I am not much for the heat. Because I am very prone to heat exhaustion and heat stroke, you can generally find me if not avoiding the heat then being selectively cautious with the time I spend in the heat. But in this case I made a huge exception when my friend in Arizona invited me and our other friend to come and visit for a few days. Nothing but a great love for my friends could get me to go to the middle of Arizona in the middle of the summer heat.
When I landed in Phoenix I relished the feeling of the dry air filling up my lungs. Having grown up in the neighboring state of Utah I have always loved the dry air of these desert areas far more than the humid stuffiness of the east coast. I was amazed at the colorful wildflowers along the side of the road and how palm trees and cacti seem to stand together. The desert certainly has a wild beauty all its own.
Before any adventuring began, the first stop of the weekend needed to be lunch. And so we went to a local favorite place called Jalapeno Bucks. This restaurant sits next to an orange grove where their small walk up shop is decorated with funny signs and sayings everywhere. There is no inside seating, you just need to find an empty picnic table to sit at and enjoy the misting fans from above.
Jalapeno Bucks makes great food from burritos to barbeque. One of their specialties though is the brisket peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It was the most surprisingly delicious sandwich I’ve ever had. I know it sounds weird, but trust me when I tell you that it is worth giving a try.
During these summer months, everyone heads to the water to beat the heat. So we headed to Canyon Lake for some paddle boarding on the water. This lake is separated into different sections, allowing boats in the large middle section while the ends of the lake are left to those on boards and tubes. The water was gloriously cool and refreshing.
This was my first experience paddle boarding and I loved it. We slowly turned our boards away from the large open area and went down the narrow passageway towards the end of the lake. Being next to the water, the lake was surrounded by green grasses and trees amid the rocky hills.
We parked our boards near the water edge in the shade and just hung out for a little while. Canyon Lake offered a great cool escape for a few hours.
Lost Dutchman State Park
We drove past Lost Dutchman State Park with the ragged peaks of the Superstition Mountains rising out of the desert. This state park is named after a legendary gold mine of the old west. The legend goes that in the early 19th century, a German immigrant discovered a huge gold mine in the desert of Central Arizona but the wealth was too great to move himself. Although he spread word of the mine, he never revealed to anyone where the mine was located. Many have searched around the Superstition Mountains looking for the mine.
There would be other gold deposits found around these mountains, and gold miners would think they had found a tendril of the legendary mine, but nothing to the magnitude that the lost gold mine was rumored to be. This mine is even referenced in some tales of the old west. To this day, thousands of people go looking for the mine and the treasure it holds, but it remains a great mystery.
Goldfield Ghost Town & Mine
We decided to stop at the Goldfield Ghost Town. This reconstructed 1890’s town of the Old West gives a look at what was city life back then. Goldfield became a mining town in what was then part of Arizona territory. When gold was discovered in the nearby Superstition Mountains prospectors started coming to the area in droves. In the peak of the town’s prosperity they had about 4,000 residents.
But the mine faulted in 1897 leaving the miners without work. The town was so dependent on the mine that with the loss of the gold the people left and Goldfield was soon abandoned and left as a ghost town. Sitting outside the saloon is an original 1890 porter narrow steam engine that was used in the mines. Years later the ghost town was purchased and refurbished as a tourist attraction. Visitors can go in the shops and cafes that have been established there and pick up their specialty drink of prickly pear lemonade.
It was amazing to see these old buildings and to really get a sense of what life in this town must have been like. You can’t tell from the picture but the rules of the jail are listed outside the door: No Complaining, No Profanity, No Loud Talk, Two Visits to the Outhouse Daily, Meals-beans, bread, water. But after serving your time in jail you could go the old wood church house with the the flag as it was at the time flying outside.
Besides the old steam engine that was used in the mines, there is also one of the original mine elevators on display in town. Few people can really understand what a difficult and dangerous job that must be to work in a mine. But just the thought of being lowered into the earth on this small elevator would be enough to keep me above ground.
Goldfield Ghost Town really gives a look at life here in the late 1800’s. They offer trail rides, mine tours, and even the occasional shoot out in the middle of town. While a little on the kitschy side, it is still fun to wander through and be swept up in the feel of the time.
Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden
We got up early one morning for a visit to the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden. This garden was originally founded in 1937 by the Arizona Cactus and Native Flora Society. With over 50,000 plants housed within the garden, it is no wonder then that it is listed as Phoenix Point of Pride.
Approximately one- third of the garden is home to native plants of Arizona, including almost 400 species of rare, threatened, or endangered plants. Their extensive collections of agave and cacti species are particularly important to the garden.
We came upon some prized saguaro cacti reaching over 20 feet tall. Standing next to these cacti gave the feeling of being so small and insignificant to these towering majesties of the plant world.
Saguaro cacti are protected throughout the state of Arizona. People are not allowed to cut them down and if they fall naturally then it must be reported to the state agriculture department. We came across a saguaro with a beautiful, art deco like flourish growing on the top. We also saw an old decaying saguaro next to a new growth of one. It is hard to imagine that thick green exterior of the saguaro becoming like spindly branches.
The Desert Botanical Garden really shows the love and pride that the state has for the natural beauty of the desert. Walking through the garden gives you a greater understanding of the thousands of species that call the desert home.
After visiting the garden, we decided to do a short hike up to Hole-In-the-Rock. We pulled into the parking lot and saw the rough rock beneath the hole and briefly wondered if we would be able to maneuver up there at all. Happily a sign for the trail pointed to go around the rocks to the back area.
This trail is an easy path around the rocks, only about a quarter of a mile, to a short incline up to where the hole is. Rocky stairs have been put in place on the trail for added ease. I love the dynamic red rocks against the clear blue desert sky.
When you reach the hole, you can look out over the valley through the hole. Then step through where you will be standing in the carved out rock as seen from the parking lot. It is a short easy hike that give some beautiful views of the city surrounding it.
We enjoyed one last view of Phoenix from the hole in the rock and then headed back down the trail before joining the crowds at the city pool to cool off from the afternoon sun.
All too soon, my weekend in Arizona was at an end. Experiencing Arizona in the summer gave an entirely different view of the desert and that it is just as bright and vibrant in summer as in other times. Even in the heat, there is so much to do that you would hate to stay inside and miss it.
If you have enjoyed this visit to the desert, then you may be interested in these other places of the southwest:
Thanks for joining me on this weekend in Arizona. May the water be cool and the shade be plentiful as you spend the day in sun.