Snowbird destinations: Arizona, Part 2

Balmy weather in Arizona when the snow flies up north is the primary reason Snowbirds head to the Copper State is such large numbers, but the weather is not consistently warm in all regions of the state.

Snowbird roosts

Barrel cactus at Phoenix Botanical Gardens. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Snowbird roosts are centered in the Phoenix, Tucson, and Yuma areas. These cities are magnets for Snowbirds, and RV parks have responded with highly organized activities and services.

Phoenix area
The largest concentration of Snowbirds is found in the Phoenix area, often referred to as The Valley of the Sun.

Phoenix and surrounding Maricopa County contains 80 percent of Arizona’s population.

This is where Mesa, Chandler, Scottsdale, Sun City, Carefree, Tempe, Paradise Valley, Queen Creek, Peoria, Apache Junction, and numerous other cities are found.

There’s also Glendale, Arizona’s fourth-largest city, to the north. Glendale, with a population of some 250,000, has experienced a huge spurt in construction of new sports facilities including a new football stadium for the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals, a new hockey arena for the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes, and new facilities for spring-training camps for baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox.

The major concentration of Snowbirds is found in the East Valley cities of Mesa and Apache Junction, but all around Phoenix there are numerous Snowbird parks.

From the number of RV dealers and snowbird resorts that line the avenues of Mesa, it is easy to see that winter residents are an important part of the economy.

Along the Apache Trail. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Downtown Phoenix contains several renowned repositories of art. One is the Heard Museum, which contains an outstanding collection of some 100,000 Southwestern Indian works of art. Another is the Phoenix Museum of Art, which houses more than 13,000 pieces, including a major collection of Western paintings.

The resort city of Scottsdale is the site of Taliesin West, a major studio of world-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

The Valley of the Sun is one of the world’s top golfing destinations, with more than 190 golf courses open to the public.

A popular day trip out of the East Valley is 46-mile-long Apache Trail Historic Road (State Highway 88).

Five miles northeast of Apache Junction, Lost Dutchman, a 300-acre state park offers a 70-site campground with restrooms, showers, sanitary disposal station, and unlimited hiking opportunities.

Lost Dutchman State Park is a short distance from the Snowbird parks in Mesa and Apache Junctions. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Note: Only 35 non-hookup sites are currently available. The remaining 35 sites are being upgraded with electric and water hookups and are expected to be ready for occupancy in January (2011).

Apache Trail is paved 5 miles past Tortilla Flat, population six, with a combination restaurant, motel, saloon, gift shop, grocery store, and U.S. Post Office.

The historic byway twists and climbs its way through some of the most awe-inspiring country in Arizona as it crosses Tonto National Forest. The scenic drive is bordered on the north by Canyon, Apache, and Roosevelt Lakes, and on the south by the rugged Superstition Mountains.

At Fish Creek Hill, perhaps the most impressive part of Apache Trail, the road is primarily one-way and drops 1,000 feet in elevation over a 15 to 17 percent grade.

Recreational vehicles are discouraged from traveling the section from Tortilla Flat to Roosevelt Lake, especially over Fish Creek Hill.

Majestic saguaro frames a classic Arizona sunset at Usery Mountain, a Maricopa County Regional Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the best kept secrets in the RV World is campgrounds located in county parks! If you’re looking for a quiet place to relax, do some bird watching, hike a near-by trail, or do some great sightseeing, it might be well worth seeking out some of these neat spots.

A county park system worth checking out is Maricopa County Regional Parks. The parks circle the Phoenix metropolitan area and all are within a 45-minute drive from central Phoenix. And unlike Arizona State Parks, no Maricopa County park has closed or suffered cutback in services.

With 10 regional parks totaling more than 120,000 acres, Maricopa County Regional Parks feature the nation’s largest county park system.

The park system began in 1954 to preserve the mountain areas for future generations to enjoy. A federal act in the 1970s called the Recreation and Public Purposes Act allowed Maricopa County to acquire thousands of acres of parkland from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) at $2.50 an acre. A combination of leased and purchased land has allowed this department to develop a regional park system that preserves open space and provides the residents of Maricopa County and their winter visitors with an opportunity to enjoy “Natural Arizona”.

The positive surroundings and the competently maintained facilities attract people from near and far including numerous snowbirds that have discovered this central Arizona gem.

Note: All camping sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Not all parks have developed camping facilities.

To be continued tomorrow…

Worth Pondering…

Not to have known…either the mountain or the desert is not to have known one’s self.

—Joseph Wood Krutch

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