Carolina: Cruising Past 70: Here Are 10 Day Trips from Phoenix You Won't Regret Doing

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Here Are 10 Day Trips from Phoenix You Won't Regret Doing

One of the biggest benefits of settling down to a home is you get visits from family and friends. We just had two in the first week of June. The first was Bill’s second child and first daughter Suzanne who arrived from Denver with her daughter, Cassie on June 1. Suzanne’s birthday was on June 4 so we were even able to celebrate it at home, right before their flight back home that evening.

the Elvis Presley Memorial Chapel
Cassie had enjoyed Yellowstone National Park so much as a summer volunteer so she has made it a life goal to visit as many national parks and monuments as she can. Bill gladly obliged and drove them to ten-day trips around the city, six of them down that alley. Right after picking them up from Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport, Bill took them to the Desert Botanical Garden before going home to Vietnamese lettuce wraps I prepared for dinner.  I didn’t go so I can’t write about it. But they were oohing and aahing about it.

The next day, Bill drove east towards Apache Junction on State Route 88. Not even thirty minutes from our home is the Superstition Mountain Museum, a 12-acre compound where many western movies were filmed, including those of Elvis. In fact, an Elvis Presley Memorial Chapel is onsite. The whole area is set against the beautiful Superstition Mountain. Just around the bend is the Goldfield Ghost Town, with authentic remnants of a mining town. There is a small train that goes around for tours. During winter when the snow birders are around, a gunfight is staged every hour in the afternoons. There is a Bordello, a chapel, a bakery, and even a Reptile Museum. We had lunch at the Saloon.

Tonto National Monument, Lower Cliff Dwelling

But we knew Cassie’s interest so we took her to the other side of the mountain, to the Tonto National Monument.   The Salt River runs through this area as a precious year-round source of water. Well-preserved Lower and Upper Cliff Dwellings were occupied by the Salados who produced some of the best polychrome pottery and intricately woven textiles during the 13th to early 15th centuries. Their cliff dwellings now look out to the Roosevelt Dam recreational area.

Canyon Lake from the Dolly Steamboat

We got back to State Route 88 to continue on to Canyon Lake where the Dolly Steamboat is docked. We had reserved seats on the evening cruise with dinner. Two years ago, this was how we celebrated our eighth anniversary. Back then we saw a lot of desert wildlife but this time around, we only saw a blue heron. Still, we loved Canyon Lake with the magnificent rock formations surrounding it, its many coves, and the toys of the big boys speeding on the lake. Dinner consisted of tri-tip steak and grilled chicken breast with lots of salad, roasted veggies, pies for dessert, and wine and lemonade for the beverage.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

More national monuments beckoned to the south/southwest of Phoenix. The following day, we visited Casa Grande Ruins near Casa Grande City. It consists of Hohokam ruins surrounded by a compound wall built in the early 13th century. "Casa Grande" is Spanish for "big house," referring to the biggest structure, the remains of a four-story building. After being abandoned by 1450, it has managed to survive extreme weather conditions for about seven centuries. A modern roof protects it now.

Biosphere 2

Before she found out about the many national parks and monuments of Arizona, Cassie’s main interest was Biosphere 2, an American Earth system science research facility located in Oracle, Arizona, about an hour south of Casa Grande. The 3.14-acre complex was originally built to be an artificial, closed ecological system meant to prove the viability of such systems to support and maintain our lives in outer space. Today, it still is the largest closed system ever created.  
Seven biomes were created: rainforest, ocean, mangrove wetlands, savannah grassland, fog desert, agricultural system, and human habitat. The two-year experiment involved eight humans called "biospherians". Below ground is an extensive technical infrastructure that supports Biosphere 2.  During the middle of the second experiment, the managing company, Space Biosphere Ventures, was dissolved, and Columbia University assumed management of the facility from 1995 until 2003. The University of Arizona took over research in 2007 and full ownership in 2011.

crested saguaro
Just an hour from Biosphere 2 stands the Saguaro National Park. It consists of two separate areas—the Tucson Mountain District (TMD) about 10 miles (16 km) west of the city of Tucson and the Rincon Mountain District (RMD) about 10 miles (16 km) east of the city. Both preserve Sonoran Desert landscapes, fauna, and flora, including the giant saguaro and its unusual variant, the crested saguaro.

Tumacacori National Historical Park

We barely had time but Cassie wanted to go farther south, forty-five minutes from Tucson, to the Tumacácori National Historical Park.  We arrived fifteen minutes before close time but it was all worth it. It became her favorite stop! There are three separate units in 360 acres. Established in 1691, Mission San Cayetano de Tumacácori and Mission Los Santos Ángeles de Guevavi, are the oldest missions. In the 1750s, the Franciscan Mission San José de Tumacácori replaced the San Cayetano Mission and is the one open to the public. The third mission established in 1756, Mission San Cayetano de Calabazas, and the Guevavi Mission can only be visited on reserved tours by the Park staff.

Montezuma Castle
On their last day, Bill drove for two hours north of Phoenix on Interstate 17 to the Montezuma Castle National Monument. The best-preserved dwellings were built and used by the Sinaguas, a pre-Columbian culture between 1100 and 1425 AD. The “Castle” has five stories and twenty rooms, built over three centuries, about 90 feet up a sheer limestone cliff, facing Beaver Creek. This ideal location inside a natural alcove also made it difficult for enemy tribes to penetrate their defenses. Almost 4,000 square feet of floor space are accessible most likely through portable ladders. At the next exit lies Montezuma Well, a natural limestone sinkhole also containing Sinagua dwellings perched on the walls. It is a mystery how so much water, 1.5 m gallons daily, can collect in the desert sinkhole.

Tuzigoot National Monument
As the last stop, Tuzigoot National Monument was a unique place. It preserves a 2- to 3-story pueblo ruin on the summit of a limestone and sandstone ridge. Situated near Clarkdale, Arizona, the ridge stands 120 feet above the Verde River Valley. The Tuzigoot Site is an elongated complex of 110 stone masonry rooms that were built along the spine of this outcrop. The central rooms stand higher than the others, maybe for public functions. The rooms incorporate few doors and use, instead, trapdoor type openings in the roofs with ladders for entry. Tuzigoot is the largest and best preserved of all the Sinagua ruins.

Cassie was so happy. Her US Passport Book collected six stamps during this trip. She also collected tokens from each one. She will surely come back to finish the rest sometime in the future. That will be the other ten-day trip she will not regret going to!

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