After our stay at Usery Mountain Regional Park, we headed to the west side of Phoenix to another Maricopa County Park, White Tank Mountain. Before leaving Usery Mountain, we made a day trip up into the Superstition Mountains to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum. It was as lovely as our friends had mentioned.
There are a series of individual gardens here, including desert, legumes, cactus, butterfly and hummingbirds, a rose garden, succulents, and so many more. Tucked into the valley below a formation called Magma Ridge, the arboretum is a peaceful and inspiriting place.
There are some really unusual desert plantings here, including the exotic boojum tree from central Baja California. It’s a relative of the willowy ocotillo which grows in the Sonoran desert.
We wrapped up our last night at Usery Mountain with a repeat visit for dinner at Blue Adobe, topped off with the southwest-delight, sopapillas: powdered sugar and wild honey drizzled over warm, freshly fried dough. Wow.
The day we put Davis on the plane back to New Hampshire we drove to our next campground at White Tank Mountains. We didn’t know anything about the place and its fascinating history. Around 1863, the White Tank Mountains found their place on the first Arizona Territorial map. In fact, the mountain range is on almost every map from 1863 on. Even before Phoenix shows up on maps as a “settlement”, the White Tank Mountains were an important part of Arizona’s history.
The White Tank watering hole that gives the mountains its name was located in the northeast end of the range and was the only year round source of water for miles. Early travelers and native people had to know where it was. The desert was 20 to 30 miles in each direction along the White Tank Wagon Road. This supply road stretched from Maricopa Wells, south of the Gila River, to Wickenburg and then continued north to the new territorial capital in Prescott. Remnants of the road are few and the watering hole itself is now gone. The white granite cliffs surrounding the large natural tank, caved in during a huge storm, obliterating the White Tank.
The mountains sit perched on the edge of aggressive development as Phoenix stretches out its tentacles. The farm lands that are still here are sliced with irrigation ditches that sparkle in the bright Arizona sun, carrying their precious commodity to the fields. Sweet potatoes and cabbage fields line the two-lane road, now busy with local traffic and 4-way stops at the intersections with gated communities. It is easy to see how visitors from away can come to love the dry, sunny days and the clear and vast night skies, and feel called to stay. This creates dynamics and tension as huge population centers burst beyond their seams in the desert where water is in short supply.
Part of our time here we experienced a very rare two days of hard rains. In a place like the desert, these rains create a stunning level of response from the earth. The ribs of the saguaro and the barrel cactus actually puff up as they drink up and store the moisture. The desert floor bursts into life with lush, green grasses. The lupine and Arizona poppies explode out of the ground. It was a riot of color.
We spent our seven days here in White Tank doing food preparation, hiking the desert trails, doing laundry, getting the truck serviced (it is 60,000 miles, folks!), running errands, catching up with old friends in town, taking a day-trip down to Arizona City to visit another very dear friend, and planning the next leg of our trip.
With the unimaginable destruction caused by the rains in California, Highway 1 has been crippled with a series of landslides and bridge washouts. The campground we were staying at in Big Sur (Kirk Creek) is closed and we’ve had to re-route ourselves. My greatest personal concern is for our friends, the monks, at New Camaldoli Hermitage. The Highway 1 collapse has left them stranded on the side of their mountain. One of the elderly monks had to be airlifted out last week with a medical emergency. Helicopter drops are bringing in food and fuel. Their story was recently featured on CNN and you can read it by going to the New Camaldoli Hermitage site and follow the link. I could not get a link to CNN to work from here.
The monks main source of revenue comes from their ministry of welcoming guests to their retreat house. It is now closed, creating a financial crisis unequalled in their 59-year history. They are attempting to raise essential funds and along with your prayers, any donations will be welcome. A gofundme.com campaign has been set up, making it easy to help and to stay up to date on the latest posts from Prior Cyprian Consiglio.
We are heading into California stopping first at Joshua Tree National Park, then Death Valley National Park, before celebrating reunions with friends in Fresno, Windsor, Chico, Davis, Palo Alto and Los Angeles. Come on along!
After a total of three weeks in Arizona, Peter and Liz have packed up T2 and left Phoenix in the rear-view mirror as they head for the Pacific Ocean on their pilgrimage to here.