What’s Your Favorite Arizona Destination?

Could you choose just one?

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I tried, but found it impossible to choose just one favorite Arizona destination. Since every attraction has its own reason for making the list, it’s really like trying to compare apples to oranges.

I decided to create a top 10 list instead.

Even then, I had to settle on leaving the list in no particular order. Yes, I know, that’s a cop-out, but maybe being drawn to varied outdoor adventures and activities explains why I’m so attracted to the RV lifestyle.

Arizona’s most visited attraction is, of course, Grand Canyon National Park.

Grand Canyon National Park

No other canyon can compare with the most visited Arizona destination. It’s hard to imagine a trip to Arizona that doesn’t involve at least a peek at the Grand Canyon. A powerful and inspiring landscape, Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size.

Visible from space, this massive gorge isn’t just a geological marvel, it’s a symbol of Western adventure and American spirit. Unique combinations of geologic color and erosional forms decorate a canyon that is 277 river miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and a mile deep. One look over the edge and it’s easy to see why it’s considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World.

Sedona and Red Rock Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Sedona and Red Rock Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona & Red Rock Country

Sedona is an Arizona destination not to be missed—a must-see wonders. Sedona easily makes the “A” list of RV destinations in the US due to its rugged western appeal and colorful rock formations. Tourists come from around the world to absorb the natural wonders of Red Rock Country and Sedona, its centerpiece.

Located at the base of Oak Creek Canyon, another scenic destination, Sedona is renowned for its stunning rock formations such as Coffee Pot Rock, Cathedral Rock, and Courthouse Butte, as well as its surrounding lush forests. Sedona has developed into a center for traditional and contemporary arts and offers a variety of galleries, boutiques, and specialty shops, and spiritual-energy vortexes.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro Cactus & Saguaro National Park

Native only to the Sonoran Desert, the saguaro cactus is practically synonymous with Arizona. Large and slow growing, saguaros can reach up to 70 feet tall and may not sprout an arm until they’re 100 years old.

Tucson is flanked on its western and eastern edges by Saguaro National Park, showcasing the giant cacti. Hiking is popular in both divisions of the park, but you can also drive the leisurely loop roads if you want to see the cactus forests from the comfort of your car. The park’s western division sprawls over the Tucson Mountains. In the eastern division, trails lead up from the saguaros into pine forests on the 8,000-foot summits.

Wildflowers & Picacho Peak State Park

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The precise prerequisites for a banner wildflower season—an early “triggering” rain, steady precipitation, and mild temperatures—make it about as reliable as a Vegas slot machine.

The sere landscape around Picacho Peak gets a splash of vibrant colors come spring, transforming it into one of the best wildflower spots in the state. The ephemeral Mexican goldpoppy is the litmus test for wildflower season: you’ll either spot sparse individuals or be blinded by a field of electric orange blooms. The more reliable brittlebush resembles a shrub sprouting a bouquet of mini-sunflowers. Your best bet for both is March.

Other good places to enjoy wildflowers include Pinal Pioneer Parkway, Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Apache Trail, Maricopa County Parks, Saguaro and Organ Pipe national parks.

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take desert creatures such as prairie dogs and Gila monsters and put them in a nearly natural outdoor setting. Add a dose of natural history and you have the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, a world-renowned zoo, natural history museum, and botanical garden, all in one place.

The Desert Museum is unique among zoological parks for its focus on interpreting the complete natural history of a single region, the Sonoran Desert. The museum has two miles of paths covering 21 acres of desert and features hundreds of creature species and more than 1,200 varieties of plants.

Please Note: This article is one of an on-going series on Arizona destinations.

Worth Pondering…

Newcomers to Arizona are often struck by Desert Fever. Desert Fever is caused by the spectacular natural beauty and serenity of the area.

Read More

Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts

Spring wildflowers, autumn colors, year-round birding, two miles of scenic walking trails, a picnic area shaded by Argentine mesquite trees are all available at Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At 323 acres, this park is Arizona’s largest and oldest botanical garden, founded in 1925 by mining magnate and philanthropist Col. William Boyce Thompson.

In 1917 Col. Thompson served as co-leader of a Red Cross mercy mission to Russia, where he came to understand the importance of plants as the ultimate source of a large portion of mankind’s food, clothing, and shelter. It was then, that he determined to use his wealth to improve the use of plant resources. The Arboretum is one of his legacies.

Col. Thompson’s goal was to bring together plants from arid lands so that scientists and researchers could study, experiment, research, and investigate uses and attributes that made the plants unique. He also wanted the arboretum to be open to the public. By the time he died in 1930, the arboretum had already gained a reputation that extended far beyond the borders of Arizona.

Thompson’s home, the 8,000-square-foot Picket Post House, is immediately adjacent to the arboretum and is easily viewed from the far end of the main trail. It was in private hands for years, but in 2008, the state purchased it with Heritage Funds and it is now under park management.

The Arboretum features plants from the world’s deserts, towering trees, captivating cacti, sheer mountain cliffs, a streamside forest, panoramic vistas, many natural habitats with varied wildlife, a desert lake, a hidden canyon, specialty gardens and more.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cooperatively managed by the University of Arizona and Arizona State Parks, the arboretum sits at the base of the Picketpost Mountains and features a collection of 3,200 different desert plants in a unique series of botanical gardens, and a 1.5-mile main loop walking trail that roughly parallels the normally dry Silver King Wash.

The main trail begins at the visitor center and quickly enters the colorful Hummingbird/Butterfly Garden, with a collection of plants designed to bloom throughout the year to attract Arizona’s diverse hummingbird and butterfly species.

A 2.5-acre Demonstration Garden shows various plants in functional landscapes; an area complete with patios, walls, shade structures, vine arbors, walkways, and rockwork.

Several trails branch off from the first part of the Main Trail, so you don’t have to walk far to see the highlights, and much of the trail system is wheelchair-accessible.

The historic Smith Interpretive Center, a short walk down the main trail contains botanical exhibits and displays, and two display greenhouses feature cacti and other succulents that might not otherwise survive the winter cold at this 2,400-foot elevation.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shorter trails cut through three desert environments. Find native medicinal and edible plants in the Sonoran Desert; plants from desert landscapes in western Texas, southern New Mexico and Chihuahua, Mexico, in the Chihuahua Desert; and flora from the Cuyo, Monte, and Chaco regions of Bolivia, Argentina, and Paraguay in the South American Desert.

Look for the bizarre boojum trees from Baja California. The two specimens were brought here from Mexico in the 1920s and are the tallest ones on display in the U.S. The tall conical plants are related to the native ocotillo.

The Arboretum’s Australian Walkabout, Eucalyptus forest, South African collection, and herb garden offers more specific collections, colorful wildflowers, and varied cacti.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than 270 species of birds have been recorded, including Gambel’s quail, Canyon wren, and black-throated sparrows, making it a prime spot for birders. A checklist of birds is available upon request. Ayer Lake and Queen Creek on the Main Trail are good places to watch for wildlife; and you may even see endangered species such as the Gila topminnow and desert pupfish.

Queen Creek cuts through the Arboretum’s bottomlands, and supports the water-loving trees that take root there, including Fremont cottonwood, Arizona ash, black willow, and Arizona black walnut. Take a look at the spiny branched ocotillo, the green-stemmed Palo Verde, the thorny acacias, the low-growing mesquite, and the golden-flowered agaves.

Visit the Arboretum and have your horizons expanded as to the value and use of plants and trees from arid lands for food, shelter, and livelihood, both in the past and the present.

Details

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park

Elevation: 2,400 feet

Location: U.S. 60 near mile marker 223

Directions: From junction Highway 79 and Highway 60, 12 miles east on Highway 60

Address: 37615 U.S. Hwy 60, Superior, AZ 85273

Phone: (520) 689-2811

Entrance Fees: $10; children ages 5-12, $5; age 4 and under, free

Websites: www.azstateparks.com and www.ag.arizona.edu

Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

When I walk in the desert the birds sing very beautifully

When I walk in the desert the trees wave their branches in the breeze

When I walk in the desert the tall saguaro wave their arms way up high

When I walk in the desert the animals stop to look at me as if they were saying

“Welcome to our home.”

—Jeanette Chico, in When It Rains

Read More

Valley of Butterflies

The butterfly explosion was right on schedule.

Source: valleymorningstar.com
Source: valleymorningstar.com

Abundant September rain put blossoms on Rio Grande Valley plants and the result was an explosion of butterflies in October. It was only logical.

And just as the Rio Grande Valley is the number one birding destination in the United States, it’s also among the best places to view butterflies, including several species not seen anywhere else, reports valleymorningstar.com.

Some of the best local places to see birds double as great spots to view butterflies, but just about anywhere there are flowering plants can be a good place, including backyards, gardens, and even pastures.

Just a few great butterfly places include the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center, plants at the SPI Convention Center, Sabal Palm Sanctuary in Brownsville, Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Resaca de la Palma State Park, Estero Llano Grande State Park, Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Edinburg Scenic Wetlands, Valley Nature Center in Weslaco, Frontera Audubon Center in Weslaco, Ramsey Nature Park in Harlingen, and the National Butterfly Center in Mission.

Local favorites include the diminutive blue metalmark and the Mexican blue wing. Both are drop-dead gorgeous. Other Valley beauties include the border patch, Gulf fritillary, queen, silver-banded hairstreak, orange julia, white peacock and, well, the list goes on and on.

The Valley has the distinction of being one of the better places to find the world’s smallest butterfly, the pygmy blue, which has a wingspan of half an inch, reports valleymorningstar.com.

Source: valleymorningstar.com
Source: valleymorningstar.com

Currently, American snouts are passing through the Valley by the millions and are undoubtedly the most numerous butterfly in Texas. By the way, snout butterflies similar to those passing through the Valley were around when dinosaurs roamed the earth 70 million years ago.

According to the Texas Natural Science Center at the University of Texas, the Lone Star State has 495 species. The Butterfly Website estimates there are 28,000 species worldwide and 725 of those butterflies can be found in the United States. Moths are even more numerous than butterflies, but that’s a subject for another day.

Butterflies serve a useful purpose. They pollinate plants, provide food for many birds, and their beauty adds an exclamation point to our day. They also help us connect to nature.

Details

National Butterfly Center

Unlike various butterfly conservatories that have been built across the United States, the National Butterfly Center provides extensive outdoor gardens of native nectar plants and specific caterpillar host plants as well as natural habitat to attract large numbers of wild butterflies and to conserve rare native butterflies.

In the few short years since the National Butterfly Center opened, it has already been the site of a number of sightings of butterflies never before seen in the United States. The close proximity to Mexico and the Rio Grande gives ample opportunity for species to cross over into the United States.

More than 300 species of butterflies have been found in the Rio Grande Valley, and over 200 of these have been seen at the National Butterfly Center, including a number of rarities and U.S. Records.

In addition to the butterflies, the National Butterfly Center is revegetating its land with rare native plants, giving visitors the chance to experience and learn about the Rio Grande Valley’s native flora and fauna.

Source: valleymorningstar.com
Source: valleymorningstar.com

Incredibly, almost 40 percent of the 725 butterflies that can be found in the United States can be seen in this three-county area at the southernmost tip of Texas, where the subtropical climate makes it possible to enjoy the outdoors year ’round.

Address: 3333 Butterfly Park Drive, Mission, TX 78572

Phone: (956) 583-5400

Website: nationalbutterflycenter.org

Texas Butterfly Festival

The National Butterfly Center hosts the 18th Annual Texas Butterfly Festival from November 2 – 5, 2013. Attendees will spend 3 days exploring renowned public lands and private properties with world-class trip leaders and expert guides. The Festival is taking place during prime butterfly season, when you may reasonably expect to see 60 or more species in a day.

Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival

The 20th Annual Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival will occur in Harlingen immediately following the Butterfly Festival from November 6-10, 2013.

Worth Pondering…

Happiness is a butterfly which when pursued is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you sit down quietly may alight upon you.

—Nathaniel Hawthorne

Read More

U.S. Forest Service: Celebrating Wildflowers

U.S. Forest Service promotes wildflower viewing in national forests lands.

The U.S. Forest Service has released an updated online wildflower map with hundreds of locations on national forests for prime wildflower viewing, making it easier than ever to enjoy America’s great outdoors.

The wildflower map includes 317 wildflower viewing areas on National Forest System (NFS) lands and can be referenced by specific states, individual national forests, and geographic regions, according to a news release.

“This updated map provides visitors a quick guide to find locations and best viewing times for the spectacular natural beauty of wildflowers on national forests,” said Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell.

“This is one more way folks can experience the bounty of natural surroundings.”

For many rural communities, the tourist revenue generated by thousands of wildflower festivals and events held each year helps support local economies.

According to recent research, viewing and photographing wildflowers and trees is the fastest growing nature-based outdoor activity.

Celebrating Wildflowers is dedicated to the enjoyment of the thousands of wildflowers growing on our national forests and grasslands, and to educating the public about the many values of native plants.

A narrative for each location describes the viewing area’s botanical habitat, the types of wildflowers that can be found by season, and recommendations for the best time of year to visit. Information on safety advisories such as animal habitats, clothing recommendations, insect or plant cautions, and traffic and parking tips are included.

Directions to the site, the closest town and contacts for more information are also offered.

The map is part of the agency’s Celebrating Wildflowers website which includes more than 10,000 plant images and information about the aesthetic, recreational, biological, medicinal, and economic values of native plants.

Celebrating Wildflowers emphasizes:

  • The aesthetic value of plants – a field of wildflowers is a beautiful sight
  • The recreational value of plants – picking berries is fun for the whole family
  • The biological value of plants – native plants support other life
  • The medicinal value of plants – chemicals from plants help combat sickness
  • The economic value of plants – plant material such as floral greens are commercially valuable
  • The conservation of native plants – protecting and maintaining native plant habitat

Feature sections focus on the role of pollinators, overviews of flower types, and spotlights on rare and interesting plant communities. An ethnobotany page highlights how people of particular cultures and regions make use of indigenous plants. Educational activities for kids and resources for teachers also are available.

Details

U.S. Forest Service

The mission of the U.S. Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. Recreational activities on our lands contribute $14.5 billion annually to the U.S. economy. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world.

Website: fs.fed.us

Celebrating Wildflowers Program

The U.S. Forest Service started the Celebrating Wildflowers program in 1991. The program responds to public desire for information about native plants and their conservation. It is a way to promote and enjoy wildflowers on the 191 million acres of national forests and grasslands.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which manages 270 million acres of public lands, joined the program in 1994. Together, the two agencies now promote wildflower programs on about 20 percent of the nation’s landmass. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, and USDA Agricultural Research Service have also joined the program.

In addition, groups like, garden clubs, botanical gardens, Native Plant Society chapters, nurseries, universities, and public schools actively participate in Celebrating Wildflowers.

Website: fs.fed.us/wildflowers

Worth Pondering…
The Amen of nature is always a flower.

—Oliver Wendell Holmes

Read More

Enjoy Spring at a Texas State Park

With the redbuds and bluebonnets blooming, it’s time to get outside and enjoy spring in Texas.

(Credit: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department)

“Much of Texas is still way behind its average annual rainfall, but it looks like winter rains in many areas of the state will make for an excellent spring,” says Texas Parks and Wildlife Executive Director Carter Smith. “Weather forecasters say we may still be in for more drought, so it’s a good idea to make the most of spring while it lasts.”

With apologies to a certain late night talk show host, here are the top 10 reasons to head outdoors and enjoy a great spring:

1. The fish are biting. The white bass, which travel like salmon upstream to lay and fertilize their eggs each spring, are already running in East Texas and in streams with sufficient water. The action should be starting any day now in Central Texas, with Colorado Bend State Park a perennial hot spot. Black bass are also heading into the spring spawning season with several ShareLunkers already on the board at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center (TFFC) in Athens. Plan a visit to TFFC for an up-close and personal look at these amazing fish. Likewise, conditions along the coast are heating up and a tour of Sea Center Texas in Lake Jackson offers a front row view of some impressive saltwater specimens.

Devils River Horsemint (Credit: Chase A. Fountain, © Texas Parks and Wildlife Department)

2. It’s that time of year…Wildflowers. The wildflowers are beginning to bloom in all but the most drought-stricken parts of the state. Prime public viewing and photographic opportunities can be found in traditional wildflower havens such as Lyndon B. Johnson and Washington-on-the-Brazos state historic sites, as well as East Texas destinations like Lake Somerville State Park and Trailway, and Tyler and Purtis Creek. Sandy soils typically produce some of the better wildflower displays, so head to Palmetto, Inks Lake and Enchanted Rock State Natural Area to see bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush and other early bloomers. For wildflower sighting updates, starting March 15, call the Texas Department of Transportation Hotline at 1-800-452-9292. 

3. The camping is great. Take advantage of mild days and cool nights for overnight camping in more than 90 parks across Texas. Weekend campsites go early in the spring, so book your reservation early.

4. Go ahead, make some s’mores.In many parks, burn bans that were in place last summer and fall and have been lifted. Depending on the weather and altitude, it’s a wonderful time of the year to enjoy a campfire.

5. Hit the road, Jack. Well, hit the trail. Mild temperatures and relatively low humidity make it a perfect time to go for a hike. Not only will you enjoy the scenery and wildlife, from butterflies to game animals, you’ll burn off those s’mores you ate around the campfire.

6. It’s Texas history season. One hundred and seventy-six years ago, the Texas Revolution was underway. State parks at sites that played a role in the brief but sanguinary military campaign that gained Texas its independence from Mexico include Washington-on-the-Brazos, Goliad and the San Jacinto Battle Ground.

7. Go and park it. If you visit almost any of our state parks on weekdays, you’ll find them far less crowded than they are on weekends this time of the year. Try one of the typically less crowded hidden “jewels” such as Copper Breaks, Seminole Canyon, Caprock Canyons, Meridian, or Village Creek.

Goliad State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Head to the beach. If you don’t like crowds and partying, wait until Spring Break is over, and then pack your fishing gear, surfboards and sunscreen and head to the Gulf sands of Galveston, Goose Island, Mustang Island and Sea Rim state parks. You’ll not only enjoy great beaches, but a variety of camping options.

9. Go turkey hunting. Rio Grande spring turkey hunting season opens in March and Eastern turkey season starts in April. With an abundance of gobblers available, the prospects look good this season.

10. Spring is for the birds. Spring is one of the best times of year for birding. Discover more than 950 places in Texas to see our feathered friends by picking up a Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail or Great Texas Wildlife Trail map.

Related Stories

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Texas is neither southern nor western. Texas is Texas.

—Senator William Blakley

Read More

Springtime in Full Bloom at Texas State Parks

What looks to be a promising wildflower season has started early this year and Texas State Parks remain some of the best and safest places to see and photograph a dazzling array of bluebonnets, mountain laurels, and other blooming flora, according to a state park news release.

This comes as good news for wildflower fans on the heels of last year’s record-setting heat wave and drought that make wildflower season a bust throughout most of a state that boasts more than 5,000 wildflower species. Most parts of Texas as of late, however, are benefiting from the late fall and winter rains and warmer-than-normal January and February temperatures.

Field of Blue Bonnets (Credit: Chase A. Fountain, © Texas Parks and Wildlife Department)

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department botanists and state park natural resources specialists concur with Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s prediction of an impressive wildflower season thanks to well-timed moisture in central, eastern, and northern parts of Texas.

Even in drought-stricken West Texas, state park field reports show exceptions to the rule of a poor wildflower showing.

“The rains and snow, coupled with recent suitable temperatures have proven to be the perfect combination for a beautiful and prolific Mexican gold poppy blooming season,” reports Adrianna Weickhardt, interpretive ranger for Franklin Mountains State Park in El Paso. “We’ll be celebrating with the Poppies Festival at nearby Castner Range on March 31.”

“It’s a great spring in East Texas,” says TPWD botanist Jason Singhurst, who has been seeing lots of sandyland bluebonnets (Lupinus subcarnous) that are expected to reach full bloom in coming weeks.

Singhurst also looks for good crops of Texas groundsel, bluets, white trout lily, mayapples, and other flowering flora in the piney woods and post oak savannah of East Texas. He recommends Lake Somerville State Park and Trailway, and Tyler and Purtis Creek state parks as good wildflower-viewing locations in East Texas.

Roadside Flowers (Credit: Chase A. Fountain, © Texas Parks and Wildlife Department)

TPWD botanist Jackie Poole concurs with her fellow botanist about a promising wildflower season and notes “some weird things happening” where spring bloomers are concerned around Austin.

“Texas mountain laurels already have bloomed ahead of agarita and Mexican buckeye that usually come first,” Poole says. “The drought may be causing some species to flower earlier or later than normal, but I’ve got a great crop of bluebonnets, as well as many other species, in my yard. Give us some sunny, warm days and things will really start to pop.”

Sandy soils typically produce some of the better wildflower displays, according to Poole, so wildflower lovers in central Texas should consider visiting Palmetto and Inks Lake state parks, as well Enchanted Rock State Natural Area north of Fredericksburg.

Just outside Bandera, park staff report “Hill Country State Natural Area has put on her spring bonnet with purple mountain laurel, hot pink redbuds, and bright yellow agarita bushes all ablaze. The fragrances are fabulous and the wildflowers are just starting up and promise to be in full bloom after early spring rains and sunny days.”

A healthy crop of bluebonnet rosettes spotted in mid-February are now starting to bloom in Goliad State Park, where spring arrived early, and park ranger Tammy Zellner promises “somewhat of a bumper crop this year.” In addition, she reports pink evening primrose, winecup, blue-curls, and Indian paintbrush are starting to put on blooms.

In parts of central and north Texas, Texans are already being treated to the colorful blooms of such flowering trees as redbuds, peach, pear, and Mexican plum. Judging from the profusion of pink blooms on peach trees recently spied around Fredericksburg and Stonewall, barring an unpredictable late spring freeze, peach lovers are in for a mouth-watering season.

Devils River Horsemint (Credit: Chase A. Fountain, © Texas Parks and Wildlife Department)

Wildflower season at Lyndon B. Johnson State Park & Historic Site takes on special meaning this year during Texas’ year-long celebration of the 100th birthday of one of the state’s biggest wildflower champions, Lady Bird Johnson, who would have turned 100 years old this December. LBJ Park Superintendent Iris Neffendorf expects showy displays of bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush along park trails and roads.

In honor of Mrs. Johnson, the park has installed a new wildflower display inside the Visitors Center to help with wildflower identification along the park’s nature trail that Lady Bird helped get developed and frequently strolled. On May 5 and 12, park will host a guided nature walk to highlight its flora, fauna and history.

Some of the most eye-popping wildflower crops to be viewed year-in, year-out are found in rolling, verdant Washington County. Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site between Brenham and Navasota offers great wildflower diversity among 293 acres of natural riverside beauty, as well as an informative primer on early Republic of Texas history. Rewarding patches also can be seen near Houston at Brazos Bend and Galveston state parks.

Details

Texas State Parks

Website: tpwd.state.tx.us

For updated statewide wildflower reports, visit the Texas Department of Transportation’s Website.

For photos, fun facts and other information about the 5,000 species of wildflowers found around the state, visit the Wildflower Guide and Program.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

No matter how far we may wander, Texas lingers with us, coloring our perceptions of the world.

—Elmer Kelto

Read More

Lost Dutchman State Park: Mixture of Mountains & Mystery

During the past winter I posted two articles on Lost Dutchman, an Arizona State Park named after Jacob Waltz, the Dutchman, who reportedly found a gold mine in the Superstitions in the 1870s. According to legend, the gold is still there somewhere.

The proximity of the Superstition Wilderness Area makes the park an ideal base for hikers and horse riders. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For generations, treasure hunters have been scouring the Superstition Mountains near Apache Junction for some trace of the Lost Dutchman’s gold.

Wildflowers are yellow, but they might as well be gold at Lost Dutchman State Park near Apache Junction. And gold, whether it’s the Lost Dutchman’s or any other kind, is something the entire Arizona State Parks system could use with the state legislature raiding $3.5 million from gate receipts to help reduce the budget shortfall.

Because Mother Nature has a mind of her own, Arizona’s wildflower season varies from year to year. With few wildflowers this spring following a dry winter, attendance dropped in March by nearly 6,000 visitors from a year earlier, when an unusually wet winter left a bountiful yellow blanket on the slopes of the Superstitions.

Park manager, Tom Fisher said the park was profitable until the wildflowers failed to materialize, but those profits disappeared.

State Parks spokeswoman, Ellen Bilbrey, said Lost Dutchman’s revenues are up by a miniscule 1.36 percent from a year ago despite a 14.3 percent drop in attendance. The revenues increased mainly due to higher gate and camping fees.

Delays in completing the campground electric upgrade project, promoted as a means of increasing profitability, has been another major setback. The $415,000 project, financed mostly with federal grants, went out to bid late, and construction during the prime winter months forced the park to turn away potential customers, with more than half the spaces unavailable until mid-February.

The Superstitions have been a source of mystery and legend since early times. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After several months of construction, the electric and water hookup sites are now available at Lost Dutchman. All sites are still on a first come first served basis with a reservation system expected later in 2011. Reservations are now available on-line at nine Arizona State Parks for a $5 non-refundable fee.

Photo Tips

Going the Distance

To capture the greatest depth of field, focus one-third of the way into your image—the hyperfocal distance. When the lens is focused at that distance, the depth of field extends from half the hyperfocal distance to infinity. To be more precise, use a depth of field calculator.

Let There Be Light

Photography is all about capturing light. The best photographers are able to take advantage of dramatic lighting opportunities brought about by dynamic weather conditions, giving their work an added dimension. As they say: Luck favors the well prepared.

Details

Lost Dutchman State Park

Location: 5 miles north of Apache Junction, off of AZ 88 (Apache Trail)

Park Entrance Fees: $7.00/vehicle

Camping Fees: $25.00, water and 50/30/20 amp electric service; $15.00, non-hookup

Information: (480) 982-4485

Adopt-a-Cactus

Adopt a Saguaro Cactus. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nothing so uniquely represents Arizona like the Saguaro cactus. Equally as unique as these cacti, is the ability to share this state treasure with family and friends anywhere in the world through the adoptacactus.org program.

Adoptacactus.org was established to help sustain and preserve these statuesque monuments to the Southwest and the protected areas that house them; like Lost Dutchman State Park.

At the base of the famed Superstition Mountains, Lost Dutchman State Park is home to thousands of magnificent cacti; proceeds from this program will directly ensure the park’s sustainability for future generations.

Adopting a Saguaro is easy! Simply choose the type and size of Saguaro you would like to adopt, click “Adopt Me”, fill out the required mailing and payment information, and you will receive an Official Adoptacactus.com Adoption certificate, picture of your adopted saguaro with GPS coordinates, and thank you letter showing your tax deductible amount from the Friends of Lost Dutchman State Park (FLDSP). Since FLDSP is a 501c3 Organization, 100% of your adoption amount is tax deductible.

The adoption fees are based on the size of the cactus and how long you want the adoption to last.

Period of adoption are one year, five years, and twenty years.

Worth Pondering…
A saguaro can fall for a snowman but where would they set up house?

—Jodi Picoult

Read More

Lost Dutchman State Park, a Scenic Gem

Lost Dutchman State Park is located in the Sonoran Desert in central Arizona at the base of the Superstition Mountains. The park is named for the “Lost Dutchman,” Jacob Waltz, a German prospector who supposedly knew the location of a fabulously rich gold mine in the mountains.

The proximity of the Superstition Wilderness Area makes the park an ideal base for hikers and horse riders. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For generations, treasure hunters have been scouring the Superstition Mountains for some trace of the Lost Dutchman’s gold.

Mystery and Legend

The Superstition Mountains have been a source of mystery and legend since early times. The area is dotted with ancient cliff dwellings and caves, many showing signs of former habitation by a number of different Native American groups, up until the 1800s.

Even the name is inspired by Pima Indian legends. During the 1840s, the Peralta family of northern Mexico supposedly developed a rich gold mine in the Superstitions. According to legend, an Apache ambush ended the family’s last expedition, and the gold remained in the area. In the 1870s, Jacob Waltz (“the Dutchman”) was said to have located the mine through the aid of the Peralta descendant. Waltz and his partner, Jacob Weiser, worked in the mine and allegedly hid one or more caches of gold in the Superstitions. After Waltz’s death in 1891, several people attempted to seek out the Lost Dutchman’s Mine, all without success.

Later searchers have sometimes met with foul play or even death, contributing to the superstition and legend of these mountains. The legend of the “lost mine” has been fueled by a number of people who were supposed to have known the mine’s location or even worked it. Maps have surfaced over the years, only to become lost or misplaced.

Hiking

The proximity of the Superstition Wilderness Area makes the park an ideal base for hikers and horse riders.

Five trails, from easy to strenuous, lead through the Sonoran Desert. You can hike to the top of the mountains, to the Flatiron, at 4,861 feet, but the trail is not maintained near the end.

Use caution when hiking. Those planning to use the longer trails should carry a topographic

Lost Dutchman State Park could be a goldmine for Arizona. It has beautiful trails and is just minutes away from Apache Junction, Canyon Lake, and Goldfield Ghost Town. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

map. Each person should carry at least one gallon of drinking water per day. Remember summer temperatures often exceed 100 degrees.

Treasure Loop Trail: 2.4 miles round trip, rated moderate, elevation change of 500 feet, trail terminates at either picnic area.

Prospector’s View Trail: 0.7 miles, rated moderate, connects Siphon Draw Trail with Treasure Loop Trail also connects with Jacob’s Crosscut Trail.

Jacob’s Crosscut Trail: 0.8 miles along the base of the mountain, rated easy, connects Treasure Loop Trail with Prospector’s View Trail, and continues 4.5 miles past the park area along the base of the Superstitions.

Siphon Draw Trail: 3.2 miles round trip, very scenic hike, trail winds up into a canyon known as Siphon Draw. It is possible to hike up the Flatiron, although it is not a designated, maintained trail all the way. It’s advised that only experienced hikers in good shape attempt to hike to the top, as the climb is steep and difficult to follow. Allow at least five hours to the Flatiron and back.

Discovery Trail: Connects campground and day use areas, features information signs, a wildlife pond, bird feeder, and viewing bench.

Wildflowers

The Superstitions have been a source of mystery and legend since early times. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park has practically become synonymous with wildflower watching. Prime times are March and April.

Mexican goldpoppies, golden bursts of brittlebushes, mustard evening primroses, lupines, and countless other brightly colored spring petals pave the picture-perfect slopes of the Superstition Mountains.

The especially scenic wildflower vistas along the Jacob’s Crosscut, Siphon Draw, mango-colored fiddleneck, and Discovery trails are worth their weight in blooming bullion and may well be the gold that’s in them thar hills?

Because Mother Nature has a mind of her own, Arizona’s wildflower season varies from year to year.

Birding

Common birds are Costa’s hummingbird, gilded flicker, Gila and ladder-backed woodpeckers, cactus and rock wrens, phainopepla, verdin, black-tailed gnatcatcher, Gambel’s quail, house finch, long-billed thrasher, and Harris and red-tailed hawks.

Campground Construction Update

Sites 16-32 and 41-58 (which were closed for construction) are open again for tents or RVs at $15 per night on a first come-first served basis; these sites have water hookups only.

Location: 5 miles north of Apache Junction, off of AZ 88 (Apache Trail)

Park Entrance Fees: $7.00/vehicle

Information: (480) 982-4485

Worth Pondering…
The Amen of nature is always a flower.

—Oliver Wendell Holmes

Read More