Tag: US

The Apache Trail and Tonto National Monument

From Google Maps

From Google Maps

Going to the Tonto National Monument is an all-day trip from Phoenix, especially if you want to take the most scenic road to Roosevelt Lake. Google claimed that the drive was about 2 hours long on Apache Trail (88), but the drive down the twisting, dirt roads is more realistically between two and three hours long. It takes longer if you stop along the way, of course, and taking your time is a good idea on Apache Trail for both safety and your enjoyment.

Just before the Apache Trail turns into a dirt road, you will see three small buildings near the edge of Fish Creek. The buildings are somewhat ramshackle, and their boxy architecture and wooden walls is purposefully reminiscent of a small historic Western town. This is Tortilla Flats; and it is one of my personal favorite places to stop whenever I am on the 88. There isn’t much here- a small restaurant, a gift shop, and a country store. The restaurant has a great atmosphere that fits the area to a T. The walls are coated in layers of signed dollar bills, most from the US, but I always like to peek around for money from all over the world. The bar is also lined with horse saddle stools, and the bathrooms are surprisingly humorous but I won’t spoil why. The food here is good, mostly sporting American classics. As much as I enjoy stopping by the restaurant here, however, I mostly come to Tortilla Flats for its delicious prickly pear ice cream, which I like to eat next to the (sometimes) gurgling stream that runs right by the area.

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

Past Tortilla Flats the dirt road begins, and while this area is breathtakingly beautiful, anyone who wants to drive this road needs to take their time, and keep their eyes on the road. There are cliffs along long stretches of the road, and at times the road narrows until vehicles will need to stop and pull over in order to let each other pass. Along this part of the Apache Trail is the small Apache Lake, and the Roosevelt Lake Dam. After stopping to view the dam, the road curves up one final hill, and at the top the largest lake in Arizona expands out to either horizon- Roosevelt Lake.

For some reason, I was expecting there to be a sizeable town around Roosevelt Lake, but in the direction from Roosevalt Dam towards the Tonto National Monument all I saw were a few small settlements. One was a high-end gated community perched on the edge of the lake, some looked like a mix of large camp grounds and RV grounds, and about eight miles from the turn off by the dam was a small collection of low buildings including a gas station, and an all American restaurant called Boston’s Lake House Grill (that seemed surprisingly far from the lake for its name).

From the lake to Tonto National Monument was a short drive up from the relatively flat desert surrounding Roosevelt up into a small box canyon. The visitor center here was under construction when I visited, so there wasn’t much there to see, and we immediately headed out onto the trail leading to the Lower Cliff Dwelling. This is the only trail accessible to visitors without a ranger or guide, it is a mile long (round-trip), and it is nicely paved and thus welcoming to most people, although it is steep.

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

I got winded a few times on the way up, but it was a good excuse to stop and take in the scenery, which was always worth the pause. The plant communities surrounding the path up to the Lower Cliff Dwellings was amazingly rich, and was so lush that I almost felt like I was taking a stroll through Phoenix’s manicured Desert Botanical Gardens. All of the charismatic plants of the Sonoran Desert were represented in vibrant greens on either side of the trail, and any time spent at one of the trail’s benches would reveal a variety of bird, mammal, and reptile life as well.

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

Of course, the crowning jewel of the trail and the national monument itself are the ruins. Unlike Montezuma’s castle, Tonto National Monument allows visitors to carefully climb inside of the ancient Salado ruins here. They are watched over by a volunteer, who dutifully reminds visitors to not lean or sit on the stone walls tucked into the mountain-side, and who is prepared to answer any questions that visitors may have about the people who once lived here, as well as the surrounding area. Inside the warm, stone and mortar walls of this ancient Native American village, it is easy to see what drew people to this place. The shallow cavern that the buildings were constructed in makes the place feel safe and protected. The walls are dark with the remains of fires from hundreds of years ago, but the closeness of those ancestral families doesn’t seem to have abandoned this place. Just over the remaining walls, or through the surviving doorways and windows, visitors can catch glimpses of the Salt River Valley and the lake, beckoning with its life giving waters, and the lush desert around it.

In short, Tonto NP is a must-see for anyone interested in Arizona history, or in the ingenuity of our ancestors. There is a second set of ruins in the park as well, but visitors must join a tour in order to see them, and the hike is more difficult than the trek to the Lower Cliff Dwellings. If what I saw was any indication, however, I think that the trip to the Upper Dwellings would certainly not disappoint anyone with the time and ability to make the journey further into the mountains.

And if you have any questions about Tonto or my travels feel free to leave me a comment. 🙂

My next update will be on December 1st; about the Organ Pipe National Monument!

Watson Lake Loop Trail, Prescott, Arizona

3101 Watson Lake Rd
Trail Length: 4.79 mi

Animals Identified:
Red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus – AGPH)
Ornate Tree Lizard (Urosaurus ornatus – UROR)
Common Side-Blotched Lizard (Uta stansburiana – UTST)
Whiptail sp.
Rock Squirrel (Spermophilus variegatus – SPVA)Phoenix got hot really quick this summer, and on Memorial Day I was feeling desperate to get out of the city for the afternoon. About an hour or so out of Phoenix and at a slightly higher elevation, Prescott seemed like a good option. Besides that, Prescott has a lot to offer, a historic downtown for the casual explorer, a large variety of trails in and around the city, and a ton of lakes (for the desert). I wasn’t quite sure what we were going to have the energy to do when we got up there, so having some options seemed important.

With grumbling stomachs, our first stop was downtown, where we dropped into the Lone Spur Café. The front room of the restaurant was full of southwestern décor befitting of its name, but we ended up in the back room of the restaurant. Windowless, and not nearly as themed as the front room, I found myself feeling oddly disappointed, but I didn’t bother to ask to be seated else-where. My guess is that the restaurant’s specialty is hamburgers or something similarly “western,” but I wasn’t in the mood for something so heavy, and I ended up ordering a sandwich. Nothing to write home about, but the service was really fast, which was convenient as we were able to eat, and then make it out before the day got too late. We had decided mid-meal that we were going to suck it up and go hiking.

A quick glance at the internet indicated that the Watson Lake Loop Trail sounded right up our alley; it was next to the water, and the length of the trail sounded perfect for a good work out. I wasn’t expecting it to be as difficult as it turned out to be, however, as my only reference for lake-side hiking in Prescott was Lynx Lake, which had a very flat, shaded trail. Watson Lake had little in common with my previous experience. There is no forest cover at Watson, just rolling, stony hills dotted with fluffy, green bushes. That didn’t subtract from its beauty, however. Like most man-made desert lakes, Watson had a beautiful juxtaposition between the mirror-like, blue surface of the water, and the tan-reds of the hills, some of which peeked out of the water in little island formations. Besides having a 4.7 mile hiking trail, the lake is also home to a park complete with kayak rentals, Frisbee golf facilities, and bathrooms among other things, and the entrance fee was only $2.

(c) AB Raschke

The Watson Loop trail, if you start from the main parking lot, weaves along the edge of the lake for a while. There are a bunch of smaller trails in this area, so it was a little confusing to get started, but after about a half mile the loop trail became more obvious, and we learned to follow the white, painted dots that follow the trail for most of its length. I was pretty enamored by the first section of the loop, as I love water bodies, and walking along the edge of the lake provided some great views of the water and the landscape beyond.

Once we started to approach the dam on the north side of the lake, however, the trail changed. It passes above the dam, and dips down into the little crooks and canyons that twist their way between the hills here.

(c) AB Raschke

Without the white dots that we had learned to follow earlier on the trail, it would be nearly impossible to navigate through this area. Most of the time, the trail simply passed over the rocky surface of the hills, which were mostly unmarked by the level of traffic that passed through. At this point, despite knowing where the lake was, it actually didn’t come back into view for nearly an hour, after traversing the wild terrain just above the dam. This part of the trail was pretty difficult, in my opinion, because there was plenty of up-hill climbs, and the lack of shade made things pretty hot. It was well worth the effort, however, especially when we happened on the creek that flows out from the dam.

(c) AB Raschke

It was lush and green there. The water was lined with tall grass, and trees towered above, gathering at the base of the dam, where there was an artificial waterfall surrounded by warning signs (although we spotted some swimmers here, I didn’t think it all that prudent to ignore the warnings despite the heat; dams can be extremely dangerous). It was a beautiful place to trek through, and it was nice to get some shady respite from the afternoon sun.

After struggling our way through the hills, the trail arches back to the edge of the lake, and then eventually joins with the straighter track of a bike trail. We were pretty tired by this point, but even this section of the loop was picturesque. The twin tire tracks that ran along the raised ridge of the trail was spotted here and there by large trees, which reminded me of stereotypical farm pictures from movies, but it made the stroll south feel relaxing despite how tired and hot I was.

The last section of the loop passes through the riparian area to the south of the lake. It was dry when we visited, but that didn’t seem to dissuade the red-winged black birds that were flitting through the shadows, arguing about who owned which patch of tall grass. It felt wonderful to wander through the cool air of the little desert forest on the tail end of the hike, because after nearly 5 miles of trekking, I was pretty beat. Nothing some homemade Young’s Farm ice cream couldn’t fix though!

Links:
The Lone Spur Cafe
Watson Lake Park
Young’s Farm Homemade Ice Cream

Bearizona

bearizona-map-01Bearizona is a unique zoo that is new to Arizona’s attraction scene, having opened its doors to visitors in 2010.  The park still has some growing to do, and they aren’t all that widely known in Phoenix yet, but awareness seems to be growing.  What sets them apart from the other wildlife parks in Arizona is that Bearizona is a drive-through zoo.  Now, I am no expert on zoos, so I might be wrong, but I think there is a very viable advantage to attractions like this one- they allow people to view animals, while also providing the animals with more space to roam than a traditional park.  What’s also nice (from an animal welfare and conservation point of view) about Bearizona is that they have specifically selected animals from climates similar to that of Williams, Az, where the zoo. Bearizona’s mission statement: “to promote conservation through memorable and educational encounters with North American wildlife in a natural environment,” also groups them with a growing number of zoos which have moved away from being solely entertainment oriented establishments, to being places of learning and conservation.

As it stands now (January 2013), Bearizona has two different sections.  The first is the main attraction, the drive-through exhibits.  Once you’ve pulled off the freeway, and through Bearizona’s beautiful wood gateway, you are greeted by a park representative who gets your ticket taken care of, hands you a map, and most importantly gives you a large steel box to show off on your dashboard.

(c) Burnsie

(c) Burnsie

This box is equipped with the GPS unit that provides you with your own personal guide which narrates as you move through the park at your own pace.  As a huge geek, part of Bearizona’s appeal to me was its Jurassic Park feel, which our friendly, automated guide reminded us of along the way.  Of course, there is no danger of your family trip being turned into a Hollywood action film, but the sense of adventure is certainly there.  This is especially true since many of the animals that Bearizona provides you with the opportunity of seeing are large carnivores such as bears and wolves, and you are repeatedly warned to view the animals only through closed windows (and no feeding them!!).

Besides adding commentary about Jurassic Park, Bearizona’s GPS guide recording was a great source of information on all of the animals that we viewed as we worked our way through the park.  It was definitely a great addition to a ride that I thought would be silent besides the conversation between my traveling companion and me.  The zoo also did a good job of making their guide friendly for all ages; not only was it informational, but there were jokes along the way, and different ways to get kids involved and interested.

My favorite part of the drive-through trip was the wolves.  I appreciate their beauty, their role in the ecosystem, and our connection to them through our tried and true companions- dogs.  I have never had the opportunity to view these creatures as closely as I did in Bearizona.  One of the arctic wolves was curious enough about my car that it came right up to the window and peeked in at my friend and me.

(c) Burnsie

(c) Burnsie

It was amazing to see such a majestic animal like that.  I do have to say, however, that as the person that was at the wheel, situations like this were a little uncertain.  On the one hand, the park explicitly states that you should move on if animals approach your car, and I am sure that this is for the safety of the animal as well as the people involved, but in our case it happened so fast that there was little I could do.  In fact, I often found myself worrying that I might make a wrong move while driving through Bearizona, because I wanted to respect their rules, and I wanted to make sure that I didn’t pose any sort of risk to the animals.  It wasn’t an overly big deal, but worth noting- there is an exchange to be made when you are allowed to get that close to animals, especially in your vehicle.

The drive through portion can take as long as you’d like it too, but there is a walk through section to the park as well (Fort Bearizona).  The main attraction here (in my opinion) is the exhibit with the baby bears.  When my travel buddy and I were at the park, it was pretty cold, so the little guys were all cuddled up together in their den.  The park has a great little viewing room for the den, and we probably spent the most time here, watching the young bears wrestle with eachother, and snuggle up for short-lived naps.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t a great spot for pictures due to the glass being scratched and smudged by little, wet bear noses.

Besides the baby bears, we also had a chance to see lynx, raccoons, beavers, and some other smaller animals.  For the little kids (and people who like to pet animals- like myself) there is also a petting zoo with goats and chickens.

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

Fort Bearizona is also host to High Country Raptors, a nonprofit organization that seeks to raise support for raptor conservation through education.  The organization runs three flight shows daily, but since I travelled to the park during a particularly cold weekend, the shows were cancelled for the birds’ well-being.

Overall, Bearizona was a great place to visit, and I would suggest it to anyone travelling out in that direction.  It is a relatively new establishment (as of Jan 2013), and I definitely got a feeling that it was a work in progress while being there.  There was obvious evidence of on-going construction, but other than that, it’s a unique, educational park, and well worth checking out.

(c) Burnsie

(c) Burnsie

Link:

Bearizona’s Official Website

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén