Saturday, February 8, 2020

Usery Regional Park -- Mesa Arizona

Our first journey in 2020 takes us just a few miles outside of Phoenix to Usery Regional Park. This park is close in, yet the feeling is very remote. What makes it fantastic is if you need supplies, fine dining or any amenities they're only a few minutes away. This is a county park and provides water and electricity, 20/30/50amp but no sewer. There is a dump station on site. Phone service is perfect but no wifi, so bring your own. There are many hiking trails throughout the park raging from easy to difficult. Each site is set apart from the next so you have lots of privacy. They are fairly level sites but since they are gravel, the monsoon rains play havoc with them. The hosts rake and clean each site prior to the next campers' arrival.

Upon arrival, you're greeted by the mighty saguaro cactus. The Harris' hawk was a regular and we spotted him several times on our hikes. The Harris's hawk is notable for its behavior of hunting cooperatively in packs consisting of tolerant groups, while other raptors often hunt alone.

The Saguaro can grow to 40 feet and a lifespan of over 150 years. They normally begin growing their arms from 75-100 years of age. The arms serve three purposes; first, they allow the cactus to absorb more water from rainfall; second, the arms produce flowers and fruit to enhance reproduction; and three, they help balance the plant to keep it upright. Inside the green skin are long wooden 'ribs'. During times of heavy rain, a single saguaro can weigh up to 4800 pounds. The largest on record stood 78 feet tall. Their root system can extend over 98 feet in all directions. Saguaros may take between 20 and 50 years to reach a height of 3 feet. They are protected by State Law which prohibits harming or removing them in any way without a permit from the State.

If you look closely, you can see one of the hiking trails within the park, at the base of the cactus.

This Harris Hawk could have cared less that I was beneath him and taking his picture.  Harris Hawks are typically 2 feet long with a 4 foot wing span. Groups typically include from 2 to 7 birds. Not only do birds cooperate in hunting, they also assist in the nesting process. No other bird of prey is known to hunt in groups as routinely as this species. Their social nature has been attributed to their intelligence, which makes them easy to train and have made them a popular bird for use in falconry. Their diet is mostly small creatures such as rodents, other birds, lizards, mammals and large insects. However, because they often hunt in groups they can take down larger prey up to 4 pounds although this is not common. They are gorgeous birds in flight with dark brown plumage, chestnut shoulders and alternating brown and white striped tail feathers.

While the desert is known as a harsh, hot and challenging environment, we discovered this pond on one of our hikes. The pond is fed by an underground spring and provides needed water for many of the desert species. The water was somewhat stagnant so it appears the spring is pretty small.

Since Arizona is well known for it's beautiful sunsets, I thought I'd close this page with this shot of a Harris Hawk passing by our campsite. If you want to see more exciting sunsets, I'll be posting more on the following page. Good night for now.

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