Monday, April 11, 2011

Usery & Tempe

Wildflowers, Our Usery Campsite & Pass Mountain
We moved about 1 ½ hours west to another first-come-first-serve campground in Mesa, AZ called Usery Mountain Regional Park. This was another amazing desert experience. It is so cool that the Sonoran Desert is so diverse and that we have seen so much of the life it supports. The three of us took another great hike, this time on Usery’s Wind Cave Trail that leads up to mountainside caves carved out by the wind. We made it about ¾  of the mile and a half trek up with Lily then spun around to avoid overdoing the sun and sling time. I went alone the next day all the way to the top and a little beyond which was really neat. It felt so good to feel a little burn in my legs.  I’m also developing a rockin’ sock tan.
Looking out to the Superstition Mountains
My birthday was a most excellent one. I awoke to Chris tossing a bunch of Lily’s flannel washcloths telling me to imagine they were balloons and singing “Happy Birthday” to me in bed. He presented me with a couple cards from family and one from him and Lily.  I got up and out to a yoga class at the nature center and upon returning was greeted by a lemon—my favorite—cake in the oven! I was not allowed to do dishes that day and we took a hike on one of the shorter vista trails that afternoon. We had a campfire, hotdogs, tinfoil potatoes and salad for dinner and I even enjoyed a beer fireside. We got a welcome phone call from the Donofry family (all of them at once I think!) which was awesome as we can always hear the excitement and love coming right through the phone with them. Elizabeth and Jacob had questions about Lily and we all expressed excitement about our upcoming summer plans in Ocean City, NJ. Chris and I have taken to celebrating our “birthday week” and so this was the pinnacle of a week of ‘do what you want’ treatment.
Birthday Sunset
After a week at Usery we moved west to an RV park in Tempe…no more cacti, sunset views or secluded campsite…but we had internet. This location allowed us to catch up on laundry, email, and to be closer to Whole Foods for grocery runs. We had great neighbors who lived full time in the park and were more than happy to lend a ladder or hose nozzle. We also met some pretty cool fellow full-timers from Indiana: Adam, Courtney, and their three year old girl, Milligan (Milli). Their RV was covered in a sponsor wrap and was pretty hard to ignore given its bright yellow color scheme. We enjoyed a meal at their site and joined them for their meetup picnic at a nearby park. Check out their blogs at and to learn more about their lifestyle and work on the road!
Lily Munches on Crinkle while Chris Does Sabbatical Reading
The new light rail had a stop right at our RV park so we took advantage on a number of occasions. Our first weekend, we got to see Ted again! He had a state swim meet in Mesa so we reorganized the camper to make him a bed and went to watch him one day. The three of us took the light rail a couple of stops up to Mill Avenue in the Arizona State University section of Tempe. We had dinner at a restaurant which uses local, sustainably harvested food as much as possible; then we hunted down some dessert but ended up with a disappointing frozen yogurt result. It was so great to see Ted again for this unexpected weekend visit. We also took the light rail to church one Sunday and Lily and I rode it up to Central Avenue in Phoenix one day to give Chris some quiet time at home.
Ted swims!
My reflections while living within the Phoenix sprawl are pretty judgmental and maybe a little too realistic or idealistic. I am as implicit as anyone else in these criticisms.

I took a shopping trip with Lily one day for groceries and to see about some flip flops. We were introduced to the Phoenix, Mesa, Tempe, Chandler, Scottsdale, etc culture on our drive. This seems to be a very new city area; it is laid out in a very purposeful grid and the highways are manicured with gravel and landscaping. New huge shopping centers and malls are peppered throughout. Developments in many areas have ornately landscaped entrances and tall walls around them. This is in fairly stark contrast with Tucson…I feel like, in general, Tucson is a hardworking creative kindergarten teacher who goes with the flow, and Phoenix is a high maintenance fashion model who needs everything her way.
It's hot in the desert!
First of all, humans are able to live in the desert because we have robbed others of their water, run high-tension wires hundreds of miles, and dug trenches through mountains to pipe in natural gas. We are so stuck on the automobile that we construct extensive overpasses and highways and parking lots. In the Northeast, we do many of these things and more but I’ve never looked at it this way before. It doesn’t have to be like this and after this trip, I hope to never fly in an airplane ever again. I hope to be blessed to be able to use solar power to heat my home and water. I hope to conserve water and not flush it down the toilet into a tank below ground. I hope to view my surroundings as enough and not constantly want more for myself. I hope to get back to gardening and away from the convenience foods we’ve been snacking on on the road.
Ocotillo Sunset Meal for Lily while I contemplate life in the desert
Secondly, there is not supposed to be “lawn” in the desert. But, in Phoenix, there are parks of it, development landscaping, grassy cemeteries, man-made lakes lined by lawn, and the worst offender are the seven or more golf courses. This has made me think again about why we love cold-climate grass so much; is it a status symbol? Why move to the desert if you don’t love the desert life and can’t handle dust storms? It’s spring here and beautiful desert flowers are blooming but you really don’t get to appreciate that in Phoenix because it is landscaped with many non-native species. Chris and I are still tossing around ideas about a non-lawn of myrtle or pachysandra, a large garden, and a small lawn that fends for itself against dandelions, grubs, and sun in the hottest months. Bare feet enjoy a chemical-free playplace; we don’t pollute ground water and runoff with excess nitrogen fertilizer and herbicide; we save water and time mowing! If landscaping requires chemicals and daily water, we’ve got to let it go and make room for what belongs, even if it is “ugly”!

Lily is seven months old now and can sit up (click for video) in the Boppy pillow, grab whatever is within reach, stand holding our fingers, and you name it she can chew on it. Aside from a bout of fever for Lily, and a head cold for Christopher, we’re doing great. We were delayed a week by snowy/windy weather in northern Arizona but are currently heading north and east back toward home as June is quickly approaching. We are so looking forward to visiting so many friends and family on our way back.
p.s. we joined Families on the Road!

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