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

Saguaro National Park: Two Districts, One Park

Stretching outward, an army of saguaro cacti waved at me with their massive prickly arms.

The Rincon Mountain District (East) includes the Cactus Forest Scenic Loop Drive, an eight-mile paved route that provides access to a variety of trails. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Rincon Mountain District (East) includes the Cactus Forest Scenic Loop Drive, an eight-mile paved route that provides access to a variety of trails. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The giant saguaro (scientific name Carnegiea gigantea) is the universal symbol of the American Southwest. These majestic plants, found only in a small portion of the US, are protected by Saguaro National Park, to the east and west of Tucson.

The saguaros are the highlight of this national park, of course. The scenery is spectacular and captures the beauty that is so unique to the region.

The saguaro cactus is a large, tree-sized cactus with a relatively long lifespan. It’s beautiful white, waxy flower (which blooms late May-July) is the Arizona state flower and is a favorite treat for the diverse animal populations that call Saguaro National Park home.

Saguaro National Park has two districts. The Rincon Mountain District is located to the East of Tucson and the Tucson Mountain District is located to the West. Both districts have their own visitor center, scenic drives, and hiking trail systems.

The Tucson Mountain District and the Rincon Mountain District are approximately 30 miles (45-60 minutes) apart. While similar in terms of plants and animals, the intricate details make both areas worthy of a visit.

The Tucson Mountain District (West) Red Hills Visitor Center has excellent facilities for a fine interpretive program. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Tucson Mountain District (West) Red Hills Visitor Center has excellent facilities for a fine interpretive program. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Eastern Rincon Mountain District rises to over 8,000 feet and includes over 128 miles of trails. The Western Tucson Mountain District is generally lower in elevation with a denser saguaro forest.

The Rincon Mountain District  includes a one-way paved road drive, the Cactus Forest Scenic Loop, that winds through the spectacular saguaros and is easily navigable by RVs under 35 feet long and less than 8 feet wide. This 8-mile loop includes several trailheads, picnic areas, scenic vistas, and pullouts. You may want to stop at the visitor center for a guide to the natural and cultural history that can be viewed along the drive. This forest of impressive saguaros is a must-see when visiting the Tucson area.

Speaking of Saguaros…

  • Start out as tiny black seeds no larger than a pinhead
  • Frequently spend their early years under the protection of a so-called “nurse tree,” such as a mesquite or palo verde
  • Grow very slowly—seedlings might poke up only a quarter-inch after a year of life and may be barely a foot tall by the time they’re 15 years old, often living 75 years before sprouting their first arms
  • Reproduce with the help of pollination by birds, insects, and nectar-feeding bats
  • Provide homes for Gila woodpeckers and gilded flickers, which excavate nest cavities in saguaros; other birds including elf owls, finches, and sparrows often move into abandoned nest cavities
The Rincon Mountain District  drive, the 8-mile Cactus Forest Scenic Loop includes several trailheads, picnic areas, scenic vistas, and pullouts. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Rincon Mountain District drive, the 8-mile Cactus Forest Scenic Loop includes several trailheads, picnic areas, scenic vistas, and pullouts. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Did You Know?

The average life span of a saguaro cactus is 150 years, but some plants may live more than 200 years. A 20 foot tall saguaro weighs approximately 1 ton (2000 pounds).

Details

Saguaro National Park

Entrance Fees: $10/vehicle (valid for 7 days); all federal lands passes accepted

Established: National Monument, March 1, 1933; National Park, October 14, 1994

Size: 91,445 acres

2013 Visitor Count: 678,261

Website: www.nps.gov/sagu

Saguaro National Park Headquarters and Rincon Mountain District (East)

Address: 3693 South Old Spanish Trail, Tucson, AZ 85730

Directions: From I-10 exit # 275 (Houghton Road) drive 9.5 miles north to Old Spanish Trail and turn right; the park entrance is 3 miles southeast down Old Spanish Trail on your left

Phone: (520) 733-5153

Stretching outward, an army of saguaro cacti waved at me with their massive prickly arms. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Stretching outward, an army of saguaro cacti waved at me with their massive prickly arms. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park-Tucson Mountain District (West)

Address: 2700 North Kinney Road, Tucson, AZ 85743

Directions: From I-10 Exit # 242 (Avra Valley Road) drive 5 miles west to Sandario Road and turn left; drive 9 miles south on Sandario Road to Kinney Road and turn left; the visitor center is 2 miles down Kinney Road on your left

Alternate Directions: From I-10 Exit #248 (Ina Road) drive west 2.5 miles to Wade Road and turn left; drive 0.6 miles to a big curve; at this point Wade Road will change names to Picture Rocks Road; drive 6 miles west on Picture Rocks Road (while on Picture Rocks Road you will enter and exit Saguaro National Park) to Sandario Road and turn left; drive 3.5 miles south on Sandario Road to Kinney Road and turn left; the visitor center is 2 miles down Kinney Road on your left

Phone: (520) 733-5158

Worth Pondering…

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

—Jodi Picoult

Read More

Sabino Canyon: A Desert Oasis

Located along Sabino Creek 12 miles from downtown Tucson, Sabino Canyon is a popular destination for exploring the Sonoran Desert.

Sabino Canyon: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Sabino Canyon: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A paved road runs 3.8 miles into the canyon, crossing nine stone bridges over Sabino Creek. It begins at an altitude of 2,800 feet and rises to 3,300 feet at its end.

Sabino Canyon’s history is as diverse as it is fascinating. The Santa Catalina mountain range began its formation over 12 million years ago, 7 million years before the earliest known human walked the face of the earth. In around 5 million B.C., the mountains ceased formation around the Tucson area, setting the stage for future ecological action. Plant life first appeared between 6,000 and 8,000 years ago, and some of the earliest predominant human occupants of Sabino Canyon were the Hohokam people.

Soaring mountains, deep canyons, and the unique plants and animals of the Sonoran Desert found here draw over a million visitors a year to the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area. The wonders of the desert foothills and rocky gorges of the Santa Catalina Mountains are marvelous and accessible.

Sabino Canyon Tours offers two tram routes that provide access to Sabino and Bear Canyons. Along both routes riders are free to get off at any of the stops along the way.

Sabino Canyon tram is a narrated, educational 45-minute, 3.8 mile tour into the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. The trams have nine stops along the tour with several restroom facilities and picnic grounds located near Sabino Creek. The tram turns around at Stop #9 and heads back down to the Visitor’s Center, at which point riders may remain on board and hike back down. Trams arrive on average every 30 minutes.

Sabino Canyon: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Sabino Canyon: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tram drivers narrate the ride to the top of the trail, re­lating legends and pointing out features of interest: teddy bear cholla, a sandy beach that makes a good picnic spot, a formation atop a mountain that looks like Snoopy lying on his back.

A variety of trails are available along the way for hiking that range from easy to challenging. The main road is mostly flat and paved and crosses Sabino Creek over nine stone bridges.

Winding through the canyon, visitors who follow the road have views of the creek, the riparian vegetation, magnificent Saguaros on the canyon walls, and towering rock formations. Picnic areas are scattered along the road, as are trailheads leading to other sections of the National Forest or paralleling the road.

The only motorized vehicles allowed on the road that leads through the canyon are the Sabino Canyon trams and Park Service vehicles. Ramadas at the entrance give canyon visitors a place to sit and watch the wildlife while waiting for the shuttle.

Bear Canyon tram is a non-narrated 2 mile ride that travels to the trailhead of Seven Falls. This tram ride has three stops along the way for hikers to select their choice of trails. Visitors may get off the tram at any of the stops and re-board later. Trams arrive on average every hour.

Sabino Canyon: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Sabino Canyon: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If riding the shuttle does not stir your sense of adventure, there are miles of hiking trails that wander throughout the area and lead deeper into the Santa Catalina backcountry.

For those who just want a refresher course on its wonders, the nature trail at the visitor center offers wildlife and trailside interpretive information.

Details

Sabino Canyon Recreation Area

Sabino Canyon is a popular spot for hiking. Trams run on the main, easily navigated Sabino Canyon Trail, with nine stops along the way, and on the Bear Canyon Trail, with three stops. During the 20-minute trip to the end of Sabino Canyon Road, shuttle drivers recount the history of the canyon and point out sights along the way.

Bear Canyon tram rides, which are not narrated, travel two miles to the trailhead of Seven Falls, from which it’s about a four-hour hike to the falls.

Your ticket enables you to get on or off at any of the stops—but not in between them.

Sabino Canyon: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Sabino Canyon: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Address: 5900 N. Sabino Canyon Rd. Tucson, AZ 85750

Directions: From Tanque Verde Road in Tucson turn north on Sabino Canyon Road 4 miles to the Sabino Canyon

Information/Tour Schedules: (520) 749-2861

Visitors Center: (520) 749-8700

Sabino Canyon Tram Fees: $8; children ages 3-12, $4

Bear  Canyon Tram Fees: $3; children ages 3-12, $1

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

Best National Parks To Visit This Spring

Spring brings a fresh start, a chance to put away layers of clothes and roam free and easy.

Hikers trek into the forest along the more than 500 miles of trails, including 101 miles of the famed Appalachian Trail and are rewarded with some of the most scenic views of Shenandoah. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Hikers trek into the forest along the more than 500 miles of trails, including 101 miles of the famed Appalachian Trail and are rewarded with some of the most scenic views of Shenandoah. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And there’s no better place to find renewal than a national park, our unbeatable natural treasures.

Spring brings a renewal, warmer temperatures, fields of wildflowers, and blessedly few crowds.

Following are four of the best national parks for springtime revelry, from Virginia to Wyoming to Arizona.

Now it’s your turn to start planning a trip.

Shenandoah National Park

As springtime helps Shenandoah National Park come to life, those who visit will take away a deeper appreciation for its diversity of flora and fauna. With nearly 200,000 forested acres, Shenandoah National Park is most popular during the fall foliage. Spring sees some of the fewest visitors, but perhaps the most unique beauty thanks to park’s 850 species of flowering plants.

While some visitors choose a scenic drive along Skyline Drive, others opt to explore meadows and forests by foot with every turn revealing a new color, new sound, and new sight.

The Smoky Mountains are among the oldest on Earth. Ice Age glaciers stopped their southward journey just short of these mountains, which became a junction of southern and northern flora. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Smoky Mountains are among the oldest on Earth. Ice Age glaciers stopped their southward journey just short of these mountains, which became a junction of southern and northern flora. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitor facilities and services re-open for the year in March, and the wildflower display begins in early April, continuing to summer. Pink azaleas bloom in May closely followed by mountain laurel in June.

Yellowstone National Park

The roads at Yellowstone National Park are first plowed in late March, and bit by bit the park opens up, ending with Beartooth Highway in early June. The road to Mammoth Springs near the north entrance is the first area to open up—usually in March. The road to Old Faithful is usually open by mid-April. This early in the spring, snow still covers the ground and night temperatures fall below freezing.

As the snow melts, the rivers swell, and the trails open up. If you go early in the season, you’ll have to play your choices by ear. But you’ll be in Yellowstone. The scenery will still be magnificent, and the world-famous wildlife-viewing opportunities will still abound. Watch out for elk, bears, deer, bison, smaller mammals, birds, and more.

Wildflowers, a favorite spring rejuvenator, are a major draw to the grasslands of Pelican Valley and Hayden Valley, as well as the desert sagebrush regions near the north entrance. And as the higher trails open up, early summer wildflowers appear in the higher climes.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, is both the most-visited national park in the country and the most abundantly blessed with 1,500 species of flowering plants, more than any other national park.

Springtime flowers include trilliums, phacelia, violets, lady’s slippers, jack-in-the-pulpits, and showy orchids. The viewing window for the latter is brief — mid-April to mid-May in the forests, mid-June to mid-July on the higher slopes — so go sooner rather than later.

The milder temperatures and reduced haze in spring make for ideal visiting conditions.

Saguaro National Park

The park is named after the Saguaro cactus, which blooms brilliant in the burgeoning heat of spring.

Halved by the city of Tucson, Saguaro National Park is really two parks in one. The Rincon Mountains are perhaps the most prominent wilderness on the east side of the park. The Tucson Mountains are where you go to get away from it all in the West.

Unique to the Sonoran Desert, the park’s giant saguaros sometimes reach as much as 50 feet in height – so it’s no wonder they’ve been described as the kings of the Sonoran Desert.
Unique to the Sonoran Desert, the park’s giant saguaros sometimes reach as much as 50 feet in height – so it’s no wonder they’ve been described as the kings of the Sonoran Desert. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro is a great hiking park. Some 128 miles of trail explore it, with the usual full range of difficulty levels and length.

Among the satisfyingly adapted plants to experience are the leguminous mesquites and paloverdes, pears, chollas, hedgehog cacti, creosote bushes, ocotillos, and catclaws. April to June is cactus flowering season with saguaro blooming at its peak in May and June.

Saguaro flowers bloom for less than 24 hours. They open at night and remain open through the next day.

Hundreds of bird species either pass through the park or live here year-round. The reptiles and small animals bring a close-to-the-ground dimension to the park. And close-to-the-ground is frequently the most fascinating place of all.

Worth Pondering…

Can words describe the fragrance of the very breath of spring?
―Neltje Blachan

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Lost Dutchman State Park: Adopt-A-Cactus

Last winter I posted three 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.

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

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 Adopt-A-Cactus program.

“A year and a half ago, I began a great journey volunteering for the Friends of Lost Dutchman State Park,” volunteer Patricia Carter wrote in a recent Arizona State Park Newsletter.

“My journey started when I first moved to Arizona back in the year 1998,” Carter continued. “I was living in West Mesa and really was mesmerized when discovering the Superstition Mountains. I just had a feeling that someday I would be a part of those mountains somehow. I remember first hiking at the Superstition Mountains and felt the earth rumbling beneath me. There is something so spiritual about these mountains.

“While hiking at Lost Dutchman State Park we came across a man working on the trail and we just talked to him for a bit. He stated he really had to get the trail in shape for the park was in danger of closing by a certain month. He also stated that he was a volunteer.

“My friend and I went inside the office after our hike and there was another volunteer working behind the desk and I asked him the same question. He said yes and he gave me an education as to why and what happened. He said if I wanted to get involved I could volunteer. He gave me the name of the Friends Organization which would be where I would want to volunteer.

“The Friends Organization puts on events to raise money to keep the park opened. From that day on I have a deep passion for this volunteer group. We have put on events, raise money for the park.

“Every Sunday from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm I get the opportunity to greet visitors as they drive in and collect the fee of only $7.00 to hike in the park. Campers come to enjoy the beauty of the mountains. The people are just incredible! I get to meet and sometimes for a brief moment get to dip in the lives of people from not just Arizona but from all parts of the country and the world!

“All the volunteers are so friendly and genuine. I can’t say enough of how being a volunteer for this organization has enriched my life. Being in nature is my favorite thing to do and the Superstition Mountains at Lost Dutchman State Park fulfills that deep passion.

“I have taken on the responsibility of heading up the Adopt-A-Cactus Program. This is a great way to raise money to keep the park open and running.”

Details

Friends of Lost Dutchman State Park

The Friends of Lost Dutchman State Park is a non-profit organization devoted to the benefit of Lost Dutchman State Park.

Website: friendsoflostdutchman.org

Adopt-A-Cactus Program

Mitzi Rinehart and Micah Goldberg of Friends of the Lost Dutchman attended a Canyon Vista Hiking Club meeting to accept a $700 cash donation for a senior saguaro within the Lost Dutchman park. Coleen Ehresmann of the Canyon Vistas Hiking Club members presented the donation to Micah and Mitzi. (Source: friendsoflostdutchman.org)

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.

Website: adoptacactus.org

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

—Jodi Picoult

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

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You’ll find Gold in the Superstitions

Who says there’s no gold in them thar hills?

Lost Dutchman State Park, 2,000 feet in elevation, sits at the base of the Superstition Mountains. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Delays in a campground construction project at Lost Dutchman State Park are costing the state of Arizona as much as $380 a day in lost revenue. But these short-term losses are expected to turn into long-term profits when electricity and water become available at campsites, reports the Arizona Republic.

Higher camping fees are expected to make the park financially self-sustaining, removing it from any potential park closure list.

According to the report, campsites and new bathrooms and showers are expected to be finished this spring.

Although attendance is down as the park struggles with the false perception that facilities were closed a year ago, revenues are rising because of increases in admission and camping charges.

Lost Dutchman was one of 13 parks scheduled to close last year, even though it lost only $9,545 during the 2008-09 fiscal year and has an estimated $4.1 million impact on Apache Junction’s economy.

A pair of House Finch keep watch over their Sonoran home. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman has collected $82,211 in revenues during the 2010-11 fiscal year, compared with $70,648 in the 2009-10 fiscal year. Visitation is slightly down, 22,237 this year compared with 23,772 the previous year.

A motorcycle ride and donations from benefactors raised $24,000 to keep the park open during the summer for hiking. Similar community efforts around the state raised more than $500,000 to keep other parks from closing.

After the park’s continued operation was ensured, focus shifted toward the $415,000 campground improvement project to boost the park’s revenues.

For a variety of reasons, the project was set back—bids didn’t go out until October, and construction didn’t start until November. Now, 38 out of the 72 camping sites remain closed as construction progresses.

The project is funded by federal grants and Heritage Fund money that was set aside before the Legislature diverted profits from Lottery ticket sales into the general fund.

Hug a Saguaro

Superstition Mountain Lost Dutchman Museum with the Superstitutions in the distance. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fans of Lost Dutchman State Park will soon have an opportunity to hug a saguaro. The Friends of Lost Dutchman State Park is launching an “Adopt a Cactus” http://www.friendsoflostdutchman.org/ fundraiser. One hundred saguaros have been photographed and their locations tracked with global positioning system coordinates.

Details are still being worked out and the sponsorships should be available in late March or April.

The saguaros are on the Treasure Loop, near the Cholla picnic area.

The sponsorships probably would cost from $75 to $100 per saguaro, with older saguaros costing more because they are more intricate.

Worth Pondering…
Alone in the open desert,

I have made up songs of wild, poignant rejoicing and transcendent melancholy.

The world has seemed more beautiful to me than ever before.

I have loved the red rocks, the twisted trees, the sand blowing in the wind, the slow, sunny clouds crossing the sky, the shafts of moonlight on my bed at night.

I have seemed to be at one with the world.

—Everett Ruess

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Saguaro Central: Catalina State Park, AZ, Part 2

Catalina, one of the many gems in the Arizona State Park system, offers beautiful vistas of the Sonoran Desert and the Santa Catalina Mountains with riparian canyons, lush washes, and dense cactus forests.

 

Catalina State Park is a hot spot for birders. Pictured above is a Western scrub-jay. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Parkencompasses 5,493 acres and is located at the base of the beautiful Santa Catalina Mountains at an elevation 2,650 feet.

Catalina is saguaro central
One of the special features at Catalina State Park (among many!) is an amazing population of saguaros. There are about a half-dozen large stands within the park, each numbering close to 500 plants. Along with hundreds of scattered individuals, these stands account for an estimated saguaro population of close to 5,000 plants.

Trails
Catalina also offers an excellent system of trails with a variety of scenery and recreation. Hiking and riding on the trails are popular activities, with eight trails varying in length and difficulty.

  • Romero Ruin Interpretive Trail (¾ mile) meanders through the ruins of a prehistoric Hohokam village site that is over a thousand years old.
  • Nature Trail (1 mile) offers beautiful vistas of the Sonoran Desert and Santa Catalina Mountains, with signs explaining the desert ecosystem and its inhabitants.
  • Birding Trail (1 mile) offers hikers a chance to see some of the park’s many species of birds in three different types of habitats.
  • Canyon Loop Trail (2.3 miles) is representative of the various habitat types found in the park.
  • Bridle Trail (1.4 miles) is the only completely flat trail in the park, connecting the Equestrian Center with the main trail head.
  • Romero Canyon Trail (7.2 miles) and the Sutherland Trail (10.5 miles) offer longer, more strenuous hikes through beautiful desert terrain and riparian canyons. Both climb to cool natural pools and connect with other Coronado National Forest trails which continue on to Mount Lemmon at the top of the Catalina Mountains.
  • 50-Year Trail (7.8 miles) is popular with equestrians and mountain-bikers.

Each camping experience at Catalina is unique

Following several days of rain, one RVer leaves Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As a result of an El Nino weather pattern last winter, the Southwest was the recipient of a considerable amount of precipitation and cooler than normal temperatures.

The park entrance road crosses a sandy wash about halfway between the entrance station and the campground. As a result of vegetation loss during a forest fire in 2003, this wash is prone to flooding when it rains up the mountains next to the park.

There is no way of predicting when this wash might flow. Since the wash extends for over 30 miles up-mountain, a considerable volume of water can flow.

When it does, it is possible for vehicles in the campground to be stranded in the park for several days or more. There is no danger to the campground, itself. You just can’t get out of the park (or in) as long as the water flows.

During our annual visit to Catalina last winter we experienced a significant rain event and as a result stayed several days longer than expected.

We took advantage of the time to hike several more trails and photograph more scenic vistas and birds.

Worth Pondering…
Happy is the man who can enjoy scenery when he has to take a detour.

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Saguaro Central: Catalina State Park, AZ

One of southern Arizona’s numerous “sky islands”, the Santa Catalina Mountains dominate Tucson’s northern skyline. These sky islands are small mountain ranges that rise steeply from the desert floor and often feature a cool and relatively moist climate at their highest reaches. Their wooded slopes offer desert dwellers a respite from the summer heat.

Did you know an estimated 5,000 saguaros live at Catalina State Park? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Conversely, the adjacent desert canyons and foothills offer spectacular scenery and excellent recreation during the cooler months of the year.

Catalina State Park protects a choice section of desert on the western base of the Santa Catalinas.

This scenic park is located on Oracle Road which becomes State Route 77, just minutes from the bustling city of Tucson. Watch for the signed entrance to Catalina State Park at Milepost 81.

The environment at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains offers great camping, hiking, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. An equestrian center provides a staging area for trail riders and plenty of trailer parking is also available.

Miles of equestrian, birding, and hiking trails wind through the park and the adjoining Coronado National Forest, as well as an interpretive trail to a prehistoric village.

The locale was first inhabited by the Hohokam people, Native American agriculturists who disappeared mysteriously around AD 1450. Remains of their village site are still evident in the park. In the late 1800s, prospectors worked claims along the banks of a wash called Canada del Oro, translated from the Spanish into “wash of gold”. Cattle ranching also became prominent around 1850 and continued until the early 1980s when the park was established.

Plants
The most common plants include mesquite, palo verde, and acacia trees; crucifixion thorn, ocotillo, cholla, prickly pear, and saguaro cactus. Desert willow, Arizona sycamore, Arizona ash, and native walnut grow along the washes.

Wildflowers

The Catalinas with a rare dusting of snow in late afternoon glow. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than 300 types of flowers are cataloged at the park. A binder in the visitor center has a picture of each type of flower in the park, the common name, when it blooms, and where it is found. They are sorted by color so if you find a flower in the park you can identify it.

Camping
There are 120 campsites available on a first-come, first-served basis, 95 with water and 50/30 amp electric service. Most sites are spacious and level easily accommodating the largest of RVs. A dump station is available. Campsites have picnic tables and grills. Restrooms are handicapped accessible with showers.

Please note: Catalina has NO overflow area. When all sites are occupied, you will be turned away.

To be continued tomorrow…

Worth Pondering…
The vast emptiness and overpowering silence of the desert and surrounding mountains
sharpens your senses, enhancing self-contemplation, and stimulates creativity.

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