Hiking Arizona

Your boots were made for walking through some of Arizona’s most awe-inspiring scenery

As Winnie-the-Pooh once wisely said, “When you see someone putting on his Big Boots, you can be pretty sure that an adventure is going to happen.” Follow the thoughtful bear’s sage advice and pack your biggest, comfiest boots for a real adventure in the Grand Canyon State.

The Arizona landscape is so diverse from the desert and mountain hiking trails in the Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tucson areas to the cool high country of Northern Arizona, Arizona Lakes, Rivers, Grand Canyon, Superstition Mountains, White Mountains, Slot Canyons, and wilderness backcountry.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hiking Arizona trails is a magical experience whether you choose short, easy hikes or long strenuous hikes. There are beginner trails, day urban hikes, and trails that only the experienced should attempt.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With year-round sunshine and breathtaking scenery, Arizona is widely considered one of the best places for hiking adventures. From the epic chasm of the Grand Canyon and the giant Saguaro cacti of the Sonoran Desert to the magnificent monoliths that make up Monument Valley, Arizona is the red-hued epicenter of America’s adventure scene.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of course, one of the biggest draws is the Grand Canyon. One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, it welcomes more than six million visitors each year. However, only one per cent of these walk further than the South Rim viewing platforms and miss the real wonders of the Canyon.

Mother Nature has blessed Arizona with more than just the Grand Canyon. A hundred miles north, on the Colorado plateau, is the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument—striped waves of colored sandstone rippling through an arid landscape. The best way to experience it is to grab a hiking permit from the visitors’ centre and explore the towering stone cliffs and deep, ruddy canyons on foot as condors glide overhead.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park in northeastern Arizona is famous for its fossilized logs, which date back more than 225 million years. Explore the Rainbow Forest or hike through the badlands to Red Basin and Martha’s Butte. Don’t miss the Blue Mesa trail for outstanding vistas.

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

A hundred miles south of the Grand Canyon is Sedona, a charming, artsy enclave famous for its huge sandstone formations which blaze brilliant reds and fiery oranges. It makes a great base for an adventure trip with everything from mountain biking through Red Rock State Park and wild swimming in Oak Creek to hikes around Cathedral Rock. Oh yeah, did we mention that the area is home to more than 100 hiking trails? Don’t forget to bring your boots!

Cathedral Rock near Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Further south still is Phoenix and its sister cities which also draws numerous hikers and mountain bikers. It offers moderate to advanced trails through this rugged corner of the Sonoran Desert across White Tank, Usery Mountain, and McDowell Mountain regional parks.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Down in the southernmost flanks of Arizona, Tucson is a desert city sheltered by the Santa Catalina Mountains. Explore both units of Saguaro National Park, home of the giant Saguaro cacti. An iconic emblem of the Southwest, these spiky beasts can grow to more than 50 feet tall. The park offers 165 miles of hiking trails including the Signal Hill trail which leads to rock art of the ancient Hohokam people.

Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take a hike up to the 9,000-foot summit of Mount Lemmon and spend the evening at the Mount Lemmon Observatory, a prime spot for stargazing. Alternatively, head 25 miles south to Madera Canyon and hike the extensive trail system of the Santa Rita Mountains easily accessible from the canyon campground.

Old Baldy Trail, Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Finally, 100 miles southeast of Tucson is the Chiricahua National Monument, an ethereal landscape scattered with ancient rock spires. There are 17 miles of hiking trails each winding through the giant and amazingly balanced boulders, where you’ll follow in the dusty footsteps of the early pioneers of American adventure.

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.

—Edward Abbey

Wonderful Winter Day Hikes in Arizona

Natural areas for wintertime hiking

With more mountains than Switzerland—we swear!—and millions of acres of protected land, the number of hiking trails in Arizona is mind-boggling.

The only thing more impressive than the sheer amount of hiking opportunities is the variety of scenery hikers can enjoy including desert, alpine, urban, remote, rocky, sandy, and grassy.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Because we couldn’t possibly cover all of this in one article, here are a collection of hikes perfect for Arizona’s balmy winter months. From Tucson’s Sabino Canyon to Thumb Butte in Prescott, explore these six natural areas for a perfect wintertime trek.

Usery Mountain Regional Park, Mesa

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 3.2-mile (round trip) Wind Cave Trail makes a great family hike in the Pass Mountain. Although the “cave” is more of a shallow arch than a gaping, mysterious, bat-infested hole, the sweeping views to the north and west and the interesting array of plants growing from the “ceiling” make it worth a visit.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be sure to pack a picnic lunch. The shade at the mouth of the cave creates a nice spot for an alfresco meal.

Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, Tucson

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Northeast of Tucson, at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains, the lush Sabino Canyon Recreation Area offers visitors open-air shuttle rides.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can hike the area without the use of the trams (which cost $8 for adults and $4 for kids), but they do help you see more—and save some sweating—on your Sabino Canyon hike. (As of November 2018, tram service is temporarily suspended while a new provider is determined.)

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Bear Canyon Tram goes directly to the trailhead for this 2.5-mile walk to picturesque Seven Falls, which includes several stream crossings.

The Sabino Canyon Tram makes numerous stops along its 45-minute route. Several hikes of varying difficulty start along the bus path.

Thumb Butte, Prescott

Thumb Butte Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Easy to spot from nearly everywhere in Prescott, Thumb Butte offers a nearly two-mile hiking loop, part of which is paved, that goes almost to its summit.

Upon reaching the loop’s high point several hundred feet below the summit, look for a spur trail that takes you to an interpretative sign and bird’s-eye views.

Thumb Butte Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The sign gives you the names of each of the mountains in the Bradshaw Range you’ll see before you. On a clear day, you can even see north all the way to the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, although there’s no interpretative sign naming those mountains.

Thumb Butte Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A winter warning: The steeper side of the loop, which is partially paved, doesn’t see too much sun this part of the year and can sometimes be a little icy.

East Wetlands, Yuma

Yuma East Wetlands © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just steps from downtown, you can explore the Yuma East Wetlands, where nearly 500 acres of what was a trash-strewn jungle of non-native vegetation has been transformed into a beautiful wetlands area. Just past the Ocean-to-Ocean Bridge, take an unpaved trail about ½-mile to a raised overlook, or circle the East Wetlands on a three-mile loop. Or for a bird’s-eye wetlands view, walk the paved path along the levee.

Yuma East Wetlands © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a more extended hike, follow the paved path heading west from Gateway Park. This route stays close to the Colorado River and is dotted with city parks.

Catalina State Park, Oro Valley

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, bird watching, and hiking.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 2.3-mile Canyon Loop Trail is an easy hike through the foothills that begins and ends at the Trailhead parking lot. The loop is created by a link connecting the Romero Canyon Trail and the Sutherland Trail. The trail is relatively flat, but about halfway around there is a slope with approximately 90 stairs. The Canyon Loop Trail crosses a wash several times, so seasonal stream flow may result in wet feet.

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.

Early symptoms include a burning desire to make plans for the next trip “south”.

There is no apparent cure for snowbirds.

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

Tropical Paradise: Palmetto State Park

Palmetto State Park offers a nature-filled getaway in Central Texas

If you were to blindfold a person and drive him into the lush undergrowth of the 270-acre park, it’s likely he’d be clueless as to his whereabouts. Studded with dense clusters of dwarf palmettos, the park’s namesake plant species, shaded by a moss-draped canopy of ancient live oak trees, Palmetto State Park is Texas’ own version of a subtropical jungle. At the end of the park’s entrance road the landscape vividly plummets into the water-carved vista of the San Marcos River.

Along the entrance road to Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Back in the mid-30s, a small piece of that swamp 13 miles northwest of Gonzales—and nine miles southeast of Luling—became Palmetto State Park. The park abuts the San Marcos River and also has a four-acre oxbow lake. 

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The beautiful stone buildings in the park were constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the 1930s.

A tropical paradise, Palmetto is an unusual botanical area that resembles the tropics more than Central Texas. The ranges of eastern and western species merge, resulting in an astounding diversity of plant and animal life. Most notably, a stand of dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor) plants is found around the park’s ephemeral swamp.

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These ground-hugging, trunkless palms normally are found in the moist forests of East Texas and Louisiana, as well as much of the southeastern US. The extensive stand in Palmetto State Park was isolated thousands of years ago, considerably west of its natural range.

Wildlife frequently seen in the park includes white-tailed deer, armadillos, squirrels, raccoons, and over 200 species of birds including wild turkeys and several species of warblers.

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s what you wouldn’t expect to see that makes this park special: a swampy wetlands. And it’s not just any old wetlands. The Ottine Swamp, named for the small town just outside the park’s gates, is a primeval wonderland of towering trees, peaty bogs, and warm springs.

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Crouch at the edge of a lagoon, as the spring-fed ponds are called locally, and the sweet scent of wild onion wafts skyward. Spanish moss drips from elm, hackberry, and cottonwood trees. Trumpet vines and wild grape twist around gnarled trunks and climb toward the canopy. Everywhere, palmetto palm fronds rustle in the breeze. These dwarf palmettos give the swamp an otherworldly atmosphere.

Activities include camping, picnicking, hiking, fishing, birding, nature study, pedal boat and canoe rentals, swimming, tubing, and canoeing.

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the first thing we look for at a state park is a trail to hike, and the winding, well-manicured trails at Palmetto offer plenty to see. The Ottine Swamp Trail and Palmetto Interpretive trails have boardwalks and bridges so you can wind through swamps filled with the park’s namesake dwarf palmettos. You’ll feel as if you’re in a tropical paradise.

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We hiked the Palmetto Trail loop, careful—as a large sign warns—to watch for snakes. We marveled at the sheer greenness of the place, and the profusion of fan-shaped palm leaves.

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The San Marcos River Trail leads you along the high banks of the San Marcos River, where towering cottonwoods and sycamore trees stand guard. The Mesquite Flats Trail offers a look at the drier, savannah-like parts of the park, where prickly pear cactus finds a home.

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you’re finished exploring the park on land, enjoy the water. The always-fun Oxbow Lake offers calm water to cast a fishing line in search of catfish or sunfish. Try out a paddleboat, kayak, or canoe, or take a swim in the cool water. The San Marcos River low-water crossing is a great place to either splash around in the water or take a tube for a 20- to 30-minute float around the park.

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boaters can put in the river at Luling City Park and travel 14 miles to Palmetto, portaging around one dam along the way. Put-in and take-out points are limited, as the river is mostly bordered by private land. There are no rapids, but almost always a steady current. Check river conditions at the park. For this trip, bring your own canoe and prearrange your shuttles.

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For RVers wishing to stay overnight or longer, the park provides great camping facilities. The campground is clean and quiet, and the stars at night are … well, you know the song.

Overnight stays are very reasonable with campsites rates ranging from $18-$20 plus the $3 per person park entrance fee. One campsite offering 30/50-amp electric service, water, and sewer is available for $20 nightly; 17 sites offering 30/50-amp electric service and water are available for $18. Weekly rates are available.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

As we explore America by RV, surprises await at every turn of the road. Natural beauty abounds when least expected.

Unplug & Recharge

Take a walk in the woods for better health

To “unplug” used to mean take a step away from your daily routine and forget about life’s worries. It also means something more literal—to pull the cord on the electronics in your life, turn off your dang phone, stop checking texts and email, and get off the ’gram.

Pinnacles National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This all is increasingly difficult to do, but it’s critical. Our digital life connects us in ways never before seen, but it also has health ramifications, from psychological addiction to disrupted sleep.

In Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling memoir, Wild, her mom tells her that the cure for much of what ails her is to “put [herself] in the way of beauty.”

Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Turns out she was right, at least according to the latest science. Time in nature is an antidote to the ill effects of stress, prevents, and in some cases even helps cure anxiety and depression and enhances creativity. Though the exact causal mechanisms are not yet known, researchers speculate there is something unique about nature—perhaps related to the fact that we evolved to be in it—that puts both our bodies and minds at ease, promoting physical and psychological restoration and subsequent functioning.

Cherohola Skyway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Long before smartphones and self-driving cars, Japan deemed “forest bathing” an essential part of its national health program. With forest bathing, the soaking isn’t literal. Bathing takes on a new meaning—immersing oneself in the natural environment.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The concept stems from Japanese Shinrin-Yoku Forest Therapy and goes back to 1982. Over three decades later, the goal of forest bathing is still to reintroduce people to the healing power of nature. Much study and research has confirmed what the Japanese have long believed—nature benefits wellbeing in many ways.

Holmes County, Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the 19th century, Henry David Thoreau wrote about the problems of modern society, the importance of nature, and restorative benefits of spending time outdoors. “We need the tonic of wildness,” he wrote in Walden, after spending two years in the woods.

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here in the 21st century, an increasing number of health experts agree with Thoreau. The varied physical and mental health benefits that seem to come with spending time in the woods or other wild and green settings is the subject of an increasing body of study and some scientific research.

Jasper National Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A good old walk in the woods has been credited with reducing blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety, while improving mental health, cognitive abilities, and sleep patterns. Yet the average American spends just 7 percent of their lives outdoors. Looking for some new and exciting ways to reconnect with nature alongside friends and family?

Hiking to Clingman Dome, Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go for a hike. There are a lot of places where you can hike—parks, trails, nature preserves. You’ll be out in nature, so it’s a great way to enjoy different types of plants and animals. Hiking usually requires that you move uphill, so it’s good exercise, too.

Hiking Badlands National Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As Winnie-the-Pooh once wisely said, “When you see someone putting on his Big Boots, you can be pretty sure that an adventure is going to happen.” Whether it’s hiking in the Smoky Mountains, the Sierras, or the Rocky Mountains, follow the thoughtful bear’s sage advice and pack your biggest, comfiest boots for a real adventure.

Photography at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take photos. Taking photos outside requires that you focus in on the nature around you. Look for unusual colors, patterns, or birds to photograph. A botanical garden is a great place to visit to take photos, because the displays are usually arranged in eye-catching ways. You can also visit a nature preserve or wildlife refuge and look for photo opportunities with animals or plant life.

Biking the Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take Up a New Outdoor Hobby. Hiking, biking, camping, canoeing, fishing, and photography are all great hobbies that will get you outdoors and moving. But if you’re looking for something a little more exciting try mountain biking.

Camping in Arches National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mountain biking in Utah is an endless-crazy-fun adventure. Head to the mountains or red rock desert trails. Singletracks, dirt roads, steep climbs, and rolling hills dominate the state’s beautiful landscape. Mountain biking is an invigorating and intimate way to experience the west. Located just north of Moab, Slickrock is perhaps the most popular mountain bike trail in the world boasting over 100,000 visitors per year.

Get Healthy, Get Outdoors

Rockport, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Find time today to venture outside and take advantage of the health benefits of the outdoors. Replace time spent inside on electronic devices with a bike ride or a walk to a local park. Take up forest bathing or gardening as a new hobby. And remember outdoor recreation can be enjoyed alone or as a family.

Reconnecting with nature in Vermont © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s no wrong way to get outside and so much to be gained by exploring the natural world. You know why being outside is important. It’s time to reconnect with nature. Your body and mind will thank you for it later.

Worth Pondering…

We can never have enough of nature.

—Henry David Thoreau

Top 10 State Parks to Visit

Here are 10 state parks you may not know about—but should

While national parks are touted as the crown jewels of America, it is also time to recognize and celebrate America’s less crowded but just as fulfilling state parks.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

In Texas, there is Galveston Island State Park with numerous activities on land and water. In Arizona, check out Red Rock State Park, a nature preserve located near Sedona. Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina offers a lighthouse, swimming, birding, fishing, and camping.

Make plans now to visit these spectacular state parks.

Galveston Island State Park, Texas

Galveston Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Come to the island to stroll the beach, splash in the waves, fish, or look for coastal birds. With both beach and bay sides, Galveston Island State Park offers activities for every coast lover. You can swim, fish, picnic, bird watch, hike, mountain bike, paddle, camp, geocache, study nature or just relax.

Meaher State Park, Alabama

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

This 1,327-acre park is situated in the wetlands of Mobile Bay and offers picnic facilities and modern camping sites with utilities. Meaher’s boat ramp and fishing pier will appeal to every fisherman. A self-guided walk on two nature trails includes a boardwalk with an up-close view of the beautiful Mobile Delta.

Red Rock State Park, Arizona

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Red Rock State Park is a 286 acre nature preserve with stunning scenery. The creek meanders through the park, creating a diverse riparian habitat abounding with plants and wildlife. Trails wind through manzanita and juniper to reach the banks of Oak Creek. Green meadows are framed by native vegetation and hills of red rock.

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The 1,445-acre Lackawanna State Park is in northeastern Pennsylvania, ten miles north of Scranton. The centerpiece of the park, the 198-acre Lackawanna Lake, is surrounded by picnic areas and multi-use trails winding through forest. Boating, camping, fishing, mountain biking, and swimming are popular recreation activities.

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Climb to the top of Hunting Island lighthouse to survey the palm-studded coastline. Bike the park’s trails through maritime forest to the nature center, fish off the pier, and go birdwatching for herons, egrets, skimmers, oystercatchers, and wood storks.

Stephen C. Foster State Park, Georgia

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

This park is a primary entrance to the legendary Okefenokee Swamp—one of Georgia’s seven natural wonders. Spanish moss-laced trees reflect off the black swamp waters, while cypress knees rise upward from the glass-like surface. Alligators, turtles, deer, ibis, herons, wood storks, and red-cockaded woodpeckers make their homes in this refuge.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the largest state park in California. Five hundred miles of dirt roads, 12 wilderness areas, and many miles of hiking trails provide visitors with numerous opportunity to experience the wonders of the Sonoran Desert. The park features washes, wildflowers, palm groves, cacti, and sweeping vistas.

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Hike the canyon rim trails above the Colorado River or mountain bike over 16 miles of high desert terrain on the Intrepid Trail System at Dead Horse Point. Go geocaching, stop by the visitor center to learn about the Native American history of the region, and linger as the sun sets to enjoy the spectacular star show at this International Dark Sky Park.

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Custer State Park in the beautiful Black Hills of western South Dakota is full of lush forests, quiet and serene meadows, and majestic mountains. Few truly wild places remain in this country. Custer State Park is one of them.

Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park, New Mexico

Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The park is located on the Rio Grande near Las Cruces and 1.5 miles from historic Mesilla. Visitors have many opportunities to view wildlife in natural surroundings while strolling one of the self-guided nature trails. Enjoy a fun ranger-led tour.

Worth Pondering…
To travel is to live.

—Hans Christian Andersen

Take a Hike. Do it Right!

During the summer, staying hydrated and cool is vital!

More than 200 hikers annually are rescued from City of Phoenix desert and mountain parks and preserves.

Courtesy the City of Phoenix, the following checklist can help keep you from being a statistic.

Hiking Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Watch the weather

Yes, “it’s a dry heat”—but Arizona’s temperature can be deceiving and deadly. Hike when it’s cool outside, try early morning and evenings when there’s more shade.

Hiking Old Baldy Trail at Medera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dress appropriately

Wear proper shoes, clothing, wide-brimmed hat (we recommend a Tilley Hat), and sunscreen.

Horseback riding at Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bring Water

Hydrate before you go. Have plenty of water, more than you think you need. Turn around and head back before you drink half of your water.

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

Keep in Contact

Carry a mobile phone.

Team up: Hike with others. If hiking solo, tell someone your start and end times and location.

Hiking Bell Rock Trail in Red Rock Country near Sedona, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be honest

Do you have a medical condition? Asthma, heart problems, diabetes, knee or back problems? Don’t push yourself?

Hiking the White Tank Mountains, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take Responsibility

Don’t be “that person”—the one who wasn’t prepared, shouldn’t have been there for health reasons or ignored safety guidelines. Be the responsible hiker who takes a hike and does it right!

Worth Pondering…

‘Heat, ma’am!’ I said; ‘it was so dreadful here, that I found there was nothing left for it but to take off my flesh and sit in my bones.

—Sydney Smith, in Lady Holland, Memoir

Do You Hoodoo?

“A hell of a place to lose a cow”

These tall, irregular spires of rock created through erosion usually protrude upward from dry bottomland, and Bryce Canyon National Park offers the most abundant concentration of them in the U.S. Hoodoos range in stature from 6 feet to as tall as a 10-story building, but Bryce Canyon’s hoodoos are being slowly worn away by the same forces of erosion that formed them.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mormon pioneer Ebenezer Bryce who ranched in the area described the canyon that bears his name as “a hell of a place to lose a cow”. But the rest of the world knows the canyon as a vast wonderland of brilliant-colored spires, rising like sentinels into the clear sky above.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon isn’t really a canyon. Rather it is a “break” or series of horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters carved from the eastern slope of the Paunsaugunt Plateau in southern Utah.

Erosion has shaped colorful Claron limestones, sandstones, and mudstones into thousands of nature-chiseled spires, fins, pinnacles, and mazes. Collectively called “hoodoos”, these unique formations are whimsically arranged and tinted with colors too numerous and subtle to name.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon’s warm days and cold nights result in more than 200 days a year in which accumulated rainwater completes a freeze-thaw cycle. During the day, water seeps into cracks in the rocks, and then at night, it freezes and expands. As this process repeats, it breaks apart weak rock, and over time, chisels the unusual formations.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The rim of the canyon is between 8,000 to 9,100 feet above sea level. In summer, daytime temperatures are in the 80s but fall to the 40s by night.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re traveling through southern Utah, you’ll want to visit this land of the hoodoos. The only access to Bryce Canyon is via Scenic Byway 12 (an All-American Road), which is a winding road that climbs to high elevations in spots. The entire highway is paved, well maintained, and kept open year-round.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best place to begin a tour of the park is at the visitor center. Located just 1.5 miles inside the park, the visitor center provides maps and directions, plus information regarding weather, ranger activities, and the Junior Ranger program. There’s also a 20-minute orientation film and a museum with exhibits that display facets of the park’s geology, flora, fauna, and history.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce is a compact park—just 56 square miles—which makes it easier to explore than many national parks in the West.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hiking is the best way to experience the stunning mazes. The park has over 50 miles of hiking trails with a range of distances and elevation change. Most of the park’s trails range from half a mile to 11 miles and take less than a day to complete. Most trails descend into the canyon and wind around the oddly shaped formations. In just a few hours on the trail, you can experience Bryce Canyon’s spectacular scenery.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But a word of caution: Many trails that descend to the bottom are moderate to steep, making the return part of the hike—which is uphill—the most strenuous. Bryce’s high elevation requires extra exertion, so assess your ability and know your limits. Wear hiking boots with good tread and ankle support and carry plenty of drinking water to avoid dehydration.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A prime viewpoint, Bryce Amphitheater is one of the most spectacular viewing areas in the national park system. Bryce Amphitheater is the park’s largest amphitheater and can be viewed from several points—Bryce, Inspiration, Sunset, and Sunrise points.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sunset Point begins the trailhead for the popular 1.3-mile Navajo Loop which descends through Wall Street. There, hikers travel between the narrow 200-foot canyon cliffs, and along the way pass by a miracle of nature—two 500- to 700-year-old Douglas firs that have managed to grow from the narrow slot canyon floor to reach the sliver of sunlight at the top.

But if hiking isn’t your thing, you can still enjoy the landscape from the overlooks on the main park road, which heads 18 miles along a winding corridor through forests and meadows to the park’s southern end.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

…a strange world of colossal shafts and buttes of rock, magnificently sculptured, standing isolated and aloof, dark, weird, lonely.

—Zane Grey

Discover Usery Mountain Regional Park

The spectacular desert mountain scenery here is breathtaking

Usery Mountain Regional Park, one of 13 Maricopa County Regional Parks, is a 3,648 acre preserve at the western end of the Goldfield Mountains, adjacent to the Tonto National Forest. Located on the Valley’s east side, Usery Mountain contains a large variety of plants and animals that call the lower Sonoran Desert home.

Usery Mountain is where my love of and discovery of The West began. That would be early April 1987 when we spent a week in site 48.

At that time, I wrote in my journal: “The spectacular desert mountain scenery here is breathtaking. When we first arrived in Arizona our reaction was why would anyone winter in this dreary, harsh, unforgiving desert environment, let alone live here. The Sonoran Desert grows on you with a beauty all its own. And the beauty of Usery Mountain is absolutely stunning.”

And we have enjoyed camping here numerous times since.

Along the most popular feature of the park, the Wind Cave Trail, water seeps from the roof of the alcove to support hanging gardens of Rock Daisy. The Wind Cave is formed at the boundary between the volcanic tuff and granite on Pass Mountain. Breathtaking views from this 2,840-foot elevation are offered to all visitors.

Usery Pass is known for being a major sheep trail leading from the high country north of Mt. Baldy south to the Salt River Valley. Flocks of sheep, led by Mexican and Basque shepherds with their dogs, present a picturesque sight in the spring and fall as they move into or out of the Coconino plateau region.

The traditional account of settlement of the Salt River Valley credits a former Confederate Officer and gold seeker, Jack Swilling, with the beginning of modern irrigation in central Arizona. Swilling came into the Valley in 1867 and noted the presence of ancient canal systems of the early Native Americans who had irrigated these lands.

Swilling presumably traveled between John Y.T. Smith’s hay camp a few miles east of downtown Phoenix and Fort McDowell in the summer of 1867 and came within sight of Usery Mountain Park, and even closer to the ruins of an old canal system and an ancient Native American village situated between the park and the Salt River.

Usery Mountain Regional Park became a park in 1967. Pass Mountain, also known as “Scarface” to the local folks, is the geological focal point of the park. The mountain itself was named for King Usery (sometimes spelled Ussery). “King” was his first name, rather than a title. He was a cattleman who was running stock in the area in the late 1870s and early 1880s. He had a tough struggle to survive and, apparently losing ground, moved up into the Tonto Basin country where his activities provided him a kind of unwanted security…behind bars.

Usery Mountain offers over 29 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Park trails range in length from 0.2 miles to over 7 miles, and range from easy to difficult.

These trails are very popular because they have enough elevation to offer spectacular vistas of surrounding plains. Whether you are looking across the plain, flat land, south of the recreation area, or to the west or north, great distances and surrounding mountains can be seen and enjoyed.

Arguably the most popular hike at Usery Mountain is the 3.2-miles Wind Cave Trail up Pass Mountain. Although the elevation gain is 820 feet, it’s considered a moderate hike. Views from this 2,840-foot elevation are breathtaking.

If you are looking for an easy, relatively short hike, the Merkle Trail is barrier-free. For a long more difficult hike, try the 7.1-mile Pass Mountain Trail. All trails are multi-use unless otherwise designated. Always remember to carry plenty of water and let someone know where you are going.

The park’s modern campground offers 73 individual sites. All sites are paved and have water and 50/30-amp electric service, a picnic table, barbecue grill, fire ring, and can accommodate up to a 45-foot RVs. Other facilities include modern washrooms with flush toilets and hot showers, and a dump station. All sites can be reserved online.

Nightly camping fee is currently $32. Non-refundable reservation fee is $8. For non-campers, the day use fee is $7.

Usery Mountain is best explored from late autumn to early spring as summer temperatures routinely exceed 100 degrees.

Worth Pondering…
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know that place for the first time.
— T. S. Eliot, Little Gidding

Where Are America’s Best Kept Secrets? Think the Southwest Deserts!

As the most popular national parks get more crowded, where do you go to escape?

In this post, we’ll explore two such parks in Arizona.

The attraction: Joshua Tree National Park, California (2.9 million visits)
The alternative: Saguaro National Park, Arizona (960,000 visits)

Location: 15 miles from Tucson, Arizona
Best places to stay: Lazy Days KOA, Rincon County East RV Resort, or Desert Trails RV Park
Best hike: From the El Camino del Cerro trailhead to the top of Wasson Peak via the Sweetwater trail—best done in cooler weather

Saguaro National Park’s two districts offer more than 165 miles of hiking trails. A hike at Saguaro National Park can be a stroll on a short interpretive nature trail or a day-long wilderness trek. Both districts of Saguaro National Park offer a variety of hiking trails.

Tucson is home to the nation’s largest cacti. The giant saguaro is the universal symbol of the American West. These majestic plants, found only in a small portion of the United States, are protected by Saguaro National Park, to the east and west of Tucson. Here you have a chance to see these enormous cacti, silhouetted by the beauty of a magnificent desert sunrise or sunset.

Saguaro National Park has two districts separated by the city of Tucson. The Tucson Mountain District on the west, and the Rincon Mountain District to the east, are approximately 30 miles (45-60 minutes) apart. While similar in terms of plants and animals, the intricate details make both areas praiseworthy.

Although Saguaro National Park is open every day of the year except Christmas, the busiest time is from November to March. During the winter months, temperatures are cooler and range from the high 50s to the mid-70s. Starting in late February and March, the park begins to get a variety of cactus and wildflower blooms. In late April, the iconic Saguaro begins to bloom. Come June, the fruits are beginning to ripen. In August, the lush Sonoran desert starts its Monsoon season, so watch out for those flash floods.

Another alternative: Organ Pipe National Monument, Arizona (224,548 visits)

Location: 60 miles south of Gila Bend, Arizona on SR-85

Best place to stay: Twin Peaks Campground, the main campground at Organ Pipe National Monument

Best hike: Estes Canyon (3 miles round trip)Estes Canyon is a moderate trail and is great for birding. Trail crosses several washes and is relatively flat until the switchback climb to the Bull Pasture trail.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument preserves the northern-most natural habitat of the Organ Pipe Cactus, as well as amazing examples of desert plants, animals, geology, and human history. Be ready to enjoy the trails and scenic drives, the star-lit nights, and the sun-filled days. Keep yourself safe by knowing what to expect from a desert wilderness.

The easiest way to see the splendor of this park is to take a scenic drive. Many hiking trails are accessed using these scenic drives.

Ajo Mountain Drive is the most popular scenic drive in the monument. It is a 21 mile, mostly gravel road usually passable by normal passenger car. RVs over 24 feet are prohibited, due to the twisting and dipping nature of the road. The Ajo Mountain Road Guidebook is available in the Kris Eggle Visitor Center. January through March a free three hour ranger guided van tour is available. Space is limited and interested visitors may sign up at the Kris Eggle Visitor Center for a seat on the van.

Puerto Blanco Drive is the other popular road in the park. The 37 mile drive provides access to the Pinkley Peak Picnic Area, Red Tanks trail head, Senita Basin, and Quitobaquito Springs. The Puerto Blanco Drive was completely reopened in 2014. Be advised that many travel books and websites do not reflect this change. High clearance vehicles are recommended beyond Pinkley Peak.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is open every day of the year. The Kris Eggle Visitor Center is open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. On Thanksgiving and Christmas the visitor center is closed but the park remains open.

The state of Arizona is on Mountain Standard Time. It does not observe Daylight Savings Time.

Worth Pondering…

The saguaro cactus is the Sonoran Desert’s singular icon, the largest native living thing that exists here, and it appears to be a stunningly robust presence in a harsh land.

—Larry Cheek, Cheek, Born Survivor