Holidays at the mountains – McDowell Mountains Regional Park

As 2015 came to an end we headed toward the mountains to celebrate the holidays closer to nature.  It was another short hop between regional parks from Lake Pleasant to McDowell Mountains, where we transitioned from water to mountain views.  McDowell Mountains Regional Park is nestled in the lower Verde River and sits along the base of the McDowell Mountains.  We were excited to come here, as we’d heard many great reviews about it from other folks.  Sure enough, the moment we approached the park we were impressed by its beauty.

This short move put the car in front of Betsy for a change!

The Park, the Hiking – and the Birds!

Numerous mountain ranges and iconic peaks surround this campground, offering wide open spaces and a great backdrop for sunrises and sunsets.  We could see Four Peaks, Weavers Needle, Red Rock (officially Mount McDowell) and the McDowell Mountain range from our site.  We noted that most of the hiking trails, though not totally flat, had only slight elevation gains as they traversed the many desert washes.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park
The circle highlights the sprawling campground as seen from Scenic Trail
McDowell Mountain Regional Park
Four Peaks Mountain – our front-seat view for two weeks

The open space, mountain views, hiking trails and our ultra-spacious site made the 2-week stay here memorable.  We now know why this park gets high marks from all RV’rs who camp here, and why many of them return repeatedly.  The only downside for us was that there’s no laundromat in Fountain Hills and the nearest one was many miles away.  It was also unseasonably cold during our stay, but hey, other parts of the nation had it a lot worse than we did.


McDowell Mountain Regional Park
Steve does his “happy dance” on the one day we had a campfire

There are 27 trails of varying lengths to choose from here, and many of  the trailheads can be picked up from the campground.  Most hiking is around and through desert washes with little elevation gain.  We noticed the Saguaros are less prominent, but the Palo Verdes, Jojoba, Bursages and Velvet Mesquite are well developed and abundant.

Of the trails we followed, we enjoyed the Scenic Trail the most.  It’s short at 3.5 miles, but we extended our hike to 8 miles by starting from our campsite and adding on another trail. As it’s name implies, following this trail provides scenic views while walking along the ridge of Lousily Hills.

Sunset Trail
It’s a cold morning indeed when Steve wears gloves!
Weavers Needle
In the distance is Weavers Needle, seen from Scenic Trail

When we followed the Stoneman Wash Trail I saw a giant old Saguaro with many arms (I counted 21), the biggest I’ve seen so far.  I instantly thought of Sherry, my friend at In the directions of our Dreams, who hugs trees on her hikes.  So I stopped and hugged this one for you Sherry, and don’t worry – there were no spines at the bottom of this old cactus.

Happy New Year, Sherry
The biggest Saguaro I’ve seen, the picture doesn’t do it justice.
Granite Trail
Lean on me and I’ll scratch you, opined the barrel cactus along Granite Trail
Barrel Cactus
This little cactus along Pemberton Trail looks like a fire hydrant
An Ocotillo along Wagner Trail
Dead Saguaro
Who do you think you are? asks the dead skeletal Saguaro

This stop provided many birds to perch on top of nearby Saguaros and Ocotillos, and to raid our feeders every day:


On one evening we drove into Phoenix to enjoy “Las Noches de las Luminarias“, a month-long holiday event at the Sonoran Desert Botanical Garden.  The trails were illuminated by small luminaria paper lanterns, each one stabilized with sand and containing a hand-lit candle.  They provided a soft glow along both sides of the paths throughout the gardens.  It must have taken a lot of volunteers to light those 8,000 luminaries every night!

Las Noches de Luminarias
Luminarias along the path

A British artist named Bruce Munro showcased the gardens with eight large-scale lighting installations based on his interpretation of the Sonoran Desert.  The entire hillside of the Garden Butte was lighted with individual spheres of gently blooming lights that slowly changed color, creating a shimmering field of light.  It was really a mesmerizing display!

Field of Light - Bruce Munro
Field of Light
Field of Light Bruce Munro
At closer look these frosted glass spheres connected by miles of illuminated fiber optic
Water Towers Bruce Munro
Glowing water tower structures built out of one-liter recyclable plastic bottles filled with water, supported by wood layers, and lit with fiber optics
Water Towers
Closer view of the plastic bottles filled with water
Saguaro light
The Saguaro is represented in geometric forms consisting of steel and acrylic

Holiday Gatherings

Since we were here at the most wonderful time of the year, we were very happy to enjoy several holiday gatherings.  Joseph and Randy, whom we first met at Cave Creek, pleasantly surprised us by arriving at the site right next to ours.  We enjoyed a wonderful candle-lit dinner in their beautiful coach.

Randy and Josep

After Christmas we met Jim and Gayle of Life’s little Adventure, who have returned to camp here for several years, as they love this park – who wouldn’t?  Our happy hour turned into several hours sharing stories about life on the road and the many adventures we’ve all enjoyed.  They too love to hike, and we have a date to tackle Tom’s Thumb Trail as soon as I recover from a dental procedure I had to take care of.

Life's Little Adventure
Cheers to new friends, Jim and Gayle

Finally, Dave and Faye drove all the way out from Cave Creek to meet us for dinner.  Steve had a hankering for a Honey Baked ham (or maybe he wanted a night off from cooking?), and Dave and Faye brought a side dish of scalloped potatoes that complemented it perfectly.  As always, we had a great evening laughing and partying with these fun folks.

Wandering Camels
Negotiations for leftovers are underway here
New Years Eve
Here’s a gathering we were invited to on New Year’s Eve at site #75 to meet some new folks.  Yeah, it was chilly out!

Fountain Hills

From the campground we could see the centerpiece of the upscale town of Fountain Hills, a bedroom community of 30,000.  Of course, it’s all about the fountain!

Fountain Hills Arizona
Mount McDowell (commonly called Red Rock) is the backdrop for the fountain, as seen from Granite Trail near our campground

One day we drove into Fountain Hills just to see the fountain up close.  It was installed in the 1970’s as a tourist attraction, and the town boasted it was the tallest in the world at the time.  It normally reaches 330 feet high with two pumps running, but on special occasions they turn on a third pump which sends the water to an impressive 560 feet!

Fountain Hills Park
A close-up of the fountain we were seeing from the campground

While in town I was honored to have a chat with Ronald Reagan!

Ronald Reagan

With the surrounding mountains as a backdrop, some of the sunrises and sunsets during our stay were spectacular:

Weavers Needle
Sunrise behind Weaver’s Needle
McDowell Mountain
It looked like the McDowell Mountains were a spouting volcano!

Wow, how time flew as another year went by!

Steve and I wish all of our friends, readers and followers a great new year ahead, continued good health and lots of happy adventures.  Cheers!




  1. We never did get a chance to see Robert & Joseph…between work and Dave throwing his back out we’ve not be walking the campground. Happy New Year!!!

  2. You are certainly having a wonderful time with your tour of all the parks north of Phoenix. Sounds like way too much party time…haha! What a great Christmas/new Years Eve!

    We are looking forward to seeing you this month!!!

  3. Happy New Year Steve and Mona Liza. You’ve whet our whistle, McDowell is on our schedule for February and we can’t wait. We hope our paths will cross this new year, I look forward to your next post on your 2016 travel plans.

  4. Sounds like a great time at McDowell Reg Park. Between needled friends, feathered friends, and two-legged friends you kept mighty busy. So my question is – when are you hiking to Weavers Needle? After 2 weeks of viewing it from a distance, you must be antsy to see it up close and personal.
    The whoopers and I send a trumpeting Happy New Year your way!

  5. Looks like you all had so much fun! I love the Ronald Reagan bench. What a great backdrop for the fountain, and the huge cacti in the foreground. Awesome photo, Mona Liza. 🙂

  6. Happy New Year, MonaLiza and Steve.
    What a great blog about hikes, birds, cacti and friends. We’ve seen McDowell Mountain park on the map, but have never made it there and we’re curious about it.

    Bob has an aunt and uncle that live in Carefree, Arizona. We’ve stayed at Lake Pleasant, but it was a long drive to Carefree. McDowell Mountain looks closer. Are the roads steep getting in and out of McDowell Mtn.? Which way do you enter the park in your RV from Phoenix?

    Thanks for all your great travel blogs.
    Susan & Bob

  7. You’ve certainly been having fun, chilly weather and all! I would love to see the gardens with the luminaries and the light display. So festive! You’re mighty brave to be hugging those cacti, my friend. 🙂 Hope all went well with your dental procedure and that you’re back out on the trails soon. Happy New Year, wishing you many more grand adventures in 2016!

  8. Love those pictures of you hugging that cactus and getting your back scratched. Thanks for the shout out. You’ve got me convinced that this is a place we must visit if we can ever get west of the Mississippi again. So nice to meet up with such great folks and have such a good time. Life is grand clearly! Carry on in the New Year. Hugs to you both!

  9. Yeah, those trails at McDowell are definitely on the easy scale…but that is great if you mountain bike them! Great shots! And it looks like you had some great meet ups. Can you believe we’ve met Jim and Gayle 3 times and NEVER yet hiked with them?!?!?!

    Happy New Year to you both!

  10. McDowell Mountains looks like a place I would like to see, especially the field of lights. But where are you — AZ, CA, NM? Finally at the end of the post, the picture of you with the statue of Ronald Reagan leads me to conclude that you are in CA. Thanks for the post, I enjoyed it.

  11. Loved this post Monaliza! As always, the photos were beautiful! Happy New Year! Carla

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