Arizona Getaways: Top 10 & More

In an earlier post, I posed the question, What is your favorite Arizona destination?

Spider Rock Lookout, Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Spider Rock Lookout, Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since I found it impossible to choose just one favorite Arizona destination, I decided to create a top 10 list instead. At times, a Top 10 List just doesn’t cut it, either.

Without question, Arizona is a melting pot of scenic variety. Across the state, dramatic rockscapes, ancient petroglyphs, and postcard moments abound. Continuing the best of Arizona… oh please. What are we waiting for?

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

A comparatively little-known canyon, Canyon de Chelly has sheer sandstone walls rising up to 1,000 feet, scenic overlooks, well-preserved Anasazi ruins, and an insight into the present day life of the Navajo, who still inhabit and cultivate the valley floor.

The northernmost and southernmost edges are accessible from paved roads—the North and South Rim drives. The South Rim Drive offers the most dramatic vistas, ending at the most spectacular viewpoint, the overlook of Spider Rocks—twin 800 foot towers of rock isolated from the canyon walls and a site of special significance for the Navajo.

The campground, located in a shallow valley less than ¼-mile from the visitor center, was a wonderful surprise. The campground is large with approximately 100 spacious campsites, plus a large group camping area. We had no difficulty is finding a suitable site for our 40-foot motorhome.

Acorn Woodpecker © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Acorn Woodpecker at Ramsey Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Birding & Ramsey Canyon

Known worldwide as a birding hotspot, Ramsey Canyon is home to more than 400 species of plants and more than 170 species of birds.

Southeastern Arizona is an ecological crossroads, where the Sierra Madre of Mexico, the Rocky Mountains, and the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts all come together. The abrupt rise of mountains like the Huachucas from the surrounding arid grasslands creates “sky islands”.

This combination of factors gives Ramsey Canyon Preserve its notable variety of plant and animal life, including such southwestern specialties as Apache and Chihuahua pines, elegant trogon, and berylline and violet-crowned hummingbirds. The featured jewels of this pristine habitat are the 14 species of hummingbirds that congregate here from spring through autumn.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone

Tombstone invites visitors to walk in the footsteps of the West’s most famous outlaws and good guys, the Clantons and the Earps. During its 1880s heyday, Tombstone, the “Town Too Tough to Die,” boasted 10,000 gunslingers, gamblers, prospectors, and prostitutes.

Sparked by Edward Schieffelin’s silver strike (skeptics warned he’d only find his own tombstone), the raucous town boasted more than 60 saloons. Tombstone is known for the famous street fight near the OK Corral between Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday vs. Frank and Tom McLaury, and Billy and Ike Clanton.

The OK Corral still stands and gunfights are re-enacted as visitors are thrown back to a lime when life was bold and uncompromising. Tourists can visit the many historical buildings dating back to the 1880s. Stagecoach rides. Old West saloons, museums, trading posts, dance hall girls, cowboys, and unique photo opportunities also add to the adventure.

Chiricahua National Monument

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unique rock formations and unusual landscapes can be explored at Chiricahua National Monument. Eons ago, lava flows covered the region, creating a dense layer of lava rock. Over the years the rocks cracked and withered away resulting in spectacular, startling rock formations that today make up the Chiricahua Mountains.

Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest Natopnal Park  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Petrified Forest Natopnal Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park preserves one of the world’s largest and most vibrantly colored assemblies of petrified wood, historic structures, and archeological sites.

The park is composed of two sections: the north section is a colorful badlands called the Painted Desert along with archaeological sites and historic structures, and the southern section contains most of the petrified wood.

The park consists of a 28-mile road that offers numerous overlooks and winds through the mesas and wilderness. Visitors can also choose to hike a variety of trails ranging from easy to difficult.

Petrified Forest National Park stretches north and south between I-40 and U.S. Highway 180. There are two entrances into the park. Your direction of travel dictates which entrance is best to use.

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

Worth Pondering…

My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been.
—Diane Arbus

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Arizona Adventure: 5 More Favorite Destinations

In an earlier post, I posed the question, What is your favorite Arizona destination?

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since I found it impossible to choose just one favorite Arizona destination, I decided to create a top 10 list instead.

Sabino Canyon

Located along Sabino Creek 12 miles from downtown Tucson, Sabino Canyon is a popular destination for exploring the Sonoran Desert. Soaring mountains, deep canyons, and the unique plants and animals of the Sonoran Desert found here draw over a million visitors a year. The wonders of the desert foothills and rocky gorges of the Santa Catalina Mountains are marvelous and accessible.

During the 3.8-mile tour into the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains, shuttle drivers recount the history of the canyon and point out sights along the way.

Bisbee

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bisbee, a quirky art town perched along cliffs, embraces its independent spirit and vertical nature—dozens of staircases are among the fastest, and most traveled, routes in town. Enjoy the art galleries and antique shops, then descend into a copper mine to see how Bisbee came to be.

Once one of the wickedest mining towns of the Old West, Bisbee is known today as an artists’ haven. Founded in 1880 and named after Judge DeWitt Bisbee, a financial backer of the Copper Queen Mine, Bisbee was one of the richest mineral sites in the world, turning out nearly 3 million ounces of gold and more than 8 billion pounds of copper.

Silver, lead and zinc were also mined from the rich Mule Mountains, and by the early 1900s, Bisbee was the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco. During this time, although it had become the most cultured city in the Southwest, the notorious Brewery Gulch, which in its heyday had up to 47 lively saloons, created a rowdy Wild West reputation for the town.

Apache Trail

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Apache Trail through the Superstition Mountains was built to supply construction workers building Roosevelt Dam in the early 1900s. When Theodore Roosevelt drove there in 1911, he compared the region’s beauty to that of Yellowstone and Yosemite national parks. Saguaro-covered hills and deep canyons stretch for miles, broken by red-rock cliffs and hoodoos.

The area is a favorite of sightseers, boaters, hikers, and anglers. The Apache Trail, aka State Route 88, is not for the squeamish or those afraid of heights. It’s full of twists and turns, rising and falling with the hills and valleys. Part of the road is paved; the graded dirt stretch is suitable for most cars but not recommended for large RVs.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Boyce Thompson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Boyce Thompson Arborteum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

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.

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. 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.

Maricopa County Regional Parks

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Usery Mountain, a Maricopa County Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Looking for a quiet place to relax, do some bird watching, photography, hike a near-by trail, or do some great sightseeing?

With 10 regional parks totaling more than 120,000 acres, Maricopa County Regional Parks feature the nation’s largest county park system. More than 2.1 million visitors annually enjoy affordable outdoor recreation activities available in this diverse park system .

Favorite parks for camping, hiking, and other outdoor pursuits include Usery Mountain, Cave Creek, Lake Pleasant, San Tan Mountain, and White Tank Mountain. The positive surroundings and the competently maintained facilities attract people from near and far including numerous snowbirds that have discovered this central Arizona gem.

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

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

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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

White Tank Mountain Regional Park: West Valley Icon

The White Tank Mountains rise west of Phoenix, forming the western boundary of the Valley of the Sun.

White Tank Mountain Regional Park: West Valley Icon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
White Tank Mountain Regional Park: West Valley Icon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Chandler to Buckeye, neat rows of beige roofs and asphalt streets turn to cracked desert dirt, a checkerboard of farm plots and residential communities, and the White Tank Mountains. Thousands of acres of rocky peaks rise steeply to up to 4,000 feet. They’re an icon in the westernmost part of the Valley, about 30 miles from central Phoenix.

Nearly 30,000 acres makes this the largest regional park in Maricopa County. Most of the park is made up of the rugged and beautiful White Tank Mountains. The range, deeply serrated with ridges and canyons, rises sharply from its base to peak at over 4,000 feet.

Infrequent heavy rains cause flash floodwaters to plunge through the canyons and pour onto the plain. These torrential flows, pouring down chutes and dropping off ledges, have scoured out a series of depressions, or tanks, in the white granite rock below, thus giving the mountains their name.

In 1863, when gold was discovered in central Arizona, one of the first roads heading north into that region passed by the eastern side of the mountain range. This road stretched from the Gila River into the new towns of Wickenburg and Prescott.

The road followed an old trail that took advantage of an important source of water in the middle of the desert. In the northeast portion of the White Tank Mountains was a natural basin or tank that held water year round. Named the “White Tank” for the white granite cliffs surrounding it, this large watering hole appears on maps and in journals as an important watering place from 1863 and 1895.

White Tank Mountain Regional Park: West Valley Icon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
White Tank Mountain Regional Park: West Valley Icon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The White Tank was the only water for 20 to 30 miles during those first few years of Arizona Territory history and gives the mountains their name.

The White Tank cannot be seen today as it was destroyed sometime between 1898 and 1902. Heavy rains caused the collapse of the cliff above the tank, filling it in. The exact location of the tank is now a mystery.

White Tank Mountain Regional Park offers approximately 25 miles of excellent shared-use trails, ranging in length from 0.9 mile to 7.9 miles, and difficulty from easy to strenuous. Overnight backpacking, with a permit, is allowed in established backcountry campsites. Day hikes can provide some breathtaking views of the mountains and panoramas of the Valley below. Horseback and mountain bike riders are welcome, although caution is stressed as some of the trails may be extremely difficult.

One of the most popular trails in the park is the Waterfall Canyon Trail which leads to a dark pool in a narrow box canyon. Right after a good rain there really is a waterfall. This trail also houses the “Petroglyph Plaza,” some of the finest petroglyphs in the park.

In addition, there are 2.5 miles of pedestrian-only trails. These include two short trails that are hard-surfaced and barrier free. Waterfall Trail is barrier-free for 1/2 of a mile. The handicap accessible portion now ends about 1/10 of a mile past Petroglyph Plaza. The short loop of Black Rock Trail, which is about 1/2 mile long, begins at Ramada 4.

All trails are multi-use unless otherwise designated. All trail users are encouraged to practice proper trail etiquette.

White Tank Mountain Regional Park: West Valley Icon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
White Tank Mountain Regional Park: West Valley Icon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Tank Mountain Regional Park offers 40 individual sites for tent or RV camping. All sites are developed with a water hook-up and 30/50-amp electrical service, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, a fire ring, and nearby dump station. Most sites are relatively level and will accommodate big rigs. All restrooms offer flush toilets and showers. All sites in the campground may be reserved online.

Details

White Tank Mountain Regional Park

Address: 20304 W. White Tank Mountain Road, PO Box 91, Waddell, AZ 85355

Directions: When traveling south on Loop 303, exit at Peoria Avenue, west (right) to Cotton Lane, south (left) to Olive Avenue, and west (right) 4 miles to the park gate; when traveling north on Loop 303, exit at Northern Ave., west (left) to Cotton Lane, north (right) to Olive Avenue, and west (left) 4 miles to the park gate (Note: There is NO off ramp on Loop 303 for Olive Avenue)

Phone: (623) 935-2505

Website: www.maricopacountyparks.org

Entry Fee: $6/vehicle

Camping Fee: $30

Camping Reservation Fee: $8

White Tank Mountain Regional Park: West Valley Icon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
White Tank Mountain Regional Park: West Valley Icon © 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

Best Kept Secret in World of RVing: Maricopa County Parks

One of the best kept secrets in the World of RVing are county park campgrounds.

Cave Creek Regional Park  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

County parks are often relatively small and off the beaten path. But if you’re looking for a quiet place to relax, do some bird watching, photography, 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 in Arizona. The parks circle the Phoenix metropolitan area and are within a 45-minute drive from central Phoenix.

We discovered these county parks almost 30 years ago when camping at Usery Mountain Regional Park in Mesa while on a working travel sabbatical.

As well as returning to Usery Mountain several times, we have camped at or explored six additional regional parks—Buckeye Hills, Cave Creek, Estrella Mountain, Lake Pleasant, San Tan Mountain, and White Tank Mountain.

With 10 regional parks totaling more than 120,000 acres, Maricopa County Regional Parks feature the nation’s largest county park system. More than 2.1 million visitors annually enjoy affordable outdoor recreation activities available in this diverse park system .

Lake Pleasant Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Lake Pleasant Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Maricopa County Regional Parks 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 with an opportunity to enjoy “Natural Arizona.”

Each county park has its own unique characteristics offering recreation to Valley residents and visitors alike. Some parks offer boating, picnicking, golf, archery and shooting ranges. Others have camping and recreational vehicle camping facilities. Most offer hiking, picnicking, and mountain biking.

So many local attractions and the great variety of outdoor recreation are sure to keep you coming back over and over.

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

Details

Maricopa County Regional Parks

Phone: (602) 506-2930

Website: www.maricopa.gov/parks

San Tan Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
San Tan Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Adobe Dam Regional Park

Location: 23280 N. 43rd Avenue, Glendale, AZ 85310

Phone: (602) 506-2930

Buckeye Hills Regional Park

Location: 26700 West Buckeye Hills Drive, Buckeye, AZ 85326

Phone: (623) 932-3811

Cave Creek Regional Park

Location: 37019 N. Lava Lane, Cave Creek, AZ 85331

Phone: (623) 465-0431

Estrella Mountain Regional Park

Location: 14805 West Vineyard Avenue, Goodyear, AZ 85338

Phone: (623) 932-3811

Lake Pleasant Regional Park

Location: 41835 N. Castle Hot Springs Rd., Morristown, AZ 85342

Phone: (928) 501-1710

McDowell Mountain Regional Park

Location: 16300 McDowell Mountain Park Dr., Fountain Hills, Arizona 85255

Phone: (480) 471-0173

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Tan Mountain Regional Park

Location: 6533 West Phillips Road, Queen Creek Arizona 85242

Phone: (480) 655-5554

Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area

Location: 44000 N. Spur Cross Road, Cave Creek, AZ 85331

Phone: (480) 488-6601

Usery Mountain Regional Park

Location: 3939 N. Usery Pass Road, Mesa, AZ 85207

Phone: (480) 984-0032

White Tank Mountain Regional Park

Location: 13025 N. White Tank Mountain Road, Waddell, AZ 85355

Phone: (623) 935-2505

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

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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

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

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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.

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Trio of National Parks That Are Best During Winter

Winter can be one of the best times to get out and explore America’s national parks in an RV.

Two desert systems, the Mojave and the Colorado, abut within Joshua Tree, dividing California's southernmost national park into two arid ecosystems of profoundly contrasting appearance. The key to their differences is elevation.
Two desert systems, the Mojave and the Colorado, abut within Joshua Tree, dividing California’s southernmost national park into two arid ecosystems of profoundly contrasting appearance. The key to their differences is elevation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many of the busiest national parks experience a major drop in attendance, allowing visitors better viewing opportunities amid less crowded conditions.

Many of these parks are located in the US Sunbelt offering snowbirds a wide variety of unspoiled landscapes to enjoy in warm comfort during the winter.

With snowbirds in mind, the following are my picks for a trio of national parks that are best to visit during winter.

Joshua Tree National Park 

Joshua Tree National Park is an amazingly diverse area of sand dunes, dry lakes, flat valleys, extraordinarily rugged mountains, granitic monoliths, and oases.

Here the lower Colorado Desert meets the higher Mojave Desert, forming granite monoliths, rugged mountains, and surreal geology that lures hikers, desert rats, and rock climbers from around the world.

The park provides an introduction to the variety and complexity of the desert environment and a vivid contrast between the Mojave and Colorado deserts that range in elevation from 900 feet to 5,185 feet at Keys View. The Colorado Desert in the eastern section offers low desert formations and plant life, such as creosote bushes, spidery ocotillo, and jumping cholla cactus; the higher, cooler, and wetter Mojave in the western part is the natural habitat of the Joshua tree.

Cold nights and warm days make for ideal treks into palm-lined oases. Or, bike the dirt roads and watch the climbers scale the rocky heights.

A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

Zion National Park is known for its majestic towering rock mountains which rise to awe-inspiring heights. Zion is a lush green oasis, surrounded by startling sentinels of stone. With sheer, milky-white cliffs and pristine waterfalls, Zion is one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Zion National Park is getting more difficult to navigate with its single road into the canyon and a mandatory shuttle system during the busy months.

Exploring Zion Canyon, center of park activity, during the off-season gives one the flexibility that is impossible seven months of the year. From April through October, private cars are prohibited in the canyon, and visitors must use park shuttles. With 11,000 daily visitors, it’s hard to dispute the need for such restrictions. Still, it’s nice to be on our own—and free of crowds.

The main canyon in Zion was cut by the North Fork of the Virgin River. It is narrow, less than a quarter-mile wide. But it is deep, flanked by towering sandstone palisades 2,000-3,000 feet high that draw rock climbers who savor big walls. The six-mile canyon drive ends at a formation known as Temple of Sinawava, where the canyon begins narrowing to a slot only 30-40 feet wide.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

The organ pipe has company—25 other cactus species including the stately saguaro, chain-fruit cholla, teddy bear cholla, and Engelmann prickly pear, also make this park their home.  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The organ pipe has company—25 other cactus species including the stately saguaro, chain-fruit cholla, teddy bear cholla, and Engelmann prickly pear, also make this park their home. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument preserves a diverse and relatively undisturbed sample of the Sonoran Desert. Mountains surround the park on all sides, some near, some distant, with colors changing from one hour to the next. Ninety-five percent of the park is designated as wilderness area, which makes this one of the best places to view the Sonaran Desert.

The many branches of the organ pipe rise from a base at the ground, instead of growing like a massive trunk of the saguaro. It is a stately plant, with columns rising mostly like, well, the pipes of a church organ.

The organ pipe has company—25 other cactus species including the stately saguaro, chain-fruit cholla, teddy bear cholla, and Engelmann prickly pear, also make this park their home. A mature organ-pipe cactus may be more than 100 years old. A mature saguaro can live to be more than 150. Foothill palo verde, ironwood, jojoba, elephant tree, mesquite, triangle-leaf bursage, agave, creosote bush, ocotillo, and brittlebush also contribute to the desert landscape.

The 21-mile Ajo Mountain Drive is a one-way dirt road that winds and dips and provides access to some of the finest scenery in the park.

Twin Peaks Campground has 208 sites that are generally level, widely spaced, and landscaped by natural desert growth. The campsites will easily accommodate big rigs and are available on a first-come first-served basis. As well, Alamo Campground has four well-spaced, primitive spots.

Worth Pondering…

National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.

—Wallace Stegner, 1983

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Legend, History & Intrigue of the Superstitions

Strange secrets lie hidden in the Superstition Mountains in Arizona.

Superstition Mountain Museum
To further understand and appreciate the Superstition Mountains area, its legend, history, and intrigue we recently toured the 12.5-acre Superstition Mountain Museum. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Did a lone miner really discover a fortune in lost gold in this rugged region?

And what strange force caused dozens of adventurers seeking the mine to vanish without a trace never to be seen again?

For legend, history, and intrigue no area in America has the equal of the Superstition Mountains in the Tonto National Forest east of Apache Junction.

The early inhabitants of the area included the Salado, Hohokam, and Apache Indians. Following came the Spanish conquistadors, the first of which was Francisco Vasquez de Coronado who came north from Mexico in 1540 seeking the legendary “Seven Golden Cities of Cibola”.

When the Spaniards searched the mountain for gold, they began to vanish mysteriously. The bodies that were found were mutilated with their heads cut off. Since the terrified survivors refused to return to the mountain, Coronado named the series of peaks, Monte Superstition.

The mountain became a legendary spot to all who followed and was regarded by many as an evil place.

We wandered the entire site with its reproductions of 19th Century businesses including a Wells Fargo office, stage coach stop, barber shop, assay office, and other displays of authentic relics of this era.
We wandered the entire site with its reproductions of 19th Century businesses including a Wells Fargo office, stage coach stop, barber shop, assay office, jail, and other displays of authentic relics of this era. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

American trappers and adventurers migrated to the area; cattlemen and farmers soon followed. Later, the U.S. Cavalry was sent west to establish forts to protect the growing population.

Decades later, miners began searching for what was touted as the richest gold mine in the world. This mine was made famous by Jacob Waltz, known as “the Dutchman”, who took the secret of “his mine” to the grave in 1891.

Treasure hunters continue to scour the mountains searching for the Lost Dutchman Mine, but now share the region with campers, hikers, backpackers, and horseback riders in what is now the Superstition Wilderness Area.

To further understand and appreciate the area, its legend, history, and intrigue we recently toured the 12.5-acre Superstition Mountain Museum.

Located east of Lost Dutchman State Park, the museum collects, preserves, and displays the artifacts and history of the Superstition Mountains, Apache Junction, and the surrounding area.

We traversed the nature trails that crisscross the area surrounding the museum buildings, all located at the base of the West Wall of the beautiful  Superstition Mountain.

We wandered the entire site with its reproductions of 19th Century businesses including a Wells Fargo office, stage coach stop, barber shop, assay office, and other displays of authentic relics of this era.

No western movie set is complete without a stagecoach and driver
No western movie set is complete without a stagecoach and driver. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Museums in their own right, the Elvis Memorial Chapel and the Audie Murphy Barn were moved to the site, piece by piece, nail by nail, and reconstructed following the second fire in 2004 (first fire was in 1969) which destroyed the Apacheland Movie Ranch.

Western motion pictures and television were filmed at Apacheland Movie Ranch over a 45 year period. Movies filmed included Charro, which starred Elvis Presley, The Ballad of Cable Hogue, Arizona Raiders ,The Haunted, The Gambler II, and Blind Justice. Television series included Have Gun Will Travel and Wanted Dead or Alive.

A movie memorabilia museum showing movies that were filmed at Apacheland, the Elvis Memorial Chapel also serves, as it has since it was first constructed, as a wedding chapel. Contact the museum for reservations (SEE Details below)

Twenty eight days were required for five men, all volunteers, to disassemble and move the 20 Stamp Ore Crusher from Albuquerque to the museum site. This mill was state of the art technology for recovering gold in the 1800s.

Another major building spared in both fires has long been called the Rifleman’s Barn since it was located where the TV series, The Rifleman, was produced. The barn also figured prominently in dozens of western films shot at this location.

It was moved in literally hundreds of pieces to the museum’s grounds and reconstructed almost entirely of its original materials. Its loft serves as storage area while the ground level displays wagons, buggies, stage coaches, and other vehicles representing the Old West.

For legend, history, and intrigue no area in America has the equal of the Superstition Mountains in the Tonto National Forest east of Apache Junction.
For legend, history, and intrigue no area in America has the equal of the Superstition Mountains in the Tonto National Forest east of Apache Junction. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be sure to watch your step as you traverse the trails because there are rattlesnakes (yes, we saw one) and other varmints.

Indoors, the museum has many books, documents, artifacts, and maps regarding the Lost Dutchman and his gold.

Details

Superstition Mountain Museum

Location: On Apache Trail (Highway 88)3½ miles northeast of Apache Junction

Address: 4087 N. Apache Trail (Highway 88), Apache Junction, AZ 85119

Phone: (480) 983-4888

Hours: Open daily 9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.

Admission: $5.00; seniors 55 and over, $4.00

Website: www.superstitionmountainmuseum.org

Worth Pondering…

History, although sometimes made up of the few acts of the great, is more often shaped by the many acts of the small.

—Mark Yost

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