Arizona Winter – Desert Beauty & American Ruins

As many people in the South, I have been stuck at home this week, in cold rainy weather and it has left me longing for winter in Arizona. We visited a few areas around Phoenix last winter and discovered what I feel like I was actually meant to be………retired. Seriously though, I completely understand why the area is so popular among retirees who could live anywhere. While I’m not sure that I would like it during the summer, the winters are beautiful.

We started our time at the Apache Junction KOA, which is closer to Scottsdale than Phoenix. Great campground, but as usual for winter camping, I was one of the youngest and smallest campers. We were given a nice spot in a back corner, away from most people and ended up with neighbors behind us in a truck camper, escaping from the Canadian winter. This was where I discovered another benefit of the T@B, the ease of folding down the canopy in wind. In the T@G it was always over the galley kitchen so it had to be moved to fold down, but now it can be closed down and left in the spot. I got plenty of practice at this because it was quite windy most nights.

Apache Junction is a more rural desert setting than when you travel further West, closer to Phoenix. It was close to many great hiking trails and mountains that provided beautiful views. I was working so I couldn’t get out till late afternoon, but we found a dog friendly trail about 20 minutes away, up a mountain called silly mountain. I have no idea why it was named that, but I would like to believe it was because it is covered in Saguaro cactus, which, let’s be honest, look pretty silly.

We had many great evening hikes on the mountain and some amazing sunsets. Bella did a great job on the rocky inclines and was very proud of herself when we made it to the top. She also seemed pretty captivated by the sunsets as well. Thankfully it was still cold so rattlesnakes were not really active, but many people warned me that they might still be bedded under plants. I am certain that what Bella thought was “great, I’ll try to find one!” because it was constant battle to keep her from nosing under the bushes.

Although further away, we were also within a day’s drive of the Tonto National Monument, so I took off an afternoon and made the drive. Pets were not allowed so Bella got caught up on her rest that day. The monument is the ruins of native dwellings, built high in the side of a mountain in the Northern Sonoran Desert.

There are actually two areas of dwellings, an upper and lower area. The lower area is a one-mile trail, accessible for self-guided tours, but the upper area, which is on a three-mile trail, is only open to guided tours and was not open at the time due to Covid protocols. The lower area was still amazing to see, but don’t be fooled by the online info and think it’s easy to access. While it’s only a mile, it’s a very steep incline for a mile, but worth the trip for the amazing views of the desert and the nearby Theodore Roosevelt Lake.

The ruins themselves are also amazing to see. Ruins are not something we normally associate with the United States, rather something we think about in places that have a longer recorded history. These dwellings seem to contradict our long-held belief that early native Americans were not sophisticated builders. There are other places in the Southwest that challenge that and support newer theories I have been reading, about the more complex history of people in North America.

Although Bella could not visit the ruins, she did enjoy Arizona. Coming from an area where winter seems to always be cloudy and raining, I think we both enjoyed the sun in Arizona. While it did get cold at night, the days are beautiful and warm.

Another great dog friendly place we discovered was the Riparian Preserve in Phoenix. It’s a 110-acre wetland, wildlife preserve that supports various habitats wildlife, and plant life. It has pincic areas and miles of hiking and biking trails. It was a further drive so we only made it one day.

Bella really enjoyed all the new smells and things to explore and as always, was very interested in the ducks. She never chases or attacks ducks, but always seems to be perplexed by the sound they make. The ducks were clearly used to people and dogs and were not phased by us.

Just like the rest of Arizona, the preserve provided amazing sunset views. The next time we visit Arizona I would like to find place to stay closer to the reserve to spend more time there, but I’m not sure that there is anything that far into the city.

Our last stop was in Camp Verde for the NuCamp TaBazona Rally by Mandy Lea & Kendrick. As usual, the rally was a great time, with like minded campers. I actually got there the weekend before, when the campground was mostly large 5th wheels and Class A’s, so the picture below of all tiny campers was an amusing change. I think Bella was happy to be back around friends, which was evidenced in her nosiness and insistence on watching people out the window as they were coming in.

There is not as much in the Camp Verde area as the Phoenix area, but there are more ruins at the Tuzigoot National Monument. Unlike previous visits, these ruins were pet friendly and we had a great afternoon walking the trails and visiting. Just like the Tonto National Monument, these show a more complex understanding of building and engineering to have lasted this long.

The picture below is one of my favorite pictures of Bella and shows that she is still such a happy little hiker. It’s been 5 years since our first hiking trip and I still worry about the day that she doesn’t want to go or isn’t able to, so it always does my heart good to see that kind of happiness on a trail.

While in Arizona I could not miss the opportunity to visit the mecca of Frank Lloyd Wright, his Taliesin West home. While preparing this post I decided there was just so much to say that it deserved it’s own post, so stay tuned for those pictures coming soon.

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