Spring Break: Camping at Roosevelt Lake and Tonto National Monument

Dear Students,

The week before school let out was jam-packed. I ran a book fair for four days, packed up the fair on Friday afternoon and hit the ground running for spring break. The Mesa Arts Center kicked off the week long Festival of Creativity. Chandler had the Ostrich Festival, a Civil War Re-enactment at Picacho Peak and a Antique Engine and Tractor Show at Apache Junction. It is not possible to do it all, however I love having so many choices. Next year when my boys are older we will make different choices. For now, we aim for less crowded venues since my little guy is a runner. We decided to visit the Mesa Arts Center on Friday night and take a walk inside the Mirazozo balloon installation. Saturday morning my little one had a soccer game and then we took off for Roosevelt Lake to camp for the weekend.

And Sunday when we came home I went to bed at 5:30 PM and slept like a baby. Just keeping it real.

Back to camping…I’m not your typical camper. I love nature but I’m not outdoorsy unless sitting outside to read and eat makes you outdoorsy. However, there is something about sleeping outside under the stars that utterly relaxes me. I look forward to our weekends outdoors with joy. For Christmas this year, my husband and I gave each other a sealed envelope with a camping itinerary inside. This trip was my present from my husband who had planned the whole weekend. He picked Roosevelt Lake, one of the largest lakes in Arizona. For this trip, he pulled out two maps and asked me as we drove away which one sounded best. I thought the campsites along Indian Point looked secluded and would offer a pretty water view. Away we went, until we encountered this:

The website warns not to cross when Tonto Creek is running over the road. And this would be Tonto Creek running over the road. Glad we saw this coming not going!

As we turned off the state highway 88 heading towards Indian Point the road was covered by a giant puddle. Hmmm. It didn’t look bad but we had the kids so we were going to turn around. Then an ATV zoomed passed us and splashed through the puddle. At first the water was shallow, but by the time the ATV crossed the halfway point the water was over the tires. That’s our answer. We turned around and headed back to the highway.

My dear husband had a back up plan. He’s so good. We continued to nearby Windy Hill Campground down the road from the Tonto National Monument. The campground requires a six dollar Tonto Day Pass for camping and the sites are first come first served. At first glance this campsite seemed crowded with RVs and heavy on the pavement, light on the trees. Then we pulled to the end of a cluster and found a little campsite surrounded by trees with a picnic tables under a ramada. We could see mountains, the blue lake and at night the pitch black sky was incredible with stars. That night the campground featured a Solar Viewing and Star Party at the Windy Hill Ampitheatre. If you visit, be sure to check the calendar for program offerings (or call 928.467.3200).

The walk was punctuated with barren trees, jumbles of boulders, dried tumbleweeds, soft slides of sand and tiny white mussels. The blue lake and blue sky zipped the water with the sky.

Behind our campsite was a footpath to Roosevelt Lake. The landscape was dominated by a Tim Burtonesque array of barren, dry mud-crusted trees. When the water level retreated and revealed the grasses and trees that spent part of their lives submerged. We made it to the lake, chucked rocks and admired the splashes and hiked back for smores. We don’t do much when we camp but somehow it is always satisfies the boys. I guess that is the magic of ages 6 and 4.

I like to camp when it’s cold. I like the cold air and the warm fleece. I like feeling grateful for a fire and how sounds when the air is cold and clear. I like to make a nest for my boys with lots of blankets and watch them sleep.

That night we roasted smores, bundled in our blankets and counted the stars, it was a little chilly in a good way. The next morning we had packed up by 10 AM so we could spend the bulk of the day at the Tonto National Monument and back home again.

Lower Cliff Dwelling trail is .57 miles up 350 foot elevation.

Tonto National Monument features cliff dwelling ruins of the Salado people that made their home throughout the Tonto Basin between 100 and 600 A.D. They disappeared 700 years ago but the shelter of the cave preserved the cliff dwellings. After a steep 1/2 mile hike on a paved trail you are rewarded with access to the ancient dwelling. The walls are dotted with hundreds of thumbprints. Tools for grinding grain and the original roof is still evident. The visitor’s center features a half hour video with a ghostly family that appeared and reappeared in the cliff rooms. I imagined the shadows of the people that used to live here, I feel enormous respect for their ability to make a life in this harsh land.

lower cliff dwelling

photo by Amy Meredith (JJandAmes on Flickr)

The park is open every day except Christmas. Admission is $3.00 an adult, children are free. To tour the Upper Cliff Dwellings you must arrive on time for the 3 1/2 hour tour/trek. We missed the 8:15 start time which was okay as the boys could not have managed it. If you visit the park on a Heritage Day, admission is free and the Upper Cliff Dwelling is open for self-guided tours. The Heritage Days for 2012 are March 17 and 18. Heritage Days occur annually in March, making this a nice springtime destination for Valley history buffs.

With marshmallow, chocolate and a graham cracker,
Mrs. Kenney

We will come back in a few years when the boys can do the Upper Cliff Dwelling tour. All in all, a beautiful weekend. I can’t wait to go camping again.


2 thoughts on “Spring Break: Camping at Roosevelt Lake and Tonto National Monument

  1. Love that you are saving and sharing all these memories Kerry! Our family does tons of neat things and I still haven’t figured out how to find the time to journal it! I need to though – there are lots of activities and places that could be valuable to you and others.

    • I asked Trish and Michelle Smith to write posts about Tractor Show and Re-enactment. I think it would help all families in the valley tackle the eternal challenge of how to make good use of family time while our kids are young. If you have an idea to share, let me know. Thanks for your note and your support.


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