Tucson, the Catalina SP Edition

site 15- B Loop

Catalina State Park is a popular park located in the Tucson suburb of Oro Valley. The park is surrounded by development but you wouldn’t know it from inside the park.

We enjoy the park’s many hiking and biking trails. It’s a theme that connects all the locations we gravitate towards.

Another plus for the park is its proximity to the Pima County Bike Loop. The “Loop” consists of 131 miles of paved trail that circles the city. From the entrance of the park you have easy access to the Oro Valley Feeder to the loop. Walkers, bikers, skaters are all welcome.

One of the pleasures of travel is getting to meet people. During our stay at Catalina SP we met two couples who are full time RVers. It’s always fun to hangout and talk with fellow travelers. We spent a morning biking a section of the loop referred to as the “art loop” which featured a number of art installations.

Pat, Mary Ann, Joe, Susanne, Paul
The Batty Bicyclist installation

The park hosts a lot of visitors and the trails can get busy. We’ve visited a number of times and have found some trails that are underutilized. One we often return to is The Montrose Pools Trail.

The pools had a bit of water in them

Oracle State Park is about thirty minutes north of Catalina. It is a 4,000 acre wildlife refuge with 15 miles of hiking trails. The park is at a higher elevation than Catalina SP with a beautiful oak woodland chaparral and weathered granite boulders.

The park’s campsites have been full during our entire stay. In fact, we had to book two different sites for our two week stay.

Site 16- B Loop

The Romero Ruins Trail is a short popular hike. A few years ago we discovered that if you follow an unmarked trail off the Ruins trail it takes you near the base of the Pusch Ridge in the Catalina Mountains.

The trail passes through an area stricken by fire

Saguaro National Park consists of two districts on opposite sides of Tucson, west and east. We’ve visited Saguaro West but hadn’t checked out Saguaro East-Rincon Mountain District. The park offers hiking and biking trails as well as an eight mile scenic drive through the saguaro forest.

Drivers share the scenic loop with bicyclists

Hiking in the desert in the heat of the day can be brutal and takes some planning, but on Sunday we woke up to an overcast day. We wanted to hike the Sutherland Trail to Cargodera Canyon and took the opportunity given us by lower temperatures and cloudy skies.

Sunsets in the desert are the best and we’ve seen our share of them since we landed in Arizona. We couldn’t pick just one !

Verde Valley Visit/ week two

An aerial view of the Tincan and the neighborhood

Our last week at Dead Horse Ranch State Park was a full one. We connected we some friends who live in the village of Oak Creek and are building a new house in Jerome. Andy and Lori invited us to watch the sun set from Yavapai Point before dinner. With cocktails in hand we made our way to our view point.

That’s Lori leading the way
Courthouse Rock and Bell Rock

Tuzigoot National Monument is visible from many of the hiking /biking trails in Dead Horse Ranch State Park. It is the remnant of a Sinagua village built between AD. 1000 and 1400. What you see now is a reconstruction of the walls using the original stones.

The Pueblo sits atop a long ridge 120 feet above the Verde Valley.

Tuzigoot had 87 ground-floor rooms

After visiting the Pueblo we walked along the Verde River.

As mentioned before, getting out for a hike in the Sedona area can be problematic if you don’t get a very early start. Even then you won’t be hiking alone. One of the hikes we enjoy is a little used trail out of the Village of Oak Creek, the Transept Trail. It’s a seven mile out and back ramble through Red Rock Country.

Where’s Pat?

The trail ends at the Hiline Trail and offers some great views of Cathedral Rock.

We did not encounter any other hikers until we had almost completed our hike. This does not happen too often when hiking in Sedona.

One of two FP7 locomotives used by the Verde Canyon Railroad

While relaxing in camp we remarked to our neighbors how we liked their teardrop camper. A teardrop was our introduction to RVing. During that conversation they told us about a sightseeing train ride they had taken out of Clarkdale. We investigated further and decided to give it a go.

Our car
We had access to an open car during the ride

The train travels along the Verde River and passes Sycamore Canyon. We had wanted to hike the canyon but the trail was closed due to fire and mudslides. The train allowed us to see a bit of the canyon.

The train travels over a trestle and through a tunnel with wonderful views of the landscape.

After traveling through this iconic landscape Pat was feeling that southwest vibe

We first visited the historic mining town of Jerome in 1979. Back then Jerome was called a ghost town with lots of abandoned and falling down buildings. What a difference a few decades make. Jerome is now a thriving tourist destination with bars, restaurants, galleries and artist studios.

A view of the Verde Valley from uptown Jerome
Embracing the past to build a future

It isn’t always go, go, go. We do enjoy hanging out in the park and exploring the miles of hiking and mountain biking trails.

A last visit to Sedona red rock country as the sun sets on our Verde Valley visit.

Verde Valley Visit / week one

We’ve been in this part of Arizona a few times but this is the first time we’ve stayed at Dead Horse Ranch Sate Park.

Site 57, our home for the next two weeks

The park is situated between the Verde River and the Coconino National Forest. There are miles of hiking and mountain biking trails to be explored.

In the 1940’s a family from Minnesota came to the area to purchase a ranch. At one ranch they discovered a dead horse in the road. When it came time to pick a property the family chose the one with the dead horse. They bought the ranch and named it Dead Horse Ranch. Arizona State Parks acquired the property in 1973 with the condition that the state retain the name “Dead Horse Ranch “.

The Middle Lagoon near the Verde River
The Pueblo ruins at Tuzigoot as seen from the Tavasci March Trail

Dead Horse Ranch’s location makes it a perfect spot for exploring this part of Arizona. To the north is the spectacular “red rock country” of Sedona and Oak Creek. To the west are the historical mining towns of Clarkdale and Jerome. The village of Cottonwood lies just outside the park’s boundaries. In other words, lots to explore.

The town of Jerome as seen from the park

The mountain biking trails in this part of Arizona can be very challenging. We look for trails that are not overly technical and the Tavasci Marsh Trail fit the bill.

Enjoying the Marsh

Montezuma Castle National Monument is a short drive from the park. The 20 room dwelling was built between AD. 1100 and 1300 in a cliff recess 100 feet above the valley floor.

The people who built this structure were farmers we now call Sinagua~ancient relatives of the Hopi. They inhabited the area in the 1300s and grew corn, squash, beans and cotton. The darker brown Masonary in this photo was reconstructed in recent years but the lighter yellow masonry is original dating back 700 years.

The trail to Woods Canyon

Driving toward Sedona takes you into red rock country. We first visited this area in the late 1970’s. We came through on our first trip to the Grand Canyon. Over the years the number of visitors has exploded. If you want to hike the more popular trails you have to get moving early or you won’t find a place to park. We now search out the less traveled trails and avoid the crowds.

As dry as it is you can still see flowers

Staying put for two weeks allows you to relax and enjoy what is close at hand.

Our backyard
The small hill behind our trailer is an easy walk for sunrise or sunset viewing.

Stuck Here In Limbo

After pulling the plug on our trip we needed to decide what to do next. Should we head back to Buffalo or postpone our return till the worst of the virus outbreak has moved on. the Tincan is a self contained living space which allows for easy self isolation. We decided to stay on the road for a bit longer and asses our options.

We moved up the Mississippi River to Lake Chicot State Park in Arkansas.

Site 19

We booked two nights at this popular fishing lake. The Tincan sat up on a bluff overlooking the largest oxbow lake in America and the largest natural lake in Arkansas.

Other than fishing and boating there wasn’t a lot to do. The hiking and biking trails were muddy from recent flooding.

After two days we decided to move north and west to Tupelo, Mississippi. We were able secure 18 days of camping with a full hookup at Tombigbee State Park.

Site 6

Just sitting around camp is getting old. We shouldn’t complain with beautiful weather and the ability to stretch our legs hiking or biking in a beautiful woods in spring.

Did we mention that it’s springtime in Mississippi.

May Apple
Christmas Berries

As beautiful as the woods in the area are will still wanted to venture into town to see if this one attraction could be safely visited.

The King’s childhood home

While Tombigbee State Park has been a safe (full hookup) place to land, it has limited cell service and as of today is technically closing down. With conditions on the ground changing so quickly we have decided to pull up stakes and head back home. Since the blog documents our travels which have stopped, this will be the last post for this trip. Rest assured that once we hit the road again the blog will reappear. Thanks for following along and we’ll see you on the other side.

Sunset on Lake Chicot, Arkansas

The Best Laid Plans

The plan was to head to Louisiana after our stay on the panhandle of Florida for a two week stay in Bayou Segnette State Park. The park is located just south of New Orleans and is an excellent base for exploring the wonders of the city.

Site C 1099

We met up with our friend Kim, a fellow traveler who we met in Texas four years ago.

We had planned to attend a number of events- the St. Patrick’s Day parades, Mardi Gras Indian Super Sunday Parades and Second Line Parade as well as the Wednesday in the Square concerts. All of these events were canceled due to the Covid19 outbreak. On top of this we had to vacate the park after one night. The State authorities took over the park for a staging area for first responders who will have to deal with the coming pandemic. Fortunately, we secured a spot northwest of NOLA along the Mississippi River in Vidalia, LA across the River from Natchez, MS.

Site 24 at Riverside RV Park
The View

The park offers a paved walking/bike path along the River and is a great place to watch the barge traffic.

The bridge to Nachez
Social distancing along the Mississippi River

We booked ten days at this park while we tried to figure out what to do, continue on or return back to Buffalo. After going back and forth and agonizing over our decision we decided to pull the plug on the rest of the trip and slowly work our way north.

The weather was accommodating which allowed us to take in some sights while keeping our distance from potential infection. 

We took a drive on a short section of the Natchez Trace.

The southern terminus of the Trace

One stop on the Trace is the second largest Mississippian mound north of Mexico. Construction of the mound began in 1350 AD. It covers about 8 acres.

The Emerald Mound

We also took to the woods to explore the St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge. We saw no one.

It’s spring in Mississippi

On the way back to camp we passed Mammy’s Cupboard. Not really sure what to say about this.

In antebellum Mississippi, Natchez was home to one of the largest slave markets in the United States. The spot is marked by a slab of concrete with slave shackles embedded.

The Tincan doing some social distancing

Other than these short forays away from camp, we spent most of the week like everyone else: reading, binge watching streaming services and walking or biking the River pathway.

Gulf Coast…Goodbye Florida

We left the Atlantic Coast and drove to the Florida Panhandle. As we headed west the temperature dropped and the clouds moved in with intermittent rain. Our destination was Henderson Beach State Park . The park has a smallish campground and on previous attempts we failed to secure a site. The park is situated along the “Emerald Coast “ of the Gulf of Mexico in the town of Destin. We were happy to finally have the opportunity to check it out.

Site 41

The draw here is about 2 miles of unspoiled white sand beaches. The weather was iffy but we were ready to check out those crystal sands.

A boardwalk leads you over the sand dunes to the water.

Windy and cloudy skies made for some dramatic gulf views.


Fortunately the weather broke and the sun returned.

This is not a remote beach. On either side of the State beach are high rise resorts.

However, this didn’t prevent us from enjoying the beach and having some quiet moments.

This beach has very few shells but the rough seas did serve up some interesting sea life.

Sea Cucumbers
Damaged Starfish
And clear emerald water
The dune boardwalk as sunset approaches

All too soon we were packing up and getting ready to move to Biloxi for a quick visit with our Mississippi relatives. (Sorry -we had so much fun we forgot to take pictures.)

North by Northeast

We left the Gulf Coast of Florida and headed diagonally north and east across the peninsula. Anastasia State Park is one of our favorites. The camp sites have good separation and easy access to 5 miles of undeveloped ocean beach.

Pat biking the campground road
Angel Wing Loop site 102

The beach at Anastasia State Park is a beautiful section of Atlanta coastline, no high rises or other commercial development to spoil the view.

Our stop allowed us to visit with more family members. We hung out with Jeff and Mary who were on their way to the Keys.

Pat’s sister Mary and her husband Jeff
Our nieces Amy, Nancy Beth and Kerry after eating lunch at the Floridian in St. Augustine.

Shelly’s sister Andrea and her husband Jeff recently purchased a house about a 1/2 hour from the State Park.

It’s a short walk from the house to the ocean.

The weather during our stay was not always warm and sunny. We experienced some windy and wild ocean conditions. When you have a lot of wave action you get a lot of sea foam which blows up on the beaches. This is not caused by pollutants but is actually dissolved phytoplankton ~ organic material that has been agitated by wave action creating the foam. The “scientific” name for this foam is splume (an apt description in our option)

We took a break from our Florida wanderings to visit our son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren.

Spending time with these little buggers was worth the shock of colder temperatures.

We also hooked up with our friends Al and Anne who were spending a few weeks in St. Augustine. It’s always nice to find ourselves among old friends when traveling.

We’ve enjoyed our stay in St. Augustine but it’s time to start heading West.

Hot, Hot, Hot

We moved south along the Gulf Coast to Marcos Island. This part of our trip was a late add on. As a result we were closed out of the State Parks. The Marcos Island/Naples KOA had one spot left. We booked it.

Site L24

The empty sites filled up by the end of the day. As you can see the sites are small and close together. Certainly not the most scenic campground you’ll ever see. What it lacks in beauty and solitude it makes up for in its proximity to a number of Gulf beaches and to the Everglades.

Barefoot Beach
A group of Royal Terns on Barefoot Beach
Barefoot Beach
Marco Island South Beach

We arrived at Marco Island during a record setting heatwave. With temperatures in the high 80’s and low 90’s, the beach or poolside at the KOA was the place to be.

When in this part of Florida we enjoy visiting the Corkscrew Swamp Preserve. The 2 mile boardwalk provides an intimate walk through this cypress swamp without getting your feet wet!

A boardwalk view

The Bald Cypress found in this swamp are some of the largest trees found east of the Mississippi River. In spite of the hurricane that came through in 2017 which downed several of the large trees, it’s still an impressive stand.

This is the Muir Cypress and is 15 feet around

The large branches of these trees host a variety of other plants; resurrection ferns and epiphytes among them.

Many bromeliads (air plants) are found along the boardwalk.

The swamp is also home to a wide variety of bird life.

Great White Egret

We saw Ergrets, Herons, Black and White warblers, Palm Warblers, a Red Shoulder Hawk and a Pileated Woodpecker. The Audubon volunteers were most helpful in helping us identify the warblers.

The Everglades NP spans 1.5 million acres making it the third largest National Park. We entered the park by way of the Tamiami Trail (Rt. 41) and drove along the 24 mile Loop Rd Scenic Drive. The road takes you into the Big Cypress National Preserve for some excellent wildlife viewing.

These Bald Cypress were loaded with Bromeliads

In addition to the numerous alligators, we saw lots of birds.

Black Vulture
Great White Egret

At the western side of the Everglades you access the Ten Thousand Islands section of the park. The Gulf Coast Visitor Center is a jumping off place for canoeists, kayakers and sport fisher people. You can also get a ticket for a one hour tour of the area on a catamaran.

The only requirement for island status is enough ground (usually some limestone rocks) for one tree to grow (usually Red Mangrove).

The highlight of the boat tour was our encounter with a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins.

Naples is a very busy area with lots of traffic without many opportunities for biking. We biked along the Gordon River Greenway which meanders through a suburban neighborhood. The draw for us was the 3 mile trail through a mangrove swamp~ out and back made an easy six mile ride.

We also managed to find a local brewery that was producing some fine beer.

Naples has a large city beach that is popular with visitors and locals. It’s the place to be at sunset.

Sand drawings
Shelly on Naples City Beach
Naples City Beach sunset, a fine end to our week in Southwest Florida.

Forts, Family and Feathered Friends

We left our inland camp and set up shop near the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay. Fort Desoto County Park is a favorite of ours. It offers miles of biking trails as well as Bayside and Gulf beaches.

Site 165

We’ve stayed in this park before but this site is the best we’ve had here. It is reasonably secluded with a water view. The park is very popular so we feel quite lucky to have nabbed this spot for two weeks.

This Great Egret visited most mornings
Another visitor-a Little Blue Heron

Speaking of visitors, Pat’s brother Mike and his wife Donna camped at a site near us and Shelly’s sister Ellen and her husband Rory booked a condo on St. Pete’s Beach for a sibling meet up.

The Tampa-Saint Pete area has a plethora of small breweries. Of course we needed to check a few of them out.

Part of the fun of camping at Fort Desoto is the bird watching. Most of the birds are common to Florida but are uncommon to northerners. We did get to see a bird uncommon to the area, a Reddish Egret. It’s the first time we’ve seen one. We didn’t get a good picture but enjoyed watching it foraging in the shallows.

Osprey reside throughout the park.

While out viewing some Osprey nests we ran into some other bird nerds who told us about an upcoming birding event, Raptor Fest. The event took place at a bird rescue facility with lots of birds on view.

Barn Owl
A pair of rescued Screech Owls

Most of our time was spent biking and walking on the beaches.

Our family visits overlapped which made for a fun family stroll along the water on a windy and overcast day.

Mike and Donna
Rory, Shelly and Ellen

After Mike and Donna returned home the rest of us ventured over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge to Sarasota for a matinee performance of Circus Sarasota.

This is a one ring circus that takes place under the “Big Top”. The performances include many outstanding international acts. Circus Sarasota comes highly recommended.

Some of the monkeys at the circus

We spent a couple of afternoons wandering around Saint Petersburg.

Florida humor?

We love being able to see all the flowers and greenery during the winter months.

We always enjoy meeting new people when we travel.

Saint Petersburg is home to the Dali Museum. An interesting building housing interesting art.

It’s always fun to meet family on the road and it sure makes time fly by. Our two weeks went by in an instant. Time to move on.

State Forest or State Park ?

Finding a place to camp in Florida is an exercise in planning and persistence. Myakka River State Park near Sarasota is one of our favorites. When booking spots for our current road trip we thought we snagged a spot at this popular state park. Turned out we booked a spot at Myakka River Forest Preserve. The Forest Preserve provides beautiful secluded spots with no power or water while the State Park has electric and water. Whoops.

Our confusion gave us an opportunity to put our new solar panel into service. It worked great. The campground only has 10 camp spots and is very quiet. Our location gave us access to many miles of hiking and biking trails.

Our stay offered lots of opportunities to observe the wildlife. We saw baby feral pigs, Sandhill Cranes and a Bobcat.

In addition to wildlife and birding opportunities we got a chance to checkout the surrounding towns of Englewood and Punta Gorda.

Englewood Beach
On the Espalade in Punta Gorda

As nice as the State Forest turned out to be we really wanted to spend some time at the State Park. This is where persistence pays off. After checking back with the park a spot turned up as a result of a cancellation. We were able to get a spot for two days.

Site 1 in the Big Flats Loop

The reason to be here is the easy acces to birding and biking.

Little Blue Heron
Roseate Spoonbills, Limpkins, Black Vultures and Cormorants
White Ibis feeding at sunset

We also saw a large group of white pelicans (rare to us) , raccoons, red shouldered hawks, wild turkeys, more wild hogs and of course, lots of alligators. With all that wildlife viewing our two day stay just flew by.