Return to the Sonoran Desert – AZ

Welcome back!

We always look forward to driving back into the Sonoran Desert for our winter stays.  We feel like this desert full of Saguaros is waiting just for us – are we becoming desert rats after all these years?  Whatever it is, being here makes us feel as if we’re in our “comfort zone”.  I’ve published over 30 posts during our past stays, click here to view all we’ve seen and done in this area.

So where exactly is the Sonoran Desert, you might ask?  Most of it’s actually in Mexico, with more than two-thirds in Baja California and the state of Sonora.  Here in the U.S. it covers the southwestern part of Arizona and small areas in southeastern California.

Credit: Western National Parks Assn.

The geography of the desert is interesting to note, as it’s located in two states – Arizona and California – and in two countries, Mexico and the U.S.  The metropolitan cities of Phoenix and Tucson are within the boundaries of the Sonoran Desert.

A glimpse of the Sonoran Desert

Following our recent stay in San Diego, we took a roundabout route to Tucson.  First we made a 3-day stop in Yuma and re-hiked the Telegraph Pass Trail, a 5.3-mile jaunt we first completed four years ago.  It’s the most strenuous hike Steve has done since completing his treatments, and a good place to gauge his progress.  He aced it!

Contemplating his attack on the mountain
Looking back to the starting point
Looking west toward densely-populated Yuma
Fields of vegetables east of Yuma
We saw a few Elephant trees – a rare species under protected status – along the trail
Common side-blotched lizard
Common Side-blotched Lizard

Next we headed northwest to camp at White Tank Mountain Regional Park, one of the few regional parks we’d not visited in the Phoenix area.  With our Verizon signal in the pits (one bar only), we had plenty of time to hike the many excellent trails in the warm and sunny Sonoran Desert weather.

The start of another day in the desert – let’s go hiking!

This park offers 30 miles of trails of varying difficulty.  We hiked them all, from the easiest (Waterfall Trail) to the toughest (Ford Canyon and Goat Camp Trail), racking up over 47 miles during our 2-week stay.

White Tank Mountain RP is a destination park for area hikers

It was our first time here, and we wondered about the history behind the name.  I imagined there must have been a huge white water container constructed somewhere in the mountains.  During some serious rock scrambling I learned that heavy rainfall rushing through the steep canyons scours out depressions, or “tanks” in the white granite waterways.

Ford Canyon Trail
A water tank created in white granite along the Ford Canyon Trail
The granite here has been weathered and bleached into smooth surfaces and shapes that hold water in some places

There was once a large natural water tank surrounded by white granite cliffs that spawned the name.  It collapsed long ago, and its exact location has been lost.  It was an important watering hole from 1863 to 1895, for it held water year-round.  What we saw during our hike were many smaller tanks and watering holes.  That explains why the name is singular White “Tank” instead of “Tanks”, despite the smaller features in the mountain.

When it rains this becomes a raging waterfall
Petroglyphs along Waterfall Trail
It’s a juggling act
Valley of the Sun and the Phoenix skyline as seen from Willow Canyon  Trail
Mule Deer Trail
A seemingly never-ending trail in the Sonoran Desert, seen from Mule Deer Trail
Crested Saguaro
One of Pam’s friends, the only crested Saguaro we saw (at the Goat Camp Trailhead)
Maricopa Trail
Up to the Goat Camp Trail

One day between our hiking activities, we drove about 40 miles east to check out the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in Phoenix, which our friends Tom and Allison suggested we must see.  I was initially hesitant since we had already been wowed at the National Music Museum (NMM) at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, South Dakota.  Click here to read about that hidden gem.

How a Fender electric guitar is assembled

Mechanical Music Gallery – instruments designed to play on their own

The Phoenix museum is massive (200,000 sq. ft. in two floors) and ultra-modern.  Even for folks who don’t play an instrument this place is worth a visit, as there are also dozens of displays with the actual instruments and clothes worn by famous musicians, past and present.  Instruments are organized by regions of the world, and the included audio headsets allowed us to hear the instruments being played as we read about their cultural context.  That alone made us appreciate seeing the instruments played in their original settings.

Listening to unusual musical instruments played where I was raised

This museum has the latest self-guided-tour technology we’ve seen.  The audio device was activated automatically as we approached each exhibit – no buttons to fumble with.  Watching and listening to instruments come to life was very entertaining.

Listening to music played on a replica of a twenty-four bell “bianzhong”

We enjoyed a special exhibition in partnership with the Henan Museum of China, which displayed collections from its Ancient Musical Treasures from Central China.  We were fascinated with the many Chinese collections of extremely rare instruments and works of art never before seen in the United States.

Bianzhong (meaning “ordered bells”) bell chime (approx. 2,500 years old) plays a flashy musical style, and is one of only 10 surviving sets in the world

The museum has something for everyone, including the more familiar and current displays at the Artist Gallery.  This area features instruments and concert footage of world-renowned musicians and music innovators.  If you go, be aware that the museum is a popular field trip destination for kids, but crowding isn’t much of an issue because of its size.  As with most activities, arriving early is key.

This Fou was played during the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing summer olympics

And of course we made social calls to our friends who were nearby!

The last time we saw Dave and Faye was at Banff National Park in 2016
With Don And Velma whom we met two years ago at Black Canyon Ranch RV Park

The weather was so pleasant, warm and sunny that we felt like we were in an endless summer!  And the sunsets!

Phoenix skyline at sunset
Warm days, cool nights and a campfire – it’s all good!








  1. Glad you two are back to normal. As usual, I love your pictures, especially the colorful veggie fields, the juggler and the golden glow of Phoenix. We see that from our favorite site at White Tank Park and it always makes us smile.

  2. Great desert & saguaro photos – nice to see those while we are sitting in the snow in Bend 🙂 So glad you went to the MIM and enjoyed it – pretty incredible place, isn’t it!

  3. Telegraph Pass Trail was our introduction to Tuscon hiking. What an intro that was. Great workout thought.
    White Tank Mountain is one place we haven’t been able to get into. We are going to try again next year. It looks gorgeous. I love your juggling photo. Good eye.
    I have always wanted to visit the Musical Instrument Museum but Paul isn’t much of a museum guy. Thanks for the tour.
    Steve looks like he is doing super. Enjoy the ride.

  4. If we ever return to the Phoenix area again, we do need to visit the Music Museum. Thanks for the brief tour:) We were only in White Tank for our first time for only a few days. But we did enjoy those days. Good to see Steve has returned to normal and you two rocked all the trials!! Good job! It was great to see you both again:) See you next month!

  5. White Tank Mountain looks gorgeous — and all of those fabulous trails! So happy to see you guys back doing what you love, full speed ahead! The music museum looks like something we would really enjoy. Thanks for adding two new things to our list! 🙂

    • If not for the lack of Verizon signal we would have thoroughly enjoyed our stay, but it was a great excuse to be disconnected for two weeks! And yes, if you are in this area, be sure to spend a day at MIM. And in case South Dakota is in your route, also stop at the National Music Museum in Vermillion, SD for I know you would really enjoy both museums!

  6. Nice to see Steve back to his regular hiking. Think we’ll have to try White Tank RP when we’re back, though the wifi strength might deter that thought. Great to see you two again, see you in a few weeks.

    • Thanks LuAnn, yes, here was our catch up in hiking after socializing so much in San Diego. We are both happy that Steve can now tackle strenuous and longer trails.

      • I do remember well when all the worry and focusing on returning to good health shifted to enjoying the simple pleasures in life again, like hiking. It’s a great feeling, isn’t it? Big hugs to you both.

  7. It’s funny: I have been researching the various regional parks up there – Cave Creek, Usery, White Tank, McDowell, etc trying to decide where we’ll go next year. This one looks pretty interesting because of all the hiking, but you know I’ll lose my mind if I don’t have internet access…. I am a true digital addict. 🙂

    Anyway, as you know, we’ve loved this area. It is so pretty and so different than we expected… who knew a desert could be so green? Learn something new all the time, I guess!

  8. Beautiful photos as always MonaLiza. It was so great seeing you and Steve! So happy that Steve is back to normal…the Telegraph Hike in Yuma is a doozie! The music museum looks very nice…so cool to see you watching the music from the Philippines.

  9. Congrats to Steve for being back able to do any trail he wants to tackle. Clearly 47 miles in 2 weeks is fantastic! David is really hoping that will be in his future as well. Seems so funny to see those colored fields in the desert. I wonder how long we will be able to have the water to keep up such greening? Love the blue on that lizard. Blue is an unusual color on any animal but a bird I think. Your site at White Tank looks wonderfully remote. Hope you didn’t have neighbors just outside that picture. What a fabulous picture of you standing by the tank on the Ford Canyon Trail. Sure would be great to see rains pouring down that chute. I just had to laugh out loud at the picture you got of the cactus pointing at the moon. That’s just fantastic. Thanks so much for the pictures and information about that great museum. I’d love to visit it. How fun to see a picture of you two with Faye and Dave. Great ending with the fire in the sky and on the ground. Really terrific post Mona Liza.

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