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March 19, 2015

Cactus League

With a few ball parks left on my bucket list, this trip was planned around those venues, all in the Mesa Scottsdale area … and the moonless sky.  I discovered a star Party was scheduled at the Usery Mountain Regional Park for March 15th and made the camping reservations months before the ball games were scheduled.

With a decent start from SandyEggo there’s usually time to make a stop at the Center of the World in Felicita, CA.  If you’re looking for a place to stretch your legs on I-8 just west of the AZ border this is among my favorites.
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Another fun stop is Dateland AZ, where a date shake is a must.  At $5 for a tiny cup that may be what keeps them going.  I think of it as a fun treat and a donation to help them be here next trip.
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Gila Bend is a decent destination form the long sprint across the dessert.  But the Gila River is long gone and the town fell on hard times.  But now with Solara building one of the largest arrays near by it is recovering and no longer dependent on the overnight traveler.  So instead of stopping there again, Painted Rocks is the place to stop.  It’s 10 miles off I-8 on BLM land at $8 ($4 with Senior card).  Not much to offer but what it has is well maintained and each site has fire pit and table. 

Arrived right at sunset and as the sky developed the Milky Way stretch from horizon to horizon … Priceless!
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Site 27 at Usery will be home for the  next 5 days.  It’s a large back-in site on the outer loop, but unfortunately faces east-west – meaning there is little relief from the AZ sun from sunrise to sunset.   But there are no neighbors to the south and large fields of cactus to wonder thru.  The cholla are the largest I’ve ever seen, with balls of new growth hanging below.

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I normally wear Keen open toed sandals, but for this walk I’m glad I wore shoes.  And it no I did not try to kick the cholla's balls, this was picked up along the trail.  A good way to remove these pesky burrs is with a pocket comb, just pop it right off.   There's no worry about getting lost from most everywhere on any of the trails – there is a sign says Phoenix is to the west, which is visible pretty much everywhere in the park.
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The purpose of this trip was to allow me to catch the last few stadiums in the in the Cactus League, a bucket list item.  However I waited too long to get tickets the new Sloan Park, home of the Chicago Cubs.  Disappointed – yes.  But for sure the Cubs have some of the best fans in all MLB.  Glad to see them turn out and welcome the team to their new home.  There’s next year for me.
Most of the east coast teams are sold out for the weekend.  Another aspect of global warming?  Maybe, and with the winter endured by the Midwest fans, can’t blame them for wanting to be here!  It was 80 on the grass in Right Field as the Mariners hosted the Dodgers at the Peoria Sports Complex, the west coast teams are not selling out.  Abuelo’s is the usual stop when we attend a game in Peoria.  But, a little further west, is the best Chinese food in the Valley of the Sun (IMHO).  The Big Buddha, I’m stuffed!
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The Angels have a great old-style park at Tempe Diablo.  Gotta root for the home team and they prevailed over the Rangers.   Having missed Abuelo’s my second favorite Mexican is El Bravo with it unique family offerings.  This time I select the Mango-Pepper Margarita along with dinner.

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Took an early hike along the NoSo/Belkin/Levy/Crimson Wash trails to test the old legs and enjoy the dessert offerings on a fairly level 3-mi loop.   Lots of variety when combining these trails into a loop.  Hiked to ‘the levy and the levy was dry’.  But at least some Maricopa were in bloom
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Also a bit of proof that a Saguaro cactus has a woody structure and a rare white tailed hawk – at least rare this far north.  Must be global warming …
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That hike was a warm up to the more popular, and more difficult, Wind Cave trail.  It’s only 3-mi round trip with an 800’ elevation gain, but in parts it’s a bit of a rock scramble and the footing is never quite certain.  Three hikers coming down had twisted their ankle.  Still a worthwhile hike to some great views.  A wind cave is not a classic cave but more of an eroded sandstone.
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And add one more to the list of twisted ankles from the day.

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Another sunset from the Usery Mts! Not much of a view of the sky in the west as the communities of Mesa, Scottsdale, Gilbert, etal provide too much light pollution to have a good night sky. Still great to be here for the games and a few hours of stargazing in the eastern sky.
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