Greetings From: Picacho Peak, AZ

The Sonoran Desert at twilight throws off shades of pink and blue at Picacho Peak State Park in Arizona.

Stories from eight years of living on the road in America

by Michael Boyink /

Civil War soldiers and saguaro cactus.

Two things you don’t expect to see in the same photo frame.

Neither did we.

We had been to Gettysburg. From there, driving south until we found ocean, it seemed like every historical marker, National Monument, and National Park had to do with the Civil War.

It got to be too much for our road-scholars. 

“Can we learn some history that doesn’t have anything to do with people dying?”

Fair point.

We pointed the nose of the truck west.

We refocused our learning on the Westward Expansion. 

The Gold Rush. Lewis and Clark.  The Wild West.

The Sonoran Desert.

We entered Arizona at the southeastern corner. The views confirmed what we learned Roadrunner cartoons growing up – the desert consisted of vast expanses of bare graveled ground populated with scrubby trees and framed by silhouetted mountain ridges in the distance.

No anvils falling from the sky, however.

Then we saw our first saguaro. To a bunch of shade-tree-loving Michiganders the desert was already other-worldly. The saguaros just added exclamation points.

But we struggled to find a place to stay.

Oh, Arizona has RV parks. Scads and gobs of them. 

But not for people under 55.

State parks don’t age-discriminate,  however. Tucson has the gorgeous and popular Catalina State Park.

Full up.  

The desert moon lights up our Picacho Peak State Park campsite while I-10 traffic rolls by in the distance.

The next option heading an hour north was Picacho State Park – less popular because it’s more remote. 

We found a site and setup camp amidst the saguaros – which seem to get more populous as you move north from Tucson.

The park map mentioned an upcoming Civil War Reenactment.

Civil War? Here amidst the cacti?

Our students were not amused.

Turns out Picacho Peak hosted the westernmost battle of the Civil War.

And the smallest in terms of men involved – just two dozen men.

Percentage-wise, the numbers weren’t great. Three dead. Three wounded. Three captured.

The battle represented a small, temporary victory for the Confederates.

And each year, more men show up to reenact it than originally fought in it.

A cargo train along I-10 by Picacho Peak State Park in Arizona catches the setting sun.

We don’t remember Picacho Peak for its Civil War history, however.

We remember it as the place we had our first date with a desert that we quickly fell in love with. 

We’d go on to spend more time in Arizona than just about any other state during our travels.

Picacho Peak State Park offers a visitor center with exhibits, camping, and hiking around and up to the 1500’ top of Picacho Peak. Learn more at