park system in 1961. The park is set at the western end of the Goldfield Mountains, adjacent to the Tonto National Forest. The park contains a large variety of plants and animals that call the lower Sonoran Desert home. Along the most popular features of the park, the Wind Cave Trail, water seeps from the roof of the alcove to support hanging gardens of Rock Daisy. The Wind Cave is formed at the boundary between the volcanic tuff and granite on Pass Mountain. Breathtaking views from this 2,840-foot elevation are offered to all visitors.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain History

The traditional account of settlement of the Salt River Valley credits a former Confederate Officer and gold seeker, Jack Swilling, with the beginning of the modern irrigation in central Arizona. Swilling came into the Valley in 1867 and noted the presence of ancient canal systems of the early Native Americans who had irrigated the same lands.

Gambel’s quail at Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If Swilling traveled between John Y.T. Smith’s hay camp a few miles east of downtown Phoenix and Fort McDowell, as he presumably did in the summer of 1867, he came within sight of Usery Mountain Park and even closer to the ruins of an old canal system and an ancient Native American village situated between the park and the Salt River. The first Swilling canal brought water to fields east of the present Arizona State Hospital near Phoenix and inspired the beginning of other canal building.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain Regional Park became a park in 1967. Pass Mountain, also known as “Scarface” to the local folks, is the geological focal point of the park. The mountain itself was named for King Usery (sometimes spelled Ussery). “King” was his first name, rather than a title. He was a cattleman who was running stock in the area in the late 1870s and early 1880s. He had a tough struggle to survive and, apparently losing ground, moved up into the Tonto Basin country where his activities, unorthodox, provided him a kind of unwanted security…behind bars.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On January 5, 1892, the Globe-Florence stage was held up by two highwaymen and two bars of silver bullion valued at $2,000 were stolen. The driver identified the highwaymen as King Usery and Henry Blevins. Posses took the field, soon learning that Usery had been riding a black horse stolen from the Webb Ranch on Tonto Creek. At the George Middleton Ranch, the sheriff and his deputies were told that Usery had been seen burying something in swampy ground near the Salt River. One of the bars was quickly recovered. Surrounded at his ranch, Usery surrendered but a search revealed he had hidden two pistols inside his pants legs, suspending them from his belt with rawhide thongs. For this crime, Usery was sentenced to a term of seven years in the Territorial Prison in Yuma. Despite a successful plea for a new trial, the conviction stood. After two years, he was pardoned.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery wandered from the legal path a second time and was convicted of stealing cattle. He received a light sentence in Gila County and upon his release, he disappeared.

Usery Mountain Park is on the border of a mountain region. Nearby ranges are the Superstitions on the east, the Goldfields on the north and northeast, the Usery Mountains immediately northwest, and the McDowell Mountains across the Salt River to the northwest. A broad basin lies west and south of the area.

Hedgehog cactus in bloom at Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Pass was also known for being a major sheep trail leading from the high country north of Mt. Baldy south to the Salt River Valley. Flocks of sheep, led by Mexican and Basque shepherds with their dogs, presented a picturesque sight in the spring and fall as they moved into or out of the Coconino plateau region.​

Hiking at Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain Hiking Trails

Usery Mountain Regional Park offers over 29 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Park trails range in length from 0.2 miles to over 7 miles and range in difficulty from easy to difficult. If you are looking for an easy, relatively short hike, the Merkle Trail is barrier-free. If you are looking for a long more difficult hike, try the 7.1-mile Pass Mountain Trail. Another visitor favorite is the Wind Cave Trail that reaches high onto the mountain side and allows hikers onto the adjacent Tonto National Forest.

Guilded flicker at Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The trails within the Usery Mountain Regional Park are very popular because they have enough elevation to offer spectacular vistas of surrounding plains. All trails are multi-use unless otherwise designated. All trail users are encouraged to practice proper trail etiquette. Always remember to carry plenty of water and let someone know where you are going.​ Heavy sole shoes are a must as well as sunscreen and a large-brimmed hat (I recommend a Tilley hat).

Sunset at Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

​Usery Mountain Picnic Areas

Usery Mountain Regional Park offers a Day-Use Picnic Area and a Group Picnic Area. The Day Use Picnic Area provides a table, barbecue grill, drinking water, and restrooms for each site. These sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. For large groups wanting to picnic together, weddings, or office parties, consider renting a ramada area. Usery Mountain has two group areas that offer two large ramadas with picnic tables and patio, barbecue grills, drinking water, electrical outlets, campfire pits, flood lights, and a nearby playground.

Camping at Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping at Usery Mountain

Usery Mountain Regional Park offers a campground with 73 individual sites. Each site has a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45 foot RV and offers water and electrical hook-ups, dump station, a picnic table, barbecue grill, and fire ring. Usery Mountain provides restrooms with flush toilets and hot water showers. All sites in the campground may be reserved online at maricopacountyparks.org.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain Regional Park

From central Phoenix, take I-10 east to US 60 east. Exit Ellsworth Road north to the Usery Mountain Regional Park entrance.

Admission: $7 per vehicle.

Usery Mountain Regional Park in spring © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

This was as the desert should be, this was the desert of the picture books, with the land unrolled to the farthest distant horizon hills, with saguaros standing sentinel in their strange chessboard pattern, towering supinely above the fans of ocotillo and brushy mesquite.

—Dorothy B. Hughes