Friday, February 28, 2014

Campground Review: Desert Trails RV Park, Tucson, AZ

We spent the month of February at Desert Trails RV Park. Described as an active "40+" park, Desert Trails offers 230 full hook up sites and lots of activities and amenities in a quirky, rustic venue.

Many years ago this site used to be a water park. It's been an RV park since at least 1998 when the current owner took over. Not your typical RV park, the sites are laid out along the contours of the former water park and the desert landscape. Common area buildings are older and the desert landscaping is mature.

About half the sites are very tight together and nothing but gravel and half back up to lush Sonoran desert vegetation. Some sites are quite spacious, some are placed at unusual angles just to fit in another space, some are very private, others are very public. It's a real mixed bag here. Each site has a picnic table of varying quality.

We were fortunate to be placed in site V6. Located near the entrance to the park and the office, our row was recently upgraded to 50amp power, backs up to vegetation and has reasonable separation from our neighbors. Our picnic table had such old, rough wood, we not only had to cover the top, we also ended up cutting an old table cloth in half to cover the seats too.

Most folks who have desert vegetation at their site put up numerous bird feeders so the bird action throughout the park is fantastic. Great horned owls, hawks, cardinals, pyrrhuloxia, quail, curved bill thrashers, cactus wrens and more are seen daily.

Amenities are numerous and include a heated pool, hot tub, 3 laundry buildings, huge exchange library, wifi (it's slow), 4 pool tables, gym, complimentary ice, reverse osmosis water machine, recycling, resident massage therapists. Lots of activities are offered including hiking, biking (road and MTB), crafts, creative writing, several live music events each week, karaoke, potlucks. We went to a few of the live music nights and found them to be of decent quality and high attendance rate; most were free, those that cost $5 included wine!

Our Verizon signal was pretty slow, but usable, during our stay even with our Wilson Sleek 4GV booster.

One of my favorite things about this park is the miles of desert trails accessible right from the park. The park backs up to Tucson Mountain Park so you can hike and bike for miles without having to drive anywhere. If you just want to take a short stroll, there are even a few plastic chairs strategically placed for relaxation in the desert right behind the park.

Last year we stayed next door at Justin's Diamond J RV Park (Justin used to own the water park) for a month. At Justin's the sites were larger but every time we walked through Desert Trails we just felt the vibe was friendlier. After spending a month at Desert Trails we can confirm that the folks are friendly and outgoing and love being involved with their park. Many folks have been spending the season here for many years. We are in our early 50's and were definitely at the young end of the age spectrum...which is typical for most private RV parks in Arizona.

We were fortunate to get a nice site; we may not have felt as good about our stay if we'd been assigned one of the really tight, gravel only sites. We reserved our stay several months in advance and requested, but were not guaranteed, a 50amp site. Perhaps our early reservation got us the nice site...I am not sure.

This park is on the far West side of Tucson. To do any shopping you have to drive at least 8 miles, or much further, for the full range of shopping options. For us, the proximity of desert trails overruled the distance to town stuff.

Site V6

Looking down the row behind our rig.
This path was very lightly used, only by those camped along it.

This path leads to the office; the vegetation here was full of birds!

A common sight in the park.

Office and mail center.
Owls and hawks battled over a nest in the eucalyptus trees.

View toward the Tucson Mountains from the observation deck (formerly the top of the water park).

View North West across the RV park.

One of many public buildings on the property.

Miles of beautiful trails behind the RV park.

A fabulous sunset from the observation deck.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

So Long Tucson, We've Loved all the Trails Right in Our Backyard

We're finishing up a month in Tucson, for the second year in a row. Having done most of the things we really wanted to do in Tucson last year, this year has been a pretty relaxing stay. We've redone some hikes, found a few new trails, spent time with new and old friends, got Rosie outside for long stretches of time every day, and read a lot of books.

We've enjoyed Desert Trails RV Park; its friendly vibe and immediate access to miles and miles of excellent hiking and mountain biking trails right from the park made it a great place to hunker down for an extended period of time. 

Here's a wrap up of the past few days...

We hiked a new-to-us section of Tucson Mountain Park. We attempted to do a lollipop loop consisting of 36th Street, Starr Pass, Rock Wren and Yetman trails. I say attempted because TMP has virtually no trail signs and many additional trails that are not shown on the map linked above so it is very easy to take a wrong turn. No matter, we were familiar enough with the area that we couldn't get lost and the scenery was wonderful! I highly recommend the 36th Street trail head, the 1.3 miles to Starr Pass trail is beautiful.

Lots of colorful rock along 36th St trail, I liked these little cacti making their way out of the rock!

The Kiss

This crested beauty is found along the Starr Pass wash.

Another new-to-us hike in Tucson Mountain Park was a lollipop loop of the Ringtail, Cougar and Orcut trails for a nice 5.5 mile jaunt. The Orcut trail took us up washes along power line trails, providing wonderful views of the Tucson Mountains and Gates Pass.

The Tucson Mountains, looking towards Gates Pass.

Crested barrel cactus.

Today was our last full day in West Tucson and we biked from our park with Bill and Christine and Fred and Joyce. This was Fred and Joyce's first long mountain bike ride out beyond the easy trails right behind the park and they did really well! During our 12 mile loop we checked out an owls nest in a saguaro, had a nice break at Gilbert Ray campground, and messed around getting photos among the saguaros.

Christine, Hans, Fred, Bill, Joyce.

Owls nest in a saguaro.
Last year folks saw the owl, this year the nest has been abandoned.

Makin' friends with the saguaros.

Tomorrow we have a really short drive to Catalina State Park, just barely out of Tucson metro area. Rain is finally in the forecast for Saturday...this area needs it badly and we are looking forward to it.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Making new friends in Tucson

Nice cloudy skies gave us comfortable hiking temperatures this morning as we hiked Brown Mountain with Bill and Christine who are fellow Montana 5th wheel owners we met in our RV park. Looks like our paths could cross again a couple of times in the coming year; we love to meet fellow outdoor enthusiasts in our travels!

Christine, Hans and Bill on Brown Mountain trail.

These odd looking insects turned out to be Master Blister Beetles.

Today we saw the smallest saguaros yet!
The two next to Christine's shoe were maybe 2 inches tall...which is about 10 years old!

Below are some photos from the past few days. First, we did a hike at the far West end of Saguaro National Park that I don't really want to recommend because it was mostly a lot of flat and sandy wash...but we did see a couple of pretty things:

Surprise flowers in a wash.

Young Crested Saguaro.

We enjoyed a delicious potluck dinner at Tim and Amanda's site at Gilbert Ray campground, where we met new full timers Sam and Stephanie and also Jen with her sweet dog Q.

Fabulous potluck dinner at Tim and Amanda's place.
Amanda, Tim, Stephanie, Jen, Sam, Hans.

Last nights sunset was spectacular.

It's only February but the birds seem to be pairing up already; though perhaps that is normal in this part of the country. It's so different from last year when we experienced snow at this time!

This pair has snagged a great spot right in our RV park.

The End!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Latest from Tucson

Here's a sampling of sights from the past week in Tucson...

On this mornings bike ride we had an unusual sighting...deer in the desert! We knew they were around thanks to road signs and meeting an archer on a trail one day who was hunting them, but we'd never seen any around Tucson. These two were fairly well hidden and it was pure chance that we even saw them.

The Tucson Gem Show is a big deal. There are hundreds of vendors at dozens of sites through out the city for two weeks every February. We visited one site one day and were amazed at the variety of stuff besides beads and gems and rocks.

There were some enormous pieces on display.
It's hard to imagine the effort some of these vendors put into attending this show!

Stone lamp shades and sconces!

Walking through the desert one afternoon out behind our RV park I came upon a Coopers Hawk perched in a palo verde tree.

He gets ready to fly off...I was making him nervous about 20 feet away.

Walking through the RV park one morning we caught a pack rat enjoying a prickly pear cactus breakfast. I had no idea they ate cactus!

This Pyrrhuloxia had been eluding me for weeks. He hides deep in the cactus and flits around anxiously whenever I pass nearby. Sitting still for hours near the bird feeders, with a book and camera at the ready, I managed to capture this beautiful bird in his element.

This is one crazy, confused barrel cactus!

Rosie is enjoying this park, even with all the cactus!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Petroglyphs, Mines and a Little Bushwacking

The daytime temperatures are heading towards 90 degrees lately so we head out for exercise earlier (8:30am) and try to avoid serious climbing.

The other day we started our Wasson Peak hike from the King Canyon trail head (at the K24 parking lot in Tucson Mountain Park), but we knew there were other goodies to be found from that starting point. Last year we did a loop that included the lower portion of King Canyon which holds evidence of our ancestors. Yesterday we chose to hike up King Canyon as far as possible to see if there were even more petroglyphs.

There's a nice gentle incline in King Canyon.

Early on we saw the only mortero of the day.

For some reason on this day I was fascinated by cacti growing precariously from rock walls.

Occasionally there are rock drop offs that I would love to see during monsoon season!

Eventually we came to the petroglyph site which is a little down stream from the Mam-a-Gah picnic area turn off. You've got to search a little for them as they are wearing away with time and the elements and the rock walls are slowly falling into the canyon.

This tall rock wall (and the other side of the canyon) is the site of the petroglyphs.

From the ledge in the rock wall above looking down into King Canyon.

After a brief stop at the lovely Mam-a-Gah picnic site, great views and shade, we continued on up King Canyon. At a Y intersection we turned left, all the while looking for more Indian signs or anything else of interest.

Neat fan shaped arm on this saguaro.

Where there's a will there's a way!

The end of the canyon.

Once we reached the end of the canyon we really didn't want to just turn around and retrace our steps. We had seen what looked like an old roadbed leading to a mine site above us as we ascended the canyon so we decided to check it out.

Climbing up the mine tailings.

One of several miners trash dumps we saw...lots of tin cans.

Turns out the old road bed was not maintained as a trail. It was very overgrown and eroded, but it was also evident that a few hardy hikers had done the same loop we were attempting. So of course we set off down the "road" weaving our way through cactus, mesquite and creosote.

Picking my way through cactus.

A look back at the mine site and the canyon we had come up.

Another mine site...Hans was living dangerously!

Hans is on the right, walking down the old road bed, the canyon below us.

This was a great hike for a hot day. Not too strenuous, some parts were even shaded, and we got off the beaten path. Perfect!