Friday, February 28, 2014

Boat Tour of Lake Pleasant

Lake Pleasant

As part of the Volunteer Appreciation activities this week, our Park Supervisor arranged for a boat tour of the lake for the Lake Pleasant and Cave Creek volunteers.

Everyone got lifejackets and we headed down to the shoreline below the picnic area,     Meeting the boat









where we waited for the boats to pick us up.

Everybody's ready for the boat tour

Uh, oh . . . how are we all going to fit on this boat??!!

Is that our boat??!!

OK, that’s not our boat . . . the county has two maintenance boats that we were taking out.  They weren’t the prettiest, but they floated, and held lots of people! 

   Our floating chariot










We loaded up the boats, and made our way towards the dam at the south end of the lake.

New Waddell Dam

The New Waddell Dam, which forms Lake Pleasant, is part of the Central Arizona Project, which diverts water from the Colorado River into central Arizona, via a series of aqueducts.  The lake provides a storage reservoir for this major water supply, and the level of the lake is raised and lowered via these two pumping stations.

Water pumping stations











The park’s Visitor Center sits high on a hill overlooking the dam and the campground.

Visitor Center

Roadrunner Campground










The hill is also the location of a cell tower that provides our excellent Verizon service in the park.  We continued past the dam, and got a good look at the Marina and RV Park on the east side of the lake.

Marina & RV Park

There are lots of huge houseboats in this marina!

As we continued along the eastern shoreline, we could see the undeveloped north end of the lake in the distance,

Looking north

as well as the campground to the west.

Looking back at the campground










This popular area for water recreation has a feature that I’ve never seen before . . . a floating restroom on the lake!

Floating Restroom

See, I wasn't kidding!


Nobody got off the boat to verify the function, but David assured us that it was a fully functioning restroom.  It’s definitely more convenient than having to go all the way back to the Marina, that’s for sure!







The northeast shoreline is part of a conservation area, and there is no access to the water.  There is, however, occasionally evidence of trespassers . . . like this makeshift shelter on the shoreline.

Looks like somebody is building a shelter out there

Also to the northeast are the Bradshaw Mountains and the Agua Fria River, which is a secondary source of water to the lake.

Near the Agua Fria

We drove past the Agua Fria inlet to the lake, but couldn’t go into the river because it’s closed in the winter for bald eagle nesting.  We didn’t see any eagles that morning, but David did tell us about a hiking trail along the Agua Fria where we might be able to see them.  We’ll have to go check that out soon – maybe after this weekend’s rain moves through.

Boat # 2


The other boat pulled up alongside us then, and we discussed whether we should continue around the north end of the lake or head back.  Everybody voted to continue the tour!


It was a beautiful morning, and now that we were facing into the sun, it was comfortably warm.  Tom was certainly enjoying himself!

Tom & Leece enjoying the boat tour

This area of the lake is more rugged, and sheltered by the mountains, and it was noticeably calmer. 

Rugged shoreline

The fishermen really seemed to like this area.

Fishermen like the quiet end of the lake 

There’s even another floating restroom for their convenience!

Another Floating Restroom











We drove around several small islands in the lake . . . Balanced Rock Island,     Balanced Rock Island










and Blue Heron Island.

Blue Heron Island

Blue Heron Nest


We didn’t see any blue herons on the island, but we did see lots of nests.  When we arrived back at the boat launch, we finally saw a blue heron.



Great Blue Heron












As we arrived back on the west side of the lake, we started to see more evidence of development, including several RVs parked along the shoreline, and the Scorpion Bay Marina.

Scorpion Bay Marina

The Operations Center for the park is located on a high bluff overlooking the lake.  The entire Parks & Recreation Department for Maricopa County is n the process of moving their offices from downtown Phoenix to this building.  I think it would be a great place to work . . . if you have to work!

Operations Center - the new home of the Parks Dept.

We ended our tour at the ten lane boat ramp, which was just a short walk back along the trail to the picnic area.

Ten Lane Boat Ramp

There were just a few people at the boat ramp on Wednesday morning – nothing like the crowds we get on the weekends! 

It was a beautiful day to be out on the water though, and all of the volunteers really enjoyed the boat tour. 

Beautiful day for boating

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Payson, AZ and Tonto National Bridge

Payson, AZ

Saturday was going to be a good day for a drive, and the cooler temperatures at higher elevation were calling to us.  We were on the road by 10am, headed through Scottsdale toward the Four Peaks .

Four Peaks

We picked up Highway 87 to take us into the mountains.

Highway 87 to Payson

It was a beautiful day, traffic was light, and the scenery was amazing.











After a quick stop at Subway in Payson, we continued north out of town,


until we reached Tonto Natural Bridge State Park.

Natural Bridge

From the Arizona State Park website:

Tucked away in a tiny valley surrounded by a forest of pine trees, Tonto Natural Bridge State Park has been in the making for thousands of years. It is believed to be the largest natural travertine bridge in the world. The bridge stands 183 feet high over a 400-foot long tunnel that measures 150 feet at its widest point.


There are several viewpoints where the bridge can be seen from the parking lot level, and a few trails that take hikers down under the bridge and along Pine Creek.

We stopped at the viewpoints first,


Natural Bridge from the viewpoint

and checked out the various trails.  The Gowan Trail was described as steep and rough, but it didn’t look too bad from above, and it led right down to the creek that ran under the bridge.  We decided to give it a shot.


We got a couple bottles of water from the car, and started down the trail.

On the way to Natural Bridge

It was a narrow trail, with quite a few switchbacks and steps on the way down, but overall not too bad.

On the Gowan Trail



We reached the bottom, and walked out to the observation platform in front of the bridge.

Approaching the bridge




There was water running down from the top of the bridge, and the rocks where the water was falling were covered with moss and grass.

Water falling from above

Moss & grass growing on the rocks










The boys climbed out on the rocks under the bridge to check out the view from underneath.

Nick & Bryce going under the bridge

Under the bridge











Our plan was to go back up the Gowan Trail the way we had come down, but talking to the volunteer on the observation deck, we found out that it was possible to go through the bridge, across some wet boulders, and pick up the Pine Creek Trail on the other side.  Nicolas was up for it, and convinced Bryce to go with him . . . but Tom and I decided not to risk climbing over the slippery rocks.

While they headed out over the rocks, Tom and I made our way back up to the top, crossed over the top of the bridge,

Crossing the top of the bridge



and made our way down the other side on the Anna Mae Trail.  I think Tom and I got the tougher end of the deal!

Nicolas was there to meet us at the bottom,


as we made our way back down to Pine Creek and viewed the natural bridge from the other side.

Natural Bridge from the other side


We thought the “trail” along the creek was going to be an easy hike until we got to the other end and had to climb back up . . . . but the climb ended up being the easy part!!

It turned out that we had to climb over boulders, cross over the creek several times, and make our way across loose rocks.

It was tricky in places, but with Nicolas as my guide,


even I managed to make it without falling or breaking an ankle!

Making our way through the rocks












We stayed on the trail by following the arrows . . . some more helpful than others . . . and Bryce, as usual, was full of encouragement!








Finally, we emerged from the boulders and made our way up an actual trail to the parking lot.

We made it!


Yeah, we made it! 

Then we read the sign . . . “Access to the natural bridge is by jumping boulder to boulder.”

OK, well we made it, anyway!







Having thoroughly exhausted the trails . . . and ourselves . . . it was time to continue our drive.  We left the state park and continued north and west toward Camp Verde.


As we drove through the little town of Pine, we couldn’t resist a stop at the Honey Stand,












where we picked up a couple pints of honey – desert clover and pecan.




We arrived in Camp Verde a little early for 5:30 mass, so we stopped in the business district to see what was there.  The only shop open was the Cowboy Corner, but it was pretty fun.  Lots of cool, old stuff in there.







They were getting ready to close, or else we would have spent some more time looking around.  Instead, we walked around outside, and then made our way to church.





By the time we got out of mass, we were all starving.  We didn’t see anywhere in Camp Verde to eat, so we continued south on 17 until we reached Black Canyon City.  We stopped at the first place we saw, Chileen’s on 17, where the food was actually really good.

On the way out of town, we saw the Rock Springs Café,

Rock Springs Cafe

and just had to pick up a pie to take home for dessert!  It was a really full day when we finally got back home at 8:30pm . . . Casey was wondering where we had been all day!!  Good thing we didn’t have anything on the agenda for Sunday – we needed a day to rest!!