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Roper Lake State Park, Safford, AZ

Louise Speaks:  Seeing that we only visited one attraction today, we arrived at our camping spot rather early.  This is a good thing.  We had never been to Roper Lake State Park before so we were excited to get here.  This makes our 20th state park and one that you can camp at.  What a great place.  The RV spots are huge and are truly on the lake, of course many of my family and friends in Canada would call it a pond.  Each RV spot comes with it’s own covered Ramada with picnic table so you can be in the shade.  There is a swimming beach and electric boat motors are allowed.  The lake is stocked with bass and trout.  The park is an excellent place for bird watching. This state park even has small cabins to rent if you don’t have an RV and you’re not into tenting.  However, the cabins have beds and air conditioning but that’s about it.  There is an outdoor cooking area with a huge BBQ and restrooms and showers are close by.  The cabins come with a porch swing that faces the lake and of course one of Arizona’s famous sunsets.

Roper Lake sits on a natural hot springs.  This was discovered many years back and as a result they made a natural hot springs hot tub…very unusual for a state park.  It is small and only gets to about 92 degrees, but is very pleasant in both winter and summer.  As with most state parks there are many nature hiking trails throughout the park and around the lake.  The swimming beach is off a peninsula off one of the camping loops.  They have an outside shower for rinsing off once you come in from the water.  The shower is unique as it is shaped into a cactus…so Arizona.  There are Ramadas and picnic BBQ grills throughout the beach area.  The beach comes complete with beach sand and palm trees.  Today is a very VERY windy day so we didn’t even test the water, but looks like a great place to cool off in the heat of the summer.  We are told that temperatures can climb to as high as 120 degrees during the summer months.

For a number of years, Graham County had been working with its legislators to have a State Park in their county. In 1972, HB 2150 authorized the acquisition of Roper Lake as a State Park.  Although it wasn’t that easy to make Roper Lake a state park.  Much engineering and negotiations took place before things became official.  The main part of the Park, located around Roper Lake, was developed in the early 1960’s as a private recreation area.  The lake and the property were sold to the Arizona Game and Fish Commission in 1969 so it really couldn’t become a state park…the state didn’t own it.  State Parks began negotiations with the Game and Fish Department to secure an acceptable agreement wherein State Parks would operate and manage Roper Lake.  Finally on December 31, 1974, Roper Lake State Park became official.  The Park opened to the public in March 1975 but was nothing compared to what it is today.

Roper Lake offers a park store that has books, clothing, children’s toys, flora and fauna guides, fishing equipment and bait.  The Visitor Center is open year round and features a gift shop, local area information, Junior Ranger programs, and restrooms.    This is a great State Park.  All the amenities are very easily accessible and everything is just a short walk away.  Although the weather wasn’t the greatest during our four day stay, we still enjoyed the park.  It is being put on our list as a park to come back to and maybe spend a week.  Roper Lake State Park gets an A rating, and we will be back.


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Fort Bowie National Historic Site, Bowie, AZ

Louise Speaks:   As well as visiting all the State Parks in Arizona, we are also planning on visiting all the National Parks and Monuments.   A National Monument is a protected area that is similar to a National Park,  but can be created from any land owned or controlled by the federal government. Under a proclamation by the President of the United States, it is labeled a National Monument. National monuments can be managed by one of several federal agencies: including the National Park Services and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).  National monuments can be so designated through the power of the Antiquities Act  of 1906.  This trip was to include two National Monuments but one was not accessible by RV so we will have to come back and visit Ironwood by car.  However, Fort Bowie Natinal Historic Site is on our agenda.

Following directions from Catalina State Park in Tucson, led us in the middle of nowhere.  Then we hit freeway construction and of course our exit was closed.  That made us take the next exit and enter the town of Bowie from the back side.  Luckily for us there was a sign showing us which way to go to reach the fort.  We drove along this very narrow highway until we saw a road that we think we were suppose to turn on.  See just another adventure.  Anyway, we turn on the road, and it’s a dirt road.  Did I mention we are in a motor home?  A fairly large motor home?  Traveling with Thelma and Louise is not always about the destination, it is almost always about the adventure.  So we continue on this dirt road with the dirt in our rear view mirror.  Finally we come to a sign and it says straight for trail or left for handicap and Fort.  Not sure which way to go, we go towards the Fort.  Now let me back up.  We were already informed that this was a “hike in Monument”.  We were told that you had to park and hike in a mile and a half to get to the Visitor Center.  Of course that means you have to hike a mile and a half out and back to your car.  We weren’t sure if we were going to do that, but we knew we had to at least get a picture of the sign.  So now we are headed off to what we think is the fort.  We drive at least 5 miles, still on a dirt road and we see a turn off…up a hill…and it says “Park Residence”.  Well that’s not where we’re headed but we knew we couldn’t go straight as that was through a very small gate and there is no way we would fit.  So up the hill we go.  At list this part was paved, but it was nothing more than a driveway.  We get to the top and there is a very small parking lot…room for maybe 3 cars.  So we just park as best we can and we take up at least two spaces and most of the driveway but it does appear that we are the only ones here so we’re not too concerned.  We look around and see no one.  We do see a building that bears a sign “maintenance”.  We walk around looking for someone or something to let us know where we are.  Finally there is a piece of wood, with painted on writing that says “Visitor Center 500 feet”.  It points up a dirt stairway up a small hill.  Not really sure where it leaves, we head up the hill.  At the top is…well we are shocked.  It is the Visitor Center.  The one that we were told was a 3 mile round trip hike to reach.  Right in front of the Visitor Center is Fort Bowie in all it’s glory.

Fort Bowie was a 19th-century outpost of the United States Army.   This particular location was picked due to the water supply available.  The remaining buildings and site are now protected as Fort Bowie National Historic Site.  Fort Bowie was established by the California Volunteers in 1862 after a series of engagements between the California Column and the Chiricahua Apaches.  The most violent of which was the Battle of Apache Pass in July 1862.  The fort was named in honor of Colonel Bowie  commander of the 5th Regiment Infantry  who first established the fort.  The first Fort Bowie resembled a temporary camp rather than a permanent army post.  In 1868, a second, more substantial Fort Bowie was built which included adobe barracks, houses, corrals, a trading post, and a hospital.  The second Fort Bowie was built on a plateau about 500 yards  to the east of the first site. For more than 30 years Fort Bowie and Apache Pass  were the focal point of military operations eventually culminating in the surrender of Geronimo in 1886 and the banishment of the Chiricahua Apaches.  The fort was abandoned in 1894.

The Fort Bowie and Apache Pass site was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960.  The remains of Fort Bowie are carefully preserved, as are the adobe walls of various post buildings and the ruins of a Butterfield Stage Station.    The mile and a half hiking trail to the old fort passes other historic sites such as Apache Spring, Siphon Canyon, the ruins of the Butterfield Stage Stop and Bascom’s Camp.  We missed these sites because we found this short cut and we are happy we did.  We still didn’t find a sign and were told the only sign is by the parking lot where you park and take the trail to the fort.  So we managed to get out of that small parking lot and head back to where we made the original turn and headed for the hiking trails.  We found the parking lot and the Fort Bowie sign and then continued down the 8 mile dirt road to the Freeway.

Some interesting facts.  In 1958 a Western entitled Fort Bowie was made, starring Ben Johnson.  This was before it was declared a National Monument.  The film charted one of the disputes between the US Cavalry based at the fort and the Apaches.  The Chiricahua Apaches were first sent to Fort Marion in Florida, then Mt. Vernon Barracks in Alabama, and finally Fort Sill in Oklahoma.  If you go to our Ft. Sill Blog you will see Geronimo’s Grave site.

As I have mentioned many times before, I’m not that much into history, but setting out a goal to see all the National Monuments is giving me a history lessen whether I want it or not.  There is a small museum in the Visitor Center and you are able to spend as much time as you want walking around the fort and seeing what remains of the various buildings.  The fort is pet friendly so Gracie was able to join us on our adventure.  There really isn’t much here but remains of the fort.  They have done nothing to perserve the fort, but I guess that was history.  If you are out this way, when the weather is good, NOT in the summer, it would be an interesting stop.  But the trouble to get here, I’m not sure it’s worth the time.  Fort Bowie gets  a C rating.  It’s okay, because we stumbled on it by accident, but I wouldn’t have made the 3 mile round trip hike to see it.


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Catalina State Park, Tucson, AZ

Louise Speaks:  Well our day has finally come to an end.  We are camping overnight at Catalina State Park 9 miles north of Tucson.  The campground is at the foot of the Catalina Mountains but pretty much right in town.  You can literally walk to the closest mall.  We’re here for two days to relax and enjoy the environment plus do some sightseeing if the others in our group choose to.  Catalina State Park has an average elevation of 3,000 feet but varies dramatically with high ridges and low creek beds.  The park includes 5,493 acres and is close to the town of Oro Valley.



Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains.  The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros.  The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons and streams invites camping, picnicking and bird watching — more than 150 species of birds call the park home.  The park provides miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails which wind through the park and into the Coronado National Forest at elevations near 3,000 feet.   This scenic desert park also offers equestrian trails and an equestrian center provides a staging area for trail riders with plenty of trailer parking.

This area became a State Park just by chance and with a lot of help.  The original idea in the early 1970’s, was to rezone a 4,000-acre parcel of land lying east of U.S. Highway 89,  just  north of Tucson.  The property known as Rancho Romero was located adjacent to the western slopes of the Coronado National Forest’s Santa Catalina Mountains. The proposed development included a variety of housing units that would accommodate 17,000 people, which would surround golf courses along the Canada de Oro and Sutherland Washes. When this rezoning request came before the Pima County Planning and Zoning Commission, there was so much opposition from the public that the proposed plan was put on hold.  At a meeting of the Parks Board that was held on November 19, 1973, a study indicated that this specific area would meet the criteria for a State Park.  Much opposition was met by both parties.  However, hrough the efforts of the Rancho Romero Coalition, an interested citizen’s group from Tucson and an outgrowth of the Oracle Road Greenbelt Committee, and other action groups, Representative Charles King introduced House Bill 2280 early in the 1974 session to establish Catalina State Park.  Finally House Bill 2280, passed and was signed by Governor Jack Williams on May 1, 1974.  After a complicated series of land trades, leases, purchase of land and initial construction of facilities, Catalina State Park was dedicated by Governor Bruce Babbitt and and opened to the public on May 25, 1983.

The park has a great campground with shade trees which was helpful since it was 90 degrees today.  The RV park is surrounded by mountains and desert landscape.  There is a gift shop at the entrance and the facilities are very nice, with hot showers.  Like with most parks in Arizona, hiking seems to be the main activity, but this park also has great bike trails and golf courses are not too far away.  This was a great campground and you just can’t beat the Arizona sunsets.  Catalina State Park gets a B rating and if you need a place to camp or you want to enjoy some outdoor adventures…all can be achieved here.