March 1, Tuesday
My camp at Picketpost Mountain in Tonto NF is a real winner. Beautiful scenery, a high enough elevation to be cooler, and there are no other campers around. I confirmed with the FS office in Globe that this is a legal place to disperse camp and that I do not need a Tonto pass.
Besides the four spots in this little camping area and the one other nearby, there are another three that could fit a camper my size off of FR 357 just west of here.
I still like the one I chose best so I don’t move. These three are close to where the Arizona Trail runs through, so I bet they see more backpacking traffic than RV traffic. According to the sign post at the trail, it runs the length of Arizona, north to south. Given the varied terrain of the state, I bet it would be interesting to hike, and bikes and horse traffic are allowed too.
There are a lot of birds around the area, and while I’m eating lunch, a ground squirrel peeks in through the door of the Casita. I snap a picture before he runs off.
In the afternoon, I take a drive farther east on Hwy 60. Only three miles down the road is Superior, a mining town that has since become something of a tourist attraction. The visitor center is an old caboose that was converted. I have a brief chat with the lady manning it, there some sort of festival coming up in a couple weeks, but I won’t be here long enough to see it.
Beyond Superior, the road climbs through a pass. I know it’s getting serious when I look out my window and see the bridges crossing the chasm. The steepest grade is 7% for 3 miles, not horrible.
Near the top is Queen Creek Tunnel, ¼ of a mile long.
The cliffs are tall and imposing on the other side, pictures don’t do them justice.
Just past that is the turnoff for Oak Flat Campground, run by the forest service. I’d heard of this campground from another blogger RV Sue who stayed here over a year ago. A mining company wants to dig here, the local Native American tribe wants to save it. Looks like it’s still standing for now, there are signs up all over. It’s small, a single loop with mostly walk-in sites for tents, there is a flat open area for RVs to park in too. The place I’m at is prettier.
There are actual trees up here in places. Oak Flat is at 4,000 feet, Top-Of-The-World – an unincorporated community just past that – is at 4,600 feet. Beyond that is major evidence of mining activity. Whole hillsides have been denuded, it’s odd to see.
My destination is Claypool, where I spend $58 for a spare 20# propane tank. Unlike most Casitas, mine has been modified so it only has one tank on the tongue. That means when I run out of propane, I need to drop what I’m doing and get it filled up in a timely fashion before everything in my fridge goes bad. It wasn’t an issue when I had hookups most of the time, when I’m traveling from spot to spot it’s easy to find propane at gas stations along the way. But now that I’m boondocking in remote areas propane isn’t always close by. I secure the spare tank in the bed of the truck by putting it in a milk crate, they’re exactly the right size.
March 3, Thursday
A rabbit and two deer are munching on the grass outside when I wake up this morning, what a cool way to greet a new day.
I’m the first visitor to arrive at Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park, which is within walking distance of camp. In fact, normally there’s a hiking trail that leads there, but with the construction going on it’s closed right now, so I’m forced to take Bertha. The day pass is $10 for adults, seems fair to me.
As I was hoping to, I learn a lot about the local plants. Those yellow flowering bushes I saw near Quartzsite on the way here are called Brittlebrush. The fat squat cactus are all different types of Barrel cacti and small fuzzy white ones I saw at Saddle Mountain are Wooly Pincushions. The tree with rough gray bark and few leaves this time of year are Ironwood. And there are a lot more types of Cholla than I imagined, the ones at my camp with brown stems and drooping green limbs are Chain Fruit Cholla.
There are a surprising number of trees here. The park is advertised as having arid plants so I arrived early expecting that it would be too hot in the afternoon to stick around, but a visitor stuck to the wooded part of the arboretum it would probably be quite comfortable. When I think of “arid” I don’t think trees.
Birds abound, their chirps, cries, warbles, and trills follow me. I wonder if the reason I have so many birds near camp is because they have this place nearby for food and shelter. I catch a hummingbird sitting on the edge of a birdbath in a rare moment of stillness before it flies off.
The main loop around the arboretum is about 1.5 miles long, but there are a lot of other smaller trails too. I frequently have to pull out my map to figure out where I am. The park is divided in sections, Sonoran Desert, Chihuahuan Desert, Australian Desert, Pine Grove, Gum Bark Trail, Cactus & Succulents Garden, Herb Garden, South American Desert…
There’s also a manmade pond simulating a desert oasis. A bird that may be a swallow flies low over the surface while two ducks hide in the reeds.
Then the trail climbs up Magma Ridge, a part of the arboretum kept natural with no intervention. At the top of the ridge is Picket Post House, built by Boyce Thompson, the man who started the arboretum. There is no public access to the house, but I bet it’s beautiful inside. For all that though, I bet it costs a lot of money to maintain, and while the view is great, it doesn’t change. No thanks, I’ll stick with my RV.
At the bottom of the ridge runs a stream. Signs are posted all over to stay out of the water, I can’t say I wasn’t tempted though.
Back at the Visitor Center, I peruse the gift shop on the way out. The little cactus and succulents in pots tempt me. I kind of want to get a little potted plant to travel with me, I almost bought one when I was working seasonally at Lowe’s my first winter on the road. I could keep it in a cupholder in the truck when I’m driving and carry it back to the trailer when I’m stopped, but it’s hard for me to justify a purchase when I don’t really need one, plus it would take up valuable counter space in the RV. One of the potted cactus types is a Saguaro! I hold a finger up to it for size comparison, it’s tiny and cute now but it couldn’t live in a pot forever.
Later, after getting home, the ground squirrel stops by for a visit. I’m typing on the computer when I hear small noises and glance out the door to find him right on the step, nose pressed up against the screen door! He moves the width of the step, nose poking up every now and then to peer in. I snap pictures of the whole thing.
When he disappears I open the door and lean out, only to find him on my campchair. He looks as surprised by my appearance as I probably do by his, and after freezing for a moment, he darts away. I wonder if maybe he’s been fed in the past, I set out an almond when I first saw him two days ago, but it hasn’t been touched. I move it closer to the door, and put out a cracker too.
Not long after that, I hear more noises, louder this time. He’s on my chair again, and chewing a hole in it! The food is on the ground nearby, still untouched. I’m so shocked that I don’t shoo him off right away, I grab my phone for another picture then clap my hands. When that fails to make him leave I chase after him and he runs.
My chair is frayed in a spot. What could have possibly possessed him to do such a thing? In my mind I imagine him as a teenaged squirrel miscreant, getting into trouble because food is so plentiful this time of year that he’s bored with nothing better to do. I spy him giving the chair the beady rodent evil eye from underneath a patch of prickly pears and promptly sit myself down in it, oh no you don’t!
He approaches me slowly, once again passing the nut and cracker without interest. With no little wariness, he carefully scoots past me and then scampers towards the truck. Half expecting the little trouble-maker to be trying to get into the workings of the truck from underneath, I walk over for an inspection but find him doing normal squirrely things beyond it.
I think it’s an act, and I’ll be keeping a close eye out for him in the future. Wildlife is great, but this fellow is a little too wild.
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Those of you who are Escapees/Xscapers members may have already noticed that the March/April magazine issue features an article by yours truly on work-camping at National Parks! It’s the one year anniversary of the Xscapers, and I along with several other Xscapers members were approached about writing for the birthday issue. I wrote the article back in December during those crazy hours at Amazon and finished it in the lobby of Little House Customs on the 28th. It wasn’t easy, but I think it came out quite well and I hope those of you who are members enjoy it.
For those of you who aren’t members, I’ve put more info about the clubs below if you’re interested. If not that’s fine too, I’ll see you next post!
Escapees/Xscapers is well known for it’s advocacy over laws and issues that affect RVers. Benefits include access to domicile and mail forwarding options through the club in both Texas and Florida, plus a wealth of RVing information including the Articles & Blogs section that I contribute to, the magazine, bootcamps, an a forum. There’s a job board for locating both work-camping style jobs and also more location independent ones. You also receive a yearly travel guide full of RV parks that give a discount to members (like that park I stayed at in Tonopah near Saddle Mountain), including access to the SKP Co-ops specifically for members and the opportunity to buy or lease lots at four different Rainbow Parks from Arizona to Tennessee. There are also a lot of social opportunities offered through the club, from the big Escapade rally to convergences like the one I attended in Quartzsite, and special interests groups.
The regular cost is $39.95 annually and grants you access to both clubs – the difference being that Escapees has matured over the years and is now primarily seen as a club for retirees while Xscapers is targeted at the working-age crowd. At heart though, they’re essentially the same thing. Sometimes there are special membership deals going on though, especially if you belong to another RV club you may get a discount so keep an eye out for that. Note that I’m not officially affiliated with either Escapees/Xscapers and do not get a kickback if you decide to join, I just wanted to put the information here because I frequently get questions about whether they’re worth joining or not.