Most of the places we wanted to visit in Arizona and New Mexico are located at higher elevations, and it was just too late in the year to go to them with snow and ice to worry about. Instead, we opted to stay for just a few days in each state and come back sometime next year.
This was our last boondocking opportunity until next year. There is a lot of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in the western United States where you can dry camp for free, and these opportunities get less and less frequent the more you head east. Just outside of Quartzite is an area called “Dome Rock BLM upper campsite” on the south side of Interstate 10. There is a frontage road and many camping options, typically where you see fire rings.
We set up near the frontage road, and were impressed with how little road noise we could hear as close as we were. It was a very hot day, so we hunkered down through the heat of midday and decided to explore the hills further south of us around 4pm, when the sun was starting to wane, the breeze was kicking up, and the temps were settling down during the evening hours. Along with some of our first close encounters with the sheer magnificence of the Saguaro cacti, we saw other little cacti, a wild hare and some beautiful views from atop one of the hills before we hurried back to beat the sunset. It was a short stay, but good to know about if you are passing through and need a place to tuck in for the night.
We stayed over in Tucson for three nights and our time here was jam packed! We wished we had more time to explore, but opted to just get a glimpse of the area and return later if it piqued our interest.
Tucson Lazydays KOA:
Matt found us a stay at the Tucson Lazydays KOA on the southeastern side of Tucson. I have not stayed at a KOA yet, and was pleasantly surprised. It had great reviews, and now I can understand why. They were very friendly and organized at the registration desk and gave us a rundown of what the RV park had to offer.
There was mini putt all over the RV park, a pool, fitness center, air conditioned laundry (bonus!), basketball court, small pond to relax next to, an RC car race track, mini library, and a place to play horseshoes. They also had decent sized spaces, most with hedges or fruit trees in between, and there were a few rows of spaces with large shade structures over them to beat the heat during the summertime.
The park was clean, they had a Texas BBQ restaurant on site, and I took advantage of the clean, cool laundry facilities and fitness center. I only saw a few people in the fitness center, so I pretty much had the whole place to myself. Score! Plus, next door to the KOA are some RV maintenance, supply and sales lots, so you can handle these needs while you are in town. If you are in the area, I would highly recommend this RV park for your stay. 🚐 🏜
Saguaro National Park East:
Not many parks are set up like this, but the Saguaro National Park grounds are split into two sections, one west of Tucson called the Tucson Mountain District (TMD), and one east of Tucson called the Rincon Mountain District (RMD). Given the limited nature of our stay, we opted to do a hike on the east side, which was really beautiful!
We chose the Bridal Wreath Falls Trail. There wasn’t much of a waterfall, to be honest…it was more of a drip, drip, drip, but the hike was great nonetheless. As you climb up into the hills, the views are so expansive, and the sheer number of Saguaro cacti is awesome. We saw a lot of insects, including butterflies, grasshoppers and beetles, and a wide variety of other cactus species. The falls area is shaded from the sun and a lot cooler, so we enjoyed a little snack in this shady oasis before heading back to get lunch nearby. 🌵
We happened to see this little wayside restaurant called Saguaro Corners on the way to our hike, and decided to stop on our way back. It has both indoor and outdoor seating, and the food and drink menus had an impressive variety. Matt opted for a burger and tots, and I chose a southwestern quinoa salad, both of which were satisfying. The service was friendly and I would recommend this place if you are in visiting the Saguaro National Park East as they cater to a variety of dietary needs. 😋
To explain our visit to the Bicycle Ranch, I have a back up a few weeks. While staying in Temecula, CA at the Sweets Oaks Winery, we were fortunate to be situated up in between their vineyards; however, leaving proved trickier than expected with a sharp turn to contend with and poles holding up the grapevines making it more difficult for the trailer to clear the turn. We thought we were good, but alas one of the poles caught the rear driver’s side of the trailer and then caught on the bag that covers our bikes. I couldn’t get Matt’s attention in time, and the end result was a small hole in the trailer and our bikes getting bent at a 90 degree angle from the trailer. 😱
We moved the bikes into the trailer and decided to finish moving to Guajome Regional Park and figure out a game plan from there. After assessing the damage, it appeared that the bike frames were ok and we just needed to replace one wheel on each bike and some bike rack parts. This meant we would be keeping the bike inside the trailer or the truck until all repairs were complete. 😫
Matt ordered bike rack replacement parts and sent them to his sister’s house in Kansas City, and I arranged to take the bikes into a shop when we were in Indio, CA to figure out what we needed to order for the bikes. The shop we went to in nearby Palm Desert was called Tri A Bike, and their Service Manager Don was super accommodating. Based on his bike assessment, we ordered new wheels online and had them sent to a shop in Tucson called the Bicycle Ranch after clearing it with them. The staff at the Bicycle Ranch was also great, replacing our wheels and tires, and disposing of our sad, tacoed wheels. I didn’t have the heart to take a picture of the damage, but our bikes are back in working order. Yay! 🚴♂️
Tohono Chul Gardens, Gallery and Bistro:
While our bikes were being repaired, we scooted over to the Tohono Chul Gardens, Gallery and Bistro nearby for brunch and a stroll through their gardens. The food and service were great, and the gardens were expansive! We didn’t have enough time to cover the entire grounds, but the highlights were admiring the metal sculpture work throughout the gardens, and seeing the wide variety of cacti and other desert plants native to the area. In particular, it was neat to see a fan top or crested Saguaro cactus, that had a human quality to it with its two holes that looked like eyes. It was a great way to pass the time and learn more about desert plant life.
We enjoyed our time in Tuscon. It is a college town and did seem to be bike friendly, but we didn’t get a lot of time to get a feel for the area and its overall livability. It was time to mosey along to New Mexico.
Las Cruces, NM:
We only had one full day to explore while in Lac Cruces, so we chose to see another national park located nearby and then did a quick “river” walk near our campground. We parked at La Llorona Park, I headed south on the paved trail and Matt headed north. Ironically, the park is named after an evil spirit that travels waterways snatching children. 😂 Matt saw no water and I only saw some water coming out of a dyke about 2 miles south. There are bikeable parts of Las Cruces as it is also a college town, but we didn’t have enough time to truly explore the town while we were passing through to get a “real feel” for it.
Las Cruces KOA Journey:
The Las Cruces KOA was a bit smaller than the one we stayed at in Tucson, so they didn’t have as many amenities, but the staff was friendly and they kept the place very clean. They have a basketball hoop and concrete pad, tetherball, a dog run area, and on site laundry. Their pool was closed when we arrived as it is only open seasonally from mid-May to October 31st. We had an unobstructed view of the town and surrounding Organ Pipe mountains from our site #4. If you are passing through the area and want a clean, friendly place to stay that is mostly quiet and tucked away with beautiful views, this is the place to go.
White Sands National Park:
About an hour’s drive from the KOA on the west side of town over the Organ Mountains you will find the White Sands National Park and missile testing grounds. They do close the park for missile testing, so be sure to check for closure dates before you go! To be honest, we were a little underwhelmed with this park. There isn’t a ton to do there; however, there are biking, backpacking and other opportunities if you come prepared with your own water. We easily covered what we wanted to see in just a few hours, and considering we only had a day, it was perfect for our situation.
Our favorite part of the park was the Dune Life Nature Trail. It was scenic, had plenty of butterflies and other insects to observe, and the surrounding mountains ranges were a beautiful backdrop from just about every angle. We also went in early November, so the temperatures were perfect. The Interdune Boardwalk a little ways up the road was ok, but more crowded and more limited in comparison. Finally, we ate at one of the wayside rests near the Alkali Flat Trail that had covered picnic tables. My only advice is don’t pick a spot that is downwind from the bathroom. 😳
Alas, our time in Las Cruces and New Mexico in general was very short-lived. We do want to travel back this way earlier in the year to do more exploring when we don’t have to contend with snow. For now, it was nice to get a sense of what is in the area and continue on to West Texas. Good-bye Southwest and hello South! 😛