Salt River Recreation Area – Salt River Wild Horses
Usery Mountain Regional Park sits in north Mesa close to the Salt River Recreation Area (SRRA) in Tonto National Forest. The SRRA is known for not only tubing down the Salt River in the summer but also for its herd of wild horses which roam in the area and can be easily seen along the roadside.
Salt River Recreation Area – Phon D. Sutton Recreation Site
In addition there are multiple day use areas and even an area for camping at the Phon D. Sutton Recreation Site. It is basically two large parking lots by the Salt River with great views of Red Mountain. There is a dumpster and vault toilets.
Parking in the Tonto National Forest requires a day pass which can be purchased at many locations throughout Arizona including convenience stores, gas stations, WalMarts, etc. (vendor locations can be found on the internet). The vendors usually have a sign outside that states “Tonto Passes Sold Here”. The pass is $6 per day and has a scratch off date/time so you can purchase the passes ahead of time and then use them when you are ready. They are good for 24 hours based on the time you scratch off on the pass.
Usery Mountain – Wind Caves Trail
Usery Mountain Regional Park has miles and miles of hiking trails for both hikers and horseback riders. The most popular trail in the park is the Wind Caves Trail which is 1.5 miles each way and allows you to hike up the side of Usery Mountain. It is quite crowded on the weekend so best to go mid week if you want to avoid the crowds on a narrow steep trail. A fun hike and great views of the park and the city below when you get to the caves.
Birds, Snakes, and Sunsets
Usery Mountain Regional Park provides not only a lovely campground but plenty of birds, a few snakes, and beautiful sunrises and sunsets. Site 21 provides a birdwatching host who provides talks and a white board with the birds that have been spotted for that month.
We saw a bit of everything, Costa’s Humminbirds, Anna’s Hummingbirds, Mourning Doves, Phainopepla, Gambel’s Quail, House Finches, the beautiful Peach-faced Lovebird, and a few others.
And, even in January, you might run across a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake along the trail. Yes, we were walking to the Nature Center and a few feet in front of us, laid out in the middle of the wide open, clear trail, we heard a rattle. A fairly large rattler was rattling at us, head up, tongue out, and then he headed into the bush while I quickly shot a few pictures. My heart dropped to my feet!!!
And besides not stepping on steps I need to get a bit better at not stepping on all those darn cholla!
And, of course, it wouldn’t be the desert without beautiful sunsets.