Friday, April 15, 2011

Quick before it gets too hot!

Have you ever just sat and watched a sunset here in Phoenix? You know… just find a place to be still and watch the sun sink into the horizon, setting the heavens ablaze with color and beauty? Living in a city like Phoenix that keeps the midnight oil burning all night, it's hard to stop and behold the beauty that is a southwestern sunset, but it is something that every person should stop and see at least once; probably the more the better. If you haven't been able to do this, I have just the place for you to try it for the first time. You may even forget (albeit for just a moment) that you are in a major metropolitan area.

At the heart of the valley sits a park that is so much more than just a simple park. Papago Park sprawls over 1200 acres between Phoenix and Tempe, and puts on display the inherent but oft overlooked beauty of the Sonoran desert. It's here that you will find the Phoenix Zoo and the highly touted Desert Botanical Gardens, but you will also find several other features that are just as interesting and yet don't get the same foot traffic. Amidst the rolling hills, the native fauna, and a unique brand of formation in red sandstone that all adorn Papago, you will find what is most simply called "hole in the rock". The name doesn't do the site justice except to give an apt description of just what it is. Its just a hole shaped into the sandstone by the ever present effects of erosion, but when you climb the well marked and easily traversed trail, you will find that looking through this "hole in the rock" is kind of like looking through a view screen at the valley below. Large enough to hold a dozen people or more, the hole provides a framework around the downtown area and displays a panoramic view of Phoenix from the business and capital district to the airport. It's also pointed in a generally western direction, providing a great standpoint to watch the sun set over the bustling city below. The hole probably isn't the first place you think of to take a family picnic, but sit down to one here around dinnertime and follow it up with an after dinner show of a magical desert sunset, and this will be a picnic you won't soon be forgotten.

Gov. Hunt's pyramid tomb

While you are in the park though, there are other things to see. Probably the biggest other site to see besides the hole in the rock, is the tomb of Governor Hunt.  George Wylie Hunt was one of the men who shaped the Arizona state constitution and found himself elected as the first governor of the new state of Arizona in 1912. After serving a record seven terms Governor Hunt succumbed to heart problems and was laid to rest in December of 1934 in the white tile pyramid that he commissioned to be built as the final resting place for his wife. Set up on a hill, you don't really get a feel for how big this tomb is until you top the hill and get to see it in all of it's glory. Nearby is a history of what Gov. Hunt did for the state of Arizona and a short outline of his life. And if the history doesn't interest you, the view should. Because of it's advantageous high ground visitors to the tomb get a picturesque view of the park below and the Valley of the Sun all around.

A view of one of the several ponds from the hill where Gov. Hunt's tomb stands
On top of the great views and a little historical context, Papago Park has a lot to offer for just about any kind of patron. For those who like the outdoors and want to see the desert beauty up close and personal, Papago offers numerous hiking and biking trails that are sure to stimulate even an avid hiker. Several urban ponds can also be found. Stocked with fish from local hatcheries, these can be a great catch and release spots for the urban fisher. But don't ignore the two biggest pieces that Papago has to offer. The Phoenix Zoo and Desert Botanical Gardens may get more publicity than the rest of the park but they can be a great way to spend a day traveling in your backyard. Both offer a great example of the heart of backyard travel as both can be seen for free with the Phoenix Culture Pass. The Culture Pass program is one that grants admission to several locations throughout the valley that focuses mainly on museums thus embodying the spirit of backyard travel as something near to home that can be done with the family for not a whole lot of money. (For more on the culture pass click here). Even if you have to pay, the Phoenix Zoo is worth the trip. Exhibiting animals from all over the world, has plenty to see and even features an endangered species native to Arizona, the Bighorn Sheep. The Desert Botanical Gardens takes visitors on a tour of the world through a dazzling array of plants and flowers taken from all over the world. True to its name, the gardens focus on those plants that are sturdy enough to strive in our desert climate. You will find the gardens a peaceful place to relax and take in the beauty around you.

Sunsets are a beautiful thing, especially when shared with loved ones in view of a beautiful layout. So as the weather heats up and we say good-bye to the all too short spring, be sure to take advantage of Papago Park, an outdoor site that offers a unique glimpse of and into our valley.