On the outskirts of Mesa lies a rugged piece of land dotted with cacti and snaked with meandering trails. At first glance, it might just look like another mountainous stretch of the Sonoran Desert. But for Brennan Basler, it’s home. Basler, known more commonly as Ranger B, spends most of his days at Usery Mountain Regional Park educating the public about the park’s vast variety of plants and animals.
“We’re a beautiful slice of the Sonoran Desert,” Basler said.
Usery is one of 11 Maricopa Parks and stretches more than 3,600 acres. With 29 miles of trails and dozens of educational programs, it’s difficult to run out of activities to participate in.
Kids can explore the Sonoran Desert through a variety of outdoor activities offered at the park. The archery range boasts more than 100 targets and hosts classes for experts and beginners who are just starting out. Picnicking is another family-friendly activity and Usery has no shortage of scenic spots. Day-use areas are available on a first-come first-serve basis and have a table, drinking water, restrooms and a barbecue grill.
The park also offers a variety of educational programs each month. Basler runs almost all of the programs at the park, which are included with general park admission. They range from full moon hikes to animal flashlight walks and cater to all ages and abilities. One of Basler’s favorite programs to teach is “All About Rattlesnakes” because he enjoys debunking common myths.
“They can strike from long distances…they hibernate in the wintertime,” Basler said. “Those are all myths.”
He’s been with Usery for 12 years and has led more than 80 programs in the last two years. Occasionally, he introduces a program or updates a current one. This year, he’s focusing on enhancing the park’s homeschool program.
“My goal this year is to get the kids outdoors more,” Basler said. “They’re kind of ‘Adventures with Ranger B’-type tours where we go out and explore the desert animals and plants.”
One of the most common plants kids can see at the park is the saguaro cactus. Their towering frames and whimsical arms give the desert its ambiance. He describes the plants as human-like, from their crooked poses to their porous skeleton.
“They encounter hardships, they get stressed, they have a lifecycle,” Basler said.
In addition to teaching visitors about the saguaro, he likes to stress the importance of preserving the natural environment. On his full moon hikes, he points to the edge of the park where the city lights begin and asks, “Where do you think all the lights would be if this wasn’t a park?”
“Right here,” Basler said the hikers answer.
Basler said people are surprised when they first visit Usery. He said they feel like they’re a hundred miles away from the city, but it’s only a couple miles away.
“They feel it’s like a little jewel on the edge of civilization,” Basler said.
Top five programs in March
9 a.m. Friday, March 2
Wag ‘n’ Walk Dog Adoption Hike
Visitors can walk dogs up for adoption through Maricopa County Animal Care and Control. Hikers can select dogs and take them to the trails to see how they interact with other dogs. Hikers who already own a dog can spend time with them in the park. Dogs must be up to date on their vaccinations and at least 6 months old to participate. Bring a water bottle and wear closed-toe shoes.
7:30 p.m. Friday, March 8
Animal Flashlight Walk
Experience Usery at night with a leisurely hike through the park. Join Ranger B to try to spot the desert’s most elusive nocturnal creatures. The 1-mile hike lasts one hour. The trail can accommodate strollers and wheelchairs. Don’t forget to bring a flashlight along with closed-toe shoes and a water bottle. Leave pets at home.
10:30 a.m. Wednesday, March 13
Kid’s Desert Scavenger Hunt
Kids can delve into the desert through an interactive scavenger hunt. They will learn social skills while searching for items in the park and solving riddles. The Merkle Trail is 1 mile and accommodates strollers and wheelchairs. Families interested in participating should meet at Area 6 and bring a water bottle and wear closed-toe shoes.
2 p.m. Sunday, March 24
Eat the Desert
Join this exciting quarter-mile stroll along the Desert Hawk Trail. Join the park ranger as he shares useful information about edible desert plants. Bring water and closed-toe shoes. Meet at the Nature Center.
10:30 a.m. Wednesday, March 27
Little Desert Explorers
Kids ages 3 through 6 years old can explore the desert in a safe and fun environment. They will discover desert plants and animals using all five senses. Ranger B will lead this activity along the 1-mile Merkle Trail. The trail accommodates strollers and wheelchairs. Children must be accompanied by a guardian. Families who are interested should meet at Area 6 and have closed-toe shoes and water.
if you go
What: Usery Mountain
Where: 3939 N. Usery Pass Road, Mesa
Cost: $7 per vehicle; program information is available online.