Walter and Sara On the road to who knows where
We spent 3 days camping at Estrella Mountain Regional Park in south Goodyear, AZ so we could see family there. Tuesday night we had dinner with our daughter, Leslie, and her husband, Al.

On Wednesday, we got out and had a hike before it good too hot (the high that day was 92 degrees). We were camped out by the rodeo arena and horse corrals (and yes in the evening when the wind came down off the mountains we got a lot of eau de horse). The trail map said that there was a picnic shelter where a trail started that seemed to be over with the horses (Wrong--it was across a large parking lot from us and a long way from the horses) so we set out along the edge of the corral to see if we could find it.

No luck (since it wasn’t there) but I did get this nice shot of a saguaro cactus made of horse shoes.

Horseshoe saguaro

We saw a trail over across the wash from where we were and we set out cross country to find it. The good news is that the undergrowth isn’t very dense here and the wash wasn’t very deep. Without much trouble we made our way over to the trail and even found a trail sign to point us on our way.

The creosote bushes (Larrea tridentata) were in full bloom.

Creosote (Larrea tridentata) flowers

And along many of the washes there was Cleftleaf Wildheliotrop (Phacelia crenulata) in bloom.

Cleftleaf Wildheliotrop (Phacelia crenulata)

Here and there we saw Mexican Gold Poppies (Eschscholzia californica ssp mexicana)
Mexican Gold Poppies (Eschscholzia californica ssp mexicana)

Some of the Cleftleaf Wildheliotrop was decidedly blue.

Cleftleaf Wildheliotrop (Phacelia crenulata)

We’d seen a lot of Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa) in bloom along the road so it wasn’t surprising to see it in bloom here too.

Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa)

We looped around back towards our campsite and spied a group of kids out on a trail ride.

Trail rider Estrella Mt park

Estrella is a nice park to hike in. There are interesting mountains, nice views and a few saguaro to make things interesting.

Estrella Mountain regional Park

We decided to make our way cross country again to get back to the trailer because the trail map seemed to indicate that the trail we were on was going to meet the road eventually and we’d have to hike back along it which didn’t sound like a lot of fun. So off we went, crossing several rather steep washes. At the bottom of one there was a huge patch of white wooly daisies (Antheropes lansum). The flowers were only about 1/2” across but very sweet.

white wooly daisies (Antheropes lansum)

We also came across some Parrish Wolfberry in one of the washes with nice red berries still in place. These bushes bloom after it rains so the berries were probably pretty fresh.

Parrish Wolfberry

And Mormon Tea (Ephedra viridis) in bloom

Mormon Tea (Ephedra viridis) in bloom

Surprisingly there wasn’t a lot of globemallow in bloom here. We’d seen a lot along the highway outside of Globe but not here.


There was a cluster of saguaros at the entry to our little row of campsites.

Saguaros at Estrella Mt Park campground

And a nice Ocotillo in bloom next door to us.     

 Ocotillo in bloom

There was even a little patch of Engelmann Hedgehog Cactus near our site.

 Engelmann Hedgehog Cactus

Wednesday evening we had dinner with Sara’s brother-in-law, Mike. And Thursday afternoon (when it hit 92 again) we did our errands and grocery shopping. Then that evening we had dinner with our niece, Amy, completing the rounds of our Arizona-based family. Thanks to all of them for making time in their very busy schedules to see us with so little notice.

Friday morning March 4th, we pulled up stakes and headed south to a boondocking area just south of the little town of Ajo. It’s called Darby Wells (after the road you take to get to it). We trundled our way out the dirt road and drove far enough that we were pretty sure we’d missed the main area and managed to turn around and go back to an area where we saw a number of folks camped in RVs. We parked the trailer and walked along the road and found a nice fairly level spot where we could camp for a couple of days.

Clearly, it’s a pretty established campsite since folks have installed a fire pit, a grill and left tables and poles for a shelter of some sort. This is BLM land so it’s first come first served but clearly these folks have a sense of ownership since they’d carved their names in the concrete in the bar b que they’d built.

Darby well Rd boondocking spot

We parked so that our side door opened to this view looking south.

Darby Well boondock spot view

And we had this view out our back windows looking west.  

Darby Well boondock spot view

To the east was our nearest neighbor who really wasn’t as near as this looks.

Darby Well boondock spot view

We had a good Verizon signal on our hot spot and Walter’s phone worked fine but of course the Sprint phones were out of commission. The only hitch with this boondocking area (which has a 14 day limit which is no big deal for us) is that to the north you can see the HUGE tailings pile from the big copper mining operation in Ajo. It’s fairly colorful and it didn’t bother either one of us.

Darby Well boondock spot view

That evening the partly cloudy skies made for a nice sunset.

Ajo Sunset

On Saturday we gave ourselves a quiet day. That of course meant that I spent an hour sweeping and scrubbing the trailer floor but the rest of the day was spent reading and hanging out. It was only in the mid 80’s so it was great just to sit around in bare feet and shorts and enjoy the breeze.

On Sunday morning, March 6th we packed up and drove east (and a little north) to the west side of Tucson. When we stopped to switch drivers in the middle of nowhere I spied a Prickly Poppy (Argemone munita) in bloom along the roadside. And yes, those are very prickly spines on the buds, leaves and stems.  

Prickly Poppy (Argemone munita)

Our destination for the night was Gilbert Ray Campground, a Pima County Park, right next door to the western section of Saguaro National Park. This is an unusual park in that they have electrical hookups without water hookups. You can fill your water tank as you come in (and dump your waste tanks too) and then head to your campsite where you’ll have a good 30 amp electrical hook up. We got a spot ($20 a night) with a great view of the mountains to the north and east—and a great cell signal for the phones (both Sprint and Verizon) and the hot spot. This is a first come first served campground (no reservations ever) so we knew we had a pretty good chance of getting a spot if we got their early in the day.

It was cloudy when we arrived and this was the view out our back windows.

Gilbert Ray Campground site view

This was the view from the back and side looking out towards the mountains.

Gilbert Ray Campground site view

And this was a full side view. This is really a beautiful park with lush high desert flora.

Gilbert Ray Campground site view

Late in the afternoon (after a couple of sprinkles) the sun came out and lit up the mountains--what a difference sunshine makes.

Gilbert Ray Campground site view

At sunset the mountains and last few clouds to the east provided us with a sunset while to the west nothing much happened.

Sunset Gilbert Ray campground

Sunday is Walter’s turn to cook and Sunday night he made one of his specialties: Cascade Curry. It’s quick and easy and tastes wonderful.

Cascade Curry

On Monday March 7th, we headed just a few miles north and east to Catalina State Park on the north end of Tucson. This is beautiful park but you need a reservation most nights all winter ($30 a night for a water and electric site plus $5 for the reservation). We got a reservation for one night about a week before so we could be in Tucson to have dinner with our old friend, Deboah Schifter, from our Massachusetts community days.

We arrived at noon, and our spot was ready for us so we motored on in. There were a few clouds but the view from our back window was still outstanding.   

Catalina State Park view

There was little clumps of Bristly Nama (Nama hispidum) growing in the sparse grass and next to our water hookup.

Bristly Nama (Nama hispidum)

We set up camp, took showers in the wonderful free hot showers that are provided in this great campground and then after lunch headed out to take the Canyon Loop Trail that starts out at the main trailhead for the park.

The sun was out but there were dark clouds over the mountains. The temperature had been 70 degrees earlier but had dropped to 66 which is a great temperature for a hike as far as either of us is concerned.

Saguaros at Catalina SP

We took the right hand (counterclockwise) portion of the loop that begins as the first section on the Romero Canyon Trail. It goes UP fairly steeply for a short distance but then levels out at a nice overlook where you can see the creek coming down the Sutherland Wash.

Sutherland Wash Catalina SP

This section of the park doesn’t have a lot of saguaros but there are just enough to set off the nice views of the mountains.

Canyon Loop Trail view

There were flowers here and there—not a huge display but enough to keep me happy. There was White Tackstem (Calycoseris wrightii) scattered along the trail.

White Tackstem (Calycoseris wrightii)

And quite a bit Fairyduster (Calliandra eriophylla) in bloom.
Fairyduster (Calliandra eriophylla)

Walter stopped in front of this big saguaro and I had to take a photo of him so you could see how big this cactus really was.

Walter Cooke Saguaro Catalina SP

Here and there along the trail I kept spotting little blue flowers that looked like single alliums. Only after we got back to the trailer did I realize that these were Blue Dicks (Dichelostema capitatum) which we’d seen last year in the poppy fields in California.  

Blue Dicks (Dichelostema capitatum)

There were nice red fruits on the Arizona Pencil Chollas.

Arizona Pencil Chollas fruit

The sun peeked out again at the top of the mountains as we moved from the Romero Canyon Trail to the connector that would take us over to the Sutherland Trail.

Catalina SP trail view

There had been lots of blue lupine in bloom down at the beginning of the trail but up at this elevation the Bajada Lupine (Lupinus cocinnus) was just starting to get ready to bloom. I love the silver/white edges of the leaves on these lupine.
Bajada Lupine (Lupinus cocinnus)

At the end of the connector trail we came to a cluster of signs indicating that this was not a trail and that in fact we were at the boundary of the park where it meets the Coronado National Forest and Wilderness. Earlier we’d seen signs that you couldn’t take your dog all the way up the Romero Canyon Trail because there were protected Big Horn Sheep up there. All this when the entrance of the state park is across the road from a mall with a Walmart in it!

Wilderness sign Canyon Loop Trail Catalina SP

We followed the trail off to our left and got this great view of the mountains to the northeast.

Sutherland Trail view

From here you go down 90 stairs (mostly made with railroad ties) to descend back down to the wash. As we began to go down the stairs it began to rain big fat drops. And it continued to rain all the way down to the wash itself.

Sutherland Wash Catalina SP

About here the rain turned to hail which we were told later is a very unusual thing to happen here. It was kind of slushy hail so it didn’t hurt much but my fleece was covered with smears of white and little tiny pea hail for a while. Eventually it switched back to rain and we continued to get wet. We hadn’t worn our jackets because it was so warm (and the sun was out) and the good news is that we didn’t get cold. We just got wet enough so that my hair was totally wet and streaming water into my eyes.

We kept up a pretty good pace and eventually came out of the rain in time to get some nice shots of the large stand of saguaros that grow on the hill on the west side of the wash.   

Saguaros Catalina SP

We got to rock hop across the wash three times—though it was so shallow you could wade without much trouble—besides our boots are Gortex so there’s no danger of getting wet feet.

Creek crossing Canyon Loop Trail

By the time we got back to the trailhead the sun was out again on the mountains.

Catalina State Park Mountain View

We drove on back to the trailer, stripped off our wet clothes and toweled our hair dry and got dressed again in time to meet our friend Deborah for dinner. We had a great dinner and a wonderful visit with her. It’s so nice to be able to connect up with her on the road.

It rained again in the night and was only 45 in the morning when we got up but the sun was out and it slowly warmed up as we made our way west to Gila Bend KOA for the night. It made it up to the mid 70s though it was breezy.