Catalina State Park

Catalina State Park
Tall mountains + Tall Cacti

We arrived here at Catalina State Park early Saturday afternoon. It was quick 45 minute drive from Gilbert Ray Campground over a short, narrow mountain pass and then north though the city. Catalina State Park is situated at the very northeastern edge of Tucson, tucked up against the Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is extremely popular and even though we called ahead for reservations we were only able to get a spot in the dry camping loop. Which turned out to be more of a dirt parking lot with numbered poles and railroad ties to delineate sites than an actual campground.

Catalina State Park
A $15/night parking lot

If we wanted to site hop and move every day we probably could have stayed in one of the other loops, but since we plan to remain here all week it seemed easier to just make the best of this lovely parking lot situation. The two additional campground loops offer some sites with water and electric hookups, and some with no hook ups. They are all actual sites though, with picnic tables and space to spread out.

Catalina State Park
A soon to be occupied site in B Loop

Where we ended up may not be as nice to look at, but us parking lot dwellers have the same gorgeous mountain view as the folks over in the “upscale” part of the park.

Catalina State Park
Mountain view out our front door

We also have a very, very nice bathroom facility with the BEST campground showers ever. No joke. We’ve seen a lot of campground showers and these top them all. Better even than the ones at some of the Oregon State Parks that we raved about this fall. Also better than any of the private campgrounds we’ve stayed at. It might sound strange to call a public shower nice. But after nearly 9 months of alternating between brief, water-conserving showers in the tiny cramped airstream bathroom, and often scary campground showers (the kind where you don’t want to touch the floor, the walls or even the fixtures with your bare skin), trust me your priorities start to change. Suddenly a shower with room to move around in, plenty of hooks for your stuff, enough water pressure to get the soap out of your hair, and an unlimited supply of free hot water is the best thing ever! I was so impressed with the shower situation here that I almost took a picture to share. Almost. But then I was afraid that the picture wouldn’t do it justice. I didn’t want to risk you thinking badly of these showers because of some poorly lit photo, so you’ll just have to use your imagination on this one.

Okay, enough about the showers. You know what else we have here in this parking lot we call home? Generators. Lots of generators that come together to create a harmonious symphony in the evening and again in the morning. We’ve done a ton of dry camping at other state parks and national forest campgrounds so we’re pretty used to generator noise. Most RVs either have the quiet Honda generators that sound more like a loud purr than an engine, or an on-board generator that is also pretty non-offensive on the noise scale. We experienced a generator first here though. On our first night an older GMC Motorhome pulled in right next to us. If you’ve never seen one they’re pretty cool looking. A longish van-type vehicle with rounded corners and lots of windows that has a vintage look to it.

Catalina State Park
1976 GMC Motorhome- one noisy beast!

Turns out the vintage look is authentic because these babies were only made between 1973 and 1978. Apparently, along with the vintage look comes a vintage engine. A LOUD vintage engine. This loud vintage engine powers the loud vintage on-board generator. When they first fired it up I was in complete disbelief. Is that thing for real? We were inside with all the doors and windows closed and could barley stand the noise, so how in the world could they possibly live inside there and put up with that racket? For the two nights they were next to us they only fired the generator up for about an hour in the morning and evening so it wasn’t totally unbearble, but still I wonder how many complaints they’ve gotten from other campers in the past. The morning they left we met one of the occupants and she was so nice that I feel a little bad complaining about their noisy rig. Only a little bad though- that kind of racket is deserving of a complaint or two!

Catalina State Park
Hiking in the park

In other news we’ve been busy exploring the many, many hiking trails in the park. Unlike some other not-so-dog-friendly states (yes, I’m talking about you California), Arizona state parks allow dogs on trails so Phineas has been thrilled to join us an a few hikes. Only the short ones, since he gets tired on any hike over a mile or 2 theses days, but he’s still thrilled regardless. I should have a picture of Phin on the trail to go along with this paragraph, but for some reason I don’t have one to share. So here’s one of Tim instead :)

Catalina State Park
Tim checking out a cool Yucca plant

As always we’re loving the giant saguaros and other cacti that we spot along the trail. The saguaros in this area seem to be particulalry large with lots of huge arms.

Overachieving saguaros and a giant barrel cactus with fruit
Overachieving saguaros and a giant barrel cactus with fruit

The weather has turned a little wacky on us this week. We started with one day of dark clouds mixed with sun.

Catalina State Park
Scary sky

That was followed by one full day of bright sunshine. And then yesterday it rained all day and in the afternoon the mountains behind us got a dusting of snow. It has been pretty chilly since we arrived on Saturday with highs only in the 50s during the day and dropping down into the low 20s at night. We stay pretty warm in our cozy home though and since it warms up during the day we haven’t had to worry about frozen pipes or any of those hassles. We’re also pleased to report that our solar panels are keeping up nicely with the high electric use that comes from running the furnace at night. Especially since Tim installed some home made tilt panels that allow us to capture the maximum amount of sun. Now if we could only get all our neighbors here to jump of the solar train life would be perfect and noise free!

Catalina State Park
Snowy mountain view from our site
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