Wildflowers in Arizona: Best Spots to See the Color (2024)

Because don’t we all belong among the wildflowers?

You belong among the wildflowers, you belong in a boat out at sea. You belong with your love on your arm, you belong somewhere you feel free.

 —Tom Petty

Springtime in the Arizona desert means wildflowers—lots and lots of wildflowers. Roadsides streaked with purple scorpionweed, vivid orange globemallow peeking out from rocky soil, mango-bright poppies snuggling with prickly cactus. 

The Arizona wildflower season of 2023 proved to be one for the ages. For several weeks last March and April the desert was submerged beneath a sea of golden poppies. The landscape shimmered with color as if a giant rainbow had toppled and splintered across the ground. Flowers outnumbered cactus spines. For petal peepers, this was the Super Bowl, Christmas morning, and Mardi Gras rolled into one long vibrant season.

Check this out to learn more: 2024 Wildflower Season is coming soon. Will it be a Superbloom?

Could there possibly be a repeat performance this spring? What are the chances of back-to-back super blooms? It’s hard to imagine since so many things must go right to create those magnificent displays. But hey, sometimes dreams do have a way of coming true.

Here’s what to expect from Arizona’s 2024 wildflower season.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Will there be a superbloom in 2024?

It’s unlikely. The 2024 spring wildflower season will likely be average to above average which is still a pretty spectacular sight.

It will be showy in spots but color will not be as widespread as last year. Blame that on a late-starting and sputtering El Niño which doused some areas and left others wanting.

But the season won’t be a bust either.

With a dry autumn and only sporadic moisture in the early weeks of winter, fewer poppies will emerge. Poppies, lupines, and owl’s clover are annuals meaning they need enough moisture to create an entire plant from a seed that’s buried in the soil. It all starts with a triggering rain—a rain of an inch or more in fall or early winter to rouse the sleeping seeds.

That never developed. There will still be poppies; they just won’t blaze across the desert floor in a brilliant yellow mass like they did last year.

Yet it should be a good year for perennials. Brittlebush is already blooming along roadways. (They like the extra heat generated from the asphalt.) And I’ve seen Goodding’s verbena, globemallow, chuparosa, and fiddleneck budding and blooming as well. The storms that finally developed in January and February are perfect for them.

Mexican poppies © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is the best month for wildflowers?

It will depend on how long rains continue to fall and how fast temperatures rise. March is generally the best month for desert wildflowers. If cool weather lingers (like in 2023), the blooming period will begin later and then stretch into April.

Yet when the flower show starts winding down, different varieties of cactus take center stage to unfurl their surprisingly lavish blossoms. The gaudy purple of the hedgehogs; the yellow, orange, and peach of the prickly pears; and finally the ivory cream of the saguaros add their touch of drama. Cactus blooms peak from April into May helping to extend the desert’s most colorful season.

After that, the cycle repeats to a lesser degree at higher elevations with late spring blooms popping up in the Verde Valley and Mogollon Rim Country where more rain fell during the winter creating some interesting potential for an amazing year.

In early summer, look to the alpine meadows of Flagstaff and the White Mountains adorned with fleabane, blue flax, paintbrush, and columbine. Monsoons bring out a yellow phase with goldeneye, golden crownbeard, yellow coreopsis, and sunflowers. The tall flower-topped stalks can often be seen nodding in autumn breezes.

So when you consider the length of the season, every year is a superbloom in Arizona.   

Where are the best places to see wildflowers in Arizona?

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park

Looking like a giant stone sail, the distinctive profile of Picacho Peak was the belle of the ball during the 2023 superbloom. Poppies devoured the flanks of the mountain, an invasion that went on for weeks as a line of cars snaked into the park for the show. Sadly, it won’t be like that this year.

Due to dry conditions, poppy displays will be spotty. Joining the scattered poppies will be some lupines and a mix of perennials including some rare globemallows with lilac-hued flowers.

Even in underwhelming years, Picacho Peak is a good park to visit especially for folks with limited mobility. Visitors will be able to see most of the flowers from the park roadway and adjacent picnic tables. For a closer look, the best color can be found on the easy Nature Trail, Children’s Cave Trail, and the moderate Calloway Trail.

Here are some helpful resources:

Details: 15520 Picacho Peak Road, Picacho; $7 per vehicle

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park

Perched at the edge of the towering Superstition Mountains, Lost Dutchman makes for great hiking any time. But when wildflowers spill down the slopes, it is truly dazzling.

Park rangers are expecting poppies to be scarce this year.

Perennials like brittlebush and globemallow have roused from their winter nap and should peak sometime around mid-March unless temperatures stay cool. Last year’s display of brittles was stunning and they should be out in force once again.

For the best flower viewing, start up the Siphon Draw Trail and then circle back on Jacob’s Crosscut and Treasure Loop.

Details: 6109 N. Apache Trail, Apache Junction; $10 per vehicle

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bartlett Lake

This is one of the few places expecting a good wildflower season. Look for showings of color on Bartlett Dam Road as it winds past rolling hills dotted with clumps of brittlebush and stands of poppies. Poppies and lupines grow on the banks above the water. Be sure to keep an eye peeled for rare white poppies; this is a good spot for them.

Some of the best flower sightings are along the road to Rattlesnake Cove. The Palo Verde Trail parallels the shoreline, pinning hikers between flowers and the lake, a wonderful place to be on a warm March day. The wildflower medley along Palo Verde often includes a supporting cast of fairy duster, blue phacelia, evening primrose, yellow throat gilia, and cream cups to go along with the poppies, lupines, and brittles.

Peak color should be around the middle of March.

An $8 Tonto Day Pass is required to hike or park at Bartlett Lake. Buy in advance online or at an authorized retailer; passes are not sold on site.

Read more about this oasis in the desert: Bartlett Lake: A Sonoran Desert Oasis

Details: Bartlett Reservoir Lake is about 57 miles northeast of central Phoenix in Tonto National Forest

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park

Rangers are cautiously optimistic at this scenic park on the north side of Tucson. Late-season storms should make things interesting.

Being situated on the slopes of the Santa Catalina Mountains and intersected by a big wash that often flows with water creates a cooler environment so the park has a slightly later blooming season. Look for peak color from mid-to-late March possibly stretching into April barring a heat wave.

No matter what, you won’t see much color from the road in Catalina. You’ve got to get out and hike which makes the blooms you do find all the more rewarding.

Mexican poppies © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Sutherland Trail offers the best assortment of flowers with poppies, cream cups, lupines, penstemon, and desert chicory. The best color can be found near the junction with Canyon Loop and continuing for about 2 miles on the Sutherland across the desert.

For those looking for a quick outing a good wildflower spot is on the Nature Trail. The path climbs a low hill that’s often carpeted with an array of blooms. Guided hikes and bird walks are offered several days of the week.

If you need ideas, check out:

Details: 11570 N. Oracle Road, Tucson; $7 per vehicle

Peridot Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Peridot Mesa

Peridot Mesa, about 20 minutes east of Globe, is one of Arizona’s hot spots for wildflower viewing and one of the very first places in the state to kick off the spring wildflower season.

Just past mile marker 268, turn left on a dirt road marked by a cattle guard framed by two white H-shaped poles. It is recommended that you drive a half-mile down this road toward the color. Expect to see poppies, lupines, globemellows, desert marigolds, phacelia, and numerous other flowers along the road and sweeping down hillsides.

Peridot Mesa is on San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation which encompasses 1.8 million acres of pristine land spanning across three regions of mountain country, desert, and plateau landscapes. 

That’s why I wrote Exploring San Carlos and Peridot Mesa.

Details: About 20 miles east of Miami-Globe on Highway 70; $10 Recreation Permit

Mexican poppies © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Black Canyon National Recreation Trail

With poppies in short supply, seek out the most reliable of desert flowers, the brittlebush. You’ll find a good selection of brittles on portions of Black Canyon National Recreation Trail in Rock Springs north of Phoenix.

The trail winds through open desert reaching a split at 0.7 mile. Bear left for the Horseshoe Bend segment or right for the K-Mine segment. Both are moderate trails that support a mix of cactus and wildflowers on rocky slopes with an abundance of brittles. Peak color should be mid-to-late March. And both segments descend quickly to the Agua Fria River in about 2 miles.

Details: About 45 miles north of central Phoenix, take Exit 242 off Interstate 17 at Rock Springs and turn west to the frontage road. Turn north and drive about 100 yards to Warner Road and turn west. Follow Warner Road 0.3 mile to the trailhead parking.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Pleasant Regional Park

The rolling hills above Lake Pleasant are often shaggy with bouquets of brittlebush. If poppies do make an appearance, most can be found on Pipeline Canyon Trail especially from the southern trailhead to the floating bridge a half-mile away along with brittles, blue dicks, blue phacelia, and globemallows.

A nice assortment of blooms also lines the Beardsley, Wild Burro, and Cottonwood trails.

Check out Lake Pleasant, an Oasis in the Sonoran Desert for more inspiration.

Details: 41835 N. Castle Hot Springs Road, Morristown; $7 per vehicle

Along SR 79 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best wildflower drives

State Route 79 north of Florence

Florence is small town that’s a pleasant day trip from Phoenix. While this is true anytime of the year it’s especially enjoyable in spring when the drive puts on a colorful show featuring globemallow and poppies.

Saguaro Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beeline Highway (State Route 87) near Saguaro Lake

This road that heads northeast out of Phoenix toward Payson sports some stunning scenery any time of year as the desert floor gradually gives way to saguaro-studded hills and eventually the trees of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.

The area near Saguaro Lake sports a Sonoran Desert landscape that yields up plenty of Arizona wildflowers in the spring.

Apache Trail (State Route 88) between Apache Junction and Tortilla Flat

This roughly 17-mile stretch of road winds into the base of the Superstition Mountains past Canyon Lake with plenty of petal-peeping and viewpoints along the way.

Worth Pondering…

But pleasures are like poppies spread: You seize the flower

—John Bunyan

Arizona State Parks for Every Interest

Try new outdoor things this year

Arizona’s 34 state parks have something for everyone—from contemplative nature walks to stargazing to camping. Here’s my abbreviated look at some of the more niche offerings to add to your bucket list.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Arizona State Parks for hiking

Sedona‘s picturesque wonderland of red boulders is on display at Red Rock State Park, a 286-acre nature preserve. Hikers can pick from several trails—Eagle’s Nest Loop, Coyote Ridge, a guided nature walk, full-moon hike and more—many of which lead to Oak Creek and the iconic Cathedral Rock.

Located in the Superstition Mountains on the eastern edge of metro PhoenixLost Dutchman State Park offers hikers plenty of trails to explore, not to mention an opportunity to seek the gold supposedly hidden in the 1870s by German native Jacob Waltz, aka the Dutchman. You might not find gold but on the Native Trail you’ll spot cholla, prickly pear, and ocotillo cacti. Moderate trails like Treasure Loop or Prospector’s View are available for semi-seasoned hikers while advanced hikers will want to climb Siphon Draw Trail and Flatiron.

Note: Since trails often get overcrowded on the weekend aim to hike on a weekday for a better experience and even better views.

Check out Spring Is the Season to Hike Arizona State Parks for more hiking inspiration.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Arizona State Parks for wildflowers

As you travel I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson, you can’t miss the 1,500-foot distinctive rock formation of Picacho Peak State Park. The peak is obvious but hiking the trails especially during spring will be nature’s eye candy—a blanket of Mexican gold poppies as far as the eye can see.

For more wildflower viewing, Catalina State Park near Tucson is home to around 5,000 saguaros. Between February and April, lupine, desert chicory, penstemon, and more wildflowers bloom into vibrant color.

Read Beauty of the Desert: Arizona in Bloom and Wildflower Season Has Arrived in Arizona! and Where to See the Best Blooms? for more floral inspiration.

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

Best Arizona State Parks for family fun

For families who love the outdoors, Fool Hollow Lake Recreation Area is the perfect destination. With more than 120 campsites situated in a Ponderosa pine forest near Show Low plus boating, swimming, Junior Ranger activities, a park store, and a visitor center Fool Hollow offers plenty of opportunities for family fun.

For families not too keen on roughing it but who would still like to enjoy nature, Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood (30 minutes from Sedona) has cozy log cabins with heat and air-conditioning. Game night, anyone? Families can also sign up for guided horseback rides, go fishing in the lagoons, photograph birds, or spend an afternoon at the playground complete with a zip line.

Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Arizona State Parks for water sports

Water activities reign supreme at Patagonia Lake State Park in southern Arizona. A sandy beach slopes down to the shoreline making it easy to dip in for a swim. To get on the water, rent a canoe, rowboat, or pontoon from the marina. You can also put in your own boat including motorized boats for water skiing at the ramp. Better still, the town of Patagonia lies near one of Arizona’s three wine-growing regions, Sonoita-Elgin. End your day at the lake or take some time away for a tasting room tour of the area’s award-winning wineries.

If you want to chill waterside, bring your yoga mat to the tranquil beaches of Cattail Cove State Park or ply the calm waters of the 45-mile-long Lake Havasu with a kayak or paddleboard, available for rent at the park. This Lake Havasu City-area park is renowned locally for its sandy beaches and gets quite popular during the summer months.

Best Arizona State Parks for stargazing

As of 2023, there are more than 200 places in the world designated official dark-sky places by the International Dark-Sky Association. In Arizona, two state parks hold this distinction: Oracle State Park and Kartchner Caverns. This means they “possess an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage and/or public enjoyment.”

Oracle State Park, located just north of Tucson earned its designation in 2014 thanks to star-studded skies so free of light pollution that you can see the Milky Way. Stargazers should head to the American Trailhead Parking Lot for celestial viewing opportunities. Since 2010, Kartchner has been hosting nighttime astronomy programs for visitors and has achieved 99 percent compliance with its Lightscape Management Plan which has improved outdoor lighting codes countywide.

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

Best Arizona State Parks for history

Fort Verde State Historic Park showcases the original buildings used in the 1870 and 1880s by General Crook’s army in the small north-central town of Camp Verde. History buffs will appreciate that this state park near Camp Verde is considered the best-preserved example of an Indian Wars period fort in Arizona.

At Tubac, in southern Arizona, the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park preserves the ruins of a Spanish Presidio site, San Ignacio de Tubac. The on-site museum houses interpretive exhibits, and nearby sits a Territorial school from 1885—the second oldest schoolhouse in Arizona.

Back up north near Winslow, Homolovi State Park is home to more than 300 American Indian archaeological sites from the Hopi people many sites dating to the 1200s. A paved trail to the ruins with interpretive signage makes this a particularly appealing accessible option, too.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Arizona State Parks for camping

Making its second appearance on this list is Patagonia Lake State Park for its camping options—pitch your tent, drive your RV, or reserve one of the furnished cabins. Campsites come with picnic tables and fire rings, some even have ramadas. Cabins boast porches from which you can spot blue heron or whitetail deer. Or, amp up the adventure level by booking one of the boat-in campsites.

If you want a riverfront campsite along the Colorado River, book early at Buckskin Mountain State Park in western Arizona near the California border. There are 80 spots, many of which sit at the water’s edge. While away the hours with picnics, swimming, watching wildlife, playing basketball or volleyball or simply enjoying the views along this 18-mile stretch of river between Parker and Headgate dams.

Overnight camping near Tucson is available at the 120 electric and water sites in Catalina State Park. Each campsite has a picnic table and BBQ grill. Roads and parking slips are paved. Campgrounds have modern flush restrooms with hot, clean showers, and RV dump stations are available in the park. There is no limit on the length of RVs at this park.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Arizona State Parks for Fishing

Couched in the Bill Williams River Valley, 37 miles north of the town of Wenden, Alamo Lake State Park gives anglers an opportunity to catch largemouth bass, black crappie, or tilapia in the 3,500-acre lake.

For a lesser-known gem, Dankworth Pond State Park in Safford—about two hours east of Tucson and three hours east from Phoenix—features a fishing dock and quiet environs for a peaceful day of tossing in a line. You’ll likely snag largemouth bass or rainbow trout in the small but mighty pond.

BONUS: Most unique State Parks

Ten miles north of Payson Tonto Natural Bridge State Park showcases a true Arizona treasure: the world’s longest and largest travertine bridge. Most natural bridges found throughout the world are created from sandstone or limestone which makes the travertine aspect of Tonto especially unique. You can see the bridge from any of the four trails in the park.

Witness the underground beauty of Kartchner Caverns, a living cave that discoverers kept secret for years until they could ensure its preservation. The caverns are carved out of limestone and speleothems, which have been slowly growing for 50,000 years.

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

The Unique (and Surprisingly Wet) Biodiversity of the Sonoran Desert

In Arizona, the country’s most diverse desert teems with kaleidoscopic spring flowers, charming desert tortoises, and the famous saguaro cactus

The Sonoran Desert is something of an anomaly; it gets a surprising amount of rain each year, usually between 10 and 12 inches in its wettest areas. The Desert’s roughly 100,000 square miles stretch from the southern reaches of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula to the heart of Arizona where its biodiversity flourishes. The Sonoran Desert is thought to be the most biologically diverse in North America with over 2,000 species of plant and over 550 species of animal.

Sonoran Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Much of this biodiversity comes from that rain which falls more heavily in Arizona than it does in the drier southern and western regions making it the best place to experience the region’s abundance. The seasons of the Sonoran desert include two rainy seasons: wet summer (July to mid-September) and winter (December to February). December rains bring an always-changing permutation of spring flowers and summer rains bring lush fall vegetation. The expansive, verdant plant life also supports the wide array of animals that live in the desert from desert tortoises to the ever-popular roadrunner (yes, like the one in Looney Tunes).

Sonoran Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Notably, the Sonoran desert is the only place where the saguaro cactus grows natively. Tree-like, they grow up to 40 feet tall with arms that reach up to the sky like a friend waving to you. Imagine a clip-art cactus in three dimensions: you’re likely picturing a saguaro.

Sonoran Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The saguaro has tremendous cultural value and it’s fascinating biologically. It’s the tallest plant in the Sonoran and can live for upwards of 200 years though it grows at a glacial pace: a one-inch-tall cactus might be ten years old one that has reached a foot tall might be hitting the ripe age of 20. It begins reproducing at 50 or 70 years old and has long been an important food plant to the Tohono O’odham people who have lived in the area for thousands of years; its bright-fuschia fruit is incredibly nutritious.

>> Related article: Snowbirding in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert

Saguaro cactus in bloom © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The saguaro and its other cactus brethren like the fuzzy, coral-shaped cholla cactus and the stout Southwestern Barrel have their own seasons. They begin to bloom in late April and early May when birds begin to nest in the saguaros’ sky-high flowers. (Other birds perch on its arms year-round; woodpeckers often peck holes into its flesh.) The fruit ripens in July when their buds pop for nearby birds to graze on. The fruit not gobbled up by birds or harvested by local humans falls to the ground becoming food for those humble animals that cannot fly like tortoises, deer, foxes, and the pig-like javelina.

A landscape of saguaros is just so stunning.

Sonoran Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Saguaro also develops important relationships with other plants. Take the Palo Verde, Mesquite, and Ironwood trees which serve as nurse trees to the saguaro while it grows. When the saguaro is still tiny, it can’t store very much water and it’s very susceptible to drought. The trees protect them from the heat in the summer and the cold in the winter. There’s a lot going on underground in the desert—it’s hot above ground and so a lot of the action is in the roots. When it rains, plants compete over who can soak up the limited water available to their roots.

Desert tortoise © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Animals also spend a lot of time below ground often retreating to burrows or caves during the hottest part of the days and the coldest part of the nights. Just about every animal goes underground in one way or another. Desert tortoises, for example, are only active a small part of their lives—most of the time they’re tucked underground in deep burrows where humidity and temperature are more constant.

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

Sonoran Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Like cacti, Desert Tortoises are experts at storing water—so much so that they’ve earned the nickname of walking saguaros. When they hear the rains come, they emerge from their burrows and find flat stretches of rock where they can hoover the rain directly through their noses. Once rehydrated, they expel waste they’ve been carrying around since the last rain and the cycle begins again.

Sonoran Desert in bloom © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Locals also anticipate the rains as well as the changing seasons of the desert and the benchmarks they promise: cactus flowers in spring, rains to break the scalding summer heat, and wildflowers coloring the landscape like a confetti bomb. Unlike the rest of the country, the Sonoran desert has five, not four, annual seasons: spring, hot summer, wet summer, fall, and winter. Each has its charms, and its natural wonders, to explore.

Sonoran Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winter (November to January)

Winter in Arizona’s desert is quiet and temperate during the days with much colder nights. Many animals make themselves scarce during this time. Even if they’re not technically hibernating, they go dormant. You’re unlikely to see lizards, snakes, and tortoises in the winter months; mammals that are more nocturnal during summer months are more day-active in the winter changing their habits to take advantage of the most pleasant times of day.

>> Related article: Pristine Sonoran Desert Camping

Winter is also a wet season though erratically so. The winter rains are less predictable as they are tied to long-term weather patterns coming off the Pacific Ocean.

Sonoran Desert in bloom © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spring (February to Mid-April)

Warmer days arrive in spring as does the possibility of floral abundance. I continue to be surprised by the variability in the spring blooms of Arizona. In the North, spring comes and the seeds germinate—it’s pretty predictable— while in the desert germination is a combination of temperature and precipitation. Some seeds, for example, will only germinate when there’s a rain event in the fall where it’s not as cold as winter. The years when there’s explosive, beautiful flower blooms in the spring are quite often the result of fall rain. If significant rains don’t fall until winter, the spring flowers will likely be different from those that bloom after fall rains. And if the winter and spring are both wet, flowers about in March.

Sonoran Desert in bloom © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dry summer (Mid April to Mid July)

By mid April, winter visitors are leaving because it’s starting to get pretty warm. Temperatures in June and July can easily reach 100 degrees. It’s a dry heat—the region’s driest months—but it can still be incredibly overwhelming during the day with relief coming at night. Certain plants like the desert zinnia will go dormant during dry periods, the way that snakes will go dormant in the winter. It is important to avoid hiking during the day in these months.

Sonoran Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wet summer (July to Mid September)

In the dry summer everybody looks forward to the summer rains. They often arrive very dramatically in July—the clouds will begin to build up and eventually explode into energetic thunderstorms where a lot of rain can fall in short periods of time. While it also increases the humidity during the hot months the afternoon cloud buildup keeps the days a little cooler and the rain makes the days more pleasant.

>> Related article: Arizona Lakes: 6 Sonoran Desert Oases

Animals will come out for a drink and certain plants come back from the dead. The ocotillo, for example, will grow leaves when it rains; when the rain stops, the leaves will shrivel up and fall off.

Sonoran Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall (September to October)

Fall can be incredibly green or drab depending on the level of rain that falls at its beginning. This year has been quite wet and the desert is pleasantly verdant. It’s an easy season with pleasant shoulder-season temperatures that visitors and animals alike enjoy for outdoor activities.

Worth Pondering…

When I walk in the desert the birds sing very beautifully

When I walk in the desert the trees wave their branches in the breeze

When I walk in the desert the tall saguaro wave their arms way up high

When I walk in the desert the animals stop to look at me as if they were saying

“Welcome to our home.”

—Jeanette Chico, When It Rains

2023 Wildflower Season is coming soon. Will it be a Superbloom?

Winter showers are bringing spring flowers and a great wildflower season is expected. Here’s a sneak peek at where to go for the best views!

Spring is on the way, bringing one of Arizona’s best features: Wildflowers.

As far as wildflowers are concerned, a lot of things have gone right so far this winter in Arizona. Widespread rains came early and often. The moisture has been well-spaced so there were no extended dry periods. Temperatures have stayed moderate. All those factors matter for how many and what types of flowers are likely to bloom.

Wildflowers at Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are no guarantees when it comes to wildflowers but the 2023 season seems full of promise. The Arizona deserts may be teetering on the edge of a superbloom. It’s still too early to say but no matter how things play out during February, the desert should be filled with a colorful array of poppies, lupines, and other flowers this spring.

This is a wildflower season that should not be missed. Here are seven Arizona wildflower hotspots worth exploring and which blooms you are likely to see.

Estrella Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Estrella Mountain Regional Park

Overview: This big park in Goodyear always seems to get a jump on some of the other spots in the Valley and it flashed lots of blooms in January. Visitors will find a nice medley of brittlebush, Mexican goldpoppies, globemallows, rock daisies, and fiddlenecks among others.

What to look for: Some of the best sightings can be found along the Rainbow Valley Trail sprinkled with poppies, scorpionweed, and brittlebush. On the Gadsden Trail, the blue/purple lupines are already blooming and noted for being “extra heavy and extraordinary in color and expanse.” Poppies of varying hues sway on both sides of Flycatcher Trail. Stop at the Nature Center for the exhibits and to get the latest info.

Lupines and poppies at Estrella Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When to go: Right now if you want. Abundant blooms should continue through February and into March.

Camping: Unless a Park Host site is available, there is no camping in the park.

Location/address: 14805 W. Vineyard Ave., Goodyear

Park entrance fee: $7 per vehicle

Contact:  602-506-2930, ext. 6

>> Get more tips for visiting Estrella Regional Park

Wildflowers at Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park

Overview: Good to excellent. They’ve had plenty of rain and poppy plants are out in force on the lower slopes of the mountains although few flowers are visible yet. Joining the poppies will be lupines and a healthy mix of perennials including some rare globemallows with lilac-hued flowers.

Wildflowers at Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What to look for: This is a good park to visit even for folks with limited mobility. Visitors will be able to enjoy plenty of color from the park roadway and adjacent picnic tables. For a closer look, good showings of color can be found on the easy Nature Trail, Children’s Cave Trail and the moderate Calloway Trail.

When to go: Mid- to late February. The season often starts early at Picacho Peak although a late January cold snap could delay it a bit this year. Colorful blooms should continue into March.

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

Camping: Picacho Peak State Park’s campground has a total of 85 electric sites for both tent and RV camping. Four sites are handicapped-accessible. No water or sewer hookups are available. Access to all sites is paved. Sites are fairly level and are located in a natural Sonoran Desert setting. High speed Wi-Fi internet access is now available at all campsites provided by Airebeam. Additional fees required for access.

Wildflowers at Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park entrance fee: $7 per vehicle

Location/address: 15520 Picacho Peak Road, Picacho

Contact: 520-466-3183

>> Get more tips for visiting Picacho Peak State Park

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park

Overview: Park rangers are cautiously optimistic predicting an above average year while hoping for a stellar one.

What to look for: In some recent years, the poppies at Lost Dutchman have been drastically reduced by late season freezes. So that is always a possibility. Yet even if that does happen, hardier perennials like brittlebush, globemallow, and chuparosa should still flourish. If poppies show up to the party, it makes for an unforgettable sight with the steep ramparts of the Superstition Mountains rising directly from a sea of shimmering yellow and orange. For some of the best flower viewing, start up the Siphon Draw Trail and then circle back on Jacob’s Crosscut and Treasure Loop.

When to go: End of February through mid-March.

Lost Dutchman State Park camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping: The campground has 135 sites and three group camping areas: 68 sites with electric (50/30/20 amp service) and water and the remainder non-hookup sites on paved roads for tents or RVs. Every site has a picnic table and a fire pit with an adjustable grill gate. There are no size restrictions on RVs. Well-mannered pets on leashes are welcome, but please pick after your pets.

Park entrance fee: $10 per vehicle

Location/address: 6109 N. Apache Trail, Apache Junction

Contact: 480-982-4485

>> Get more tips for visiting Lost Dutchman State Park

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Overview: If not a superbloom, something very close to it. Conditions seem pretty close to ideal at this remote park in southwestern Arizona. While poppies will bloom at Organ Pipe, they are not as predominant as at some other locations. Here visitors will enjoy a mixed bouquet of lupines, chuparosa, ocotillos, fairy dusters, brittlebush, globemallows, and more.  

Wildflowers at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What to look for: In the monument, take the 21-mile Ajo Mountain Drive (a well maintained mostly dirt road) looping into rugged country for a colorful mix of flowers. Or hike the Palo Verde and Victoria Mine trails for a closer look. If the season develops like they expect, rangers may schedule some guided wildflower hikes. Check the website or call the visitor center for details.

When to go: March is the prime time. Heading south on State Route 85 from Gila Bend, travelers are treated to big pools of Mexican goldpoppies in good years.

Twin Peaks Campground, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping: Twin Peaks Campground is located just over one mile away from the Kris Eggle Visitor Center and each campsite is surrounded by beautiful desert plants. It has 34 tent-only sites and 174 sites for RVs. Several sites can accommodate RVs up to 45 feet in length. Restrooms have running water and a three have free solar-heated showers. Hookups for electricity, water, or sewer are not available

Park entrance fee: $25 per vehicle, good for seven days

Location/address: About 150 miles southwest of Phoenix off SR 85

Contact: 520-387-6849

>> Get more tips for visiting Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Wildflowers at Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bartlett Lake

Overview: Good to excellent. After a couple of disappointing years there are high hopes for a colorful season at Bartlett Lake.

What to look for: The road to the reservoir quickly leaves suburbs behind and winds past rolling hills to the sparkling reservoir cradled by mountains. Poppies and lupines grow in profusion on the banks above the water. Be sure to keep an eye peeled for white poppies; this is a good spot for them. Some of the best flower sightings are along the road to Rattlesnake Cove. The Palo Verde Trail parallels the shoreline pinning hikers between flowers and the lake, a wonderful place to be on a warm March day.

Wildflowers at Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When to go: March. Peak color should be in the middle of the month but much will be determined by temperature.

Camping: Campground fees at various sites around Bartlett Reservoir might be separate from the Tonto Day pass. Call Cave Creek Ranger District (480-595-3300) for specific details.

Wildflowers at Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park entrance fee: An $8 Tonto Day Pass is required. Buy one before you go; purchasing options are listed on the website.

Location/address: Bartlett Lake is about 57 miles northwest of Phoenix.

Contact: 480-595-3300

>> Get more tips for visiting Bartlett Lake

Mexican poppies at Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park

Overview: Good to excellent. All winter the rains have pounded this scenic park on the north side of Tucson. It even led to flooding of the big Cañada del Oro wash in January. All that moisture has greened up the saguaro-clad foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains and the lush garden is thick with flowering plants.  

Fairy duster at Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What to look for: The Sutherland Trail offers the best assortment of flowers with fields of poppies, cream cups, lupines, penstemon, and desert chicory. Best color can be found near the junction with Canyon Loop and continuing for about 2 miles on the Sutherland across the desert.

For those looking for a quick outing, a good wildflower spot is on the Nature Trail. The path climbs a low hill that’s often carpeted with an array of blooms. Guided hikes and bird walks are offered several days a week.

When to go: Mid-March through early April.

Catalina State Park camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping: The campground offers 120 electric and water sites. Each campsite has a picnic table and BBQ grill. Roads and parking slips are paved. Campgrounds have modern flush restrooms with hot, clean showers, and RV dump stations are available in the park. There is no limit on the length of RVs at this park.

Park entrance fee: $7 per vehicle

Location/address: 11570 N. Oracle Road, Tucson

Contact: 520-628-5798

>> Get more tips for visiting Catalina State Park

Wildflowers on Peridot Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Peridot Mesa

Overview: Moderate to good. This rocky mesa on the San Carlos Apache Reservation east of metro Phoenix is known for some of Arizona’s best poppy displays, stretching across a broad hill and sweeping down the slopes.

Wildflowers on Peridot Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What to look for: Sharp-eyed visitors will spot lupines, desert chicory, and blue dicks mingled among the blaze of orange. But the hillsides blanketed in poppies are the absolute showstopper. With the cooler temperatures this winter, peak bloom isn’t expected until later. The mesa is down a dirt road a short distance off U.S. 70 east of Globe. The road can normally be managed in a passenger car.

When to go: Late March into early April. If temperatures heat up, the season could develop sooner.

Camping: The closest camground is Apache Gold Casino RV Park, 12 miles east of Peridot Mesa.

Poppies on Peridot Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park entrance fee: Since the Peridot Mesa is located on San Carlos Tribal Lands, visitors will need to purchase a permit to travel to the wildflower spot.  Permits are $10 each and can be purchased at the Circle K in Globe (2011 U.S. 70), or the San Carlos Recreation & Wildlife Office in Peridot.

Location/address: 30 miles east of Globe on US-70

Contact: 928-475-2343

>> Get more tips for visiting Peridot Mesa

Worth Pondering…

Colors are the smile of nature.

—Leigh Hunt

10 Amazing Places to RV in February 2023

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

The mind is like a car battery—it recharges by running.

—Bill Watterson

Every day, for 10 years, cartoonist Bill Watterson delighted readers with a new story in his beloved syndicated comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. But that kind of round-the-clock ingenuity is no easy feat. His secret? Recharging the mind by letting it play. “I’ve had to cultivate a kind of mental playfulness,” Watterson said in the same 1990 commencement speech at Kenyon College where he gave the quote above. “A playful mind is inquisitive and learning is fun.”

In other words, creative ideas come when the mind is encouraged to wander into new areas, exploring wherever your natural curiosity may lead. Instead of shutting off your brain at the end of a long day, reinvigorate it by indulging your innate sense of wonder. If you follow what makes learning fun, it’s bound to lead you to new ideas.

With a chill in the air we head into February literally and figuratively cold with no idea what those rodents we trust as meteorologists will predict. Will it be six more weeks of a holed-up winter? Or will it be an early, forgiving spring? Like pretty much every single day of the last three years, the answer is: Who knows! Certainly not our friend Punxsutawney Phil whose accuracy rate is a whopping 39 percent! You’d be better off flipping a coin.

We do know, however, that we’re gonna embrace the here and now. This month we do have ostrich races at the Indio Date Festival and another reason to visit Charleston. We also have desert warmth and wildflowers along the Pinal Parkway and places to celebrate President’s Day.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in January. Also, check out my recommendations from February 2022 and March 2022.

Mexican poppies along Pinal Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. The Pinal Pioneer Parkway

The Pinal Pioneer Parkway connected Tucson and Phoenix in the years before Interstate 10 was built. Now a little-traveled back road, it’s a much more picturesque route than the main highway especially in wildflower season. The parkway itself is a 42 mile-long stretch of Arizona State Highway 79, beginning in the desert uplands on the north slope of the Santa Catalina Mountains at about 3,500 feet and wending northward to just above 1,500 feet outside the little town of Florence.

Mexican poppies along Pinal Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In spring, the parkway is lined with desert verbena, lupine, Mexican poppies, globemallow, chuparosa, penstemon, and daisies. Even in dry years when other parts of the desert aren’t flowering, the Pinal Pioneer Parkway always seems to manage a good show.

The parkway is marked with signs pointing out some of the characteristic desert vegetation such as saguaro and mesquite. Pack a picnic lunch and stop at one of the many roadside tables. Stop at the Tom Mix Memorial, 23.5 miles north of Oracle Junction at milepost 116, to pay your respects to the late movie cowboy.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

2. Visit the Presidents (and other things) in South Dakota

As always, Presidents’ Day lands in February. So maybe it’s time to get extra presidential by firing up the RV for a jaunt to South Dakota. After your patriotic tour of Mount Rushmore, you’ll have free reign of one of the least-visited states at its emptiest time. Hike a frozen waterfall, hang out on a frozen lake, or get to know the land’s first people.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Or dig deep into the western part of the state: Not far from Rushmore, you can pretend you’re on an alien planet in the Badlands, kick up your spurs with some ghosts in Deadwood, hop on a jackalope while stuffed with homemade donuts at Wall Drug, and gaze upon the wonders of the Corn Palace. Visit the stunning lakes and spires of Custer State Park and see where the thrilling buffalo roundup happens in September. Just give your new fuzzy friends lots of room.

>> Get more tips for visiting South Dakota

Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. A place apart

Considered a place apart, this quaint seaside town has been named one of the Coolest Small Towns in America by Budget Travel and was also recognized as a top 10 small beach town by Coastal Living Magazine. From friendly folks to historic buildings, this unique city embraces the heritage of the Coastal Mississippi region.

The town’s prime spot on the Mississippi Sound, an embayment of the Gulf of Mexico, provides a glorious stretch of white-sanded beach with virtually no crowds.

Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just off of Beach Boulevard, you’ll find Old Town Bay St. Louis, a walkable area full of local shops and eateries. Spend an afternoon strolling through Old Town, browsing the beach boutiques and art galleries. Don’t miss the French Potager, an antique store and flower shop.

>> Get more tips for visiting Bay St. Louis

Crowley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Where Life is Rice & Easy

At the crossroads of LA 13 and U.S. Highway 90 lies the city of Crowley.

Rice is the bedrock of the region’s celebrated Cajun cuisine and no other Louisiana community is as intimately tied to the crop as Crowley. The swallow ponds and level prairies surrounding the city produce lots of crawfish too, but it was the turn-of-the-century rice mills that gave Crowley its identity and made possible today’s impressive collection of historic structures.

Crowley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many historic buildings still play prominent roles in the city’s life. One such example is Miller Stadium, a 1940s-era ballpark and the Grand Opera House of the South that first opened in 1901 and was recently revived as an elegant space for world-class performers. Visitors can relive regional music history at the J.D. Miller Recording Studio Museum downtown or get a taste of prairie life at the Crystal Rice Heritage Farm.

>> Get more tips for visiting Crowley

Sculptures of Borrego © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Beyond the Sculptures of Borrego

Nestled between the historic gold mining town of Julian and The Salton Sea, Borrego Springs and the surrounding Anza-Borrego Desert State Park offer several exceptional experiences. Located two hours from San Diego, there are activities and natural attractions suited for many types of RVers. With 500 miles of dirt roads, a dozen wilderness areas, and miles of hiking trails you would expect some great adventures, and you won’t be disappointed.

Christmas Circles in Borrego Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walking downtown Borrego Springs is a fun experience. Start at Christmas Circle—the main attraction—and poke your head into some exciting shops or visit The Borrego Art Institute. This is where you can observe potters and en plein air artists complete their current artworks.

Hiking is popular in the Anza-Borrego Desert and enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. The desert trails are not for the faint of heart but rather ideal for those with a sense of adventure. Remember, hydration is vital in this arid region and be sure to bring along plenty of water. The routes are not always well marked and cell service is almost non-existent.

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

Borrego Springs isn’t known for its nightlife or at least not the club kind.  However, it is an area that should be explored well after the sun sets. Borrego is an International Dark Sky Community that was designated by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). Stargazing is encouraged.

There is no need for a telescope and the brilliantly lit skies will awe anyone who hasn’t been out of the dome of a city glow. Billions of stars make themselves known and form many prominent constellations.

>> Get more tips for visiting Borrego Springs

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Beauty and History Combine

There’s no experience quite like the untamed beauty of Cumberland Island National Seashore, a barrier island only accessible by boat from the small town of St. Marys. Home to a handful of residents and a whole lot of wildlife, it’s an incredible place to go off-grid. Visitors can hike the miles of trails sharing the space with wild horses, alligators, and birds.

Ruins of Dungeness, Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tours are available of historic Carnegie mansions like Plum Orchard and the ruins of Dungeness. On the northern side of the island, you can see the First African Baptist Church, a historic African-American church where John F. Kennedy Jr. was famously married. To spend the night, choose from the multiple tenting campsites or the luxurious Greyfield Inn set in another Carnegie home with chef-prepared meals and naturalist tours.

>> Get more tips for visiting Cumberland Island National Seashore

Lyndon Baines Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. The Texas Whitehouse

Those who have ascended to the presidency of the United States are products of the environments in which they were born, raised, and educated. Their early experiences usually have a significant effect on how they manage their presidency and the subsequent policy and programs developed under their watch. 

Lyndon Baines Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lyndon Baines Johnson is a fitting example of that.  His presidency was guided in full measure by his upbringing, his personal experiences with poverty and shame, and his observation of racism and hate. 

Lyndon Baines Johnson had a staggering impact on the United States during his time as president. Much of his approach to government was instilled during his early life in Texas. The LBJ Ranch was where he was born, lived, died, and was buried.

>> Get more tips for visiting Lyndon B Johnson National Historical Park

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Wild now. Wild forever.

Since 1983, the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition (SEWE) has celebrated the finest in wildlife art and the sporting lifestyle. SEWE is a celebration of the great outdoors through fine art, live entertainment, and special events. It’s where artists, craftsmen, collectors, and sporting enthusiasts come together to enjoy the outdoor lifestyle.

Whether you’re browsing for your next piece of fine art, searching for distinctive hand-made creations, looking for family-friendly entertainment, or you just need an excuse for visiting Charleston and the Lowcountry, there’s something for everyone at SEWE, February 17-19, 2023. 

>> Get more tips for visiting Charleston

Riverside County Fairgrounds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. It’s a Date!

Originating as a festival to celebrate the end of the annual date harvest, the annual Riverside County Fair & National Date Festival welcomes over 250,000 guests each February. The 75th Annual Date Festival will be held February 17-26, 2023 featuring 10 days of family fun and world-class entertainment. 

Dates © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Indio Date Festival and Riverside County Fair celebrate the desert’s favorite crop, dates. You’ll also see llamas, dairy goats, poultry, camel and ostrich races, WGAS Motorsports Monster Trucks, concerts, contests, games, food, and a carnival with midway action. It’s one of the best fairs in California because of its location and date.

The Riverside County Fairgrounds hosts a variety of community-focused events all year long, ranging from multi-day festivals to private events. The Fairgrounds are located on Highway 111 in Indio.

Buffalo Trace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Bourbon bonanza

Buffalo Trace is ringing in the New Year in record-breaking good spirits. The whiskey distillery officially filled its eight millionth barrel of bourbon since Prohibition. The major milestone occurred only four years after the seven millionth barrel was filled due to the distillery’s recent $1.2 billion expansion. 

To celebrate the major achievement, Buffalo Trace announced its Bourbon Experience of a Lifetime contest offering a $10,000 trip for two. After running (or walking) one mile, entrants have the chance to win a fully paid, two-night trip to the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky.

Buffalo Trace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This includes first-class, roundtrip airfare, car service, and a one-night stay at Buffalo Trace’s exclusive Stagg Lodge. The invite-only lodge has never been open to the public before. Built adjacent to the distillery in 2020, the 4,000-square-foot log cabin overlooks the Kentucky River and the city of Frankfort. The house has five bedrooms, four bathrooms, gorgeous great room with floor-to-ceiling windows, a double-sided fireplace, and a wrap-around deck. The experience includes a dinner for two prepared by a private chef at the lodge as well as private tours of the grounds and distillery.

Buffalo Trace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The second-night stay will be in Louisville, Kentucky.

Winners will also be awarded an $800 Buffalo Trace Distillery gift card, plus Buffalo Trace will donate bourbon to a mutually agreed upon charity of the winner’s choice.

Interested participants in the Bourbon Experience of a Lifetime contest can enter at willrunforbuffalotracebourbon.com.

>> Get more tips for visiting Frankfort

Worth Pondering…

All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.

―Charles M. Schulz

10 Amazing Places to RV in April 2022

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

The only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough.

—Ted Hughes

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

English poet Ted Hughes is best known for his stark, no-frills writing on the natural world which explores the inherent wild nature of both animals and humans. Hughes wrote numerous poetry collections and children’s books and is also remembered as the husband of the renowned writer Sylvia Plath. Hughes’ words here remind us that taking risks is an essential part of living. With every chance we take, we make ourselves vulnerable to failure and hurt. But at the end of the day, we’re more likely to regret a life lived too cautiously to be enjoyed fully.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So whether you’re thinking of renting an RV or getting your RV ready for the road, here are 10 prime choices for an April getaway around the country. As always, check the locations’ policies and hours before you travel—but most of all, get out and live life to the full—in an RV!

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

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Caves, condors, and hiking

Caves, condors, and camping are the big draws at Pinnacles which became a national park in 2013. The park gets its name from towering, domed rock structures that seem to bulge out of the earth. Located east of the Salinas Valley, it’s the perfect place to enjoy natural wonder that still feels a bit off the beaten path.

Pinnacles National Park is divided into two sides—east and west—and there is no way to drive through the park from one side to the other (although you can cross the park on foot, a roughly 5-mile hike). 

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The extremely endangered California condor is the park’s signature bird: With its nine-foot wingspan and bald head, these impressive creatures are a sight to behold. Bring your binoculars and stay on the lookout for these prehistoric-looking scavengers as well as nearly 200 other distinct species including turkey vultures, hawks, golden eagles, and peregrine falcons.

Pinnacles National Park offers more than 30 miles of hiking trails, hundreds of rock climbing routes, and two talus caves to explore: the Bear Gulch Cave and Balconies Cave.

King Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

King Ranch

The King Ranch is the largest ranch in the great state of Texas, 825,000 acres spread over 1,289 square miles and founded in 1853 by Capt. Richard King and Gideon K. Lewis.

King Ranch tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The history of the King Ranch reads like one of those magazines at the grocery store checkout stand: a rough and tough lifestyle of economic highs, depressions, and then a strong economic recovery. Heck, there was even a gentleman killed for messing around with another man’s wife. We are talking about real soap opera stuff here.

Caracara on King Ranch Nature tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But King Ranch’s real claim to fame is the livestock that was developed through a very selective merging of bloodlines to create a better breed. The King Ranch had been herding its lanky Longhorns to the railyards to get them to the markets in Chicago and other parts of the country. If you have ever seen one of these Longhorns up close you realize the steaks that would come off this breed would probably be pretty lean and tough as shoe leather. The Longhorn with its huge rack of horns is independent, hard to get along with and pretty much a loner.

King Ranch tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The ranch provided an environment that was conducive to creating a carefully crafted mix of Braham and Beef Shorthorn they call the Santa Gertrudis. This new breed of hearty beef cattle has ease of calving, excellent mothering skills, can tolerate the South Texas heat, and is parasite resistant.

King Ranch tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though King Ranch quarter horses are vital to King Ranch’s day-to-day operations and are seen by thousands of visitors that tour the ranch each year, they also hold an important place in King Ranch history. Visit the King Ranch Museum to experience how King Ranch Quarter Horses are an integral part of King Ranch’s heritage, the Cutting Horse industry, and the American Quarter Horse Association alike in the special exhibit, From OLD SORREL to THE BOON: The History of the King Ranch Quarter Horses.

Related: RV Travel Bucket List: 20 Places to Visit Before You Die

The King Ranch offers Daily Ranch Tours, Special Interest Tours, Nature Tours, and Motor Coach Tours for larger groups.

Peridot Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

AZ Poppy Fest

Experience the vibrant poppy bloom the first weekend of April. Golden poppies are just starting to turn their faces to the sun all over the beautiful hills and neighborhoods of Globe-Miami, Roosevelt Lake, and Peridot Mesa. Enjoy the warmth and beauty of this spectacle April 1-3, 2022. Events will be held in the Roosevelt Lake area Friday, April 1. Globe will hold a Downtown event on Saturday, April 2. San Carlos will hold its second annual event on Sunday, April 3.

Peridot Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Celebrate spring as you feast your eyes on the natural beauty of poppy-covered hillsides throughout the region. Vendors, restaurants, and businesses offer poppy-themed items and the photo opportunities will be unmatched.

The AZ Poppy Fest includes guided hikes, local deals, and a variety of vendors plus poppy-themed eats, art shows, and lectures.

Besh-Ba-Gowah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While in Globe visit Besh-Ba-Gowah, the heartland of the Salado people. The term was originally given by the Apaches to the early settlement of Globe. Roughly translated, the term means “place of metal.” Here visitors will see the partially restored ancient ruin of the Salado people who occupied the site between A.D. 1225 and A.D. 1400. Enjoy the self guided tour of the village which allows visitors to experience the mysteries of those who came before.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

Williamsburg was once the capital of Virginia, the largest and most influential colony in the budding republic. The restored version of Colonial Williamsburg has provided the public with a detailed, vibrant re-creation of this city with the opportunity to travel back in time amid 88 rebuilt homes, taverns, restaurants, and shops.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience the grandeur of royal authority in Virginia just before its collapse in the Revolution. The Governor’s Palace, home to seven royal governors and the first two elected governors in Virginia, was built to impress visitors with a display of authority and wealth.

Colonial Williamsburg is part of the Historic Triangle, which also includes Jamestown and Yorktown. Each of these sites has its own unique features and historical significance.

Historic Jamestowne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At Historic Jamestowne, the site of the original 1607 settlement, explore the Glasshouse to learn about America’s earliest industries, see ongoing archaeological discoveries of the fort, and view thousands of artifacts unearthed on display in the Nathalie P. and Alan M. Voorhees Archaearium. At Jamestown Settlement, explore a world-class living history museum that re-creates life in the Jamestown colony.

Colonial Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

See where American independence was won at the Yorktown Battlefield, administered by the National Park Service as part of the Colonial National Historical Park. Start at the Visitor Center and see the orientation film and museum exhibits including the field tents used by General Washington during the battle. Join a Ranger for a guided walking tour of the battlefield and 18th-century town.

Montezuma Castle © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Montezuma Castle

Although Montezuma Castle National Monument is a small site, its history runs deep. Located in the Verde Valley 25 miles south of Sedona, it was established in 1906 to preserve Indigenous American culture. The compact site almost feels like a diorama of an ancient village built by the Sinagua people who inhabited the valley as far back as 650.

Sycamore along Beaver Creek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A short pathway lined with sycamores and catclaw mimosa trees leads to the limestone cliff where a 20-room building peeks out from above. Built by the Sinagua people in around 1050, the castle is a well-preserved example of architectural ingenuity. The placement of rooms on the south-facing cliff helps regulate summer and winter temperatures. Its elevated location provides protection from Beaver Creek’s annual flooding, plus it functions as a lookout. 

Montezuma Well © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drive 11 miles north to see the Montezuma Well which is part of the national monument. Along with the limestone sinkhole, cliff dwellings, and irrigation channels are characteristic of the prehistoric people who have lived in the area, dating back to 11,000 CE. The water in the well which is 386 feet across has high levels of arsenic and other chemicals, but it still supports endemic species such as water scorpions, snails, mud turtles, and leeches.

Savannah River Front © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Indulge in the Richness of Savannah

Savannah always has something to discover from food to arts, culture, and history. The Plant Riverside District is the new must-see area of River Street with dozens of shops, and restaurants, along with live entertainment and experiences. The JW Marriott Plant Riverside is spread across three buildings with two rooftop bars and a museum-quality collection of minerals and fossils.

Savannah City Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The City Market District has the city’s best shopping for unique gifts, restaurants, and cafes, as well as the American Prohibition Museum, which has its own speakeasy.

Related: The Ultimate RV Travel Bucket List: 51 Best Places to Visit in North America

Savannah has endless options for delicious meals. Grab a reservation at The Grey, an award-winning restaurant located in a restored Greyhound Bus Terminal. Sister restaurant The Grey Market is a more casual experience. Finish off your day with a sweet treat at Leopold’s, a retro ice cream parlor.

Benson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roam Cochise

Amid picturesque river-valley views, agreeable weather, and the Home of Kartchner Caverns State Park, the City of Benson is ideally situated along Interstate-10 as the Gateway to Cochise County. The Benson Visitor Center—Train Depot is a beautiful replica railroad depot using many of the same architectural features as the original depot that was built over a century ago. Head out from the Visitor’s Center and begin the Mural Walking Tour, a fun look at 42 hand-painted.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take in the ambiance of Douglas—home to the first international airport—as you enjoy the Border Air Museum and Art Car Museum. The 1907 Gadsden Hotel was named after the historically significant Gadsden Purchase; a purchase of 30,000 square miles from Mexico made in 1853 for 10 million dollars, negotiated by James Gadsden, who was then the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. The land purchase was to ensure territorial rights for a practical southern railroad route to the pacific coast. We can now only imagine how Arizona was before it was a state and at a time when Wyatt Earp, Geronimo, and Pancho Villa rode roughshod over the West.

Queen Mine © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of Bisbee’s most magnificent architectural achievements is the countless concrete stairs that cling to the steep canyon sides. You can find these stairs all over town. While you’re at it, explore the heritage and culture along Subway Street.

Tour the Queen Mine, one of the most productive copper mines of the 20th century. Don the mining lanterns, hats and slickers of the miners, ride the mine train deep into the mine, and search for remaining veins of copper, gold, turquoise, silver, lead, and zinc.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Last, but not least, hitch a ride aboard a Tombstone Stage Coach in the Town Too Tough To Die.

Then, watch a reenactment of The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, a 30-second gunfight between outlaw Cowboys and lawmen that is generally regarded as the most famous gunfight in the history of the American Wild West.

Frances Beidler Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hike and Paddle through Ancient Beidler Forest

The Francis Beidler Forest preserves one of the last large virgin stands of bald cypress-tupelo gum swamp in the United States. A significant number of rare and unusual plants and animals are found in this unique natural area. Its five major community types provide habitat for an extremely rich diversity of species.

Related: Get in your RV and Go! Scenic Drives in America

Frances Beidler Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Part of an 18,000-acre bird and wildlife sanctuary owned and managed by the National Audubon Society, Francis Beidler Forest boasts the largest virgin cypress-tupelo swamp forest in the world. The 3,408-acre pristine ecosystem features thousand-year-old trees and a rich diversity of species.

Francis Beidler Forest offer two trails, the old growth virgin forest cypress tupelo swamp boardwalk and the newer grassland-woodland trail.

Frances Beidler Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now’s your chance to paddle in the still blackwater of a primeval swamp and experience nature as it existed a thousand years ago. The water level is up in Francis Beidler Forest this time of year making it possible to navigate through the largest remaining stand of virgin bald cypress and tupelo gum trees in the world.

Lockhart © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

BBQ Capital of Texas

In 2003, the Texas Legislature proclaimed Lockhart the barbecue capital of Texas. Come hungry—there are four barbecue restaurants in town with menus that range from brisket to sausage and turkey. The oldest is Kreuz Market which opened in 1900 and is famous for not serving barbecue sauce. In 1999, owner Rick Schmidt moved the business to the current location, while his sister, Nina Schmidt Sells, continued ownership of the original building and opened it as Smitty’s Market. (Smitty’s does have sauce, but you have to ask for it.)

Black’s Barbecue © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Opened in 1932, Black’s Barbecue is one of the oldest barbecue restaurants in the state owned and continuously operated by the same family. (In the 1960s, President Lyndon B. Johnson had their sausage flown directly to Washington, D.C. to be served at the U.S. Capitol.) Chisholm Trail Bar-B-Que is the newcomer to town, opening in 1978 after owner Floyd Wilhelm sold his fishing boat to start the restaurant. Both Chisholm and Black’s have the largest variety of side dishes from macaroni and cheese to fried okra.

Caldwell County Courthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In between eating, be sure to stroll by the photogenic 1894 Caldwell County Courthouse, a three-story building made from Muldoon limestone with red Pecos sandstone trim. Another must-see attraction is Texas Hatters, a family-owned custom hat shop that’s fitted celebrities ranging from Willie Nelson to Robert Duvall. Stop by to see third-generation master hatter Joella Gammage Torres at work using the same techniques (and tools) her father and grandfather used.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park

Located in Oro Valley, at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains, this nearly 5,500-acre park is home to thousands of saguaro cacti, other desert plants, canyons, and streams. Designated an Important Birding Area (IBA) by the Audubon Society, the park is home to more than 150 species of birds and several nature trails varying in length and difficulty.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park is a convenient place to stay near Tucson, offering 120 electric and water sites for RV and tent camping (each with picnic tables and grills, and access to flush restrooms and hot showers). One of the most visited parks in Arizona, Catalina is known for its stunning views and clean showers—but campers are advised to be on the lookout for camel spiders; although they’re harmless to humans, the scary-looking arachnids like to lurk in bathrooms and scare unsuspecting visitors. 

Worth Pondering…

April is a promise that May is bound to keep.

—Hal Borland

Bartlett Lake: A Sonoran Desert Oasis

There’s an oasis in the desert and it’s called Bartlett Lake

Bartlett Lake is a Verde Valley River Reservoir Lake located 30 miles northeast of Phoenix.

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When exploring Arizona, it is always an amazing experience to come upon a lake. With the desert landscape surrounding the water, the lake jumps out as the sapphire hues of the water sparkle against the rugged desert terrain.

There’s an oasis in the desert and it’s called Bartlett Lake. Located in the mountains northeast of Phoenix, Bartlett Lake is one of those Arizona lakes. A man-made reservoir, Bartlett Lake was formed by the damming of the Verde (Spanish for “green”) River.

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pristine waters of the Verde River was spoken of descriptively in legends of the Indians of the valley who called the water “sweet waters”. The lake is framed by Sonoran desert scenery, with gentle sloping beaches on the west side and the rugged Mazatzal Mountains on the east side, studded with saguaro, cholla cacti, mesquite, and ocotillo.

Located in the Tonto National Forest, Bartlett Lake is less than an hour from downtown Phoenix.

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The primary inflow of Bartlett Lake is the Verde River. A 7,500 square mile watershed, fed by melted snow and runoff. The Verde River flows into Horseshoe Lake and then into Bartlett Lake. When full, Bartlett Lake covers 2,815 acres—more than Canyon Lake and Saguaro Lake, combined.

Related: Arizona Lakes: 6 Sonoran Desert Oases

Bartlett Lake is a water recreation wonderland that includes water skiing, jet skiing, wakeboarding, kayaking, swimming, and shoreline camping.

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bartlett Lake has been a favorite with fishermen since Bartlett Dam was constructed in 1939. Anglers can catch largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, flathead catfish, crappie, carp, sunfish, and bluegill. Several state-record fish have been caught there. The 1977 smallmouth bass state record tipped the scales at seven pounds. Flathead catfish weighing up to 60 pounds lurk in the depths.

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Forest Service camping is available at Bartlett Lake. However, there are no designated campsites or hookups.

Bartlett Lake is open all year. It is most crowded during the hot summer months as visitors swarm to the cool refreshing waters and tranquil nights under the brilliant stars.

Related: Top 10 Day Trips From Phoenix

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The only approach by road is from the west, starting from the dispersed communities of Cave Creek and Carefree. The newly engineered, fully paved, scenic Bartlett Lake Road combined with the expanding Phoenix freeway system offers easy access from the entire Valley of the Sun. Bartlett Lake is 20 miles east of Carefree. From Carefree, take the Cave Creek Road/FR 24 to the Bartlett Road/FR 19 junction. Turn right on this paved highway; it is 13 miles to the lake.

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cacti, desert shrubs, and rocky terrain gradually give way to grassy plains as the road climbs to a plateau at 3,300 feet, where a side road forks off north, leading to the more remote Horseshoe Lake. From the junction it is nine more miles downhill to Bartlett Lake, where the grasslands are replaced once more by cacti as the road descends.

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This scenic drive through the Sonoran Desert is worth the trip by itself. It was particularly gorgeous on our recent drive to Bartlett in late March when wildflowers and agave blooms colored the landscape. As we approached Bartlett Lake, the hills were a mass of yellow brittlebush along with globemellow, chuparosa, desert primrose, fairy duster, and ocotillo. What a sight!

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And when we arrived at the lake we were rewarded with even more spectacular views of the surrounding mountains.

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Approaching the lake the road forks and the two branches follow the shoreline north and south, passing various sites for picnics, boat launching, and camping. For day use, the best area is Rattlesnake Cove with shaded tables, fire rings, and showers above a wide, clean, sandy beach. A short walk in either direction along the water’s edge leads to quiet, private coves with interesting rock formations and saguaro near the water. Further north is the main camping area of Bartlett Flats—here the road splits into a number of sandy tracks that end at sites on beaches close to the water.

Related: 7 Serene Arizona Lakes for Water-related Activities

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors to Bartlett Lake find a blend of warm desert landscapes with a cool lake oasis, providing visitors the best of both land and water activities.  To the first time visitor who thinks of Arizona as a barren wasteland of sand, think again! There’s just something about the water and the desert and the bright blue sky that makes Bartlett Lake so beautiful.

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Remember, there’s no cost to go to Bartlett Lake so take the drive, marvel at the view and enjoy lunch on the water.

Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Arizona Public Lands

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 Inexpensive Outdoor Activities for Spring

Not everything comes with a massive price tag in the spring and these activities are affordable and fun

This is the moment we’ve been waiting all winter for! Spring is finally here! Spring means outdoor activities and often it means travel.

Spring is the perfect time of year for outdoor activities. Not too cold, not too hot, and in many cases not yet crowded with summer travelers.

Tulips in blossom is a sure sign of spring © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Believe me, the older one gets, the more we feel the cold! So, with winter behind us, it’s time to open up the windows and feel that warm spring air.

Look around you and you’ll notice that everybody seems to have an extra spring in their step with those glum winter moods now lifted. There’s a lot to love about spring including RV travel. Spring might just be the best time to travel. Why? Read on.

Rhododendrons in spring bloom © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of course, the number one reason to travel in spring is the warmer weather. While you may not be guaranteed summer-like temperatures unless you head to Florida or Arizona or perhaps Texas, the weather in spring can be very pleasant especially the later in the season you travel.

Related: The 16 Best National Parks for Families to Explore this Spring

Summer heat can often be unbearably hot which is another reason spring travel is so appealing.

Mexican poppies along Pinal Parkway in Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With the arrival of warmer weather, hiking trails reopen, parks become picnic grounds again, children are out playing, and we can start enjoying activities on the lakes and in the forests again.

Be it camping, boating, or hiking, springtime is the best time to enjoy the great outdoors.

An aromatic and visual delight, spring is a rainbow of colors and a bouquet of smells where flowers bloom, skies are blue, birds return from the north, and animals come out from their winter hibernation with newborns in tow.

Skagit Valley Tulip Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

However, these can get costly. But, money is not necessary to enjoy the warm winds, beautiful flowers, and sunny days of springtime. There are many spring activities that are easy on the pocketbook and some are even free. Listed below are ten inexpensive outdoor activities for springtime in an RV.

Spring camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spring camping

Talking about camping, America has so much to offer. It is a perfect way to enjoy a mixture of outdoor activities such as hiking, fishing, kayaking, picnicking, and birding.

Depending on where you live and when you go, spring can still be a chilly time of year for camping. But isn’t that what campfires and s’mores are for?

Related: Spring Is the Season to Hike Arizona State Parks

Spring camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picnicking

Take your meals outside this spring. The prettier the setting is the better. Springtime is ideal for picnicking while surrounded by beautiful green fields, serene waters, and blooming flowers.

Local parks make an obvious option.

Rhododendrons in spring bloom © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is a great way to catch up with friends and talk about life with good food. Accordingly, it is also great to combine hiking with picnicking as trekking can create stunning views. There are many public parks in America for a less expensive picnic with breathtaking landscapes. Other parks also host live performances, especially at night.

Hiking Catalina State Park in Arizona Tulips in blossom is a sure sign of spring © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hiking

“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” – John Muir

Hiking requires little in the way of equipment although you do need reliable hiking shoes and possibly a backpack or hiking poles. You get to enjoy the great outdoors while getting a little exercise.

Hiking Clingman’s Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park Tulips in blossom is a sure sign of spring © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Time to lace up your hiking boots! Maybe a strenuous trek up a mighty peak is what you’re after. Or maybe you see yourself walking along an ancient trail that our ancestors used. Perhaps meandering down a boardwalk is more your speed.

Related: Springtime in the Smokies

There are over 21,000 combined miles of trails for you to explore in the National Park Service. Whether you’re looking for rugged slopes or a flat, smooth boardwalk, there’s a national park trail for you. State parks also offer many opportunities to hit the trail. Get ready, adventure awaits!

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

Biking

Biking, like hiking, is a fantastic way to experience both easy and challenging trails throughout the spring season.

Biking through national parks and state parks is a great way to see beautiful scenery and discover new places. Cyclists can travel by roads (which are sometimes car-free) and, in some parks, on select trails. There are many places in parks where cars cannot go but you can cover more ground and visit new places on a bike. Some parks offer bike rentals and others provide guided biking activities.

Fishing Parker Canyon Lake in southern Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fishing

A wide range of people go fishing and if you ask different people why it is their favorite hobby, they will likely answer that fishing gives them relief from stress and they feel free. Freedom is what you experience when you go fishing. Whether you fish in a stream or lake, you experience and appreciate an environment that is entirely different from your ordinary life. When you interact with nature, you become a part of it.

Fishing is an excellent hobby for the whole family and people of all ages. It may appear to be a simple hobby, but the tactics mastered make it a delightful way to spend time in a beautiful setting.

Gambel’s quail in the Sonoran Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Birding

If you’ve been considering joining the ranks of the 47 million birders in the U. S., there’s no better time than the present to take the plunge—or at least dip your toes in. You can find birds most everywhere: any green space or open water source will do.

Sandhill cranes migrate each spring and fall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spring and fall bird migration are ideal for observing rare bird species; it is also stunning to see large groups of birds congregating during these seasons. There are many areas in America where anyone can go bird watching, most are free.

Alabama Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beach trips

Beach trips in the spring offer a different experience than in summer. You probably won’t be riding waves or sunbathing depending on the temperature but beach towns offer more than just tanning and swimming.

Lovers Key State Park in Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most people enjoy walking on the beach. Dogs love it even more making a beach trip perfect for those with pals of the canine persuasion. You can play beach sports like volleyball, fly kites, go running, or pack a picnic lunch or dinner. Or of course, you can go kayaking or canoeing.

Beach towns tend to be quieter in the spring with lower costs. So skip the crowds and costs of summer beach trips and take your next beach vacation this spring.

Tulips in blossom is a sure sign of spring © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gardening

Whether you view your RV as holiday accommodation and transportation or as your snowbird or full-time home, growing your own food inside your vehicle is easier than you may imagine. Keeping a garden while traveling can be challenging but it also helps ground you and brings in wonders like fresh herbs and produce or simply beautifies and detoxifies a closed space like an RV. Continue reading for tips on RV gardening.

Related: Beautifully Bizarre Joshua Tree Has Springtime Written All Over it

Wildlife World Zoo in the Phoenix West Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visiting a zoo

Zoos frequently have lower admission rates during the off-season and lesser crowds than in summer. Visiting the zoo during springtime will allow people to experience seeing more newborn species and more interactive animals because there will only be a lesser audience. Top zoos in America include the San Diego Zoo, Lincoln Park Zoo (free admission), St. Louis Zoo, ZooAmerica (Hershey, Pennsylvania), and the National Zoo.

Spring wildflowers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Create and fly a kite

One of the most fun and creative activities with kids is creating their kites from scratch through the materials available at home. Spring is considered a kite-flying season as the wind becomes steady and constant. Kites range in price from $14 to $85 depending on the model, but it gets much more exciting if the kite is handcrafted. After creatively making the kite, find a more expansive and steady wind spot with less crowds.

Spring wildflowers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Final word

Every spring, most of us can’t wait to get outside for fresh air. But after an exceptionally cold and snowy winter, getting outdoors feels all the more urgent. You don’t have to spend a fortune to do it, either. Many spring outdoor activities are free or low-cost.

Worth Pondering…

Come with me into the woods. Where spring is advancing, as it does, no matter what, not being singular or particular, but one of the forever gifts, and certainly visible.

—Mary Oliver, Bazougey

Discover a Desert Oasis at San Tan Mountain Regional Park

Neighboring Queen Creek to the South, San Tan Mountain Regional Park is a 10,000+ acres of Sonoran Desert beauty ranging in elevation from about 1,400 feet to over 2,500 feet

Consisting of over 10,000 acres, the southeast Valley park is a fine example of the lower Sonoran Desert. The park ranges in elevation from about 1,400 feet to over 2,500 feet. Goldmine Mountain is located in the northern area, with a spectacular San Tan Mountain escarpment in the southern portion of the park. The vegetation changes from creosote flats to dense saguaro forests. Various types of wildlife may be observed, including reptiles, birds, and mammals.

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

San Tan Mountain Regional Park also has a Visitor’s Center. Don’t forget to stop by the Visitor’s Center to pick up educational tidbits, purchase souvenir items, visit with park staff, and see the wildlife exhibits or tortoise habitat. Restroom facilities are available and additional amenities are slated for future development. ​

The San Tan Mountain Regional Park is placed at the crossroads of diverse communities, regions, and cultures. The park is in demand to meet the needs of a regional area extending south from central Maricopa County and the East Valley of metropolitan Phoenix, into northern Pinal County.

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

Located just south of the Maricopa/Pinal County line near the Town of Queen Creek, the San Tan Mountain Regional Park has been used for decades for various recreation activities such as hiking, equestrian riding, and wildlife photography. The park is rich with unique historical, cultural, and biological resources. This master plan seeks to provide programmed recreation activities that meet the needs of the existing users, future park visitors, and the growing East Valley population while protecting the park’s natural, Sonoran Desert mountain environment.

Related Article: Pristine Sonoran Desert Camping

Currently, the park consists of 10, 200 acres south of Hunt Highway in Pinal County. Restroom facilities and water are available at the San Tan visitor center. 

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

San Tan Mountain Park Hiking Trails

San Tan Mountain Regional 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.

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

If you are looking for an easy, relatively short hike, the Moonlight Trail is the perfect choice as it provides a scenic and a rather mild hike for all to enjoy. If you are looking for a longer more difficult hike, try the 5.1-mile San Tan Trail. This trail winds you through the Broken Lands and Central Valley portions of the park to the top of the Goldmine Mountains. In addition to its length, some may consider certain areas of the San Tan Trail difficult due to washes, soft soil, and slick or rocky mountain slopes. Use extreme caution in these areas. Another visitor favorite is the Malpais Hills Trail as it displays a unique perspective of Rock Peak and the Malpais Hills.

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

The trails within the San Tan Mountain Regional Park are popular because they offer a unique perspective of the lower Sonoran Desert with wildlife, plant life, and scenic mountain views.

Related Article: There Is No Winter like a Desert Winter in the Valley of the Sun

All trails are multi-use unless otherwise designated. All trail users are encouraged to practice proper trail etiquette. Always remember to carry plenty of water and let someone know where you are going. Heavy sole shoes are a must as well as sunscreen and a large-brimmed hat (I recommend a Tilley hat).

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

​San Tan Mountain Park Picnic Areas

Enjoy the beauty of the Sonoran Desert while taking in a picnic at one of several picnic tables located near the San Tan visitor center, Nathan Martens Memorial, or San Tan trail-heads. Restroom facilities are accessible at the San Tan visitor center. Picnic tables are limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis. Additional picnic areas are slated for future development.​ 

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

​San Tan Mountain Park Programs

To register for a Park program, please call the San Tan office at 602-506-2930 x7.

Mountain Bike Ride, Saturday, February 12, 2022, 9:00 am-11:00 am

This is a 2-hour group ride on moderate terrain.

Roll up to the main trailhead 10-minutes prior to start time and meet with the San Tan Shredders. All abilities are welcome to join in the fun. The trail ride is about 2 hours. Quote of the day: “No matter how slow you go, you’re still faster than a couch potato!” Bring your helmet (required), plenty of water, and an extra inner tube in case of a flat. Limit 10 riders per group.

Related Article: 15 Amazing Places to Discover in Phoenix

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

Get Ready for Wildflowers, Thursday, February 17, 2022, 10:30 am-11:30 am

Learn about common desert wildflowers that can be found at San Tan during an easy, ranger-led stroll.

Join the ranger on an easy stroll to look for indications that wildflowers are on the way. Learn about some of our desert’s common blooms such as filaree, lupine, bladderpod, Mexican poppy, and more and tips on how to identify what you see. Also learn about the Maricopa County Eco-Blitz species of the month, the Black-Throated Sparrow. These birds might be seen hopping around on the ground near sprouting flowers as they forage for seeds and insects.

Limit 10 participants. Meet at the Main Entrance Trailhead map kiosk/picnic table.

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

San Tan Mountain Regional Park

From central Phoenix, take I-10 east to US 60 east. Exit Ellsworth Road south to Hunt Highway. Travel east on Hunt Highway to Thompson Road south. Turn west on Phillips Road to the San Tan Mountain Regional Park entrance. 

Admission: $7 per vehicle.

Read Next: Where It All Began: My Love Affair with the Southwest

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

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

Springtime in the Smokies

Springtime in the Smoky Mountains is a nature lover’s paradise

Spring is one of the most popular times to visit Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains and it’s easy to see why. When the last traces of winter melt away the Smokies offer idyllic weather, beautiful greenery, and a variety of fun seasonal events and activities.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great Smoky Mountains is the most visited national park in America with over 11 million visitors a year. That is more than the number of visits of the next two national parks combined.

From photo-worthy vistas to outdoor recreation and everything in between, this most-visited national park offers something for everyone.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Any season is a good one to visit the Smokies but spring is a favorite. Autumn is indeed beautiful but the roads and trails are crowded. In spring, the trees are budding and the wildflowers are popping through the ground at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

On a springtime visit you’ll enjoy seeing the trees bud and blossom and the wildflowers. No place this size matches the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s variety of plant and animal species. Here are more tree species than in Northern Europe, 1,500 flowering plants, over 200 species of birds, and 60 of mammals.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a world-renowned preserve of wildflower diversity—over 1,500 kinds of flowering plants are found in the park, more than in any other North American national park. In fact, the park is sometimes referred to as the “Wildflower National Park.” From the earliest hepaticas and spring-beauties in the late winter to the last asters in the late fall, blooming flowers can be found year-round in the park Trilliums of many varieties, violets, wild columbine, Fire Pink, Showy Orchis, Dutchman’s Britches, Squirrel Corn, and Jack-in-the-Pulpit are just a few of the wildflowers that make their appearance in the spring.

A group of flowers known as spring ephemerals begins the yearly show. Ephemerals are so named because they appear above ground only in late winter and early spring, then flower, fruit, and die back within a short two month period. They emerge from February through April, and are gone (dormant) by late May or June.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This remarkable group of plants is adapted to the rhythm of the overstory trees. Ephemerals appear before deciduous trees leaf out when full sunlight is streaming to the forest floor. This is also a time when soil moisture is high and soil nutrients are plentiful due to the decomposition of tree leaves that fell the previous autumn.

The ephemerals exploit these conditions—they flower, fruit, and their above-ground parts decay before summer gets into full swing. The peak of spring wildflower blooming usually occurs in mid-April to early May at lower elevations in the park, and a few weeks later on the highest peaks.

Clingsman Dome,Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spring ephemerals include flowers such as trillium (the park has 10 different species), lady slipper orchids, showy orchis, crested dwarf iris, fire pink, columbine, bleeding heart, phacelia, jack-in-the-pulpit, little brown jugs, and violets, to name just a few.

In summer the display continues with brilliant red cardinal flowers, pink turtleheads, Turk’s cap lily, small purple-fringed orchids, bee-balm, butterfly-weed, black-eyed susans, jewel weed, and many others.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By late summer and through the fall, goldenrod, wide-leaved sunflowers, tall ironweed, mountain gentian, monk’s hood, coneflowers, and numerous varieties of asters begin to bloom. Purple umbels of sweet Joe-Pye-weed stretch towards the sky and can reach heights of ten feet.

Trees and shrubs bloom throughout the year too. From February through April the flowers of red maples paint the mountains with a wash of brilliant red. Showy trees such as serviceberry, silverbell, flowering dogwood, redbud, Fraser magnolia, and tuliptree soon follow. Later in summer sourwood, a tree prized for the honey that bees produce from its small bell-shaped, white flowers, begins to bloom. The year ends with the yellow flowers of witch-hazel, which blooms from October through January.

Newfound Gap Road, Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Closer to the ground on shrubs, the small, bright yellow blossoms of spicebush begin to bloom in February and are soon joined by sweetshrub, dog-hobble, and flame azalea. The park is famous for its displays mountain laurel, rhododendron, and flame azaleas. The lovely pink and white flowers of mountain laurel bloom in early May through June.

Rhododendrons in bloom © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catawba rhododendron, which lives primarily at elevations above 3,500 feet, reaches its peak of bloom in June. Rosebay rhododendron is in bloom at the lower elevations in June and at mid-elevations during July. Flame azaleas bloom at the low and mid-elevations in April and May. On Gregory Bald the colorful display peaks in late June or early July. On Andrews Bald the peak is usually in early July.

Hiking Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get ready for the 71st annual Wildflower Pilgrimage in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park! Every year, you can be a part of the event and experience guided hikes that explore all sorts of nature in the national park—wildflowers, wildlife, culture, history, and more. This year’s Wildflower Pilgrimage will be May 8th- 16th and virtual. It’s a great way to see the Smoky Mountains, learn a little bit more about the history of the area and, of course, see all of the beautiful Smoky Mountain spring wildflowers.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

I think, being from east Tennessee, you’re kinda born with a little lonesome in your soul, in your blood. You know you’ve got that Appalachian soul.

—Ashley Monroe