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ARIZONA'S NATURAL WONDERS


Information and links to Arizona's amazing and most beautiful natural features.




CAMPING, HIKING, PICNIC


LOST DUTCHMAN STATE PARK

Named after the fabled lost gold mine, Lost Dutchman State Park is located in the Sonoran Desert, 40 miles east of Phoenix. Several trails lead from the park into the Superstition Wilderness and surrounding Tonto National Forest. Take a stroll along the Native Plant Trail or hike the challenging Siphon Draw Trail to the top of the Flatiron. Depending on the year’s rainfall, you might be treated to a carpet of desert wildflowers in the spring. Enjoy a weekend of camping and experience native wildlife including coyote, javelina and jackrabbit. The park offers a variety of hiking trails, nature trails, picnic facilities, 70 campsites, a dump station, restrooms, showers, and group use areas. The visitor center sells maps and other publications. Before you hike, be prepared with enough water and proper footwear as the trails are steep and challenging.

LOST DUTCHMAN STATE PARK


PICACHO PEAK STATE PARK

With beautiful wildflowers, colorful butterflies and an abundance of teddy bear cholla, this park has one of the more extreme hiking trails in Arizona. The two-mile Hunter Trail ascends to the base of the 1,500-foot-tall peak. Climbers pull themselves up steel cables attached to vertical rock faces, teeter on a narrow plank suspended over a chasm and navigate steep, narrow passages of sharp-edged rock. On April 15, 1862, Union soldiers from California were fired upon by Confederate scouts from Tucson. The ensuing battle at the foot of the peak lasted 90 minutes, with three Union soldiers killed. Each spring, Civil War re-enactors commemorate the event, which is noted as the westernmost battle of the Civil War.

PICACHO PEAK STATE PARK


RED ROCK STATE PARK

Red Rock State Park is a 286 acre nature preserve and environmental education center. The park, which operates both as a nature reserve and an environmental center, offers beautiful scenery. Trails throughout the park wind through manzanita and juniper to reach the rich banks of Oak Creek. Green meadows are framed by native vegetation and hills of red rock. The park offers a variety of special programs for school groups and private groups. Additionally the picnic area and classrooms may be reserved for public or private functions. There are also a number of daily and weekly Park Events.

Park facilities include a visitors center, classroom, theater, gift shop, picnic tables, 10 developed trails, restrooms, and group area with Ramada and facilities. The restrooms are handicapped accessible. Camping facilities are not available at this park. The Red Rock State Park property was acquired by the Arizona State Parks Board in 1986 and the park was opened to the public in 1991. The park's 286 acres were originally part of the Smoke Trail Ranch, owned by Jack and Helen Frye. Arizona's famous Oak Creek meanders through this scenic park, creating a diverse riparian habitat abounding with plants and wildlife. This riparian habitat, the land-based ecosystem closely associated with Oak Creek, provides the setting and the opportunity for the park to offer a focus on environmental education.

RED ROCK STATE PARK


SOUTH FORK TRAIL, NEAR GREER

Highland trail explores fork of Little Colorado

By Jill Cassidy, The Arizona Republic

SOUTH FORK TRAIL

With its rushing stream, tall shady trees and grassy meadows, the South Fork Trail near Greer is a perfect summer hike. You'll find plenty of water in the creek. The meadows are lush with tall grass, there are yellow flowers and red berries everywhere, and before long the cottonwoods, sycamores and aspens will start turning color Chances are good you'll have the place to yourself. The trail, which leaves from the South Fork Campground, goes seven miles to Mexican Hay Lake. If you don't fancy a 14-mile day hike, go three miles upstream to where a dirt road crosses the water, and make that your turn-around point. Feet accustomed to the sharp grind of desert hiking will relish this trail. It's nice, soft dirt strewn with leaves and pine needles. It's easy to follow, there is no tricky footing and the gradual incline is nearly imperceptible. Flatlanders beware, however. The trail starts at an elevation of 7,520 feet, so you might feel a bit winded. The South Fork of the Little Colorado River is no mere trickle through this canyon. There's fast water broken up by plunge pools and cut banks that look like trout heaven. The stream is popular with anglers, and short spur trails lead to some of the nicest fishing spots. If you hike this trail in the fall, be prepared for changing weather conditions. The wind could kick up, and afternoon rain is not uncommon, so wear one or two light layers topped with a waterproof windbreaker. The day I hiked, a slight sprinkle lasted about 10 minutes, in spite of the generally blue sky and puffy white clouds. I was fully prepared to pout, but the renegade rain cloud passed quickly and the change in my surroundings was remarkable. The humid state of the air was palpable but not unpleasant given the 70-degree temperature. Droplets of water sparkled on leaves and grass a dozen shades of green. The chirping of insects surged. And the way it smelled - the drizzle simultaneously fostering lush plant life and hastening the decay of downed trees, I don't have a word for that.

Where: From central Phoenix, take Interstate 10 east to Loop 202. Go east on Loop 202 to Arizona 87 (Beeline Expressway), then north 82 miles to Payson. In Payson, go 103 miles east on Arizona 260 to Hon-Dah. Continue on Arizona 260 for 30 miles to County Road 4124. (Look for the signs for South Fork and X Diamond Ranch.) Turn right and go 2.4 miles to the South Fork Campground. Enter the campground and go across the bridge on the right. The trailhead is at the end of the short road. Parking is limited; do not park in campsites. Facilities: Toilets. Admission: Free. Difficulty: Easy to the dirt-road crossing. The trail climbs steeply toward Mexican Hay Lake after that. Length: 6 miles round trip. Details: 1-(928)-333-4372







FLORA AND FAUNA, SCENIC VISITAS


SAGUARO NATIONAL PARK

Enormous cacti, silhouetted by the setting sun, for most of us the Giant Saguaro is the universal symbol of the American West. And yet, these majestic plants are only found in a small portion of the United States. Saguaro National Park protects some of the most impressive forests of these sub-tropical giants, on the edge of the modern City of Tucson. Saguaro National Park's geographic location and range of plant communities allow for a large variety in the plants that grow here. The Saguaro Wilderness Area was officially designated as wilderness in 1976. This large, roadless backcountry consists of 57,930 acres within the Rincon Mountain District of Saguaro National Park. It is bounded on three sides by the 38,590 acre Rincon Mountain Wilderness Area, which lies within the Coronado National Forest. Saguaro National Park’s two districts offer more than 165 miles (264 km) of hiking trails. A hike at Saguaro National Park can be a stroll on a short interpretive nature trail or a day-long wilderness trek. Both districts of Saguaro National Park offer a variety of hiking trails. Learn how to be prepared for hiking or backpacking at Saguaro National Park.

On the far east side of Tucson, you can head through Tucson, or use I-10 to bypass Tucson and then turn north.

SAGUARO NATIONAL PARK


SALT RIVER CANYON

You drive through the juniper-covered hills and there it is, the Salt River Canyon, formed by thousands of years of a river cutting to the geologic core. The canyon, one of the most beautiful places in Arizona, is about 40 miles northeast of Globe on U.S. 60. On the drive, you'll pass the mining towns of Miami, Claypool and Globe. Here are places to explore along the way.

Seneca Lake. In the winter and into spring, this pond offers some of the best fishing in the state. Largemouth bass are stocked, as are brown and rainbow trout during the winter. You'll need a San Carlos Reservation permit ($7) to fish or even drive around the lake. Buy a permit at the Express Stop gas station, 1501 E. Ash St., Globe, 1-(928)-425-3911.

Salt River Canyon Viewpoint. Stop at this pull-off at the top of the canyon for outstanding views of the gorge. You may be moved to do more than look. To hike beyond the overlooks, you'll need a permit. Fort Apache Reservation permits are available at Sportsman's Warehouse stores in the Valley. Find locations at Sportsman's

Salt River Bridge Drive. Drive into the canyon to browse the Indian jewelry for sale in the parking lot at the bottom. This isn't a store, or even a stand such as those you see on the Navajo Reservation, just some nice people with jewelry spread out on blankets. Nearby are clean restrooms and signs with information about the area. From the parking lot, take the stairs to an overlook just a short distance above the river. During wet spells, the flow can be impressive. Watch your footing when the rocks are wet.

Total miles: From central Phoenix to the bottom of Salt River Canyon and back is about 270 miles. Take Loop 202 east, Loop 101 south, U.S. 60 east to Globe, then north to the canyon. Don't miss: Libby's El Rey. This unassuming eatery is the place for Mexican food in Globe. Tasty enchiladas, flavorful red-chile burros, tortilla chips drizzled with butter if you like. 999 N. Broad St., 1-(928)-425-2054.




SYCAMORE CANYON

This may be the best place in Arizona you have never heard of. The second-largest canyon in the state - 20 miles long and, in places, seven miles wide - slices through the Mogollon Rim just a dozen miles northwest of Sedona.

SYCAMORE CANYON


TONTO NATIONAL MONUMENT

The drive along the Apache Trail to Roosevelt Lake is like a scenic sampler platter of Arizona, featuring eye-popping vistas, a quirky saloon at Tortilla Flat, a hair-raising drive down Fish Creek Hill and ancient Salado ruins at Tonto National Monument. The 47-mile drive to the lake features 22 miles of gravel. Make a loop by continuing on to Globe, then circling back to the Valley. It's an ideal way to introduce your out-of-town visitors to the region. Details: Tonto National Monument, 928-467-2241; Tortilla Flat, 480-984-1776

TONTO NATIONAL MONUMENT





GEOLOGICAL FORMATIONS


COLOSSAL CAVE MOUNTAIN PARK

This cave, just south of Tucson, is called "dry" or "dormant" which means that, due to a lack of water, the formations are not growing right now. Colossal Cave, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, had been used for centuries by prehistoric peoples when it was "discovered" in 1879. Since then it has been the object of interest and attention by people ranging from train robbers to a President of the University of Arizona. The first tours were taken through the unimproved Cave in 1923, tours which involved ropes and lanterns. Thanks to the Civilian Conservation Corps, who constructed the buildings, walkways, and wiring in the mid-1930's, today's tours are very comfortable. The hand-set flagstone walkways and handrails are exactly as installed by the CCC. These days, however, Colossal Cave is wearing new lights and is more breathtakingly beautiful than ever before. (We're proud to say that the lights are energy-saving compact fluorescents.) Aside from the Cave, this beautiful Park provides picnic and camping areas, trail rides, museum, butterfly garden, and much more. Be sure to visit the website for details. LOCATION: Vail, Arizona, along the I-10 just south of Tucson HOURS: 8am to 5pm, Sunday through Saturday FEES: Park Use: $5.00 per Car (other fees may apply); Tours: Adults $8.50, Children $5.00, 5 and under Free

COLOSSAL CAVE MOUNTAIN PARK


THE GRAND CANYON

One of the seven natural wonders of the world is only a four-hour drive from Phoenix. The Grand Canyon is 1.2 million acres and 277 (river) miles long, the Canyon provides a wealth of things to see and do.

THE GRAND CANYON


THE GRAND CANYON CAVERNS

This place is a particular favorite of mine that I have visited on three different occasions. It is very kid and family friendly. I took my son when he was four, and again when he turned 8; he loved it just as much both times. This is a very impressive and little known natural feature in Arizona that I encourage all to visit anytime.

On one of the last vestiges of Historic Route 66, it is 22 miles west of Seligman, a small town about half-way between Flagstaff and Kingman on the I-40. The Caverns grounds include a restaurant, a curio shop, camp grounds, RV Park and a rodeo arena, about a mile past a 48 room motel which is right on the Old Route 66. Privately owned, some 123 miles south of the Grand Canyon, the Grand Canyon Caverns is a natural limestone cavern 210 feet underground which you enter and leave by means of an elevator. They have a 45 minute, 3/4 of mile guided walking tours which depart every half hour daily except Christmas Day, the only day the Caverns are closed. Whether July or January, the cavern maintains a constant temperature of a very comfortable 56 degrees. The elevator takes you 21 stories down and within 5 minutes of the beginning of the walking tour you enter the most incredible and largest of the rooms; the length and height about that of a professional football field. The tour continues up and down and around amazing rock features. This cavern is particularly unique in that it is a dry cavern; only 3 percent of all of the caverns in the world are dry. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, the government slated this cavern as bomb shelter. During the tour you will walk past a large fenced off storage area of enough barrels of water and food stuffs to supposedly supply 2000 people for 6 months; only 3 rolls of toilet paper were included. You will also see a mumified Bobcat that is believed to have fallen in in about the 1850s, and a stuffed Giant North American Sloth from about 10,000 years ago. Events are held regularly at the Caverns, such as a rodeo, a Western BBQ, various car and motorcycle rallies, and reunions, etc. You can even plan a reunion or even a wedding in the cavern itself.

THE GRAND CANYON CAVERNS


MONUMENT VALLEY

We know it from the movies, unforgettable descriptions, and pictures, but Monument Valley feels like the most foreign of places, even exotic. It is dry, oversized, and intemperate. Nothing else outside the Southwest looks even remotely like it. It is Navajo Nation land, something that is clear from the native language that the Japanese could never decipher during World War II. Established in 1958, 2008 marks the 50th Anniversary of the Navajo Nation’s first tribal park.

MONUMENT VALLEY


PETRIFIED FOREST NATIONAL PARK WITH THE PAINTED DESERT

With one of the world's largest and most colorful concentrations of petrified wood, multi-hued badlands of the Painted Desert, historic structures, archeological sites, and displays of 225 million year old fossils, this is a surprising land of scenic wonders and fascinating science. The Painted Desert covers an area of 93,533 acres that stretches southeast from the Grand Canyon to the Petrified Forest National Park. The desert derives its name from the multi-hued badlands of the Chinle Formation rocks that cover the park.

PETRIFIED FOREST


SUNSET CRATER VOLCANO NATIONAL MONUMENT

This beautiful cinder cone volcano 15 miles northeast of Flagstaff was the last major volcano to erupt in Arizona, occurring in the winter of 1064-1065 A.D. The area contains several colorful cinder cones formed by extinct volcanoes and large expanses of lava and ash. The dominant peak has distinctive dusky red-brown patches formed by oxidized iron and sulphur. The contrasting colors of the cinders provide the most striking aspect of the Monument, but the buckled and twisted lava fields are also very dramatic. Be sure to stop by the Visitor Center and then walk the park’s two trails amongst the “geologically” fresh lava flows. Camping is allowed near the Visitor Center.

SUNSET CRATER VOLCANO NATIONAL MONUMENT


TONTO NATURAL BRIDGE

Ten miles north of Payson is what is believed to be the largest natural travertine bridge in the world. It stands 183 feet high and forms a 400 foot-long tunnel through which Pine Creek flows. The tunnel is 150 feet at its widest point. An easy day trip from the Valley, Tonto Natural Bridge State Park features picnic areas, four steep trails into the gorge, paved paths near the parking lot, designated viewpoints and javelina herds.

TONTO NATURAL BRIDGE





LAKES, RIVERS AND STREAMS


ALAMO LAKE STATE PARK

Alamo Lake State Park is one of Arizona's best kept secrets. The stark desert beauty is reflected off the water. Cacti dot the mountainous landscape that surround the lake. Nestled in the Bill Williams River Valley away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, Alamo Lake State Park offers outdoor fun, premier bass fishing, rest and relaxation. For nature lovers, spring rains bring an abundance of wild flowers and the lake environment attracts a variety of wildlife year round, including bald and golden eagles, waterfowl, foxes, coyotes, mule deer and wild burros. Stargazers are sure to enjoy the unbelievable view of the night sky with the nearest city lights some forty miles away! Alamo Lake, located on the Bill Williams River where the Big Sandy River and Santa Maria River come together, was created with the completion of Alamo Dam in 1968. The Army Corps of Engineers designed the earthen dam primarily for flood control. During flood events, the lake basin is capable of “capturing” large amounts of water in a relatively short time. The lake has been recorded rising 11 vertical feet in one night! Unusually high flows during the late 1970s and through the 1980s have increased the average size of the lake, helping to create one of Arizona's best fishing holes. Fishing tournaments are common at the lake and anglers have an excellent opportunity to catch bluegill, largemouth bass, channel catfish, and black crappie. Remember, the desert can be harsh and dangerous, but it is also very fragile. Help us protect it, and yourself, by camping in the designated camp areas and keeping vehicles on maintained roadways.

ALAMO LAKE STATE PARK


CANYON LAKE

In Tonto National Forest, at an elevation of 1,660 feet lies the unspoiled beauty of Canyon Lake. Less than an hour drive from Phoenix (only 45 minutes from Tempe/Mesa) along the historic and scenic Apache Trail (Route AZ 88). Here, you'll revel in a playground with more than 28 miles of cactus-dotted shoreline, explore wondrous rock formations, discover peaceful private coves and spot countless species of birds, Big Horn sheep, deer, and javelina roaming freely through the landscape. Best of all, you'll find new meaning in the spectacular Arizona sunsets that paint the canyon walls aglow. Waterski, jet ski, or wind sail with over 950 surface acres of sparkling waters to run. Tuck into a secluded cove and fish for bass, trout, and many other kinds of fish, or take a leisurely cruise and marvel at the scenery. Idyllic year-round weather makes Canyon Lake, Arizona a great destination for all watersports and camping enthusiasts. Everything you'll need for a pleasant stay at Canyon Lake is available on the marina and campground premises. They are open year-round. Make your boat your home away from home at the marina. Bring your tent or RV for overnight lodging at our campground, or come spend the day at the beach in our day use area. Catch some rays or dive in for a dip at the campground swimming-only area next to our shaded ramada which is available to rent for events. Explore the lake on your boat, or rent one here. Savor a spectacular view as you dine at the Lakeside Restaurant and Cantina, or indulge yourself with a historic sightseeing tour of the lake and surrounding canyons aboard the Dolly Steamboat.

CANYON LAKE MARINA
DOLLY STEAMBOAT


DEAD HORSE RANCH STATE PARK

The developed portion of Dead Horse Ranch State Park covers 423 acres. The 3,300 foot elevation accounts for the mild temperatures that are ideal for camping, mountain biking in the Coconino National Forest, hiking along the Verde River, canoeing, picnicking, fishing, or just wading in the cool water.

A six-mile reach of the river is known as the Verde River Greenway State Natural Area. Its unique ecosystem, the Cottonwood and Willow riparian gallery forest, is one of less than 20 such riparian zones in the world. Life along the river changes with the seasons, giving visitors a glimpse of the numerous species of raptors, neotropical migrants, resident songbirds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fish.

The story of the park's name begins with the Ireys family, who came to Arizona from Minnesota looking for a ranch to buy in the late 1940s. At one of the ranches they discovered a large dead horse lying by the road. After two days of viewing ranches, Dad Ireys asked the kids which ranch they liked the best. The kids said, “the one with the dead horse, Dad!” The Ireys family chose the name Dead Horse Ranch and later, in 1973, when Arizona State Parks acquired the park, the Ireys made retaining the name a condition of sale.

675 Dead Horse Ranch Road, Cottonwood, AZ 86326, Phone: 928-634-5283

DEAD HORSE RANCH STATE PARK


FOSSIL CREEK

Near Strawberry, Arizona is the beautiful Fossil Creek, in the Coconino National Forrest. It is like a jungle in the middle of the desert. And now that Arizona Public Service has decommissioned two power plants that diverted the creek from its path, the creek has been restored to its natural state as one of Arizona's most beautiful recreation areas. There are 14 miles of creek surrounded by gorgeous trees and boulders of all sizes. This canyon is a perfect place to hike, camp and swim. But don't love it to death: Take out everything you bring in with you. The trail to Fossil Springs follows a steep, dusty old jeep road two miles down past an old gravel pit. There is a lot of loose rock on this part of the trail making it easier to go down than the return climb out. The trail then turns south and goes a half-mile to the springs. From this trail you can discover the little Shangri La where you can swim, picnic, study fossils, or explore the waters of travertine pools along the creek. The millions of gallons of 72ºF water that gush from the springs every hour have created a lush environment which supports over 30 types of trees and bushes and over 100 species of birds. The Canyon walls near the springs contain small fossils from an ancient sea that washed over the area 350 million years ago. The wood flume, built in 1916, used to supply water from the springs to the Irving and Childs Power Plants which relied on its water to turn their power generating turbines. Fortunately any further intrusions are now prohibited since the area became the 12,000-acre Fossil Springs Wilderness in 1984. There is an "area closure" in effect for the Flume Trail and Fossil Creek area to the wilderness boundary north of the Irving Power Plant. This closure is expected to remain in affect over the next several years during the deconstruction activities of the flume structure and facilities. The Flume Trailhead located near the Irving Power Plant along FR708 is officially closed including access to Fossil Creek south of the springs. The Fossil Springs Trail and trailhead located on the Tonto NF along FR708 above the spring will remain open. Access to the Flume Trail from Fossil Spring is closed. Location: South of the Fossil Springs Wilderness between Camp Verde and Strawberry. Access: Drive north from Payson 17 miles on Hwy 87. Turn left on Fossil Creek Road (FR708) at Strawberry Lodge in the town of Strawberry. Go 4 miles west on a dirt road. Turn right and progress .5 miles to the trailhead parking lot. Attractions: Trails for hiking and horseback riding, Unique rock formations, Great scenery, Wildlife viewing, Lush riparian area Length: 3.1 miles Hiking Time: 4 hours (round trip)

FOSSILL CREEK


SAGUARO LAKE

Saguaro (sa-war-o) Lake, 41 miles from downtown Phoenix, just northeast of Scottsdale, is the Salt River Project lake closest to Phoenix. Saguaro Lake offers special views, canyon walls and excellent boating fun. It is a long, narrow and winding lake created by the construction of Stewart Mountain Dam. Saguaro Lake is a sister lake of Canyon, Apache and Roosevelt Lakes which are all created along the Salt River which becomes a dry river bed as it flows through Phoenix.

Saguaro del Norte Recreation site is near the dam and includes the Saguaro Lake Marina (which includes a restaurant and boat concession), an aid station, picnic tables, restrooms and boat ramps, boat mooring and boat rentals. Camping is accessible by boat only.

Butcher Jones Beach, which can be reached by a road a few miles north of Saguaro del Norte, features swimming, picnic and restroom facilities. The area is open daily from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. from April through September.

Bagley Flat Campground (30 spaces) is about four miles from the dam but is accessible only by boat. It is open all year (no fees). To get there, travel up a narrow cliff-bordered portion of the lake. The campground is in a scenic and peaceful area and has sanitation facilities.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department stocks all of the SRP lakes with fish. There generally are good supplies of walleye, largemouth and yellow bass, rainbow and brown trout, bluegills, channel catfish, and crappie in Saguaro.

There are two ways to reach the lake. One is to take the Bush Highway north from U.S. Highway 60 to the Saguaro del Norte Recreation Site turnoff. The other way is to take the Beeline Highway (State Route 87) from either the McDowell Road turnoff in Mesa or from Shea Boulevard near Fountain Hills. About eight miles after crossing the Verde River, turn right at signs indicating the Saguaro Lake Recreation Area.

Websites with more details, maps, etc.:

SAGUARO LAKE RECREATION
SAGUARO LAKE MARINA
SAGUARO LAKE, STATE PARK PAGE





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Robert M. Wilbanks IV
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created 6/14/2012: ©2012-2013, Robert M. Wilbanks IV, Scottsdale, Arizona