Phoenix and McDowell Mountain RP – Après nous, le déluge


“Apres nous, le deluge” – after us, the flood

For our drive from Tucson to the Phoenix area we decided to take AZ-79, a two-lane road through a beautiful desert of saguaro cactus, palo verde trees and creosote bushes. We took this route because it was about the same time as going via the interstate, the view was much nicer, and the traffic much more laid back.

One exception to the beautiful views as we drove along was the town of Florence (sorry if you live in Florence!), where the local industry seems to be prisons, or as they call it, a “detention center,” like you did something naughty at school and had to come in for Breakfast Club on Saturday morning. Our Phoenix friends later told us that Tempe had a choice of taking the prison or Arizona State University and wanted to get the prison, but got the University instead. I think they got the better deal.

We pulled into our spot at McDowell Mountain Regional Park (run by Maricopa County) and immediately loved it. The camp hosts do a great job of keeping it clean and well cared for. They even rake the pea gravel at each site after your departure, making a beautiful swirling pattern that made me feel like our campsite was a Zen rock garden. Upon lifting your eyes from the ground you realize that you are situated on the top of a plateau, surrounded by mountains on all sides, but whereas in Tucson they were close in, here they are at a distance from you. (Trivia: the mountains above Maureen’s head in the photo below are called Four Peaks, and they are featured on Arizona’s license plates. They really do glow purple at sunset, allegedly because of the amethyst mines they contain.)

McDowell Mountain iPhone-19

The only downside of the park is that it is somewhat remote, about 15 minutes up the road from the nearby, prosperous town of Fountain Hills. But seriously, it’s not a hardship when all the trappings of civilization (multiple grocery stores, public library with fast internet, car washes) are so close by. One of the things I’ve realized is that RVing is not the Shackleton expedition to the Antarctic. And remoteness brings peace and quiet.

The park has at least a dozen well-maintained trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding. We arrived on a Friday and had seen from the weather forecast that it was supposed to rain Monday through Friday of the next week (more on that later), so we decided to get our hikes in early. Saturday we took the ~3 mile North Loop, a nature trail. Sunday was a 6+ mile hike on the Scenic Trail, which takes you 300 feet up a ridge, giving indeed scenic 360 degree views of the mountains. It was midway through this hike that Maureen suddenly stopped and said, “Wow – when I’m RVing I can do this any day I want!” To which I fell to the ground and exclaimed, “She understands! She gets it!” OK, it wasn’t quite that dramatic, but I now call this Maureen’s Helen Keller moment.

McDowell Mountain iPhone-17

Our “dogs were barking” after that hike so we poured ourselves a cocktail (my doctor friend Alan says it’s a good analgesic and muscle relaxant, so I can say “doctor’s orders”), and fired up the grill. I’ve been delighted that we can fit most dinners on our little Weber Q1200 grill.

McDowell Mountain iPhone-14

Later we took a few shorter walks around the campground loops and were delighted to see three other Lance travel trailers set up. Lance campers are manufactured in southern California, and so are a bigger presence out west. Before we left home we had seen a few on the road, but never in a campground, so it was fun seeing Sempre Estate’s (our trailer’s name: “Always Summer” in Italian) brothers and sisters.

Monday night we met up for dinner with our friends from high school days, Jim and Donna (sorry, no pic – our bad). They moved out here shortly after they got married in the early 80s, and we literally had not seen them since their wedding. But we caught up quickly on children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. They very kindly offered to ask their neighbor, who has an acre of land in nearby Glendale, if we could store our trailer on his lot when we travel back home in a few weeks. This will save us some money and it will be nice to know someone is keeping an eye on it while we’re gone.

The real estate crash of 2008 appears to be a distant memory, as Phoenix continues to grow in all directions, and signs of new construction are everywhere. Guess they figure people are still moving here. Compared to Tucson, Phoenix is huge. It’s probably a good place to get a job, and anything you could want is available here, but other than the pleasant winter weather it feels pretty much like any other megacity. If we lived out here, we’d prefer the more intimate scale of Tucson.

Even in the desert it sometimes rains, and the deluge arrived on schedule Monday morning. It started as a light spritz, but as the week went on it would cycle between drizzle, steady rain and wind-driven downpours, buffeting our little home on wheels. After four days of this a little water came in by the outside door (it was facing the wind and the seals just couldn’t keep up against the onslaught), but other than that we stayed dry, and now I feel that our trailer has indeed been El Nino-tested. The roof on a travel trailer is just an inch or so thick, so the sound of rain on it is quite apparent. That’s OK if it’s a gentle rain, but if it’s dumping on you it can feel quite intense, which is not compatible with sleeping. But we eventually got used to it.

McDowell Mtn and Quartzsite iPhone-7

We took advantage of the poor weather by taking care of some necessary domestic chores: laundry and an oil change for the Jeep. We asked around, found a decent laundromat at a nearby RV park and knocked that task out. And using Yelp I found a good Jeep dealer who took care of the oil change, so we’re good for another 8,000 miles of towing.

The rain stopped right on cue Friday morning, which was fortunate timing, as it was time hitch up and head to our next stop. We’re coming back to McDowell Mountain after two weeks of boondocking in Quartzsite, and are looking forward to our return – hopefully it will be drier this time!

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