Catalina State Park: Sky Island Gem

The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros

Neighboring the Coronado National Forest, Catalina State Park is located at the foot of the Santa Catalina Mountains and offers a variety of hiking trails available for on-foot travelers, bicyclists, and horse riders alike. 

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park protects a choice section of desert on the western base of the Santa Catalinas. 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 ample trailer parking is also available.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. Each trail offers a showcase of the region’s varied qualities, ranging from the footsteps of a myriad of animals known to inhabit this mountainous area such as the javelina and mountain lion on the scenic Nature Trail, to the archeological wonder of the Romero Ruins — the remains of a Hohokam village — on the aptly-named Romero Ruin Interpretive Trail. Elsewhere, the Upper 50-Year Trail will offer a rockier climb while the Birding Trail provides a scenic walk with a small flight of stairs.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

 Where the values of each trail converge, however, is when it comes to the sheer value of appreciating nature. Expect to be bombarded by the sheer vastness of local flora and wildlife on natural display on the park’s 5,500 acres of prairies, foothills, mountainsides, and washes.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the special features at Catalina State Park 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.

Catalina State Park © 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 can be found. They are sorted by color so if you find a flower in the park you can identify it.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are 120 campsites available, 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. Reservations are recommended during the busy snowbird season.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Worth Pondering…

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

Alamo Lake State Park: Fishing, Camping, Wildflowers & More

38 miles north of Wenden, Arizona off Arizona State Highway 60 one finds a rare oasis in the otherwise arid Sonora Desert

Offering a scenic, cacti-studded landscape with a mountainous backdrop, Alamo Lake is tucked away in the Bill Williams River Valley. In addition to picturesque desert scenery, Alamo Lake State Park has much to offer its visitors recreationally. The area is known for its exceptional bass fishing opportunities, as well as canoeing, kayaking, and camping.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For nature lovers, spring rains bring an abundance of wildflowers and the lake environment attracts a variety of wildlife year round, including bald and golden eagles, waterfowl, foxes, coyotes, mule deer, and wild burros. Stargazers too will be in awe when the sun sets and the desert sky becomes aglow with stars, uninhibited by nearby city lights or smog.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alamo Lake, located on the Bill Williams River where the Big Sandy River and Santa Maria River come together, was created with the completion of Alamo Dam in 1968. The Army Corps of Engineers designed the earthen dam primarily for flood control. During flood events, the lake basin is capable of handling large amounts of water in a relatively short time. The lake has been recorded rising 11 vertical feet in one night! Unusually high flows during the late 1970s and through the 1980s have increased the average size of the lake, helping to create one of Arizona’s best fishing holes.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The lake is enclosed to the south, west, and north by low hills and beyond by mountain wilderness areas, and is a good place for a few days relaxation, or as a base from which to explore the surrounding lands.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled in the Bill Williams River Valley away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, Alamo Lake State Park offers outdoor fun, premier bass fishing, rest and relaxation.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Despite its rather remote location, Alamo Lake State Park receives relatively large numbers of visitors in the mild seasons of spring, winter, and fall, mostly because of the good fishing it offers—bass and catfish are especially plentiful. The desert setting and low elevation (1,230 feet) result in uncomfortably hot conditions in summer.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fishing tournaments are common at the lake and anglers have an excellent opportunity to catch bluegill, largemouth bass, channel catfish, and black crappie.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Individual and group camping is available at Alamo Lake State Park. There are 19 full hook-up RV sites with 50 amp electric, water, and sewer located in the Main Campground. Each site has a picnic table and a fire ring. There is no limit to maximum RV length at these sites. Additional sites have 30/50 amp electric and water at each site. 

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Campground B has 27 electric sites. The Ramada Area has 12 electric sites. Cholla Campground area has 41 electric sites with 30 amp service. Each site has a picnic table and a fire ring. 

Dry camping is also available in Campgrounds D and E. Also Campground A has 21 sites while Campground B has 15 sites. Site reservations are available.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ideal for snowbirds, Long Term Camping Sites are available from October 1 through March 31 with the minimum length of stay 28 days (4 weeks) and the maximum 48 days (12 weeks).

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A great time to visit Alamo Lake State Park is during spring because of the profusion of wildflowers and cactus blooms beside the lake and in the desert along the 33 mile Alamo Lake Road. Starting at the small and rather forlorn town of Wenden on US-60, the route heads north, climbing gradually into the Harcuvar Mountains.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Passing a few mines and side tracks, the road enter the wide Butler Valley. The land along this long straight road is undeveloped with numerous wildflowers and cacti including saguaro and distant mountain scenery.

At the far side of the valley, the road curves around the edge of the Buckskin Mountains and gradually descends towards the lake.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The main route leads to the dam and an overlook just before winding eastwards between distant shores and even more remote hills in the distance. The very end of the road is private but open to foot travel, and from here begins the hike down the Bill Williams River Canyon.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Color Your World at Red Rock State Park

Red Rock State Park is a 286 acre nature preserve and environmental education center with stunning scenery

There is no shortage of locations in Arizona that could form a Red Rock State Park, but the chosen location is in Red Rock Country several miles southwest of Sedona along Oak Creek. Here the year-round stream meanders through a low valley creating a diverse riparian habitat abounding with plants and wildlife. For most of the length of the park the creek is split into two channels, and running parallel to part of it is a third, a drainage ditch built early last century to irrigate a nearby ranch.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heavy rains occasionally cause great floods down the valley. In January of 1993 a combination of several factors produced runoff that reached historically high levels. Heavy, unusually warm rains fell for several days on the deep snowpack in the high country of northern Arizona. Tremendous amounts of debris are washed downstream during these times of high water.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The hillsides 50 feet above the creek are quite different, covered by bushes, cacti, and coarse grass. These hills afford good views of the much higher red rock cliffs to the north and east.

The area is home to Fremont cottonwood, sycamore, velvet ash, and Arizona alder in the riparian areas. The uplands host velvet mesquite, netleaf hackberry, juniper, and a variety of smaller bushes and wildflowers.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock State Park is a 286 acre nature preserve and environmental education center with stunning scenery. Trails throughout the park wind through manzanita and juniper to reach the banks of Oak Creek. Green meadows are framed by native vegetation and hills of red rock.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park facilities include a visitors center, classroom, theater, gift shop, picnic tables, 10 developed trails, restrooms, group area with Ramada and facilities, and the former home of Jack and Helen Frye, the House of Apache Fire. The restrooms are handicapped accessible. Camping facilities are not available at this park.

House of Apache Fire at Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The House of Apache Fire was built by Jack and Helen Frye. Jack Frye was the president of Trans World Airlines and helped design several planes with Howard Hughes before Frye was killed in a 1959 auto crash. Helen kept the house until her death in 1979, when the house was passed on to the religious group Eckankar. The group sold the land and house to a mining company, which traded the land and house to the state in 1986 for another parcel of land. The state park opened in 1991.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Miller Visitor Center at Red Rock State Park includes an interpretive area, a gift shop, and restrooms. The Junior Ranger and Junior Buddy programs are available for children ages 4-12. There is also a movie theater at the park that shows “The Natural Wonders of Sedona: Timeless Beauty.” The 45-minute video plays on request and covers Sedona’s history and wildlife and takes you on a flying tour of the red rocks providing you with some phenomenal aerial scenes.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many educational opportunities are available in the Miller Visitor Center including hands-on exhibits based on a biotic communities theme. Panels bring to life the variety of habitats found within the park. Information is also available on the early human inhabitants of the area as well as roving displays showing a wide selection of the park’s wildlife.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The main activity is hiking. Nine trails form a network of routes, mostly on the south side of Oak Creek. All are well marked, with signs and trail maps at each junction. The 5-mile network consists of interconnecting loops, which lead you to vistas of red rock or along the lush greenery of Oak Creek.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Eagle’s Nest Loop and the Apache Fire Loop are joined together by the Coyote Ridge Trail. Eagle’s Nest is the highest point in the park with an elevation gain of 300 feet. These three major loops are connected along the riparian corridor by the Kisva Trail, which also leads up to the short loop of the Yavapai Ridge Trail. The Javelina Trail takes you into the pinyon/juniper woodlands and back to the other loops.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock State Park is reached by a 7 mile loop road off US 89A, the middle part of which is unpaved though fine for all vehicles. Only the western entrance is signposted. The road curves around the south side of Scheurman Mountain, passing through bushy, red, rocky land that shelters a few houses, nestled in clearings in the trees or on top of small hills.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the park a short road leads past two picnic areas to the main parking lot and visitor facilities.

Worth Pondering…

There are only two places in the world

I want to live—Sedona and Paris.

—Max Ernst, Surrealist painter

Tubac: Where Art & History Meet

An historic destination for the arts, Tubac features over 100 eclectic shops and world class galleries

Established in 1752 as a Spanish fort, Tubac is an exquisite, brightly painted town with more than 100 galleries, shops, and restaurants lining its meandering streets. A quaint haven for artists, Tubac was the first permanent European settlement in what later became Arizona.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Driving south from Mission View RV Resort, our home base in southern Tucson, the spiny desert softens and becomes downright pastoral. Cactus-dotted slopes give way to rolling grasslands with mesquite.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tubac nestles in a high mountain-framed valley on the banks of the Santa Cruz River where water flow is intermittent. Around these parts, even good intentions are enough to create a riparian habitat.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the late 17th century, Spanish missionaries traveled from Mexico up the Santa Cruz seeking to convert native tribes. Spanish Jesuit priest Eusebio Francisco Kino entered the Santa Cruz Valley in 1691 and founded the mission at Tumacácori, building missions, ranches, and farms.

By 1732 nearby Tubac was a vista of Mission Guevavi and a mission farm and ranch by 1738.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Pima Revolt of 1751, stirred by many grievances during a half-century of Spanish domination, caused widespread destruction. In 1752, Spanish troops defeated an army of 2,000 Pima warriors and established the Presidio of San Ignacio de Tubac (fort), the first European settlement in what would become Arizona.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fifty cavalrymen were garrisoned at this remote military post to prevent further rebellion, protect settlers from Apaches, or at least try to, and further explore the Southwest.

Repeatedly attacked, the soldiers and settlers abandoned Tubac in 1775 and built El Presidio San Agustín del Tucsón in what is now downtown Tucson.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tubac was part of the Gadsden Purchase of 1853, and was soon resettled and developed by Eastern entrepreneurs. Charles D. Poston was instrumental in forming the Sonora Exploring and Mining Company, and used the abandoned Commandant’s house as his headquarters. He performed marriages, granted divorces, baptized children, and printed his own money to pay company employees. His company acquired a press in 1859 which printed Arizona’s first newspaper.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tubac’s population steadily grew until, in 1860, it was the largest town in Arizona. The American Civil War, however, drained the region of troops, leaving it unprotected from Apaches, and Tubac was again deserted. Although the region was resettled after the war, silver strikes in the Tombstone area and the routing of the railroad through Tucson drew development interests away from Tubac, and the town never regained its earlier importance.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perhaps Tubac’s most famous person was soldier and explorer Capt. Juan Bautista de Anza II. During his tenure at Tubac (1760-1776), Anza led two overland expeditions to the Pacific, resulting in the founding of San Francisco.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Anza’s second expedition to the Pacific coast departed from Tubac on October 23, 1775. Several hundred colonists from the provinces of Sinaloa and Sonora, along with sixty from Tubac, made the trip. Over 1,000 head of cattle, horses, and mules transported food supplies and tools and provided food on the journey.

It was in 1948 that landscape painter Dale Nichols opened an art school in Tubac and the quiet little burg began its evolution into an artist colony.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An historic destination for the arts, Tubac features over 100 eclectic shops and world class galleries, clustered in the village plaza, where old adobes, Spanish courtyards, and ocotillo fences blend with a handful of newer buildings. Meandering streets are punctuated by hidden courtyards and sparkling fountains.

There’s a whiff of emergent Santa Fe here without the crowds. Tubac doesn’t even have a traffic light and I find myself falling into a relaxed rhythm as I wander the district. A half day can easily disappear wandering amongst this wealth of painting, sculpture, ceramics, and photography, as well as unique regional fashion, leather, crafts, antiques, and jewelry.

It’s no wonder the town coined the slogan, “Where Art and History Meet.”

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here also is the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park. Located in Tubac’s Old Town, the park’s museum offers a fascinating look at the history of the Santa Cruz Valley and Arizona’s first printing press.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is Arizona’s first state park and marks the location of Arizona’s first European settlement. An underground archaeological site displays the adobe presidio ruins.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Now Visible On Google Street View: Arizona State Parks

Get a sneak peek of Arizona’s State Parks and Trails with new Google maps

If you’re going to take advantage of this cooler weather by heading out for a hike, Arizona State Parks and Trails have a new virtual tool to help you plan your trip. Imagine seeing your favorite Arizona state park or trail before you head out, giving you the chance to plan your hike or view your campsite.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona State Parks and Trails partnered with Google earlier this year to make that happen. Nearly 200 miles of trails throughout all of Arizona’s state parks are now visible using the Street View function on Google Maps.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona State Parks and Trails staff used the Google R7 Trekker Camera to capture 360 views of all state parks and more than 175 miles of trails in and connecting to the state parks across Arizona. The data is now live on Google Earth and Google Maps enabling visitors to see trail conditions and plan the perfect hiking adventure or preview the beauty of a park before planning a weekend adventure. Use of the camera was free after Parks submitted a request and detailed information about which trails would be documented.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over six weeks, staff hiked more than 200 miles carrying the Trekker which weighs 45 pounds and includes 15 individual lenses to capture a 360-degree view of each trail and park. The data will help visitors understand the difficulty of trails, topography, and what to expect to see along the route, as well as the accessibility of the trail and the layout of the park. The project also had the added value of identifying any trails in need of maintenance or repair in the park system. 

Dead Horse Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Google has now processed and uploaded this park data to the existing Earth and Maps databases for free use by the public. The information can also afford people the opportunity to take a virtual tour of a trail without having to physically climb or travel.

Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“It’s just a really neat way for people to navigate from their desk and see what we have to offer,” said Michelle Thompson, with Arizona State Parks and Trails in a news release. “If they were looking at something and they wanted to say, ‘Is this a hike I’d be able to accomplish? Is this going to be too difficult for me? What does the park look like? Should I make the drive?’ Then that’s all something that they can see.” 

Sonoita Creek State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here’s how to use this amazing virtual tool.

1. Google a state park you’re interested in checking out. For example, search Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park and click “maps.”

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Zoom in on the park. You see the little yellow person in the bottom right of your screen? Click on it and drag to the trail. While dragging, the trail will illuminate in blue. Set the figure down and you have entered “street view” mode.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Your ground level point of view will include white arrows. Click on these arrows to follow the trail. You may also toggle your view in 360-degrees to check out the world around you. 

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona State Parks and Trails manage and conserve 35 natural, cultural, and recreational areas. Here are several of our favorites.

Catalina State Park 

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invites camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home.

Picacho Peak State Park

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors traveling along I-10 in southern Arizona can’t miss the prominent 1,500-foot peak of Picacho Peak State Park. Enjoy the view as you hike the trails that wind up the peak and, often in the spring, overlook a sea of wildflowers.

Red Rock State Park 

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock State Park is a 286 acre nature preserve and environmental education center with stunning scenery. Trails throughout the park wind through manzanita and juniper to reach the rich banks of Oak Creek. Green meadows are framed by native vegetation and hills of red rock.

Lost Dutchman State Park

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Named after the fabled lost gold mine, Lost Dutchman State Park is located in the Sonoran Desert just east of Apache Junction. Several trails lead from the park into the Superstition Wilderness and surrounding Tonto National Forest.

Worth Pondering…

This was as the desert should be, this was the desert of the picture books, with the land unrolled to the farthest distant horizon hills, with saguaros standing sentinel in their strange chessboard pattern, towering supinely above the fans of ocotillo and brushy mesquite.

—Dorothy B. Hughes

The Most (and least) Popular Arizona State Parks

Arizona is home to some amazing state parks

A certain large national park may come to mind when most people think of outdoor spaces in the Grand Canyon State. But Arizona boasts 29 state parks, too, and new data show a slight uptick in visits to those lands over the past year.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Birders, campers, boaters, hikers, and others made 3.2 million visits to Arizona state parks during the Fiscal Year (FY) that ended in June, an increase of about 1 percent over the previous 12 months, according to data published by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. That’s up from nearly 2.7 million visits about three years ago. But 1 percent suggests the growth in visitors is leveling off after years of 8 and 9 percent increases.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The wet, cool, and windy winter weather likely affected the crowds at Lake Havasu, the state’s most popular state park where the number of visits declined about 10 percent to around 500,000 over the previous year.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park saw visitation drop, also, by around 19 percent following the closure of a pedestrian walkway. The state plans to rebuild it next year. The number of visitors also decreased at historic sites including Tubac Presidio, Fort Verde, McFarland Historic Park (original Pinal County Courthouse in Florence.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The desert wildflowers that followed the damp and cool winter resulted in a boost for parks in the Sonoran Desert. Picacho Peak between Tucson and Casa Grande saw a 46 percent increase in visitors during the last fiscal year, tallying 121,000 visits. And yes, we were there. Oracle and Catalina state parks in Southern Arizona also saw increases in visitors. The increase in visitation at these parks raises concerns about how best to balance the park’s popularity with the rustic feel of the site.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park with the biggest increase in visitors in proportion to the previous year was Lyman Lake State Park, where attendance nearly doubled reaching 31,100. That’s still not many people compared to other locations. Situated on the Little Colorado River east of Show Low, the park is secluded. The water is higher than it has been in years and has no size restrictions on boats.

Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1) Lake Havasu

Visitors during FY 2019: 504,000 (down 10.6%)

It should be no surprise that the most popular state parks in Arizona are situated on water. This park is an oasis on the Colorado River near Lake Havasu City, boasting beaches, boat ramps and campsites.

Sonaota Creek State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2) Slide Rock State Park

Visitors during FY 2019: 434,400 (down 5.5%)

This 43-acre historic homestead near Sedona used to be an apple farm. But visitors don’t just come for the agricultural history, as they flock to the park in Oak Creek Canyon for its namesake slide.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3) Catalina State Park

Visitors during FY 2019: 251,100 (up 18.2%)

Catalina includes 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams outside Tucson. Oh, and it has nearly 5,000 saguaros and awesome sunsets.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona’s least-visited state parks

1) McFarland State Historic Park

Visitors during FY2019: 6,800 (down 13.9%)

The original Pinal County courthouse in downtown Florence offers a glimpse into the past. Built in 1878, it’s an architectural showcase, demonstrating the incorporation of Spanish design into the style of Anglo settlers.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2) Tubac Presidio

Visitors during FY2019: 7,900 (down 11.2%)

This park preserves the ruins of the oldest Spanish Presidio site in Arizona, San Ignacio de Tubac, built in 1752. The presidio was outpost of the Spanish empire, a base for troops and a station for further exploration of what would become the American Southwest.

Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3) Fort Verde

Visitors during FY2019: 10,700 (down 17.1%)

When troops left this Apache Wars-era fort, the premises was divided up and sold at auction. This small state park attempts to preserve some of the structures and give the public a look at life at mid-19th century Arizona.

Worth Pondering…

The trip across Arizona is just one oasis after another. You can just throw anything out and it will grow there.

—Will Rogers

Fields of Poppies Adorn Picacho Peak (State Park)

The sere landscape around Picacho Peak receives a splash of vibrant colors come spring, transforming it into one of the best wildflower spots in the state

It’s no secret that Arizona is currently experiencing what may be the best wildflower bloom in possibly two decades. Mexican poppies, purple lupine, brittlebush, scorpion weed, and globe mallows (among others) are blanketing the desert as they put on a vivid and virtually unforgettable springtime display.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Central and southern state parks are in the midst of prime time, and the blooms will increase with intensity northward as summer draws closer. Right now, Picacho Peak, Alamo, and Catalina state parks are great places to stretch the legs, take some pics, and enjoy Mother Nature’s show. Oracle State Park should be coming on strong very soon as well! 

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The old saying goes “April showers bring May flowers,” but Arizona operates on its own timetable!

March is peak wildflower season, and with the rain and snow the state is alive with color. Wildflower season is upon us.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Picacho Peak is arguably one of the best spots to see blooming wildflowers in Arizona, with bushels of incredible golden blooms around the base of the mountain and campgrounds. The desert wildflowers of the park offer a unique and beautiful contrast to the green and brown hues of this Sonoran Desert destination.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Experience the trails as they wind through a carpet of yellow, meandering through the desert exposing new beautiful sights each step along the way. Plants, shrubs, and cacti are all abloom—as if for your pleasure.

Springtime weather is perfect for a desert camping experience, book a site and expose yourself to the beauty that spring-time Arizona so selflessly shares with you.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The ephemeral Mexican gold poppy is the litmus test for wildflower season: you’ll either spot sparse individuals or be blinded by a field of electric orange blooms. And this is a banner year for Picacho Peak, a superbloom! Everywhere we look, we see pops of colors. 

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Located some 30 miles south of our home base in Casa Grande, just off Interstate 10, the state park has been drenched with some unusually large storms stretching all the way back to last summer’s monsoon. There’s a lush ground cover unlike anything we’ve seen in the 20 years since we first hiked this park.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Don’t think you have to climb the centerpiece spire for the best views (been there, done that in my younger years). Just the opposite, as most poppies, brittlebush, lupines, and globemallows flourish on the lower slopes. You will be able to enjoy plenty of color from the park road and adjacent picnic tables. Come early as parking spaces fill quickly.

We found amazing showings of color on the easy Nature Trail (0.5 miles) and the moderate Calloway Trail (0.7 miles).

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Annuals—like poppies and lupines—germinate in the fall with enough rain. Then, throughout the winter, they need consistent rain every two or three weeks to keep growing. Perennials like brittlebush and globemallows don’t need that initial rain and are better able to endure rising temperatures.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The poppies only open on bright, sunny days. They close up every afternoon before the sun descends and on cloudy or windy days. The presence of poppies usually indicates that there has been normal to above-normal rainfall the winter previous. A week of 85-degree days would wipe out the poppies. 

Know the cardinal rules of wildflower viewing: Stay on trails, park in designated areas, take your trash home and don’t pick flowers. Some other things to keep in mind: Be prepared with essentials such as water, food, sunscreen, extra layers of clothing, and a trail map that will work even if your cellphone doesn’t.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

But pleasures are like poppies spread: You seize the flower

—John Bunyan

Picacho Peak State Park Is Alive With Color

Picacho Peak State Park is one of the best places to see the spring yellow, red, orange, blue, and purple desert blooms

Visitors traveling along I-10 in southern Arizona can’t miss the prominent 1,500-foot peak of Picacho Peak State Park.

Except for the saguaros, Picacho Peak looks like it could have been plucked from the hills of Ireland. The thrust of mountain rising from the desert floor is luxuriantly green. Sitting 30 miles south of our home base in Casa Grande, just off Interstate 10, the state park has been drenched with some unusually large storms stretching all the way back to last summer’s monsoon.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The mountain looks like it is grass all the way up the sides. There’s a lush ground cover unlike anything we’ve seen in the 20 years since we first hiked this park.

Picacho Peak is known for fields of poppies in spring, blanketing the mountain slopes. This is a banner year for Picacho Peak, a superbloom!

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

I’m crouched down.

Eye level with the poppy.

I’m feeling lucent.

Even a little lightheaded!

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Maybe it’s the poppy—that master of color, refraction, and mind-altering chemistry.

Then again, maybe I’m just not as good at contorting myself into a poppy-level crouch as I was in my younger days.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Either way, the poppies have returned—fulfilling their ancient, flashy promise.

They pretty much skipped 2018—the year with no winter.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

But spring seekers and flower junkies have been waiting this spring with trembling anticipation—having noted the steady succession of wet Pacific storms in December and January and on through February.

As a result the flowers have emerged on the slopes of Picacho Peak.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

I love all the flowers—the lupine and globemellow and the yellow brittle brush. But the poppies have my heart.

Those dreamlike petals are only three cells thick. The cells on the top and bottom are loaded with pigments. The botanists—who printed their results in the Journal of Comparative Physiology A—said they could find no other reports of a greater concentration of pigment in the natural world.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

And those cells are folded and fitted together like jigsaw puzzle pieces. This creates a whole network of little air spaces built into the flower.

As a result of this remarkable structure, the light comes in through that top layer of folded cells and then bounces around inside the cells—passing back and forth through the pigment. The rays of light refract, a sunset in a layer of cells.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

All of this brilliant manipulation of color has everything to do with the insect pollinators the poppies are working to attract. Bear in mind, in a good wildflower year those pollinators have a whole hillside of clamoring flowers to choose from.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Poppies have evolved to produce different colors, depending on their pollinators. This enables them to attract a wide variety of pollinators.

Other researchers have come up with some intriguing theories on the extreme adaptability of poppies, which have adapted to different conditions all over the world. The University of York scientists were mostly focused on trying to figure out the evolution of poppy chemistry, which produces things like opium and painkillers.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The poppies have been up to this for the past 100 million years or so and likely accounts for the ability of the Golden California and Mexican poppies to cope with the extremes of the Sonoran Desert climate in Arizona and southern California.

All I know is I can’t get enough of poppies. Call it addiction.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

But excuse me for now—the poppies have fully opened to the light of another day. The flowers only open on bright, sunny days. They close up every afternoon before the sun descends and on cloudy or windy days. A week of 85-degree days would wipe out the poppies. 

So I must enjoy the glorious poppies.

golden Mexican poppies

And hope—at my age—that I can still stand up when I’m done.

Worth Pondering…

Through the dancing poppies stole A breeze, most softly lulling to my soul.

—John Keats

Focus on Birding in Arizona State Parks

Hit the trail and search for your favorite birds in Arizona State Parks

Many Arizona state parks are considered world-class birding destinations, and, depending on migrations, hold literally hundreds of species to watch throughout the year.

Come along as we hit the trail and search for our favorite feathered friends in some of Arizona State Park’s best birding locations and get to know the birds of Arizona. 

Species lists are available from each park and give birders a preview of what they might encounter on a trip. Simply decide which type of habitat you would like to explore and hit the road!

Oh, yes—don’t forget your camera and telephoto lens.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park

This great blue heron snags his dinner at Dead Horse Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Long celebrated as a world-class birding destination, Dead Horse Ranch State Park offers varied opportunities for birders of all levels. The riparian zone trails flanking the Verde River give birders a chance to see nesting black hawks, numerous waterfowl species, plus the chance of seeing a majestic bald eagle in its native environment. Near the lagoons, great blue herons can often be seen snagging a fish lunch near the shore, and seasonally, the hummingbirds buzz around hurriedly in search of sweet nectar.

Picacho Peak State Park

Gambil quails are often seen in the desert parks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Desert birds abound at Pichaco Peak State Park, enjoying the cooler weather among the saguaros as winter visitors. Hawks, falcons, quail, and hummingbirds are commonly seen at the park, and if you look closely, you’ll catch sight of woodpeckers, curve-billed thrashers, flycatchers, and warblers. Ask for a bird list at the park’s Visitor Center to guide you as you experience the incredible wildlife within the park.

Red Rock State Park

Cactus wren © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Red Rock State Park trails offer a peek into the habitats of myriad bird species. The riparian area along Oak Creek offers a cool spot for wrens, swallows, hawks, and eagles. Some waterfowl species use this portion of the park seasonally. House finches and lesser Goldfinch offer a splash of color for visitors within the native vegetation.

Pair of house finches © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The park also features a feeding area for birds where you can sit with your binoculars or camera as birds come to eat and enjoy the park themselves. The Visitor Center roof is also a great place for spotting birds, and offers a gorgeous view of the park. 

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park

Hummingbird at Boyce Thompson Arboretum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserv

Founded in the 1920s as a botanical garden, the 323 acres of Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park serve as a wildlife preserve. The main trail is 1.5 miles and begins at the Visitor Center. Allow yourself at least two hours as you will encounter numerous trails that branch off from the main trail.

The fast-running greater roadrunner is a common sight in the Southwest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Arboretum’s irrigated gardens and protected grounds are a magnet for birds. With more than 250 species the Arboretum has been designated as an important bird area. Gambel’s quail, canyon wren, curved-billed thrashers, and black throated sparrows are among the most abundant species. Bird lists are available at the Visitor Center.

A nesting hummer © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Black-chinned, Anna’s, Costa’s, broad-tailed, and broad-billed are among the species of hummingbirds that find nectar in the diversity of flowering plants.

Patagonia Lake State Park

Vermillion flycatcher © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Patagonia Lake State Park and the adjacent Sonoita Creek State Nature Area hosts vultures, owls, and roadrunners in sight of visitors daily, and that’s not all. Occasionally, birders will experience the Gould’s turkeys, white-faced ibis, warblers, vermillion flycatcher, and the elegant trogon! Waterfowl species abound here as well and can often be seen cruising around the lake or flying around looking for a place to land.

Catalina State Park

Western scrub jay at Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Set against the Santa Catalina Mountains, Catalina State Park consists of 5,500 acres of high Sonora Desert habitat with eight trails traversing a landscape dominated by ocotillo, cholla, and saguaro cactus. This Sonoran life zone includes seasonal streams providing habitat for mesquite, desert willow, cottonwood trees, and walnut groves.

Mourning dove at Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Ladder-backed woodpeckers, greater roadrunners, Gambel’s quail, Say’s phoebes, and Harris’s hawks call the park home year-round. Migrants and seasonal residents include the vermilion flycatcher, black-headed grosbeak, and 10 species of migrating warblers.  

Worth Pondering…

Legends say that hummingbirds float free of time, carrying our hopes for love, joy, and celebration. The hummingbird’s delicate grace reminds us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere, every personal connection has meaning and that laughter is life’s sweetest creation.

—Papyrus

The “3:10 to Yuma” Stops Here

Yuma Territorial Prison is a living museum of the Old West

Sitting on a bluff overlooking the Colorado River, three miles west of the confluence of the Colorado and the historic Gila River, stand the ruins of Arizona’s famous Territorial Prison.

Fans of Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures know it as “Hell Hole Prison” for the dark and twisted tales which linger long after the last inmates occupied this first prison of the Arizona Territory. For many others, the 1957 and 2007 films “3:10 to Yuma” are what bring this “Hell Hole Prison” to mind.

On July 1, 1876, the first seven inmates entered the Territorial Prison at Yuma and were locked into the new cells they had built themselves. Thus began the legend of the Yuma Territorial Prison.

Yuma Territorial Prison sally port (entrance gate) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

A total of 3,069 prisoners, including 29 women, lived within the walls during the prison’s 33-year existence between 1876 and 1909. Their crimes ranged from murder to polygamy with grand larceny being the most common. A majority served only portions of their sentences due to the ease with which paroles and pardons were obtained.

Yuma Territorial Prison visitor center interpretive panel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

One hundred eleven persons died while serving their sentences, most from tuberculosis, which was common throughout the territory. Of the many prisoners who attempted escape, 26 were successful and eight died from gunshot wounds. No executions took place at the prison because capital punishment was administered by the county governments.

Yuma Territorial Prison showing a row of inmate cells © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Despite an infamous reputation, the historical written record indicates that the prison was humanely administered and was a model institution for its time. The only punishments were the “dark cell” for inmates who broke prison regulations, and the “ball and chain” for those who tried to escape.

Yuma Territorial Prison Dark Cell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Prisoners had free time during which they hand-crafted many items to be sold at public bazaars held at the prison on Sundays after church services. Prisoners also had regular medical attention and access to a hospital.

Looking inside a prisoners cell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Schooling was available for convicts, and many learned to read and write. The prison housed one of the first “public” libraries in the territory, and the fee charged to visitors for a tour of the institution was used to purchase books. One of the early electrical generating plants in the West furnished power for lights and ran a ventilation system in the cell blocks.

Yuma Territorial Prison © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

By 1907, the prison was severely overcrowded, and there was no room on Prison Hill for expansion. Convicts constructed a new facility in Florence, Arizona, and the last prisoner left Yuma on September 15, 1909.

Yuma Territorial Prison cells © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Today, Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park is open, welcoming convicts of another kind—those guilty of having a curiosity for what it was like to work and live inside the prison walls.

Yuma Territorial Prison cell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The cells, main gate, and guard tower are still standing providing visitors with a glimpse of convict life in the Southwest over a century ago.

Yuma Territorial Prison visitor center exhibit © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

An introductory exhibit is located in the Visitor Center along with photographs and a video presentation. Outside buildings and features include original cellblocks, water tank, guard tower, sally port (entrance gate), library room, the dark cell, caliche hill, new yard, and cells. Interpretive panels are situated throughout the historic site. A large mural painting of Arizona Native Americans and scenery by a WWII Italian POW graces one of the walls.

Yuma Territorial Prison visitor center exhibit © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Turn yourself in for a fascinating experience, which includes a look into “The Dark Cell” and a look back at the men AND women who served hard time in Yuma. Parole included with the price of admission.

Yuma Territorial Prison visitor center and Ocean-to-Ocean bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

And, you don’t have to wait until 3:10; the park is open from 9 am -5 pm daily so stop in and take a walk through a big slice of the history of the Old West.

Yuma Territorial Prison grounds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Yuma Prison State Historic Park is situated on a bluff above the Colorado River in Yuma. It is located at the Fourth Avenue exit south from Interstate 8 (Exit 1). After crossing the Colorado River, the entrance to the park is on the east side of Fourth Avenue.

Worth Pondering…

Forecast for snow…sometime in the future, but not today, and definitely not in YUMA! What a beautiful day!