Camelback Mountain is an iconic mountain visible throughout most of the phoenix metropolitan area. Towering over the city at 2,704 feet (824 meters) above sea level, the mountain was named after its very obvious resemblance to a resting camel. The mountain features unique sheer red sandstone cliffs as well as a variety of desert wildlife. Some of its more popular desert animals include Rock Squirrels, Gila Monsters, Javelinas, Coyotes, and Grey Foxes. These natural wonders make the mountain a very popular hiking and rock climbing location.
Although it is possible to hike to the top of Camelback, both trails are a strenuous undertaking and are only recommended for advanced hikers. Echo Canyon Recreation Area does, however, offer two easier hiking options for those less advanced hikers. All trails offer the ability to experience desert wildlife up close, as well as admire Camelback’s unique geological formations.
Encompassing about 3 million acres (1,214,057 hectares), the Tonto National Forest is the country’s fifth-largest forest. The altitude ranges from 1,300 to 7,900 feet (396 to 2,408 meters), allowing for diverse flora, fauna and landscapes throughout. In fact, while in one part of the forest you might find a cactus-filled desert, in another you’ll walk through rugged mountain dotted with pines. You’ll also find beautiful lake beaches for peaceful relaxation and aquatic pursuits.
The main reason people visit Tonto National Forest is the outdoor recreation. There are eight wilderness areas in Tonto National Forest, including Four Peaks Wilderness, Hell's Gate Wilderness, Mazatzal Wilderness, Salome Wilderness, Fossil Creek Wild and Scenic Area, Salt River Canyon Wilderness, Sierra Ancha Wilderness and Superstition Wilderness. Each of these offers its own unique experiences.
The Montezuma Castle National Monument is one of the most well-preserved and accessible ancient dwellings in North America. Built amongst the limestone, these 1,000 year-old ruins were once home to ancient farmers known as the Sinagua Indians. Although the monument has adopted the title “castle” due to its majestic appearance, the ruins were actually a multi-family cliff dwelling (similar to a modern-day high-rise apartment complex). Abandoned irrigation systems built by the prehistoric Hokokam Indians made the land and location ideal of these farmers. The high cliffs allowed them to access the fertile land surrounding Beaver Creek while remaining safe from flooding. In 1906, the Montezuma Castle was declared one of our country’s first national monuments. Since then, it has been a popular tourist location. In addition to the cliff dwellings, the monument includes the Montezuma Well, a limestone sinkhole that is believed to be the remains of the Sinagua’s irrigation system.
Apache Trail is a 120 mile (193km) historic road that connects Apache Junction (the east edge of the Phoenix metropolitan area) to Theodore Roosevelt Lake. Although the trail’s official name today is “State Route 88”, it adopted the name “Apache Trail” in reference to the Apache Indians who originally inhabited the Superstition Mountains. The road was initially built as a way to open copper trade between the city of Globe and the Phoenix area. Today, however, it has become a very popular tourist destination. Winding through the Superstition Mountains, this circular road provides some of the most beautiful scenic views in central Arizona. It guides you up and down the steep desert mountains, past cliff dwellings, lake shores, eroded canyons, and old mining towns.
In addition to simply enjoying the beautiful scenery, many travelers choose to stop and explore the various historic treasures along the way.
Located in nearby Tucson, Mission San Xavier del Bac is a Spanish Catholic mission dating from 1692 when it was founded by Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, a Jesuit missionary. At the time the area was an Indian village, and Kino was the first non-Indian to visit the place, which was then known as Wa:k (although he wrote “Bac,”). It is he who called for the construction of the church, named in honor of San Francisco Xavier; however, the church needed to be rebuilt after 1770 due to destruction from Apache attacks.
Because at this time Spanish Jesuits were banned from the Americas, it was rebuilt under the eye of the Franciscans. This is a unique facet of Mission San Xavier del Bac, as it’s one of the few Arizona missions still led by Franciscans, with mass still taking place. Additionally, the church is touted as the oldest European structure in Arizona still intact, and often the country’s best example of Spanish Colonial architecture.
As a non-profit organization, the Arizona Science Center‘s main goal is to entertain and educate people of all ages about science. They opened in 1984 as a small, 10,000 square feet (3,048 square meters) museum featuring select hands-on exhibits. Since its humble beginning, the Arizona Science Center has quickly grown into one of the most popular local attractions in Arizona. Today the Arizona Science Center stretches over 120,000 square feet (36,576 square meters) and is one of the most high-tech museums in the world. With over 40,000 square feet (12,912 square meters) of gallery space, they currently feature over 300 hands-on exhibits in five different themed galleries. There are daily shows in their multi-media Dorrance Planetarium as well as in the giant, five-story IMAX Theater.
The Arizona Science Center is designed around the concept of making learning fun. Exhibits are created to be interactive, encouraging visitors to learn from doing.
With 114 miles of shoreline, the hard thing about a visit to Lake Pleasant is making up your mind what to do first. The lake is a great spot for a variety of water sports. Along with a 10-lane boat ramp, Lake Pleasant offers a full-service marina equipped to handle 1,000 boats. Sport fishing is very popular. A nice variety of fish including white bass, largemouth bass, striped bass, channel catfish, and black crappie swim in Lake Pleasant. Wildlife viewing includes Bald Eagles.
But you don’t have to be wet to enjoy Lake Pleasant. With numerous overlooks and seven miles of trails, hiking and biking are popular with visitors. Add 450 picnic sites and parking for 200 vehicles to the list and it’s hard to go wrong. In addition to 165 campsites, there is also a visitor center and a desert education center at Lake Pleasant.
Birdwatching, hiking and Hopi history brings visitors to Homolovi State Park. More than 300 archaeological sites are located in the area, and the visitor center features historical exhibits and interpretative programs year round.
With more than 4,000 acres, and an elevation of close to 5,000 feet, Homolovi is known as an excellent spot for birdwatching. Some of the birds visitors may see include the northern harrier, redtail hawks, golden eagles, kestrals, horned larks, roadrunners, ravens and burrowing owls. Hiking trails in the park are short, the longest being 1.5 miles, but many allow hikers access to archaeological sites.
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