Discover Usery — the East Valley’s backyard wilderness - East Valley Tribune: Outdoors

Discover Usery — the East Valley’s backyard wilderness

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Posted: Wednesday, January 2, 2013 4:30 pm

One thing I love about living in the East Valley? We’re surrounded by scenic country that makes getting outdoors easy.

That’s why I was thrilled, as a newcomer here a few years ago, to discover Usery Mountain Regional Park just outside of Mesa. Our new neighbors recommended it.

The 3,648-acre preserve is crisscrossed by about 30 miles of trails, from the flat, stroller-passable Merkle Trail loop to Cat Peaks Pass Trail, a short climb between hills named for a wiley old mountain lion long since departed from the area.

A smorgasboard of programming is organized by the park’s interpretive ranger, Brennan Basler, a man with encyclopedic knowledge of Arizona’s flora, fauna and geography, and a knack for talking to children.

“Ranger B,” as he’s known to frequent visitors, leads everything from preschooler nature walks and full moon hikes to desert survival presentations. Volunteers with varied expertise host additional sessions on topics like birding, photography and stargazing.

When we were still freshly minted EV-ers, my husband attended Usery’s “New to Arizona” program — a useful primer for a city dweller transplanted to this landscape of, as we like to call it, “pointy things that can kill you.”

Usery is where we saw our first rattlesnake together — a momentous milestone for new Arizonans. It’s where our muscles and lungs grew from pipsqueaky flatlander models to hiker-quality versions capable of carrying us up mountains and over ridges.

We’ve hauled weekday picnic suppers out there after work, escaping for a tranquil hour from glowing monitors, fluorescent office lighting and the constant layoff scares of the Great Recession. We did our first “long” hike, the 7-mile Pass Mountain Trail, there, and we’ve taken nearly every out-of-state visitor up to the rock scoop called Wind Cave. We’ve spotted coyotes, coachwhip and king snakes, birds, rabbits and chipmunks.

Just about the only Usery initiations we have yet to undergo are archery, offered on a five-star archery range with 100 targets and six courses for $2 per archer, and overnight camping. The park has 73 campsites and restrooms equipped with flushing toilets and hot showers.

But we have returned the favor granted us by recommending the park to new neighbors, who have taken to it just as we did. It remains our go-to wilderness in our own backyard.

Usery Mountain Regional Park charges a $6 entry fee per vehicle, or you can buy an annual pass ($75) good for unlimited visits to all 10 Maricopa County Parks. Campsites at Usery cost $25 per night.

Usery Mountain Regional Park is at 3939 N. Usery Pass Road, which is Ellsworth Road north of McDowell Road, in Mesa. For information, call (480) 984-0032 or visit

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