Sunday, April 24, 2011

Wrapping up Winter – Nov. 2010 through April 2011

It’s been a wonderful winter of volunteering at McDowell Mountain Regional Park!

I took this photo at sunrise one day from near my campsite.

The location, the facilities, the park staff, the volunteers and the park activities – all top notch.

Location: McDowell Mountain Park is located in Arizona’s Valley of the Sun (Phoenix and surrounding cities) and just 100 miles from my home in Prescott Valley, allowing me to have my car while I’m here. The park is just 15 minutes from the community of Fountain Hills (two supermarkets, Walgreens, and a SNAP Fitness gym among many medium-to-small businesses).

Facilities: Jeremiah is nestled within “the gated community” (aka the maintenance compound), under a tall corregated metal roof, just steps away from the volunteers’ laundry facilities. (Photo taken before volunteer Dennis moved in where the orange cones are.)

Park Staff: Supervisor Rand, Ranger Amy, Office guru Jeanine and Maintenance wonders Mark and Erik – a relatively small paid staff to manage a huge and busy park.

Park Volunteers: The only way so few park staff could keep this park humming is to have a corps of smart, capable, and personable volunteers – 19 in all (8 couples and 3 singles). Most of the volunteers have been coming back for years; a clear sign that the staff and working conditions are superb. Everyone got along well and we enjoyed frequent potluck meals and happy hours.

Park activities: The 21,000-acre park has about 50 miles of hiking, biking and horseback riding trails. It has 80 RV camping sites, three primitive group sites used mostly by youth groups, six primitive individual tent sites, a large group area for RV clubs and a competition track area for bicycling. Ranger Amy organizes a large variety of park events, including guided hikes and interpretive programs. The park holds numerous walking, running and bicycling events throughout the winter months.

My park responsibilities: My official ‘title’ is Group Host. I also help in the Visitor Center and deal with the individual tent sites. I drive one of the park pickup trucks when I’m on duty. My co-host Donna, another single, and I decided on a 5-days-on, 5-days-off schedule. I also led a hike most Monday mornings and also a Backyard Birding program once a month.

Cat: She continues to be my 5 a.m. alarm clock, tapping me gently on the cheek. As soon as she gets me up and she gets a bite or two of food, she works to perfect the art of napping. On most days she gets a “walk” – she wanders around the gated compound and I follow in order to snatch her up should one of the local hawks want to have a meal.

Enjoying the birds: As usual, I have bird feeders out at my campsite and have enjoyed a variety of birds. My favorite has been the Cardinals – a male and female who sit on the Ocotillo outside my door and call to me when the feeder is empty.


Muddy Buddy – a park hosted biking/running team event: This event took place shortly after I arrived at the park. I was fascinated to watch the preparations. Basically an obstacle course was laid out that ended with large mud pits right before the finish line. Seven hundred teams – two people and one bicycle per team – entered. The teammates alternated running and riding the bicycle, switching at each obstacle, and they had to be together to go through the final obstacle, the mud pits. Many teams came in costume, having to wear the costume throughout the event. This is such a wacky event I had to be there to understand it. And I took pictures.

Most interesting find: As I was checking the remote group sites, I drove by this ‘Diamondback Rattle Snake skeleton’ on the road. Obviously it was a fresh-kill and the flesh had been picked off most likely by the many Ravens we have.


I’ve had a super time here, and Lord willing I plan to be back for next winter.

I leave on tomorrow (Monday) morning and drive to Pancho Villa State Park in southern New Mexico. I’ll be there two months as a campground host and will also work in the Visitor Center/Exhibit hall. My mailing address here is Carol Anderson, General Delivery, Columbus, NM 88029.

Mid summer plans are to adventure again in the Midwest for five weeks. This time I’ve invited my sister Linda to travel with me.

And believe it or not - late summer/early fall (mid August to early October) will find me volunteering again at Navajo Lake State Park in northwestern New Mexico.

That’s all for now. I leave you with a photo of the sunset view here at McDowell Mountain Park.

Part of the adventure of life is not always knowing what’s going to happen next, and the next part may be grander than your original plan. Be open to the unknown.