Thursday, January 7, 2016

Mesa/Usery Mountain, AZ: New Year, New Destination in Our Own Backyard!

In the past, we've driven thousands of miles to get to beautiful RV camping spots, but for three days around New Years Eve 2015, we stayed close to home at Usery Mountain Regional Park in Mesa, AZ.  Our favorite travel companions, the Weed Family, joined us for the occasion.


It was really nice to forgo a longggg drive and park our rig just 27 miles away from Phoenix.

Phoenix is that-a-way!
Usery Mountain Regional Park is 3,648 acres near the Goldfield Mountains, adjacent to the Tonto National Forest.  It was named for King Usery, a cattleman running stock in the area from 1870's-1880's.  "King" was his first name (not his title), although his life was far from royal, with a tough struggle to survive and a penchant for unorthodox activities which would eventually land him behind bars. One of many examples has King being part of a stagecoach robbery where he took two bars of silver bullion (value: $2,000) which he (unsuccessfully) buried in swampy ground near the Salt River, a crime for which has was sentenced to seven hard years in Territorial Prison in Yuma.  Moral of the story:  apparently even if you are a hardened thug, you can still get a mountain and a regional park named after you.

Usery Pass was also a major sheep trail leading from north of Mt. Baldy south to the Salt River valley.  Flocks of sheep, led by Mexican and Basque shepherds and their dogs, made a picturesque sight in spring and fall as they moved through.  Today, although you are driving through populated areas and fancy subdivisions to get there, once you enter the gates of the park, you are a world away from civilization, with peaceful, quiet solitude all around.

Buckthorn Campground in Usery Mountain Regional Park
A half-mile nature walk included identifiers and a summary for 17 different Sonoran Desert plants.  We were lucky to have a live narrator in 7-year-old Kate!


Four different cactuses (cacti?) in one shot: ocotillo, barrel, saguaro, cholla!

Although the cactus are beautiful, the droppings from the chain-fruit cholla are all over the ground in the area. Each little growth in the photo below represents the birth of yet another prickly little ball of hell.  They were totally unavoidable and very annoying, particularly to the puppies who kept getting them in their paw pads.



Philip and I enjoyed hiking the Wind Cave Trail, a popular 3.2 mile trail up the volcanic granite of Pass Mountain (known as "Scarface" to the locals).  The higher hillsides were covered in a beautiful, bright-green moss.



Along the way there are tiny rest stops ....


...and at the top of the trail is the biggest rest stop,
a mountainside alcove with breathtaking views from 2,840-foot elevation ...


... complete with super-cool bee hive hanging from the rocks above our heads (though luckily the bees themselves are in hiberation this time of year).  Not so in the summer, according to the locals.  You've been warned!


No Arizona camping trip would be complete without amazing sunset shots.  Kate (age 7, remember) grabbed my camera and spent a good hour documenting the beauty of the evening.  A budding future Ansel Adams, perhaps?  We think, "YES"!





New Years Eve dawned cool and clear and we enjoyed delectable shisk-ka-bobs on the grill, 
fun times around the fire and celebratory sparklers.



Philip did the traditional "White Man Fire Dance" to bring good luck for 2016. 
(click play in bottom left & turn on your speakers for seven seconds of classic Philip)



The Lucky Charm got a facelift of sorts for the New Year.  We installed lightweight tin ceiling tiles to make a fancy headboard of sorts.  Never ones to miss exploitation of a theme, we chose a "Lucky Charm" pattern in the tiles.  


Before, because of low-hanging cabinetry over the bed, we couldn't even sit up straight with our morning coffee and newspapers.  And, just climbing into bed was cause for much cussing as we frequently whacked our heads on the cabinets.  We raised it higher and converted to a shelf for easier access to blankets etc., and also added individual reading lights.  Ahhhh ... love the changes!

BEFORE ... PHILIP HAS TO SLOUCH AND LEAN SIDEWAYS
AFTER ... THE CANINES APPROVE OF CHANGES TO "THEIR" BEDROOM!
Our 2016 travel plans include more new (to us) Arizona locales, including Dead Horse State Park in Cottonwood, and a repeat visit to our perennial favorite, Picacho Peak State Park. 

 During our six-week Summer 2016 trip, we will be heading north to Canada ... Banff, Jasper, Lake Louise, and Calgary for the famous rodeo, the Calgary Stampede.  Happy 2016 from The Millers!