Phoenix, the state capital of Arizona, is known for its warm, dry climate that attracts huge numbers of sun lovers during the winter months. The Greater Phoenix Area is a large sprawling city with a mix of modern high-rise buildings, Indian and Spanish colonial influences, and a touch of the Wild West. The city offers abundant art and cultural attractions, historic neighborhoods, and museums.
Desert Botanical Garden
I really enjoy going to botanical gardens around the country and learning about native plants. The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix is home to 21,000 plants representing close to 4,000 different plant classifications and is a terrific place to learn about the flora of the southwestern desert. It is a large garden with six major trails/garden exhibit areas. Winding paths over 50 acres showcase a fantastic variety of arid plants, from towering saguaros to delicate blooms.
My favorite part of the Desert Botanical Garden is the Plants and People of the Sonoran Desert Trail. It is an actual dirt path trail winding around the base of a hill. Along the way, there are displays showing how Native Americans used to live in the Southwest. It features five distinct habitats that have provided people with useful plants for food, fiber, medicine, and cultural purposes for 2,000 years: Desert, Desert Oasis, Mesquite Bosque, Semi-desert Grassland, and Chaparral. The story of these relationships is brought to life through cultural examples of the Akimel O’odham and Western Apache Roundhouse. Don’t miss out on hands-on activities such as pounding mesquite beans to make flour.
Other trails include:
- Desert Discovery Trail
This is the garden’s main trail with desert plants from around the world including a plethora of cacti and succulents. You’ll find the oldest plantings on this 1/3-mile trail, and it is easy to navigate.
- Harriet K. Maxwell Desert Wildflower Trail
Learn how colorful desert wildflowers, hummingbirds, and bees interact in the Sonoran Desert on this short trail.
- Sonoran Desert Nature Trail
A 1/4 mile trail where you can enjoy the big picture — desert, mountains, plants, and animals.
While researching activities in the area, I read that the internationally acclaimed Heard Museum is one of the best places to experience the art and history of the American Indians of the Southwest and it did not disappoint. The museum’s 11 spacious exhibit galleries and beautiful outdoor courtyards feature outstanding traditional and contemporary American Indian art. I also took two free docent-led tours that were included in the price of admission. The Highlights of the Heard tour allowed me to get the lay of the land and establish a plan for what I wanted to go back and see in depth. I returned later for the tour of their signature exhibit HOME: Native Peoples in the Southwest.
One of the exhibits I really enjoyed was a room with hundreds of Kachina dolls. The carved figures are given as ceremonial gifts to young girls. Each gift represents a prayer wish for good health, growth, and fertility. Since the mid-20th century, these carvings have developed as an impressive art form. This display shows a wide variety of different styles.
I found an amazing tribute to Native American contributions to our military outside. The American Indian Veterans National Memorial is the only known national memorial dedicated to American Indian veterans of all conflicts. The Memorial consists of several sizable sculptures by the acclaimed Native artists Allan Houser (Chiricahua Apache) and Michael Naranjo (Santa Clara Pueblo). The 10-foot sculpture Unconquered II is the last sculpture created by Houser. Naranjo is a Vietnam War veteran who suffered an injury that rendered him blind.
Nestled in the heart of Phoenix, Papago Park is a true gem waiting to be explored. The park boasts the famous Hole-in-the-Rock Trail, where visitors can hike to the top of the iconic formation for breathtaking views of the city. But that’s not all – the park also offers excellent fishing opportunities for those who love to cast a line, and with over 1,200 acres of pristine desert landscape, nature enthusiasts will feel right at home. It is also home to the Phoenix Zoo and the Desert Botanical Garden.
There are a lot of great hiking locations around Phoenix and Camelback Mountain is one of the most popular among tourists and locals alike. It is a short, but challenging trail, with 1,500′ of elevation gain in just over a mile. Hikers are rewarded with stunning city views, and scenery encompassing red sandstone rock formations.
For those who want to experience more of Arizona’s natural beauty, taking a day trip to the Apache Trail is a must-do activity. The Apache Trail is a scenic road that weaves through the Superstition Mountains, Tonto National Forest, and the canyon vistas around the Salt River. Along the way, you can stop at the historical Goldfield Ghost Town, which has been preserved in time, offering a small glimpse of what it was like to live in the mining towns of the old West.
Jerome Ghost Town Day Trip
If you’re on a quest to uncover hidden gems and unique experiences during your travels, take a day trip to the Ghost Town at Jermone Arizona. Once a thriving mining town, this mystical location now beckons tourists from all over, blending a rich history with a plethora of stories about its haunted past. While wandering through the steep and winding streets adorned with restored historical buildings, Jerome’s absorbing history immediately captivates the visitors. Jerome State Historic Park and its museum give you a chance to dive deeper into the town’s past.
Where to Stay
If you like to camp, Lost Dutchman State Park is a terrific location at the base of the Superstition Mountains. It is far enough outside the city to enjoy nature, but close enough to visit the top sites. For a hotel with a beautiful view, try the Hilton Phoenix Tapatio Cliffs Resort.
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