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Tonto National Monument

We learned a few things today, as we seem to do every day when we are adventuring. This lake we are camped beside is the result of a massive dam-building project from the early 1900s. When it was completed in 1911, the Roosevelt Dam was the largest masonry dam in the world and it caused the largest man-made reservoir to be formed behind it. Teddy Roosevelt himself came down here for the opening ceremonies and to hand out awards to the workers.

The level of the lake fluctuates quite a bit, like other man-made desert lakes. I mentioned to our real estate agent that we were here and he asked, “Is there any water in it?” Yes, we seem to be here at a high point. The lake is about 20 feet down from the apparent high-water mark, but still very full relative to other years.

People occasionally zip by on jet skis or fishing boats. There’s plenty of room, since the lake continues north-south for many miles. About four miles from our campsite is a visitor center for Lake Roosevelt, next to the marina, and it has a good interpretive area with information about the dam, the wildlife of the area, and native American history.

For more on the native Americans, called the “Salado”, you can drive south two more miles to Tonto National Monument. This smallish member of the national parks system protects Salado cliff dwellings high above Lake Roosevelt. The dwellings are found about 350 feet vertically above the visitor center and reached by a half-mile steep hike.

Tonto NM visitor center.jpg
Visitor Center with dwellings far above

The Lower Cliff Dwellings are mostly gone, victims of erosion and vandalism in the early 20th century, but there’s still enough left to make it worth the hike. At some times of year the rangers will also lead a daily trek to the Upper Cliff Dwellings but we missed that on this visit.

Tonto NM dwellings.jpg

Another reason to make the hike is the incredible view of the Tonto Basin and the lake. We were lucky to find many of the cacti still blooming, as well as turkey vultures making slow and majestic circles above.

The turkey vultures aren’t the only things flying around. The entire Tonto Basin has a large number of insects this time of year too. Normally we don’t encounter a lot of bugs in the desert, or even the higher elevations such as last week in Prescott. But here there’s plenty of water to encourage breeding and it’s springtime. Nothing seems to bite but a lot of little flies made themselves annoying on our hike, at times when the wind died down.

Tonto E flowers.jpg

Emma picked up the Junior Ranger packet and completed the questions on the way down, thus earning her 17th Junior Ranger badge.

Tonto NM jr ranger.jpg

Last night we took a short walk around the campground and found a messy site. Some slobs left trash all over their site, including plastic bags, empty beer cans in the fire ring, and a quarter-bag of charcoal. I have never understood why people so often leave crushed beer cans in the fire ring. I see it all the time. Do they think aluminum cans burn?

The residents of the campsite were clearly long gone, so Eleanor did her good deed for the day by cleaning up the site and I snagged the charcoal. So we have a surplus of choarcoal and that means tonight we will cook out.

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