14 Outdoor Adventures You Can Only Have in Arizona

Adventurers, take note: Whatever you’re into, you can get into it in Arizona

Sunny skies, year-round perfect weather, and stellar sunsets complemented by rugged backcountry terrain make Arizona an adventurer’s dreamland. From the North Country’s pine-forested rim that drops into the depths of the Grand Canyon to the picturesque Sonoran Desert landscape of central and southern Arizona, all the ingredients for the quintessential American adventure recipe are at your fingertips.

Check my list of some of the can’t-miss experiences, possibly life-changing opportunities, and adventures that give a glimpse into the incredible backcountry world of the amazing state of Arizona.

Superstition Mountain Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Search for the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine

Nothing more perfectly sums up Arizona’s sense of adventure than the search for the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine. The truth behind the legend is harder to pin down than a Gila monster but the gist is that somewhere hidden in the Superstition Mountains just east of Phoenix is a gold mine once tended by German immigrants Jacob Waltz and Jacob Weiser.

The two men pulled untold amounts of the precious metal from the mountain before a murderous run-in with—depending on who you ask—Apaches or each other left all who knew the mine’s location dead.

To this day, adventurers set out into the Superstitions in search of the mine. Sadly, more than a few have met the same fate as Waltz and Weiser.

If you’re not particularly interested in hunting for gold there are still more than a dozen access points into the surrounding wilderness that can take you on a short day walk or a multi-day expedition. Give the Peralta Trail a shot—this nearly five-mile hike is one of the state’s most popular.

Mount Lemmon Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Longboard (or bicycle) down Mount Lemmon

Rising 9,000-plus feet in the north of TucsonMount Lemmon is the highest peak in the Santa Catalina Mountains and for longboarders one of the truly epic runs in the country. The 20-plus miles of highway are paved smooth and offer great views and a challenging ride.

Don’t take my word for it—check out the plentiful YouTube videos. And watch out for the cactus!

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Hike the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim

You simply can’t have a conversation about Arizona adventures without mentioning the Grand Canyon. The 24-mile Rim-to-Rim hike is an immense challenge that gives those who complete it an intimate understanding of the canyon that’s impossible to attain without dipping below its surface.

Start on the North Kaibab Trail and descend 6,000 feet to the bottom of the canyon where the Colorado River awaits. On the way down, you’ll pass through every ecosystem that exists between Canada and Mexico. Cross the Colorado and connect with the Bright Angel Trail and return to the surface along the South Rim passing hundreds of millions of years’ worth of history preserved in the surrounding rocks.

Most guides suggest planning on two to five days to complete the trail at a regular pace.

4. Ride horses around the legendary landscape of Sedona

If the red-rock cliffs that preside over Sedona don’t make you pause it’s time to book a trip to Mars because Earth has nothing left to offer. In the early evening, the spires reflect a reddish-purple hue that no photo could ever hope to do justice. Whether or not you subscribe to New Age beliefs, it’s easy to understand why people say there’s energy here that’s different than anywhere else on the planet.

There are many ways to explore the desert scenery around the cliffs but none gives you the chance to interact with nature on its own terms quite like riding a horse. Horseback trips typically last between one and three hours with sunrise and sunset options available. Beyond the red rocks, you can catch glimpses of the Verde Valley, the Mogollon Rim, and if you’re lucky some wildlife as well.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Explore the Petrified Forest

While it may not be the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park, Petrified Forest National Park offers an amazing place to see extinct species. Many of the fossilized logs that dot the floor of the 146-square-mile national park belong to long-extinct trees. Interestingly, the site of the park is not where an actual forest stood but rather an ancient riverbed where fallen plants accumulated.

To get the most out of your Petrified Forest adventure, forget the trails—the National Park Service administers eight off-the-beaten-path routes. Check out Devil’s Playground, an especially old part of the park. Only three permits are handed out for it each week with information on how to access the route supplied only to those granted permission to take on the journey.

6. Off-road to ghost towns

While Arizona is a state known for its epic highways and scenic views, even more, it happens off the state-maintained thoroughfares. For every ghost town worth a visit there’s the main road to take you there and a secret second entrance for those with a hearty sense of adventure and a 4-wheel-drive vehicle.

Off-roading or wheeling to the initiated is a great way to see Arizona’s wildlands and get a dose of history as well. Many off-road trails pass through old mining towns and other long-abandoned remnants of human habitation. The Bradshaw Mountains Trail takes you past the ghost town of Bumble Bee which was once a stagecoach stop for the U.S. Cavalry.

Traveling by these backroads is probably one of the most vastly under-appreciated ways to explore the state. There’s simply no way to not feel like a pioneer when you cross a mountain path or stream named for some long-deceased prospector. For a good off-roading guidebook, try the Guide to Arizona Backroads & 4-Wheel-Drive Trails, or check out the Off-Highway Vehicle Program at AZStateParks.com.

White House Ruins, Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Explore both well-known and secret ancient cliff dwellings and ruins

Arizona is home to some of the most famous cliff dwellings in the world. Montezuma’s Castle in the Verde Valley is an 800-year-old, five-story structure built by the Sinagua Indians and one of the best-preserved examples of such a site. Three hours northeast on Navajo Land is Canyon de Chelly and its White House Ruins.

While many of Arizona’s ruins require a guide or sit inside well-developed tourist sites there are still plenty that demand a more intrepid spirit. The Sycamore Canyon Cliff Dwellings north of Clarkdale lie at the end of a tough drive and hike but exploring these magnificent ruins away from the masses is a worthy payoff. Just remember that when there’s no park ranger to keep an eye on things, it’s up to you to ensure these locations remain intact and pristine for the following generation of explorers.

8. Stand in a shaft of light in Antelope Canyon

There are other slot canyons but few if any can truly compete with the beauty of Antelope Canyon. Located east of Page on Navajo tribal land, the roughly quarter-mile-long canyon is a tight squeeze through a wonderland of colored sandstone, speckled shafts of light, and a smooth sandy floor. There are two canyon routes here, the Crack and the Corkscrew; both offer jaw-dropping palettes of light and color. Don’t you dare enter without your camera (and the mandated guide)!

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. See the biggest cacti in North America at Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park boasts some absolutely huge cacti. They dominate the desert landscape and make for some very cool photo ops. Located in the Sonoran Desert, it’s worth dedicating at least a couple of days to this park. Tackle the 1.5-hour King Canyon, Gould Mine Loop hike, walk the Signal Hill trail out to ancient petroglyphs, or go for some backcountry camping if you’re looking for a real adventure. 

10. Tour Hopi country

If you’re fortunate enough to take part in a tour of Hopi land you won’t just see some of the most beautiful terrain in the Southwest—you’ll also be given a lesson in the importance of living in harmony with nature and showing respect for all things, alive and otherwise.

The Hopi inhabit 12 villages spread across three separate mesas in northeastern Arizona. These homes have been occupied continuously for centuries, longer than most—if not all—settlements in the U.S. Your tour will include explanations of Hopi beliefs and culture, panoramic views from the high villages, and of course culinary treats.

Make sure to review the visitor etiquette (which includes refraining from taking photos or recordings of any kind) before you go. This is one Arizona-only adventure you can’t post to Facebook—which makes it all the more special.

Off-road adventure at Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Off-road in Sedona

It’s easy to imagine Zeus and the other Greek gods bickering over whether to settle on Mt. Olympus or in Sedona’s sandstone red rocks. During the evening, the massive outcroppings turn a shade of red so intense and worthy of contemplation that they feel like massive antennae signaling to the New Agers who flock from across the planet to admire them.

Like so much of Arizona, Sedona is a place that holds onto its secrets. Many beautiful views are accessible from the road but an entire world opens up when you have an off-road vehicle and a knowledgeable guide. To accommodate, there are several companies offering jeep tours to remote locations among the red rocks. Trips typically last between two and three hours and will take you to sweeping desert views and the ruins of ancient Native American dwellings.

12. Walk in Geronimo’s shadow at Chiricahua National Monument

Chiricahua National Monument is a maze of volcanic rock spires in the southeastern corner of Arizona. Boulders balance on top of each other so precariously it can feel as if the laws of physics have been suspended.

Covering nearly 12,000 acres, this is where Native American warrior Geronimo and other Apaches hid and planned attacks against the invading U.S. Army. Today, the national monument is notable for hiking trails and birdwatching—look out for bald eagles and prairie falcons. For an unbeatable view, be sure to check out Massai Point.

Jerome State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Mine the ramshackle history of Jerome

Lots of people recognize Jerome as a great day trip but it’s time to think bigger. Spend a night or two in this mountainside artist community soaking up the culture and general weirdness.

Visit Jerome State Historic Park which preserves a rambling 8,700-square-foot mansion built in 1916. Once the opulent home of mine owner James Douglas, it now serves as an informative museum filled with photographs, artifacts, mining, equipment, minerals, and models of the network of shafts and tunnels dug through the mountains.

Sitting a mile north of Jerome, Gold King Mine and Ghost Town harbors an assortment of ramshackle buildings, a menagerie of friendly animals, and a sprawling array of rusted machinery that forever teeters between ruin and redemption.

Coronado Pass looking east © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Picnic at Montezuma Pass, hike to a cave

Nestled in the foothills of the Huachuca Mountains abutting the Mexican border, Coronado National Memorial commemorates and interprets the Coronado Expedition of 1540-1542 and its lasting impacts on Southwest culture. Located about 20 miles south of Sierra Vista, the memorial is part of Arizona’s Sky Island Mountains filled with spectacular scenery.  

Enter on the park road, which climbs from verdant grasslands into oak woodlands and continues through heavier forest up Montezuma Canyon. Past the visitor center the road is paved for a mile and graded dirt for the upper 2 miles. It twists around tight switchbacks (vehicles over 24 feet are prohibited) and steep grades as the world falls away below.

Montezuma Pass Overlook sits at 6,575 feet flanked by picnic tables and interpretive signs, a perfect spot for an end of summer picnic celebration. Afterward you can make a short scramble (0.8 mile round-trip) to the summit of Coronado Peak, crowned with a shade ramada and additional signs describing the Coronado Expedition.

Adventurous types will want to visit Coronado Cave, one of the few open, undeveloped caves in southern Arizona. You don’t have to worry about squeezing through. The large cavern is 600 feet deep and in most places about 70 feet wide. Legend has it that Chiricahua Apache leader Geronimo often hid out in the cave.

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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

10 Amazing Places to RV in November 2022

If you’re dreaming of where to travel to experience it all, here are my picks for the best places to RV in November

Just because things hadn’t gone the way I had planned didn’t necessarily mean they had gone wrong.

—Ann Patchett

Author Ann Patchett’s self-inspired essay “What Now?”—the work in which these reaffirming words appear—offers hope to those who find themselves at a crossroads. Patchett describes being thrust into many unfamiliar situations but finding fulfillment throughout those unexpected journeys much like many of the characters endured in Bel Canto, a gritty yet tender novel for which she received critical acclaim. This quote is a reminder that our path in life is always changing and curveballs can offer some of our greatest lessons and joys. While we may set out to accomplish certain goals there’s no greater tool than having an open mind and a willingness to accept wherever the road may take us.

The freedom of the open road can be intoxicating but when the options are as endless as the horizon we could all use a little direction. Rerouting is about following whims down unbeaten paths whether you’re looking to stop short for roadside attractions, whip around mountain passes, or clink glasses in a dusty saloon. Each line on the map is a promise and some of life’s best memories are made on the move. So turn up the radio, shift into gear, and don’t forget to hydrate—let’s get this show on the road.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in September and October. Also, check out my recommendations from November 2021 and December 2021.

Carlsbad Caverns © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plunge into the Depths of the Earth at Carlsbad Caverns

Descend nearly 800 feet below ground into a series of completely dark, breathtaking caves.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is hidden within the remote parts of southeastern New Mexico. More than just a cave, Carlsbad Caverns is a completely immersive experience. Beginning with a several-mile descent from the cave opening, travelers will emerge into massive caverns full of magnificent rock formations, stalactites, stalagmites, and more. The paved decline is steep but accessible for most people. There is also an elevator available to transport visitors as needed.

Urbanna Oyster Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oyster Lovers

Turn off the main road or cruise up the Rappahannock River from the Chesapeake Bay to the charming and friendly historic Colonial port town of Urbanna. Home of Virginia’s Official Oyster Festival (65th annual; November 4-5, 2022) more boats than folks and laid-back innkeepers, shopkeepers, chefs, and townspeople. You will see where tons of tobacco were loaded onto ships to sail back to Europe and the Famous Mitchell map is displayed at the visitor center located in the James Mills Scottish Factor Store.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wander Cobblestone Streets and Shoreline in Charleston

It’s easy to be transported back in time while exploring Charleston, the oldest city in South Carolina. Bordering the cobblestone streets are enormous trees and centuries-old Colonial and Victorian homes. Horse-drawn carriages clop through the moss-draped historic district. You can wade in Pineapple Fountain at Waterfront Park or through waves on Folly Beach. Over on Wadmalaw Island, Deep Water Vineyards offers six tasting pours and a souvenir glass for just $15. Even better, the top attraction in Charleston is the ambiance, free of charge.  

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island Shrimp & Grits Festival

Jekyll Island was once a private island owned by ultra-rich families such as the Rockefellers, Morgans, Cranes, and Pulitzers. Today the island is owned by the state of Georgia but remnants of the island’s glamorous past can be seen in its National Historic Landmark District where you’ll find opulent mansions and the Jekyll Island Club Hotel, formerly the Jekyll Island Club House founded in 1886.

A coastal favorite, the Jekyll Island Shrimp and Grits Festival returns November 4-6. The festival combines the classic southern dish with family-friendly entertainment, an artist’s market, live music, a kids’ zone, food, a craft brew fest, and more. The island comes alive during this award-winning three-day event held under the oaks in Jekyll Island’s National Historic Landmark District

Superstitions Mountain Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Search for the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine

Nothing more perfectly sums up Arizona’s sense of adventure than the search for the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine. The truth behind the legend is harder to pin down than a Gila monster but the gist is that somewhere hidden in the Superstition Mountains just east of Phoenix is a gold mine once tended by German immigrants Jacob Waltz and Jacob Weiser.

Superstitions Mountain Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The two men pulled untold amounts of the precious metal from the mountain before a murderous run-in with—depending on who you ask—Apaches or each other left all who knew the mine’s location dead.

To this day, adventurers set out into the Superstitions in search of the mine. Sadly, more than a few have met the same fate as Waltz and Weiser.

Peralta Trailhead © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re not particularly interested in hunting for gold, there are still more than a dozen access points into the surrounding wilderness that can take you on a short day walk or a multi-day expedition. Give the Peralta Trail a shot— this nearly five-mile hike is one of the most popular.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Island-hop through the Golden Isles

Georgia’s Golden Isles have a variety of experiences whether you’re on a family vacation or a private getaway. The hardest part is choosing which area to spend your time in!

St. Simons Island is beloved for its family-friendly vibes. Take a post-dinner stroll to the Pier Village for shopping, ice cream, and views of the Atlantic Ocean.

Jekyll Island Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Start the day with sunrise at the photographer’s favorite Driftwood Beach. The Wanderer Memory Trail tells the important story of the Wanderer, a slave ship that illegally landed 160 years ago. The Georgia Sea Turtle Center is home to rescued and rehabilitated sea turtles. Jekyll Island has a variety of accommodation options including the Jekyll Island Club Resort, once a members-only club for Gilded Age millionaires, and Jekyll Island Campground.

Or disconnect at Little St. Simons Island, one of the least developed of Georgia’s barrier islands covering 10,000 acres with 7 miles of shoreline. The Lodge on Little St. Simons has homey cottages where guests enjoy daily meals, naturalist hikes, and kayaking.

Charming Brunswick is the can’t-miss gateway to the islands. Wander the city streets and squares with historic homes and buildings from the 1800s, shops, restaurants, and a distillery. Learn about the coastal ecosystem on a shrimping tour with Lady Jane Shrimpin’ Excursion.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

Summer is not the best time to visit Utah national parks (but then, of course, summer is the season of road trips) but the truth is—if you have the flexibility—shoulder seasons are a much better time to visit the state. The temperatures are cooler and if you haven’t seen a fall desert sunset you are missing a truly life-changing experience.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion is the park I would visit in November for a few reasons—the aforementioned temperature and light(er) crowds, of course—but also still being able to comfortably hike through the water of The Narrows. Hiking The Narrows is for many a bucket list experience. And for a hike that is nearly 16 miles through water. Still warm, with fewer fellow hikers, and still enough daylight to get in some serious miles.

Also hike Angel’s Landing… if you dare. Angel’s Landing is 4.4 mile heavy-trafficked out-and-back trail that features a river and is rated as difficult.

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

High Water Mark of the Rebellion

The Battle of Gettysburg was a turning point in the Civil War, the Union victory that ended General Robert E. Lee’s second and most ambitious invasion of the North. Often referred to as the “High Water Mark of the Rebellion”, Gettysburg was the Civil War’s bloodiest battle and was also the inspiration for President Abraham Lincoln’s immortal “Gettysburg Address”.

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gettysburg is the kind of place you could make a quick stop or spend a full day exploring. The battlefield has roads so it’s easy to drive from one monument or site to the next. There’s an audio tour and there is even an app you can download to help add dimension to what you’re seeing and to find the highlights at the park.

It’s especially haunting thinking about the brave and dedicated men who walked into certain death across open fields during battle. It helps to have an appreciation for military history but even families will enjoy a visit. Some recommended reading beforehand: The Red Badge of Courage for background and The Killer Angels.

USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Famous Battleship and Museum from Under Siege

At Mobile’s Battleship Memorial Park, you don’t have to look far to find heroes. From the Battleship, USS Alabama to the Submarine USS Drum and over 25 aircraft the spirit of military pride is here. History meets heroism from World War II to Iraqi Freedom at one of America’s finest military parks.

At Battleship Memorial Park you’ll walk the decks of a mighty battleship, go below in a World War II submarine, and view cockpits of combat aircraft. You’ll also see tanks, a Vietnam River Patrol Boat, and a plane like the one flown by the Tuskegee Airmen. It’s all here, all waiting to be discovered by you! This ship was also featured in Under Siege, the cheesy 90s Steven Segal action movie.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

World’s Largest Living History Museum

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation operates the world’s largest living history museum in Williamsburg, Virginia—the restored 18th-century capital of Britain’s largest, wealthiest, and most populous outpost of empire in the New World.

Meet a Nation Builder like George Washington or Edith Cumbo and admire the craftsmanship of some of the best artisans in the world. Connect with your family over a horse-drawn carriage ride, world-class dining, and a Haunted Williamsburg ghost tour. At the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg explore everything from colorful and whimsical folk art made by amateur artisans to decorative art objects that are useful as well as beautiful.

New River Gorge Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Work of Structural Art

When the New River Gorge Bridge was completed on October 22, 1977, a travel challenge was solved. The bridge reduced a 40-minute drive down narrow mountain roads and across one of North America’s oldest rivers to less than a minute. When it comes to road construction, mountains do pose a challenge. In the case of the New River Gorge Bridge challenge was transformed into a work of structural art—the longest steel span in the western hemisphere and the third highest in the United States.

New River Gorge Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The New River Gorge Bridge is one of the most photographed places in West Virginia. The bridge was chosen to represent the state on the commemorative quarter released by the U.S. Mint in 2006. In 2013, the National Park Service listed the New River Gorge Bridge in the National Register of Historic Places as a significant historic resource.

New River Gorge Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Home to the New River which drops 750 feet over 66 miles, adventuresome rafters and kayakers have long been drawn to this whitewater area for its class five rapids. The New River which flows northward through low-cut canyons in the Appalachian Mountains is one of the oldest rivers on the planet. New River Gorge National Park encompasses more than 70,000 acres of land along the New River. Mark America’s newest national park on your map, pack up the RV, and hit the road for Almost Heaven awaits you.

Worth Pondering…

When the Frost is on the Punkin

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock,

And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock,

And the clackin’ of the guineys, and the cluckin’ of the hens,

And the rooster’s hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;

O, it’s then’s the times a feller is a-feelin’ at his best,

With the risin’ sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,

As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

—James Whitcomb Riley

National Wilderness Month: September 2022

What does wilderness mean to you?

Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit.

—Edward Abbey

September marks the anniversary of the Wilderness Act, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnsonn September 3, 1964. It created the legal definition of wilderness in the United States and protected 9.1 million acres of federal land, the result of a long effort to protect federal wilderness and to create a formal mechanism for designating wilderness. The Wilderness Act is well known for its succinct and poetic definition of wilderness:

“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

—Howard Zahniser

Joshua Tree Wilderness © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When the Wilderness Act was passed in 1964, 54 areas (9.1 million acres) in 13 states were designated as wilderness. This law established these areas as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS). Since 1964, the NWPS has grown almost every year and now includes 803 areas (111,706,287 acres) in 44 states and Puerto Rico. In 1980, the passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) added over 56 million acres of wilderness to the system, the largest addition in a single year. 1984 marks the year when the newest wilderness areas were added. 

The Okefenokee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Overall, however, only about 5 percent of the entire United States—an area slightly larger than the state of California—is protected as wilderness. Because Alaska contains just over half of America’s wilderness only about 2.7 percent of the contiguous United States—an area about the size of Minnesota—is protected as wilderness.

These wilderness areas are located within national forests, parks, wildlife refuges, and conservation lands and waters. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans turned to these areas for physical recreation, mental well-being, and inspiration, and our public lands and waters became places of healing and sanctuary.

Wilderness is in the arid deserts, cypress swamps, alpine meadows, sandy beaches, and rocky crags. From Alaska to Florida, wilderness protects some of the most diverse and sensitive habitats in America. It offers a refuge for wildlife and a place to seek relaxation, adventure, or something in between for us. What does wilderness mean to you?  

Lassen Volcanic Wilderness © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enjoy the Outdoors

Celebrate Wildnerness Month by getting out and visiting some of America’s state parks and national parks. Or, for more local ideas here are a few suggestions on how you can get started to actively appreciate and enjoy our beautiful wilderness:

In addition, the fourth Saturday in September (September 24, 2022) celebrates the connection between people and green spaces in their community with the annual National Public Lands Day. The day is set aside for volunteers to improve the health of public lands, parks, and historic sites. This day is traditionally the nation’s largest single-day volunteer effort.

With 803 designated locations, searching for a National Wilderness Area to visit may seem like an impossible task. Consider the following eight wilderness areas for RV travel.

The Superstitions © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Superstition Wilderness, Arizona

Designated: 1964

Size: 160,164 acres

Managed by: National Forest Service

The Superstitions © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although there is no guarantee that you’ll find buried treasure, you are sure to discover miles and miles of desolate and barren mountains, seemingly endless and haunting canyons, raging summer temperatures that can surpass 115 degrees Fahrenheit, and a general dearth of water.

Elevations range from approximately 2,000 feet on the western boundary to 6,265 feet on Mound Mountain. In the western portion rolling land is surrounded by steep, even vertical terrain. Weaver’s Needle, a dramatic volcanic plug, rises to 4,553 feet. Vegetation is primarily that of the Sonoran Desert with semidesert grassland and chaparral higher up.

Peralta Trailhead © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Despite the harsh setting, much of Superstition Wilderness, especially the Peralta and First Water Trails is overused by humans. These two trailheads receive about 80 percent of the annual human traffic and the U.S. Forest Service calls the 6.3-mile Peralta one of the most heavily used trails in Arizona. Other trails within the Wilderness are virtually untrodden. There are about 180 miles of trails as well as other unmaintained tracks.

Get more tips for visiting Superstition Wilderness

Joshua Tree Wilderness © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree Wilderness, California

Designated: 1976

Size: 595,364 acres

Managed by: National Park Service

Joshua Tree Wilderness © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The California Desert Protection Act of 1994 transformed Joshua Tree National Monument into a national park and expanded the wilderness. The additions thrust north into the Pinto Mountains, northeast into the Coxcomb Mountains, southeast into the Eagle Mountains, and southwest into the Little San Bernardino Mountains. Most of the park away from road corridors is Wilderness, a meeting place of two desert ecosystems.

The lower, drier Colorado Desert dominates the eastern half of the park, home to abundant creosote bushes, the spidery ocotillo, and the “jumping” cholla cactus. The slightly more cool and moist Mojave Desert covers the western half of the park serving as a hospitable breeding ground for the undisciplined Joshua tree. You’ll find examples of a third ecosystem within the park: five fan-palm oases where surface or near-surface water gives life to the stately palms.

Get more tips for visiting Joshua Tree Wilderness

The Okefenokee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okefenokee Wilderness, Georgia

Designated: 1974

Size: 353,981 acres

Managed by: Fish and Wildlife Service

The Okefenokee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Imagine waking to a mist-enshrouded wetland echoing with the calls of herons and ibis. Your camping site is a wooden platform surrounded by miles and miles of wet prairie or moss-covered cypress. The only sounds you hear are the calls of native wildlife and those you make upon taking in such beauty. This is what it is like to experience a night in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) Wilderness Area.

The Okefenokee NWR encompasses the Okefenokee Swamp, one of the oldest and best-preserved freshwater areas in America. Native Americans called the swamp the “land of trembling earth” because the unstable peat deposits that cover much of the swamp floor tremble when stepped on. “Okefenokee” is a European interpretation of their words. The Okefenokee Swamp forms the headwaters for two very distinct rivers. The historic Suwannee River originates in the heart of the swamp and flows southwest toward the Gulf of Mexico. The second is the St. Marys River, which originates in the southeastern portion of the swamp and flows to the Atlantic Ocean forming part of the boundary between Georgia and Florida.

Get more tips for visiting Okefenokee Wilderness

Mt. Wrightson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mt. Wrightson Wilderness, Arizona

Designated: 1984

Size: 25,141 acres

Managed by: National Forest Service

Mt. Wrightson Wilderness © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rising a magnificent 7,000 feet from the desert floor, 9,452-foot-high Mount Wrightson is visible from great distances. At the core of the Santa Rita Mountains, this Wilderness has rough hillsides, deep canyons, and lofty ridges and peaks surrounded by semiarid hills and sloping grasslands. Ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir dominate the upper elevations. The stream-fed canyons support an abundance of plant and animal life. At the foot of Madera Canyon on the edge of the Wilderness, a developed recreation area serves as a popular jumping-off point for hikers and backpackers.

Get more tips for visiting Mt. Wrightson Wilderness

Lassen Volcanic Wilderness © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lassen Volcanic Wilderness, California

Designated: 1972

Size: 79,061 acres

Managed by: National Park Service

Lassen Volcanic Wilderness © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In May of 1914, Lassen Peak began a seven-year series of eruptions including a humdinger in 1915 when an enormous mushroom cloud reached seven miles in height. Today, the Lassen Volcanic National Park serves as a compact laboratory of volcanic phenomena and associated thermal features (mud pots, fumaroles, hot springs, sulfurous vents) with Lassen Peak (10,457 feet) near the center of the park’s western half. Lassen Peak and its trail are non-Wilderness but almost four-fifths of the park has been designated Wilderness, a land of gorgeous lakes teeming with fish, thick forests of pine and fir, many splendid creeks, and a fascinating hodgepodge of extinct and inactive volcanoes.

Best of all, this mountainous country remains relatively uncrowded by California standards. At least 779 plant species and numerous animals have been identified here. The eastern border of the Lassen Volcanic Wilderness is shared with Caribou Wilderness and one trail crosses the boundary. About 150 miles of trails snake through the Lassen Volcanic Wilderness. A 17-mile-long section of the Pacific Crest Trail crosses from north to south.

Get more tips for visiting Lassen Volcanic Wilderness

Malpais Wilderness © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

West Malpais Wilderness, New Mexico

Designated: 1987

Size: 39,540 acres

Managed by: Bureau of Land Management

Malpais Wilderness © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

El Malpais is Spanish for “the badlands,” a name that perfectly describes this region of New Mexico where countless volcanic eruptions sent rivers of molten rock and flying cinders over what is now a bleak valley of three million years’ worth of hardened lava. Native American settlers probably witnessed the last of the eruptions. Their former home is now a land of craters and lava tubes, cinder cones and spatters cones, ice caves and pressure ridges, and a surprising amount of vegetation. Even on terrain that one would presume to be barren, wind-deposited debris has thickened enough to support grasses, cacti, aspen, pine, juniper, and fir.

Preserved within the El Malpais National Monument and Conservation Area, West Malpais Wilderness is home to Hole-In-The-Wall, the largest island-like depression in these lava fields. Over the years, moisture and soil collected on some of the oldest lava to form this 6,000-acre stand of ponderosa pine.

Get more tips for visiting West Malpais Wilderness

Organ Pipe Wilderness © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Organ Pipe Cactus Wilderness, Arizona

Designated: 1978

Size: 312,600 acres

Managed by: National Park Service

Organ Pipe Wilderness © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Organ Pipe Cactus Wilderness is bordered by the Cabeza Prieta Wilderness to the west.

Located at the heart of the vast and lush Sonoran Desert, Organ Pipe Cactus Wilderness hugs the Mexican border and celebrates a desert full of life: 550 species of vascular plants, 53 species of mammals, 43 species of reptiles, and more than 278 species of birds. The monument conserves 90 percent of the organ pipe cactus range in the US. The organ pipe is a large multispined cactus rare in the United States.

From Mount Ajo at 4,024 feet, atop the Ajo Range on the eastern border, the land falls away to broad alluvial desert plains studded with cacti and creosote bushes, isolated canyons, dry arroyos, and stark desert mountains. Summer temperatures have been known to reach an unbelievably scorching 120 degrees Fahrenheit but winter brings daytime temperatures in the 60s and chilly nights. About 95 percent of the monument has been designated Wilderness making this Arizona’s third largest Wilderness.

Organ Pipe camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No reliable water sources exist in Organ Pipe Cactus except at the 208-site campground near the visitor’s center. The camp is open year-round on a first-come, first-served basis for a fee.

Get more tips for visiting Organ Pipe Cactus Wilderness

Organ Mountains Wilderness © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Organ Mountains Wilderness, New Mexico

Designated: 2019

Size: 160,164 acres

Managed by: Bureau of Land Management

Organ Mountains Wilderness © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Organ Mountains Wilderness provides the backdrop to the Mesilla Valley and New Mexico’s second-largest city: Las Cruces. From picnickers to horsemen, family outings to day hikes, these mountains offer recreation, important wildlife habitat, and watershed protection. The striking granite crags and spires of the Organ Mountains range from 4,600 to just over 9,000 feet and are so named because of the steep, needle-like spires that resemble the pipes of an organ. The wilderness includes the Baylor Pass National Recreation Trail.

Get more tips for visiting Organ Mountains Wilderness

Worth Pondering…

The lasting pleasures of contact with the natural world are not reserved for scientists but are available to anyone who will place himself under the influence of earth, sea, and sky and their amazing life.

—Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring

Amazing Places to Discover in Phoenix’s East Valley

Explore my list of fun things to see and do in the East Valley of Arizona’s largest city

Consider this your introduction to the East Valley of Arizona’s largest city—the essential, can’t miss, make-sure-you-check-out things to see and do in the towns of Gilbert, Mesa, Queen Creek, Apache Junction, and beyond.

Northern shovelers at Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, Gilbert

Stroll 110 acres of greenery, ranging from marshland and riparian habitats to upland vegetation areas. Over 4.5 miles of trails weave through the park with interpretive panels on wildlife and vegetation throughout. Viewing blinds have been established at various locations near the edge of several ponds.

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Approximately 298 species of birds have been identified on the site. A floating boardwalk crossing the northern end of the lake allows visitors a close-up view of the fish and ducks on the water. Additional educational areas include an ethnobotanical garden, a paleontology dig site, a hummingbird, and a butterfly garden. 

Ring-necked duck at Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also at the preserve: the Gilbert Rotary Centennial Observatory where you can see comets, meteors, planets, and the sun Just be sure to check the hours—the trails are generally open from dawn to dusk, but the observatory operates separately.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

McDowell Mountain Regional Park

Nestled in the lower Verde River basin, the 21,099-acre park is a desert jewel in the northeast Valley. Elevations in the park rise to 3,000 feet along the western boundary at the base of the McDowell Mountains. Visitors enjoy a full program schedule, over 50 miles of multi-use trails, and spectacular views of the surrounding mountain ranges. McDowell Mountain Regional Park offers 76 individual sites for tent or RV camping. Each site has a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45-foot RV with water and electrical hook-ups, a dump station, a picnic table, and a barbecue fire ring.

Related Article: 15 Amazing Places to Discover in Phoenix

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain Regional Park

Located on the Valley’s east side, this 3,648-acre park is located at the western end of the Goldfield Mountains adjacent to the Tonto National Forest. The park contains a large variety of plants and animals that call the lower Sonoran Desert home.

Gambel’s quail at Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along the most popular feature of the park, the Wind Cave Trail, water seeps from the roof of the alcove to support the hanging gardens of Rock Daisy. Usery Mountain Regional Park offers a campground with 73 individual sites. Each site has a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45-foot RV with water and electrical hook-ups, a dump station, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, and a fire ring.

Saguaro Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro Lake

Saguaro Lake was formed by the Stewart Mountain Dam which was completed in 1930. It was the last of the reservoirs to be built on the Salt River. The lake is named for the Saguaro Cactus which stands majestically in the surrounding desert landscape.

Saguaro Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro Lake has more than 22 miles of shoreline creating a great environment for boating, kayaking, sailing, skiing, jet skiing, fishing, and camping. Discover canyon-walled Saguaro Lake aboard The Desert Belle. Relax in air-conditioned comfort on one of her 80 minute narrated cruises and see exotic Arizona wildlife, towering canyon walls, and dramatic desert vistas. Live music cruises, wine, and live music cruises, and craft beer, and live music cruises are also available.

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

San Tan Mountain Regional Park

Consisting of over 10,000 acres, the southeast Valley park is a fine example of the lower Sonoran Desert. San Tan Mountain Regional Park ranges in elevation from about 1,400 feet to over 2,500 feet. The park offers over eight miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Park trails range in length from 1.1 miles to over 5 miles, and range in difficulty from easy to strenuous.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apache Trail

Named after the Apache Indians who once used the route, the Apache Trail (AZ 88) links Apache Junction at the eastern edge of the Greater Phoenix area with Theodore Roosevelt Lake through the Superstition Mountains and the Tonto National Forest. This mostly unpaved road winds past magnificent scenery of twisted igneous mountains with dense forests of saguaro and several deep blue lakes.

Related Article: What Are You Waiting For? Get Outdoors in the Sonoran Desert NOW!

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The road though has been mostly closed since late 2019 because of landslips and other damage associated with the Woodbury Fire. The worst affected is the steepest section just west of Fish Creek; the only part still open to vehicular traffic is the (paved) 18 miles from Apache Junction to Tortilla Flat.

Goldfield Ghost Town © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goldfield Ghost Town

Established in 1893, Goldfield was a mining town with saloons, a boarding house, general store, blacksmith shop, brewery, meat market, and a schoolhouse. The grade of ore dropped at the end of the 1890s and the town was all but deserted. The town came back to life from 1910 to 1926.

Goldfield Ghost Town © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, visitors can tour the historic Mammoth Gold Mine, visit the Goldfield Museum, pan for gold, take a ride on Arizona’s only narrow gauge train, explore the shops and historic building, eat at the Mammoth Steakhouse and Saloon, and witness an old west gunfight performed by the Goldfield Gunfighters.

Fountain Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fountain Hills

Some cities have a clock that chimes on the hour—Fountain Hills has a fountain (the fourth-tallest in the world) that shoots water 562 feet in the air for 15 minutes on the hour. But there’s much more than that. Jump in on a docent-led art walk around the city and see a large collection of sculptures on public display as the docent explains how each piece was created. Meander some more in the Fountain Hills Desert Botanical Garden where a half-mile trail weaves you past 29 desert plants, interesting rock formations, wildlife, and the abandoned P-Bar Ranch campsite.

Superstition Mountain Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Superstition Mountain Museum

Hikers, horseback riders, photographers, and tourists come to enjoy the beauty and wonder of the Superstition Mountains now preserved in the Superstition Wilderness Area. But, many are curious about the history and mystery of this intriguing area and visit the museum comprised of a central 4,900-square-foot exhibit hall and Museum Shop and numerous outdoor structures and exhibitions including the Apacheland Barn and the Elvis Chapel, the last surviving structures from Apacheland Movie Ranch, a huge 20-stamp gold mill, a mountain man camp, Western storefronts, and a labeled Nature Walk.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park

Named after the fabled lost gold mine, Lost Dutchman State Park is located in the Sonoran Desert at the base of the Superstition Mountains 40 miles east of Phoenix. Several trails lead from the park into the Superstition Mountain Wilderness and surrounding Tonto National Forest.

Related Article: Top 10 Day Trips From Phoenix

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take a stroll along the Native Plant Trail or hike the challenging Siphon Draw Trail to the top of the Flatiron. Depending on the year’s rainfall, you might be treated to a carpet of desert wildflowers in the spring but there are plenty of beautiful desert plants to see year-round. Enjoy a weekend of camping and experience native wildlife including mule deer, coyote, javelin, and jackrabbit.

Huhugam Heritage Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Huhugam Heritage Center, Chandler

This modern cultural center highlights the ancestral, historic, and current cultures of the Gila River Indian Community made up of two tribes—the Akimel O’otham and the Pee Posh. The Huhugam Heritage Center was built in 2003 to create a place for community, culture, land, tradition, and spirit: a place to honor and preserve their Him dak (our way of life).

Huhugam Heritage Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience its unique and calming architecture. The Center stair-steps up out of the desert, the building silhouettes designed to blend in with the nearby mountain ranges and hills.

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

Ghostly Experiences

A demon haunted world!

Well, this is my last post before you wander down the dimly lit corridor of Halloween. I don’t have any advice other than “don’t talk to strangers” and “a pumpkin spice jello shot is never a good idea.”

The Beasts of Borrego Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Are you going on a trip somewhere scary? Are you hosting a party for close friends in a graveyard? Are you locking the door and pretending it’s Thanksgiving and gorging yourself? Whatever path you may be taking, I hope you have a wonderful ghostly experience. I will be going to Tombstone and asking everyone who will make eye contact with me if they know where the “ghost section” is located. We all have our own unique paths!

The Superstitions © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

May your Halloween be spooky and fun as hell!

Related: A Haunting Good Time: Your Guide to 5 Ghostly Cities Across America

It’s no wonder that so many ghosts haunt the lonely trails, mountains, and landmarks of the forbidding Sonoran Desert. Desert lore, stories, and quests for loot and gold have made men greedy. Gunfights, murders, and death from starvation and dehydration have left many dead on barren desert trails. Their ghosts still walk the mountain ridges, gullies, and deserted locations where they once traveled or lived, spirits with unfinished business, who cannot rest. Some guard buried treasures and lost mines while others battle perpetually until death, forever replaying their last moments of life.

Anza-Borrego © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Ghost Lights of Borrego

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and the Borrego Springs area of southeastern California is notorious for the many legends, ghost stories, and unexplained phenomena occurring there over the years. The region of the Sonoran Desert is home to the Vallecito Stage Station, Yaqui Well, in addition to the mysterious “Ghost Lights” of Oriflamme Mountain.

Anza-Borrego © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first account of the “Phantom Lights” of Borrego was reported in 1858 by a Butterfield Stage driver. Since then soldiers, prospectors, and explorers have reported seeing similar lights. The sightings have been reported near Oriflamme Mountain, over Borrego Valley, and other nearby areas. The occurrences are always slightly different but the general descriptions of the sightings are similar.

The Beasts of Borrego Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1892, a prospector by the name of Charles Knowles and two other men were camping near Grapevine Canyon at the entrance to the Narrows where they reported their sighting of “Fire Balls.” Knowles described the “lights” as balls of fire that rose up approximately 100 feet in the air and then exploded.

Related: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park: Badlands, Canyons, Mountain Peaks and More

Anza-Borrego © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Knowles compared the fireballs to fireworks. He saw three fireballs rise and cascade upon explosion before they stopped. About 30 minutes later the lights started again but this time they were different. The lights rose into an arch pattern returning to the ground without exploding. The light would then reverse itself and go back to the place where it started.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Haunted Tombstone

It probably wouldn’t surprise you that Tombstone is considered one of the most haunted towns associated with the Wild West. After all, with all of the lawlessness, the murders, and seedy behavior, it would be more surprising if Tombstone wasn’t haunted.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We’ve put together a list of the most haunted places in Tombstone. Some of them, you may be familiar with especially if you watch any of the Ghost Hunting TV shows like Ghost Adventures or Ghost Hunters. They’ve all been to Tombstone!

Tombstone Courthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If the town’s name and wild past doesn’t convince you that this place is haunted then a tour through its neighborhoods might turn you into a believer. The Tombstone Gunfighter and Ghost Tour start at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon, once the elegant Grand Hotel.

O.K. Corral © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A stroll down Allen’s street takes tour-goers to sites of some of the bloodiest Old West gunfights; guests are advised to be vigilant for spirit sightings. Of course, the tour includes a stop at the infamous O.K. Corral, the place where lawmen led by Virgil Earp gunned down three outlaws in 30 seconds in 1881. Whet your whistle at Doc Holliday’s Saloon after a day spent walking with ghosts.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Bird Cage Theatre may be the most well-known haunted location in Tombstone. Thanks to being featured on many TV shows, it seems like everyone who comes to Tombstone knows about the ghosts of the theatre.

In 1882, the New York Times declared that Tombstone’s Bird Cage Theatre was the “roughest, bawdiest, and most wicked night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast.” 26 deaths and 140 bullet holes later, this American icon is packed with poltergeists (German for loud ghost or noisy spirit). Bird Cage Theatre’s most peculiar poltergeist is the “Woman in White.” This apparition is said to appear as a “proper lady,” a rarity for a brothel.

Boothill Graveyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For the “Town Too Tough to Die,” Tombstone is ironically known for the dead. Gunslingers, sharp-shooters, stagecoaches, saddle bums: even the streets of this city conjure tales of the dearly departed.

Boothill Graveyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boothill Graveyard isn’t Tombstone’s first cemetery but it’s Tombstone’s most notorious. Named for those “buried with their boots on,” Boothill interred outlaws from 1878-1884. Notable markers include Marshal Fred White, killed by Curly Bill Brocius, and Tom and Frank McLaury, buried alongside Billy Clanton. Curly Bill and the McLaurys were lost to the “Gunfight at the OK Corral,” the famous 30-second shootout.

Boothill Graveyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Travelers report spectral shadows, strange lights, and spooky sounds. If you make it over to Boothill, remember those two-bit criminals are known to still be around the boneyard. And I’d be ever so obliged to hear if you meet up with one.

Superstition Mountain © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Phantoms of the Lost Dutchman Mine

The old prospector of the Lost Dutchman Mine fame, Jacob Waltz, left quite a legacy when he died in Phoenix on October 25, 1891. His death marked the beginning of a period of mystery, intrigue, and myth about a rich gold mine in the Superstition Mountains, more commonly referred to by locals, as the Superstitions. Standing majestically at the forefront of this rough terrain is Superstition Mountain, a 3,000-foot high monolith that seemingly stands guard over the rest of its territory.

Related: Legend, History & Intrigue of the Superstitions

Old mining equipment at Superstition Mountain Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The mine has never been found despite many expeditions. Some believe the mountains are haunted by the spirits of the miners who died in search of the goldmine. Over a dozen men were killed in the 1800s in pursuit of this gold. According to legend, they may be the phantoms that still protect this treasure today.

Old mining equipment at Goldfield Ghost Town © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So be forewarned modern-day prospectors―if the Arizona heat or the Superstition Mountains’ rugged terrain does not get to you, a ghost or two just might.

Related: Apache Trail: Canyon Lake, Tortilla Flat and Beyond

Worth Pondering…

I’m just a ghost in this house
I’m a shadow upon these walls,
As quietly as a mouse
I haunt these halls.

—Allison Krauss, Ghost in This House

Benefits of Nature: Exploring Lost Dutchman State Park & Tonto National Forest

With nearly three million acres there is so much to see and do

The renowned naturalist John Muir wrote that “thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.”

The world has changed immensely since Muir wrote this in 1901. People, now more than ever, seek the benefits of nature.

Lost Dutchman State Park and Superstition Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As in many states, Arizona State Parks offer great campgrounds at reasonable prices. I have chosen to focus on Lost Dutchman State Park. Named after the fabled lost gold mine, Lost Dutchman is located in the Sonoran Desert at the base of the Superstition Mountains 40 miles east of Phoenix.

The park features convenient locations for exploring the region, as well as a clean, safe campground. The paved camping sites and handicap-accessible restrooms also make the park a good choice for people with physical limitations.

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

Several trails lead from the park into the Superstition Mountain Wilderness and surrounding Tonto National Forest. Take a stroll along the Native Plant Trail or hike the challenging Siphon Draw Trail to the top of the Flatiron.

Depending on the year’s rainfall, you might be treated to a carpet of desert wildflowers in the spring, but there are plenty of beautiful desert plants to see year-round. Enjoy a week of camping and experience native wildlife including mule deer, coyote, javelin, and jackrabbit. A four mile mountain bike loop trail has opened at the park—this is a great way to enjoy the park’s beauty while experiencing the famed Superstition Mountains.

For those who prefer a more remote setting, the U.S. Forest Service also offers a range of camping choices from developed campgrounds to dispersed camping in the middle of nowhere.

Tonto National Forest along Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The national forests and grasslands are 193 million acres of vast, scenic beauty waiting to be discovered. Visitors who choose to recreate on these public lands find more than 150,000 miles of trails, 10,000 developed recreation sites, 57,000 miles of streams, 122 alpine ski areas, 338,000 heritage sites, and specially designated sites that include 9,100 miles of byways, 22 recreation areas, 11 scenic areas, 439 wilderness areas, 122 wild and scenic rivers, nine monuments, and one preserve.

National forests cover 15 percent of Arizona, mostly mountains or plateaus over 6,000 feet but also large areas of desert between Phoenix and Flagstaff. Besides the varied scenic landscapes within the forests, they provide many locations for camping when exploring Arizona’s national and state parks many of which are surrounded by these public lands.

Tonto is the largest and most varied of the six national forests in Arizona with terrain ranging from the cactus-covered Sonoran Desert around Phoenix to pine clad mountains along the Mogollon Rim. Highways 87, 188, and 260 are the main routes across the region though most is rough and accessed only by 4WD tracks. The forest also includes rocky canyons, grassy plains, rivers, and man-made lakes including Bartlett and Theodore Roosevelt.

On Peralta Trail in Tonto National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At over 2.9 million acres, Tonto features some of the most rugged and inherently beautiful land in the country. Sonoran Desert cacti and flat lands slowly give way to the highlands of the Mogollon Rim. This variety in vegetation and range in altitude—from 1,300 to 7,900 feet—offers outstanding recreational opportunities throughout the year, whether it’s lake beaches or cool pine forest.

The Tonto is one of the most-visited “urban” forests in the United States with 3 million visitors annually. The forest’s boundaries are Phoenix to the south, the Mogollon Rim to the north and the San Carlos and Fort Apache Indian reservations to the east. 

Peridot Mesa in San Carlos Indian Reservation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During winter months, snowbirds flock to Arizona to share the multi-hued stone canyons and Sonoran Desert environments with Arizona residents. In the summer, visitors seek refuge from the heat at the Salt and Verde rivers and their chain of six man-made lakes. Visitors also head to the high country to camp amidst the cool shade of tall pines and fish the meandering trout streams under the Mogollon Rim.

Eight Wilderness Areas encompassing more than 589,300 acres protect the unique natural character of the land. In addition, portions of the Verde River have been designated by Congress as Arizona’s first and only Wild and Scenic River Area.

First aid kit to the rescue © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pack a first aid kit. Your kit can prove invaluable if you or a member of your group suffers a cut, bee sting, or allergic reaction. Pack antiseptics for cuts and scrapes, tweezers, insect repellent, a snake bite kit, pain relievers, and sunscreen. Tailor your kit to your family’s special needs.

Bring emergency supplies. In addition to a first aid kit, you should also have a map of the area, compass, flashlight, knife, waterproof fire starter, personal shelter, whistle, warm clothing, high energy food, water, water-purifying tablets, and insect repellant.

Remember: You are responsible for your own safety and for the safety of those around you.

Worth Pondering…

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.

—John Muir