Campgrounds and RV Resorts Can’t-Wait To Go Back To

Can’t wait to go back to and enjoy these campgrounds and RV parks and resorts

2020 was a wash for the travel world. Entire segments of the industry were temporarily shut down. Airlines faltered. Hotels and restaurants closed their doors for months at a time (many shuttered permanently). It was, in a word, bleak.

While the travel industry will be fundamentally different in the future, there is hope on the horizon. We’re not totally out of the woods but it feels good to start eyeing that “where I want to travel next” list as we move into the summer of 2021.

One of the key aspects of any adventure—whether on a road trip, closer to home, or at a far-flung locale—is where to stay. Campgrounds, RV parks, and resorts often reveal something about the place, thereby becoming integral to the trip itself. A good RV park is a nice place to park your RV; a great RV resort is an experience that sticks with you.

Following are ten of my favorite campgrounds and RV parks and resorts around the US that I can’t wait to get back to when we make plans to travel again. Let’s get to it!

Usery Mountain Regional Park campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain Regional Park, Mesa Arizona

Usery Mountain Regional 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 with the most popular feature of the park, the Wind Cave Trail, water seeps from the roof of the alcove to support the 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. The park offers a campground with 73 individual sites. Each site has a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45-foot RV and is a developed site with water and electric service, a dump station, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, and a fire ring. The park provides restrooms with flush toilets and hot water showers.

Cajun Palms RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cajun Palms RV Resort, Henderson, Louisiana

New in 2009 with paved streets, Cajun Palms offers long pull-through sites that range in length from 55 to 75 feet. Not to be ignored are the back-ins to the lake in the 55-60 foot range. Pull through and back-in sites have 20 feet of space between each concrete pad. A full-service resort, Cajun Palms features numerous traditional as well as high-tech amenities. Accommodations consist of over 300 deluxe RV sites and 25 cabins. RV sites have full hookups, 30- and 50-amp, 70+ channels of digital cable, and on-site water and sewer. Easy-on, easy-off Interstate 10 (Exit 115) at Henderson (near Breaux Bridge).

Pala Casino RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pala Casino RV Resort, Pala, California

A new facility, Pala Casino RV Resort offers 100 full-service sites with grass lawns and picnic tables. Site selection includes 30 feet x 55 feet back-in sites, 30 feet x 60 feet luxury sites with barbecue grills, and 30 feet x 70 feet pull-through sites. Amenities include 20/30/50 amp power, water, and sewer hook-ups, free Wi-Fi, cable TV, restrooms and showers, heated swimming pool, two spas, fenced dog park, and 24-hour security patrol. Pala Casino RV Resort received top marks from Good Sam in every category including facilities, restrooms and showers, and visual appearance. The resort is located on SR-76, 6 miles east of I-15.

CreekFire RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

CreekFire RV Resort, Savannah, Georgia

About 20 minutes west of Historic Savannah, Creek Fire is a new RV resort conveniently located ½ mile west of Interstate 95 at Exit 94. The park offers 105 RV sites, all suitable for big rigs. Site options include back-in and pull-through, gravel, and concrete. Interior roads are asphalt. Each site offers 50/30/20-amp electric service, water, and sewer centrally located. The park is adding 100+ new sites, two new pool features, a rally building, a pool bar, and restaurant, a market, and a gym. Resort amenities include canoe, kayak, and boat rentals; 1-mile nature trail around the lake, tennis/pickleball court, bocce ball, and full shower and laundry facilities.

Jamaica Beach RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jamaica Beach RV Resort, Galveston, Texas

Jamaica Beach RV Resort is across the street from the beach on Galveston Island with wide-open views of the Gulf. The park offers 181 pull-through sites with full hookups, concrete pads, a picnic table at every site, and all-inclusive amenities like a 700-foot-long lazy river. Other park amenities include a relaxing beach pool, family pool, indoor infinity hot tub, outdoor hot tub, splash pad, three laundry facilities, three shower houses, and pickleball courts.

Hollywood Casino RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hollywood Casino RV Park, Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Hollywood Casino RV Park offers tranquil beauty of the outdoors with waterfront views and on-site shuttle service to the casino with three restaurants. The park is big-rig friendly featuring 80 back-in sites and 14 back-to-back pull-through sites. Our site backs to a treed area on a bayou and is in the 55-60 foot range with 50/30-amp electric service, water, sewer, and cable TV. All interior roads and sites are concrete. Site amenities include metal picnic table and BBQ grill on concrete slab and garbage canister.

Wind Creek at Atmore RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wind Creek at Atmore RV Park, Atmore, Alabama

Wind Creek at Atmore RV Park is a new RV park conveniently located on the casino property. All 28 sites are 75-foot pull-through RV stations with 30 and 50 amp power, water, and sewer. Wi-Fi service is available at the site. Clubhouse amenities include restrooms, showers, and laundry facilities. Shuttle service is provided to and from the casino resort with access to gaming floor, bowling alley, movie theater, arcade, pool/hot tub, spa, fitness center, and six dining options. The casino and RV park are conveniently located off I-65 at Exit 21.

Eagle’s Landing RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eagle’s Landing RV Park, Holt, Florida

Big rig friendly with 100 foot long pull-through sites and utilities centrally located.  This 5-star park is easy-on, easy-off, a pleasant place to stop for a night, a week, or longer. It’s a great place to stop while traveling east or west on I-10 (Exit 45) or visiting northwestern Florida.

Barnyard RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Barnyard RV Park, Lexington, South Carolina

Barnyard RV Park offers 129 level and grassy sites with paved interior roads. All sites include water, sewer, electric (30 and 50 amp), and cable TV. Most sites are pull-through and can accommodate large units including a tow car. Amenities include bath and laundry facilities, Wi-Fi available at the site, and a dog park. Barnyard RV Park is located 8 miles from downtown Columbia. From Interstate 20, take Exit 111 west on US-1 to the park. On weekends, experience Southern hospitality at the huge Barnyard Flea Market. The RV Park is located behind the Flea Market.

Wahweep RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wahweep RV Park and Campground, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Page, Arizona

Centrally located at Wahweap Marina, the campsites are about one-quarter mile from the shore of Lake Powell. Wahweap offers plenty of fun with a wide variety of powerboats and water toys. You can also enjoy the restaurant, lounge, and gift shop at the Lake Powell Resort. This RV park/campground is a great place to enjoy the off-season solitude of Lake Powell. The campground offers 139 sites with 30 and 50 amp service, water, and sewer. Sites accommodate up to 45 feet. The season is an ideal time to visit nearby attractions including Rainbow Bridge, Antelope Canyon, Vermillion Cliffs, and Horseshoe Bend. 

Worth Pondering…

For all of us have our loved places; all of us have laid claim to parts of the earth; and all of us, whether we know it or not, are in some measure the products of our sense of place.

—Alan Gussow

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

10 RV Parks in the Southwest that Snowbirds Love

Stay warm this winter at one of these RV parks across the southwestern U.S.

Many RVers head south for the winter to bask in year-round sunshine.  Having the freedom of a home-on-wheels makes it easy to avoid icy roads and freezing temperatures and instead spend the season near a coastal area or exploring the Sonoran Desert.

RVing with Rex selected this list of RV parks and campgrounds from parks personally visited. Now go forth and be safe.

Palm Canyon Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Borrego Palm Canyon Campground, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Borrego Springs, California

Located within Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Borrego Palm Canyon campground has approximately 120 campsites and six group campsites. There are 51 RV campsites with full hookups. Each campsite has a table, fire ring, and grill. Several campsites also have shade structures. Campground amenities include drinking water, flush toilets, showers, RV dump station, group camping, and hike/biking camping. Borrego Palm Canyon campground is just a few miles from the town of Borrego Springs. It is also located next to popular hiking trails (including the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail) and about a mile from the Visitor Center. Outdoor activities include biking, hiking, photography, picnicking, exploring historic sites, OHVing, and wild flower and wildlife viewing.

Indian Waters RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Indian Waters RV Resort and Cottages, Indio, California

Indian Waters RV Resort is located in the Coachella Valley City of Indio, an area that includes the desert cities of Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, and La Quinta. Recently renovated, this beautiful property has added cottages, a second pool, lighted pickleball courts, 50-amp electric and city sewer service to all sites, resurfacing of roads and sites, and enhanced Wi-Fi. Today, Indian Waters with its desirable location and numerous amenities is one of the best and most affordable, state-of-the-art RV resorts in the Coachella Valley. With 274 full service sites, Indian Waters RV Resort offers two distinct landscaping themes for its concrete level sites: grass and desert landscape. The typical RV site is approximately 35 feet wide and 60 feet deep with two concrete pads, one for your RV and one for your toad/tow vehicle.

Eagle View RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eagle View RV Resort, Fort McDowell, Arizona

Eagle View RV Resort is far enough away from the hustle of Phoenix and Scottsdale but still close to numerous attractions. The resort has 150 full hookup sites with beautiful views of Four Peaks, part of the Mazatzal mountain range. Amenities include a swimming pool, dog run, fitness center, complimentary pastries and coffee in the mornings and a clubhouse with an HDTV, pool table, computer room, and library. If you feel like trying your hand at blackjack or poker, Fort McDowell Casino is less than a mile up the road. The park is also a short drive from the city of Fountain Hills which is home to golf courses and one of the largest fountains in the world.

Rincon West RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rincon West RV Resort, Tucson, Arizona

Situated near the beautiful Tucson Mountains, Rincon Country West has 1100 spaces, including deluxe, pull-through RV sites, and a train depot. Amenities include full hookups with 30/50 amp electric, cable TV, free Wi-Fi, gated entry, private mailboxes, gated entry, laundry, showers, heated pool and spas, exercise room, woodworking shop, pottery room, lapidary room, card room, arts and crafts and sewing rooms, billiard room, tennis, pickleball, shuffleboard, and bocce ball.

Casa Grande RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Casa Grande RV Resort, Casa Grande, Arizona

Big-rig friendly, Casa Grande RV Resort features two swimming pools including a new aerobics/volleyball pool, two pickle ball courts, Bark Park, spa with full power jets, Wi-Fi, Internet Phones (free for calls to Canada and US), computer lounge with free printing, barbeque area, fitness center, billiard room, spacious clubhouse, card room, kitchen area, and exchange library.

La Quintas Oasis RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

La Quintas Oasis RV Resort, Yuma, Arizona

Big-rig friendly, La Quintas Oasis RV Resort is a 55+ park with 460 full-service sites. Easy-on easy-off (I-8; Exit 12 on North Frontage Road) the park has wide paved streets. Pull-through sites are in the 70 foot range with ample space. Back-in sites are 60+ feet in length and 35 feet wide. La Quintas Oasis has a heated pool, hot tub, horseshoes, recreation hall, game room, planned activities, shuffleboard, exercise room, pickle ball courts, and mini golf.

Arizona Oasis RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona Oasis RV Resort, Ehrenburg, Arizona

Located on the Colorado River in Ehrenberg, Arizona Oasis RV Resort is a perfect RV park getaway spot. Just across the state line from Blythe, California, Arizona Oasis is just 20 minutes from Quartzsite. Big-rig friendly the resort has over 150 RV sites on or near the Colorado River. The gated resort offers 50/30 amp service, water and sewer hookups, full-through and back-in sites, 1,000 feet of Colorado River beach, boat launch, heated pools and a spa, dog park, free Wi-Fi, and clubhouse. 

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park, Oro Valley, Arizona

Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invites camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. The park provides miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails which wind through the park and into the Coronado National Forest at elevations near 3,000 feet. The camping area offers 120 electric and water sites with a picnic table and BBQ grill. Amenities include modern flush restrooms with hot showers and RV dump stations. There is no limit on the length of RVs at this park

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain Regional Park, Mesa, Arizona

Usery Mountain Regional 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 feature 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. The park offers a campground with 73 individual sites. Each site has a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45-foot RV and is a developed site with water and electric service, dump station, a picnic table, barbecue grill, and fire ring. The park provides restrooms with flush toilets and hot water showers.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park, Apache Junction, Arizona

Lost Dutchman State Park is your gateway to amazing Sonoran Desert experiences and memories. Named after the fabled lost gold mine, Lost Dutchman State Park is located at the base of the Superstition Mountains on Apache Trail (SR-88), 5 miles northeast of Apache Junction. The campground has 138 sites: 68 sites with electric (50/30/20 amp service) and water and the remainder non-hookup sites on paved roads for tents or RVs. Every site has a picnic table and a fire pit with an adjustable grill gate. There are no size restrictions on RVs. Well-mannered pets on leashes are welcome.Five camping cabins are situated perfectly so visitors can take advantage of both the sunrise and sunset right from the porch.

Worth Pondering…

Surely it is the right wish that draws us to the right place.
Nothing of importance happens accidentally in our life.

—Lama Anagarika Govinda, The Way of the White Clouds

Pristine Sonoran Desert Camping

Try these outdoors camping getaways in the Valley of the Sun. Here’s how!

There is no winter like a Sonoran Desert winter. It’s a great time for a little adventure in the outdoors. People travel from all over the world to experience the desert’s 70-degree sun-filled winter days. And you can enjoy them, too? So why not pack up the RV and hit the road?

For a Valley getaway, look no farther than a Maricopa County Regional Park. Don’t just go for a day hike or a bike ride. Spend a week instead. Or two weeks! Revel in the mild days and roast marshmallows over a campfire on a cool star-laden night.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now that’s a getaway worth heading to Phoenix for.

Camping in Maricopa County Regional Parks

Six Maricopa County Regional Parks have campgrounds suitable for RVs:

  • Cave Creek Regional Park
  • Estrella Mountain Regional Park
  • Lake Pleasant Regional Park
  • McDowell Mountain Regional Park
  • Usery Mountain Regional Park
  • White Tank Mountain Regional Park
McDowell Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Maricopa County Parks Camping Reservations and Fees

Developed campsites in each park include such amenities as water and electrical hookups, a picnic table, and a fire ring. Restrooms offer flush toilets and hot showers.

You can reserve a site up to six months in advance starting on the first day of each month. To do that online, go to maricopacountyparks.org.

Phone reservations can be made by calling 602-506-2930 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Payment in full is required and there’s an $8 reservation fee.

Developed sites are $32 per night; semi-developed sites are $22. Primitive camping (only at Lake Pleasant) is $15. There are also some shaded RV sites for $40. 

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Things To Do When You Get There

Once you’ve got your camp set up, get out and explore your home away from home. Put aside tablets and phones and reconnect to wide-open spaces. Immerse yourself in the outdoor experience. Keep an eye open for wildlife, especially during the prime hours around dawn and dusk when critters are most active.

White Tank Mountains Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The parks lifted their annual fire ban on December 1, allowing visitors to build campfires in designated rings and receptacles. For many, the friendly warmth and flickering light of a fire is the highlight of camping. But if you’re there to be amazed by a galaxy of stars away from city lights, it’s better to forgo the fire and enjoy the clear night sky.

Just don’t forget your hiking shoes. Each park offers plenty of opportunities to spend quiet time walking around outside.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cave Creek Regional Park

This 2,922-acre park which is located north of Phoenix sits in the upper Sonoran Desert and ranges in elevation from 2,000 feet to 3,060 feet. This desert oasis provides any hiker and equestrian majestic views. 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. 

Camping at Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The campground consists of 55 campsites for tent or 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.

Estrella Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Estrella Mountain Regional Park

Located near the meeting of the Gila and Agua Fria Rivers in the southwest Valley, the park includes seasonal wetland or riparian area. The majority of the park remains pristine desert. Estrella Park offers over 33 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Park Trails range in length from 2.3 miles to 8.8 miles and range in difficulty from easy to strenuous. If you are looking for an easy hike, the 2.4 mile Baseline Trail is recommended. If you are looking for a long, all day hike, the Pederson Trail encompasses 8.7 miles.

Camping space is at a premium at Estrella Mountain which offers only seven sites. Each site is developed and can accommodate a 45-foot RV.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Pleasant Regional Park

At Lake Pleasant anglers will be eager to drop a line. The lake is a popular spot for largemouth bass, striped bass, and Arizona’s only population of white bass. Or rent a kayak at Scorpion Bay Marina. Pontoons and fishing boats are also available for rent. Landlubbers have a variety of hiking trails to choose from. At 4.1 miles, Beardsley is the longest as it rambles through open desert before it junctions with the epic Maricopa Trail. Yavapai Point (1.5 miles) makes a moderate climb to the crest of a hill at the edge of the water that offers impressive views. Snaking along the shoreline, Wild Burro Trail (2 miles) is so named because it provides the best chance to see some of the park’s long-eared residents.

Lake Pleasant has 148 developed and semi-developed (no hookups) sites with nearby restrooms and showers. There’s even boat-in camping for those who would like to spend the night on the water.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

McDowell Mountain Regional Park

Nestled in the lower Verde River basin, the 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. 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 should try the Pemberton at 15.3-miles. All trails are multi-use unless otherwise designated.

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

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 offers water and electrical hook-ups, dump station, a picnic table and a barbecue fire ring.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain Regional Park

Usery Mountain Regional Park derives its name from King Usery, a rancher turned rustler and stagecoach robber. Whatever you think of his moral choices, spend some time hiking in this park in the East Valley and you’ll admit the man knew a good hideout. Most people visit Usery to hike up the flank of Pass Mountain to the Wind Cave, a scooped-out alcove where seeping water irrigates a hanging garden of plant life. Views are exquisite from the high perch. If you prefer to stay on more level ground, the Blevins Trail makes a 3-mile loop through picturesque desert.

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

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.

White Tank Mountains Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Tank Mountain Regional Park

Anchoring the far western edge of the Valley is White Tank Mountain Regional Park. At nearly 30,000 acres, the largest Maricopa County regional park is spread across the desert lowlands and sharp-rising peaks of the White Tank Mountains. With 40 miles of hiking trails rambling across the landscape, visitors will find a perfect blend of scenery and solitude. The most popular hike is the nearly mile-long Waterfall Canyon Trail that leads to a pool in a narrow box canyon. There are other short easy pathways but a true White Tank specialty is the series of long lanky trails that twist into the backcountry away from the crowds. Put together a moderate loop by combining Mesquite Canyon and Willow Canyon trails.

Camping at White Tank Mountains Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Tank Mountain Regional Park offers 40 individual sites for tent or RV camping. Most sites have a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45-foot RV. Amenities include water and electrical hook-ups, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, a fire ring, and nearby dump station. All restrooms offer flush toilets and showers.

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

There Is No Winter like a Desert Winter in the Valley of the Sun

There is no winter like a desert winter. It’s a great time for an adventure in the outdoors.

Snowbirds travel south to experience the Valley’s 70-degree sun-filled January and February days. And locals enjoy them, too!

Look no farther than a Maricopa County Regional Park. Go for a day hike or a bike ride or a week of camping and revel in the mild days of a Sonoran Desert winter.

Maricopa County Parks

Maricopa County is home to one of the largest regional parks systems in the US with over 120,000 acres of open space parks that include hundreds of miles of trails, campgrounds, and nature centers. Currently, there are 12 regional parks in the system visited by over 2.5 million people annually. Whether you’re planning on hiking, enjoying the scenic Sonoran Desert views on horseback, or peddling up a trail on a mountain bike, the parks offer a variety of opportunities for all types of users, ages, and comfort levels. This pristine Sonoran Desert park system includes the following parks.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Adobe Dam Regional Park

Sitting at the base of the Hedgepeth Hills in north Phoenix, this park offers recreationists the opportunity to participate in activities that require ample space. Adobe Dam Regional Park consists of approximately 1,514 acres of park land—761 acres which have been developed. Unlike the rest of the County’s regional park system, Adobe Dam is known as a place where families can congregate to enjoy a multitude of concessionaire recreational activities.

From central Phoenix, take I -17 north to the Pinnacle Peak exit. Go west on Pinnacle Peak to 43rd Avenue.

White Tank Mountains Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buckeye Hills Regional Park

Consisting of 4,474 acres of natural desert, the park is located in the southwest Valley. Enjoy the rolling hills of pristine Sonoran Desert with beautiful views of the Gila River riparian area. Buckeye Hills Regional Park has restrooms but there is no running water or electricity available in the park. Facilities at the regional park include 50 picnic tables, cooking grills, two large armadas, and a small shooting range at the southern end of the area.

From central Phoenix, take I-10 west to US 85 south. Buckeye Hills Regional Park will be on the west side of US 85, just south of the Town of Buckeye and the Gila River.​​

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cave Creek Regional Park

This 2,922-acre park which is located north of Phoenix sits in the upper Sonoran Desert and ranges in elevation from 2,000 feet to 3,060 feet. 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. The family campground consists of 55 campsites. 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.

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.

Estrella Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Estrella Mountain Regional Park

Located near the meeting of the Gila and Agua Fria Rivers in the southwest Valley, the park includes seasonal wetland or riparian area. Amenities include a 65-acre grass picnic area. Estrella Mountain Park offers over 33 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Park Trails range in length from 2.3 miles to 8.8 miles and range in difficulty from easy to strenuous. The park offers seven RV sites. Each site will accommodate up to a 45-foot RV and offers water and electrical hook-ups, a picnic table, and a barbecue fire ring. 

From central Phoenix, take I-10 west to Estrella Parkway exit. Travel south to Vineyard Ave. Turn east on Vineyard Ave. to the Estrella Mountain Regional Park entrance on the south side.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hassayampa River Preserve

At Hassayampa River Preserve you may see any one of the 280 species of birds along the riparian corridor. Perched atop the massive trees are some of Arizona’s rarest raptors including Harris hawk. On your walk, a brilliant vermilion flycatcher might catch your eye. The Preserve consists of approximately 770 acres along the Hassayampa River south of Wickenburg. In 2017, The Nature Conservancy entered into an agreement with Maricopa County to manage the Hassayampa River Preserve.

Head west on Carefree Hwy (AZ-74) to US-60. Turn right onto US-60 W. Travel approximately 6.2 miles.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Pleasant Regional Park

A scenic water recreation area, this northwest Valley park is a recreationist’s dream. The 23,362 acre park offers camping, boating, fishing, swimming, hiking, picnicking, and wildlife viewing. Lake Pleasant Regional Park offers two boat launching ramps. Lake Pleasant Regional Park offers 148 camping sites.

Directions: ​From central Phoenix, take I-17 north to Carefree Highway (SR 74). Exit Carefree Hwy. and travel west 15 miles to Castle Hot Spring Road. Travel north to entrance.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

McDowell Mountain Regional Park

Nestled in the lower Verde River basin, the 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. 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. The park offers two picnic areas totaling 88 picnic sites. McDowell Mountain offers a campground with 76 individual sites. Each site has a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45-foot RV and offers with water and electrical hook-ups, dump station, a picnic table and a barbecue fire ring.

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.

San Tan Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Tan Mountain Regional Park

This southeast Valley park ranges in elevation from about 1,400 feet to over 2,500 feet. Goldmine Mountain is located in the northern area with a spectacular San Tan Mountain escarpment in the southern portion of the park. The vegetation changes from creosote flats to dense saguaro forest. San Tan Mountain Regional Park offers over eight miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Park trails range in length from 1.1 miles to over 5 miles, and range in difficulty from easy to strenuous.

From central Phoenix, take I-10 east to US 60 east. Exit Ellsworth Road south to Hunt Highway. Travel east on Hunt Highway to Thompson Road south. Turn west on Phillips Road to entrance. 

Lake Pleasant Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area

The newest addition to Maricopa County’s Parks System, the conservation area encompasses 2,154 acres of diverse, rugged upper Sonoran Desert. The north Valley location contains archaeology sites and lush riparian areas along Cave Creek. Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area offers over seven miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Park trails range in length from 1.2 miles to 4.6 miles and range in difficulty from easy to difficult.

Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area is located approximately 35 miles north of central Phoenix. Interstate 17, State Route 51, and Loop 101 can all be used to reach the park.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain Regional Park

Located on the Valley’s east side, this 3,648-acre park is set at the western end of the Goldfield Mountains, adjacent to the Tonto National Forest. 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. The 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.

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

White Tank Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Tank Mountain Regional Park

Nearly 30,000 acres makes this the largest regional park in Maricopa County. Most of the park is made up of the rugged and beautiful White Tank Mountains on the Valleys west side. The range, deeply serrated with ridges and canyons, rises sharply from its base to peak at over 4,000 feet. White Tank Mountain Regional Park offers approximately 30 miles of shared-use trails ranging in length from 0.9 mile to 7.9 miles and difficulty from easy to strenuous. In addition, there are 2.5 miles of pedestrian-only trails. The park offers a campground with 40 individual sites. Each site has a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45-foot RV and offers water and electrical hook-ups, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, a fire ring, and nearby dump station.

White Tank Mountain Regional Park is located at the very west end of Olive Ave about 15 miles west of the 101 (Agua Fria Highway).

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

Wildflower Season Has Arrived in Arizona! Where to See the Best Blooms?

Weather brings spring wildflowers to add desert color

Spring-like weather has arrived in the desert a little later than normal this year but it comes bearing gifts. After a rainy and snowy winter, warmer temperatures are triggering a profusion of wildflowers.

The flowers of the Sonoran Desert are a splash of color and passion. While almost entirely absent last year, they are out in force this season. This is a time to revel in satiny sun and balmy breezes and go looking for them. It’s a show you don’t want to miss. Here are some places to admire those soft, ground-level fireworks.

Usery Mountain Regional Park, March 2009 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

First, let’s establish a few rules so everyone can enjoy this season’s bounty.

1. Don’t pick wildflowers. They won’t last long enough to see a vase. They’ll die very soon after being plucked and then all their hard work of sprouting, growing, and blooming was for naught. Leave them for others to enjoy.

Usery Mountain Regional Park, March 2009 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

2. Stay on trails and watch where you step. There could be small seedlings all around. And for goodness’ sake, do not wade out into a field and trample the flowers, thus ruining them for everyone, just so you can snag a selfie. Take all photos from the pathways.

3. Don’t dawdle. Peak colors at any one location may last from a few days to two weeks. If you hear about a wildflower bonanza, track it down. The beauty may be ephemeral but your memories will last for years.

Usery Mountain Regional Park

Usery Mountain Regional Park, March 2009 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The wildflower population appeared spotty at Usery Mountain Regional Park until moisture-laden storms in February changed the equation. Suddenly hillsides were streaked with color. Poppies, primrose, lupines, rock daisies, fairy dusters, and the flame-orange tips of ocotillo added drama to mountains that already exhibit plenty on their own.

The Userys gain enough elevation to afford stunning views back toward Phoenix and farther east to the rolling waves of mountains like the Goldfields and Superstitions. Hike the slopes to Wind Cave and Pass Mountain to admire the best panoramas while wading through bands of flowers.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park

Lake Pleasant Regional Park, March 2010 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

There’s always a bit of magic where desert and water meet. Add flowers to the mix and that’s a great way to spend a day. At Lake Pleasant, the heaviest concentration of poppies can be found on Pipeline Canyon Trail especially from the southern trailhead to the floating bridge a half-mile away.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park, March 2010 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The bridge is guarded by some extremely robust globemallows the size of landscape shrubs. A nice assortment of blooms also lines the Beardsley, Wild Burro, and Cottonwood trails.

Bartlett Lake

Near Bartlett Lake, March 2016 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The road to Bartlett Lake quickly leaves suburbs behind and winds past rolling hills to the sparkling reservoir cradled by mountains. Be sure to keep an eye peeled for white poppies—this is a good spot for them.

Bartlett Lake, March 2016 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Some of the best flower sightings are along the road to Rattlesnake Cove. The Palo Verde Trail parallels the shoreline, pinning hikers between flowers and the lake, a wonderful place to be on a warm March day.

Picacho Peak State Park

Picacho Peak State Park, March 2016 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Wildflowers are on a blooming binge at Picacho Peak State Park. Carpets of dazzling golden Mexican poppies play a starring role in the colorful show—but other wildflowers add their own hues to the landscape. Among them: blue lupines, orange globemallow, white desert chicory, and bright yellow brittlebush.

Picacho Peak State Park, March 2016 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Nearly any spot along the park’s main road will include wildflower scenery. One of the best side routes for colorful views from a vehicle—and even more grand vistas from trails—is the Barrett Loop.

Catalina State Park

Catalina State Park, March 2009 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

“We had poppies blooming in January and that’s unheard of in my time here,” park manager Steve Haas says. Two large washes keep the park cooler than the lower desert and generally prompt a later seasonal bloom. Traditionally, colors peak from late March into early April but things are happening a little earlier this year.

The Sutherland Trail offers the best assortment of flowers with cream cups, poppies, lupines, penstemon, and desert chicory. Best color can be found near the junction with Canyon Loop and continuing for about 2 miles on the Sutherland across the desert.

Catalina State Park, March 2009 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Guided hikes and bird walks are offered several days each week.

Worth Pondering…

Wildflowers are the stuff of my heart!

—Lady Bird Johnson

Birding Arizona’s Sonoran Winter Vacation Destinations

Enjoy nature while observing Arizona’s diverse bird species

Arizona is a great location for birders to observe new life birds, to study the birds of the Sonoran Desert, and to photograph resident and wintering species. Arizona’s species list of around 550 is the highest of any state without an ocean coastline.

Come along as we hit the trail and search for our favorite feathered friends and get to know the birds of Arizona. 

While periodic rains green the Sonoran landscape, January through April is an ideal time for birding this unique cactus-dominated landscape and to enjoy some warm winter weather. The number of unique birds that range northward from Mexico and Central America and the western species that flock here during winter are big attractions.

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

Also you can enjoy resident species including the greater roadrunner, cactus wren, curve-billed thrasher, Gila woodpecker, Harris’s hawk, and the ones with the weird names—phainopepla, pyrrhuloxia, and verdin.

Oh, yes—don’t forget your camera and telephoto lens.

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

One of the most popular birding areas in the Phoenix area is located in Gilbert. The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch consists of 110 acres with seven “water recharge basins” where wastewater is treated, creating a superb wetland and riparian wildlife habitat. More than four miles of trails wind through the preserve, making birding easy. The area is at its best from fall through spring.

American Avocet at The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roughly 300 species have been identified here including various ducks and shorebirds, black-necked stilt, American avocet, grebes, cormorants, Gambel’s quail, Inca dove, black-chinned hummingbird, Anna’s hummingbird, Gila woodpecker, black phoebe, verdin, yellow warbler, Albert’s Towhee, and little blue heron.

Northeast of Mesa is a beautiful Maricopa County regional park—Usery Mountain. Walks along a variety of hiking trails take you through an attractive abundance of native cacti and mountain outcrops that yield an abundance of Southwest birds including Gambel’s quail, cactus wren, Gila woodpecker, Inca dove, and gilded flicker.

Black-necked Stilt at The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Farther east of Phoenix, a favorite hiking and birding location is Peralta Canyon, located on the south side of the Superstition Mountains. Drive east on Highway 60 past the town of Apache Junction to the Peralta Canyon turnoff. Along the way to the Peralta Trailhead, you will pass through beautiful landscapes filled with native cacti and palo verde trees where Harris’s hawks are a potential treat along with three species of wrens—cactus, rock, and canyon—plus Gila woodpeckers, gilded flickers, verdins, and phainopeplas.

Western Scrub Jay at Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Farther south, to the west and east of Tucson, the two units of the majestic Saguaro National Park contains many species seen in few other places in the United States. The diversity of habitats in the park ranges from lowland desert to pine forests. These diverse ecosystems support a surprising array of bird life. Common desert birds include greater roadrunners, Gila woodpeckers, gilded flicker, cactus wren, and Gambel’s quail. Northern goshawks, phainopepla, yellow-eyed juncos, and Mexican jays can be found in the park’s higher elevations.

Set against the Santa Catalina Mountains, Catalina State Park consists of 5,500 acres of high Sonora Desert habitat with eight trails traversing a landscape dominated by ocotillo, cholla, and saguaro cactus. This Sonoran life zone includes seasonal streams providing habitat for mesquite, desert willow, cottonwood trees, and walnut groves.

Greater Roadrunner at Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ladder-backed woodpeckers, greater roadrunners, Gambel’s quail, Say’s phoebes, Mexican jays, and Harris’s hawks call the park home year-round. Migrants and seasonal residents include the vermilion flycatcher, black-headed grosbeak, and 10 species of migrating warblers.  

Vermilion Flycatcher at Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A premier birding region of the state is to the southeast of Tucson and includes Madeira Canyon, Ramsey Canyon, Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, The Paton Center for Hummingbirds, and Patagonia State Park. These remarkable birding locations offer a whole different birding realm, and frankly, winter isn’t the best of seasons to visit the Southeast. We will describe birding opportunities there in a future article.

Any day birding in Southeast Arizona holds a level of excitement that you will find a rare bird wandering north from Mexico but the region holds plenty of remarkable birds to search for, along mountain slopes and river valleys—any day.

Hummer at The Paton Center for Hummingbirds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best takeaway message for this article is that Arizona has exciting birds found in a variety of birding locations throughout the state for snowbirds and residents alike to enjoy—and warm sunny weather, even in February!

Worth Pondering…

A bird does not sing because it has an answer.  It sings because it has a song.

—Chinese Proverb

Discover Usery Mountain Regional Park

The spectacular desert mountain scenery here is breathtaking

Usery Mountain Regional Park, one of 13 Maricopa County Regional Parks, is a 3,648 acre preserve at the western end of the Goldfield Mountains, adjacent to the Tonto National Forest. Located on the Valley’s east side, Usery Mountain contains a large variety of plants and animals that call the lower Sonoran Desert home.

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

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.

Along the most popular feature 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 Pass is 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, present a picturesque sight in the spring and fall as they move into or out of the Coconino plateau region.

The traditional account of settlement of the Salt River Valley credits a former Confederate Officer and gold seeker, Jack Swilling, with the beginning of 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 these lands.

Swilling presumably traveled between John Y.T. Smith’s hay camp a few miles east of downtown Phoenix and Fort McDowell in the summer of 1867 and 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.

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 provided him a kind of unwanted security…behind bars.

Usery Mountain 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 from easy to difficult.

These trails are very popular because they have enough elevation to offer spectacular vistas of surrounding plains. Whether you are looking across the plain, flat land, south of the recreation area, or to the west or north, great distances and surrounding mountains can be seen and enjoyed.

Arguably the most popular hike at Usery Mountain is the 3.2-miles Wind Cave Trail up Pass Mountain. Although the elevation gain is 820 feet, it’s considered a moderate hike. Views from this 2,840-foot elevation are breathtaking.

If you are looking for an easy, relatively short hike, the Merkle Trail is barrier-free. For a long more difficult hike, try the 7.1-mile Pass Mountain Trail. All trails are multi-use unless otherwise designated. Always remember to carry plenty of water and let someone know where you are going.

The park’s modern campground offers 73 individual sites. All sites are paved and have water and 50/30-amp electric service, a picnic table, barbecue grill, fire ring, and can accommodate up to a 45-foot RVs. Other facilities include modern washrooms with flush toilets and hot showers, and a dump station. All sites can be reserved online.

Nightly camping fee is currently $32. Non-refundable reservation fee is $8. For non-campers, the day use fee is $7.

Usery Mountain is best explored from late autumn to early spring as summer temperatures routinely exceed 100 degrees.

Worth Pondering…
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know that place for the first time.
— T. S. Eliot, Little Gidding

A Wintry Desert Wonderland

These HOT parks evoke a sense of adventure in Arizona’s wintery desert wonderland

Arizonans and seasonal visitors know that winter temperatures don’t stand a chance of stopping outdoor pursuits. Compared to the rest of the country, the mild temps and low seasonal precipitation create the perfect formula for outdoor adventure throughout the state.

Many national, state, and regional parks are primed for winter fun. The trails are perfect throughout the day, wildlife is active this time of year, additional birds have migrated into Arizona, and you just can’t beat the sunrise and sunset at your camping site.

Come along and we’ll expose HOT parks that will evoke your sense of adventure in Arizona’s wintery desert wonderland! 

Catalina State Park

Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invites camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. Commonly encountered species of wildlife include javelin, coyote, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and various reptiles.

Usery Mountain Regional Park

Usery Mountain Regional Park, one of 13 Maricopa County Regional Parks, is a 3,648 acre preserve at the western end of the Goldfield Mountains, adjacent to the Tonto National Forest. Located on the Valley’s east side, Usery Mountain contains a large variety of plants and animals that call the lower Sonoran Desert home.

Usery Mountain 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 from easy to difficult. These trails are very popular because they have enough elevation to offer spectacular vistas of surrounding plains.

Alamo Lake State Park

Nestled in the Bill Williams River Valley away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, Alamo Lake State Park offers outdoor fun, premier bass fishing, rest and relaxation. The crystal clear lake is surrounded by mountainous terrain speckled with brush, wildflowers, and cacti making for a visually pleasing experience. Stargazers are sure to enjoy the amazing views of the night sky, with the nearest city lights 40 miles away.

Picacho Peak State Park

Visitors traveling along I-10 in southern Arizona can’t miss the prominent 1,500-foot peak of Picacho Peak State Park. Enjoy the view as you hike the trails that wind up the peak and, often in the spring, overlook a sea of wildflowers.

The park and surrounding area are known for its unique geological significance, outstanding and varied desert growth, and historical importance. The unique shape has been used as a landmark by travelers since prehistoric times. One of the first recordings was in the 1700s by the Anza Expedition as it passed through the area.

Organ Pipe National Monument

Crazy symphonies of prickly arms—nowhere else in the United States can you find these unique living sculptures, Unlike their more familiar Saguaro cousins, Organ Pipe cacti branch out from ground-level. Organ Pipe National Monument sits on the Mexican border. From November through April, the weather’s nearly perfect for hiking, camping, or just driving along the scenic loop road. This is one of the most stunning, and least-visited, corners of the Sonoran Desert—and worth the drive!

Lost Dutchman State Park 

Named after the fabled lost gold mine, Lost Dutchman State Park is located in the Sonoran Desert, a few miles east of Apache Junction. Several trails lead from the park into the Superstition Wilderness and surrounding Tonto National Forest.

Depending on the year’s rainfall, you might be treated to a carpet of desert wildflowers in the spring. Enjoy a weekend of camping and experience native wildlife including mule deer, coyote, javelina, and jackrabbit. A four mile mountain bike loop trail has opened at the park.

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.

7 of the Most Scenic Places for Snowbirds to Camp

Scenic locations for snowbirds to camp this winter in prime Sunbelt states

One of the best things about the RV snowbird life style is that there are so many scenic places to roost. Not only can you park your RV in picturesque locations, you can also enjoy numerous hiking trails, fishing, and other activities while wintering in the US Sunbelt.

Take a look at some of the amazing campsites, and don’t forget to bring your sense of adventure—and your camera.

Usery Mountain Regional Park, Arizona

Neighboring the Goldfield Mountains and Tonto National Forest, Usery Mountain Regional Park spans 3,648 acres of metro Phoenix’s east Valley, and offers 73 individual camping sites. All are developed sites with water and electrical hook-ups, plus a dump station, picnic table, and barbecue fire ring, and can accommodate up to a 45-foot RV. Restrooms offer flush toilets and showers, and group camping is also available.

Anza-Borrego State Park, California

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the largest state park in California. Five hundred miles of dirt roads, 12 wilderness areas, and many miles of hiking trails provide visitors with an unparalleled opportunity to experience the wonders of the Sonoran Desert.

Borrego Palm Canyon Campground is a great place for camping. Don’t let the vast 122 available campsites fool you, this campground books up fast. The campground amenities include drinkable water, restrooms and hot, coin-operated showers. Some sites offer full hook-ups.

Gulf State Park, Alabama

Gulf State Park’s two miles of beaches greet you with plenty of white sun-kissed sand, surging surf, seagulls, and sea shells, but there is more than sand and surf to sink your toes into. 

Located 1.5 miles from the white sand beaches, Gulf State Park Campground offers 496 improved full-hookup campsites with paved pads and with 11 primitive sites. 

Organ Pipe National Park, Arizona

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument preserves the northern-most natural habitat of the Organ Pipe Cactus, as well as amazing examples of desert plants, animals, geology, and human history. Enjoy the trails and scenic drives, the star-lit nights, and the sun-filled days.

Twin Peaks Campgroundhas 174 sites for RVs. Some sites can accommodate rigs up to 45 feet in length. Restrooms have running water and a few have solar showers. Hookups for electricity, water, or sewer are not available. A dump station is located past the last row of campsites.

Galveston Island State Park, Texas

Come to the island to stroll the beach or splash in the waves. Or come to the island to go fishing or look for coastal birds. No matter what brings you here, you’ll find a refuge at Galveston Island State Park. Just an hour from Houston, but an island apart!

With both beach and bay sides, Galveston Island State Park offers activities for every coast lover. Things to do at Galveston Island State Park include camping (56 sites with 50/30 amp electricity and water), swimming, fishing, bird watching, hiking, mountain biking, and relaxing.

Buccaneer State Park, Mississippi

Located on the beach in Waveland (adjacent to Bay St. Louis), Buccaneer is in a natural setting of large moss-draped oaks, marshlands and the Gulf of Mexico.

Numerous changes within the campground have taken place since the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina. Today, the park has 206 premium campsites with full amenities including sewer. In addition to the premium sites, Buccaneer has an additional 70 campsites that are set on a grassy field overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. These sites were redesigned after the storm for easier parking and convenience for the visitor. These Gulf view sites only offer water and electricity. A central dumping station and restrooms are located nearby.

Catalina State Park, Arizona

Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons and streams invites camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. The park is located within minutes of the Tucson metropolitan area. 

This scenic desert offers 120 electric and water sites. Each campsite has a picnic table and BBQ grill. Roads and parking slips are paved. Campgrounds have modern flush restrooms with hot showers, and RV dump stations are available in the park. There is no limit on the length of RVs.

Worth Pondering…

Stuff your eyes with wonder…live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.

—Ray Bradbury