Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Exploring the Safford Area (Roper Lake State Park)

Having been locked in Tucson for the last 4 weeks while Millie got her radiation treatments, now that her paw was starting to heal, I think we were both ready to get out of town for a few days and see something new.

Millie had a follow-up appointment with the vet in a few days, so we couldn’t go too far, but I wanted to find somewhere we’d not been to before.  After some searching online, I found that Roper Lake State Park had some sites available and was only about 2 hours from Tucson.  As a bonus, as the name implies, it also had a lake that I was eager to paddle!

The first night was hot, still and made for a lovely sunset:

The next day predicted strong winds in the afternoon and a cold front after that.  So, a morning paddle it was going to be.  Millie and I jumped in the Sea Eagle and set off to see the lake.  The tallest mountain on the horizon, Mt. Graham, still had snow at it’s peak.  Turns out, this mountain is actually even taller (at 10,700 ft) than Mt. Lemmon (9100 ft) that towers over Tucson!

We had a terrific campsite overlooking the lake:


After our boat trip, we headed back to the rig for some lunch and to rest awhile.  I found a 4WD road nearby that looked interesting and thought that might be more fun than sitting in the View once the afternoon winds picked up (it can really “rock and roll”!).

Just as we were ready to head out, I saw a few other campers walk past my site and I started smelling campfire smoke (even though all my windows were shut and the A/C was on).  When I opened the door, I saw what all the commotion was about—the high winds had started a brush fire across the road from the State Park, probably less than a mile from my campsite!


I considered staying home to quickly move the RV if necessary, but considering that there was a lake between us and winds were blowing the fire away from us, I decided to proceed with our 4WD outing.  As I got up to the front entrance to the park, though, I could see tall flames getting closer to the park--- YIKES!

We drove out to BLM land about 10 miles northeast of Safford, to a off-road trail called the Black Hills Back Country Byway.  It was well-graded, so no need to slip the Tracker into 4-wheel drive, but it was still fun to get off the pavement and kick up a little dust!


The road climbed quickly into the Black Hills overlooking the desert floor below.

Some nice views from up there as we got nearly level to the buttes in the distance.


The higher elevation also meant more wildflowers in bloom (the desert valley had been dry and lacking much color).


As we climbed higher, we began to view the western valley and mountains.  This particular stretch seemed completely untouched and natural.

But a few more miles, showed an area the government had apparently leased out for strip mining operations.  Nice, I guess, that they keep it well-hidden from most of the general public.


As we descended back down into the valley, we came across a bright green oasis of cottonwoods along the banks of the Gila River.  Spring was certainly starting to “spring” here!


As we arrived back to Roper Lake, we saw a number of fire trucks and emergency vehicles blocking the highway beyond the State Park entrance.  The wildfire had apparently jumped over the road and did indeed burn up a few dozen acres of the state park going all the way up to the lake shore.  But the fire crew was now there keeping a watchful eye on any smoldering remains.  Thankfully, none of the lake’s water fowl or any campground RVs were harmed!


We stayed on a few more days at the park so I could work. The little town of Safford seemed like the biggest town in the whole east-central region of Arizona and had just enough of the basics to meet my needs—a laundromat and a Wal-Mart!


  1. Goodness, I hope they're not in for another horrendous fire season in eastern Arizona. Last year's fire came awfully close to some of my kinfolks. Yes, you'll find lots of mines in that part of Arizona. A bit of trivia: my parents told me that many years ago Arizona's license plates were copper because it was such a cheap and plentiful metal in the state.

  2. We love Roper Lake State Park and Safford has one of our favorite Mexican restaurants...on the left side at the corner where you turn to go to WalMart. If you are still there, check out this restaurant .... CRS I can't remember the name of it.. I think Casa Manana... and try their sour cream enchiladas! YUM!
    We are surely glad the fire didn't spread into the campground area!

  3. Gee, we didn't see any fire results or remains at Roper Lake. Of course, we were not in the park much, and when we were in the park, we were upset about our car and the fact that there was no water in our part of the park, except the lake itself. We had stopped at the Chamber of Commerce and got a big bunch of brochures, so we could see what we were going to see when we saw it.


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