Co-pilot Jora Johnson (see the second Smoky Mtns. entry from December) returned to the van for a few days of exploring southeastern Arizona. We had it in mind to find hot springs and do some camping/hiking. Starting in Phoenix we drove south to Picacho (sp?) State Park, located off of Highway 10. This lovely little park is situated below some fine mountains. The campground consists of paved loops and sites with firepits and benches. The shower and bathroom facilities were top-notch. We arrived in mid-morning and set out to hike Picacho Peak (seen in the photograph BELOW... at least I think that's the peak. If not that one then a similar-looking formation to the right of it).
The park brochure warned that the hike was 4 hours round trip and had two parts: first, a moderatly-difficult beginning in which you loped through the desert, and second, a difficult portion of mountain climbing, using cables, as you ascended the peak.
ABOVE: The first half of the hike included many Saguaro cacti, ranging from robust, multi-limbed monstrosities to little knee-high baby Saguaro to long-dead Saguaro skeletons.
ABOVE: The difficult part of the hike. You are expected to scale the mountain using these cables. It turned out to be easier than it looked although many less-fit hikers and hikers with pets / small children couldn't attempt it. I liked it, though. It felt good to use the arms a little instead of the legs. Bits of controlled peril sprinkled throughout a trail always make for a good day hike. The peak had a fine view of the surrounding flatlands.
From Picacho we drove south to Red Rock where, according to a document provided by the Arizona Tourist Dept, there are free hot springs. This document did not provided exact directions just stated that the springs were "in and around the town of Red Rock". Perhaps they were describing another town? We couldn't find any nor anybody to ask for help. Consulting tourism officials, rangers, and locals resulted in us being sneered at as if we were dirty. I didn't realize that hot springs had such a bad reputation. It's not as if I was asking where to get laid.
We continued south and wound up at Colossal Cave Mountain Park.
"Mountain" of mountain park is the key word. Not "state" park. Although Colossal Cave uses the reassuring brown signs of state parks to lure you in, it seemed to be a private enterprise and a very touristy one at that. $5 just to get inside the park then $7.50 per person to enter the caves. The visitor center was full of swarming bees and little children cacophonously tooting flutes purchased in the gift shop and the whole thing made me want to run away. We hoped to see some bats but we learned that the bats aren't really present until the summer.
We passed on spending $16 to see the caves, but did decide to spend the night in the park since we'd paid the entrance fee already. I'm not sure what the story is with these campgrounds but they seem to be from another time. They're on the premises of Colossal Cave but seem only peripherally related. The roads are in sorry shape, the pit toilets few and far between. Only two of the sites are big enough for an RV. Then came the real shocker: a sign stating that Colossal Cave Mountain Park actually LOCKS campers inside the grounds from 5 pm to 9 am!
I thought this must not be true. We must be misreading the sign. So when the "ranger" (notice the quotations) came by to check us in for the night I asked him about it.
"We can't get out?" I said. "Nope," he said, recording the van's license plate. "Not until 9 AM?" "Nope."
Then he suggested that we might be able to escape 15-20 minutes early if we waited around the gates for when the employees arive. Oh, and there's a 9-1-1 call box down the path. THANKS! I've never heard of campers being physically locked inside a campground for 16 hours. That's the stuff horror movies are made of. Usually there is an exit-only gate (enforced by an electronic code or metal spikes). Of course it fit perfectly into the weird and somewhat disturbing entity that was Colossal Cave Mountain Park. The ABOVE picture is of night fall at our campsite there.
We were out of Colossal Cave State Park by 9 AM, I can assure you. We drove to Safford and got a site at Roper Lake State Park where, unfortunately, I forgot to take any pictures. But I can tell you it was a pleasant little campground. We parked by the fishing lake; we soaked in the hot tub (which is fueled by hot spring water). Roper provided free firewood - a nice bonus.
The next day, en route for Phoenix, we stopped off at Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park (ABOVE picure). Although the trails are a little muddled direction-wise, it makes for a good day trip, with many beautiful / strange / gigantic / unique plants and trees to see.
While the weather is still cool I'm going to take a peek at Quartszite and Slab City. I'm not sure when I'll have wi-fi for another entry...