We have avoided the Phoenix metro area during our travels, by design. Though I am sure that all large cities (well, maybe not El Paso, TX) have areas of interest and beauty, it takes too long to ferret them out if you are a short term visitor – so the stress of navigating urban freeways has little payoff.
Several of our friends (whose advice we trust) have raved about the regional parks in the Phoenix area, though – Cave Creek, McDowell Mountain, and especially Usery Mountain Regional Park (click here to read our review). Though Phoenix was a bit out of our way (we are heading to Bisbee, AZ for Christmas), the stars aligned for a short visit: a few days to spare, warm weather, highly recommended camping, and friends in the area.
Yesterday was travel day, and we set out in good spirits, rolling along I-10 with sunny skies and calm winds. We anticipated about 150 miles, the last 50 or so in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area, which we had to traverse from the west side to the east.
Maybe 100 miles into the drive, orange warning flags and signs began to appear alongside the road: “Accident Ahead”. Orange cones and flags narrowed the road to one lane… and then we were detoured off of the freeway onto a road running south. Following the truck traffic, we turned back to the east, ending up in a long, slow line of trucks and cars, inching along for 3.6 miles (that’s the GPS talking, again), sometimes stopped, sometimes slowly moving.
We listened to the CB radio long enough to learn that a double-trailer semi had overturned, was spread over both eastbound lanes, and might pose a hazmat problem. It was so cool to have the GPS on, showing us where we were and the route back to the freeway, with the exact distance left to travel and our current rate of speed – anywhere from 0 to 11 mph. :)
With that little detour, our stats suffered: 166.6 miles took 3:39 hours at an average speed of 45.5 mph (max speed 64.7). Still, we had arrived at Usery Mountain Park and picked a spot by 2:30 (pre-rush hour traffic), ready to relax and shake off the Phoenix freeway-induced stress.
We LOVE our site – big, level, with lots of space and privacy. We picked a site facing east, to catch that welcome morning sun in the big front windshield, so we have sunshine on the “patio” side all day. Sitting in bed at night, looking out the opposite window, we can see the lights of the city in the distance. Birds chirp in all directions, all day long.
The park is huge, and they didn’t skimp on space for the campground – all the sites are roomy and amazingly well maintained. When any site is vacated, the hosts show up in their little cart with buckets and rakes – by the time they leave, the raked gravel campsite is almost Zen-like in its perfection.
The park gets high marks. Whether visiting here is worth the aggravation of proximity to densely populated Phoenix? I’m reserving judgment on that for now.