If you currently live or are moving to Phoenix, Arizona, you should be aware that actively entertaining hot spots for outdoor recreation and cultural satisfaction are located less than two hours away from the city.
Dig Up Apache Junction, AZ
Apache Junction, located approximately 40 minutes east of downtown Phoenix, is a center for adventure in the East Valley. Learn the history and legends of the Superstition Mountains at the Superstition Mountain Museum; this 160,000-acre range in the Tonto National Forest was home to indigenous tribes, Spanish explorers, early American trappers, farmers, and a plethora of goldminers. The museum pays tribute to the “Lost Dutchman” with an exhibit that examines the story of Jacob Waltz, the miner who took the secret of his gold reserve to the grave, while additional expositions showcase Native American relics, geological samples from the mountains, and the southwestern art of Ted DeGrazia.
Sitting on top of a small hill between the Superstition Mountains and Goldfield Mountains is the site of the Goldfield Ghost Town. Established in 1892 after gold was discovered in the area, the settlement of Goldfield only lasted six years; once the vein of gold ore dried up, most occupants left in 1898. Today, the town offers guests an immersion in its former glory days with restored authentic-looking establishments, underground mine tours, and streets filled with actors dressed in period clothing, driving wagons, riding horses, and posing gunfights. Supplementary attractions include gold panning, zip-lining over the town, Apache trail tours, a live reptile exhibit, a shooting gallery, horseback riding in the mountains, and so much more. Grab a bite to eat at the Mammoth Steakhouse & Saloon and purchase uncommon objects in any one of the rustic-period merchant shops.
For eight weekends in February to April, step into a land of fantasy and fun at the Arizona Renaissance Festival. Be amazed by the multi-talented performances put on by acrobats, falconers, dancers, musicians, magicians, and more. Watch knights joust for the Queen’s favor; purchase one-of-a-kind articles of merchant craftsmanship; find merriment in the carnival rides; and play era-grounded games like Vegetable Justice, where you throw tomatoes at insulting peasants, or test your inner warrior with the battle ax toss. Satisfy your palate with five savory courses and ample drink at the Pleasure Feast, where you and your party will be treated to live entertainment while you dine. And, special events like the Fairytale Masquerade happen on select weekends to offer variable amusements.
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Explore Tucson, AZ
Tucson – an hour and 45-minute-drive south – provides several outdoor facilities for educational and recreational purposes. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is actually a 98-acre fusion of an outdoor zoo with 230 native animal species, a botanical garden, an aquarium, an art gallery, and a natural history museum. Descend into a replica of a limestone cave and learn about the geological treasures of the desert by perusing the extensive mineral collection at the Earth Sciences Center. Walk through 21 acres of desert habitat and watch live animal presentations, including predatory flyers, venomous reptiles, and training/feeding exercises.
If you are fascinated by the celestial wonder of the evening sky, book an observatory experience from a location of your choice – your home, ranch, or a national park – through Arizona Star Tours. Be treated to an evening of enlightenment about the history, science, mythology, and all-around mystery and wonder of astronomy, as eloquently put and detailed by your astronomer tour guide. You can also request a sun tour, in which you learn about the surface features of the sun at the tour group’s solar observatory; the sun can be safely viewed through the observatory’s two solar telescopes, allowing the observance of sunspots, granulation, and more along the sun’s exterior.
Tucson claims one of the world’s largest air and space museums – the Pima Air & Space Museum, housing over 300 air- and spacecraft. Featuring more than 15 indoor exhibits, including amphibians, Vietnam air war, female aviators, the space race, and bomb carriers, in addition to an outdoor “boneyard” gallery of modern art-painted planes, this educational institution appreciates the efforts and developments of past and present aerial practices and patients. Among its scholastic events, the museum hosts Soarin’ Saturdays for Kids, teaching young flying enthusiasts about aviation through fun activities, such as model airplane building and Lego® robotics.
The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures showcases a unique perspective at life, history, and fantasy with its more than 300 antique and modern dollhouses and miniature displays. There are three permanent collections: The History Gallery, which reflects various time periods and styles of craftsmanship; the Enchanted Realm – a wonderland of fairytale creatures, wicked witches, and snow villages; and the Exploring the World exhibit that exemplifies the cultural uses of miniatures around the world. Temporary expositions travel through the museum on an almost monthly basis; these displays are created by miniature artisans across the country who like to tell stories or exemplify the level of craft and detail miniatures can accomplish, transcending viewers’ minds into a small world that feels big.
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Discover Sedona, AZ
One of the things Sedona – an hour and 50-minute drive north – is well known for is its red rock sandstone buttes and spires that tower over the desert landscape; dominating the scenery though are the Cathedral Rocks at the Red Rock State Park. Hiking trails varying in length and difficulty offer visitors of all ages a chance to enjoy the 286-acre nature preserve, which boasts a rich riparian habitat supported by the Oak Creek and a plentiful upland habitat, both sheltering assorted wildlife, including black hawks, mountain lions, otters, and peccaries. The Miller Visitor Center has biotic-themed hands-on exhibits and panels discussing early human dwellers of the park area. An on-site movie theater habitually plays a 45-minute film about the history and wildlife of Sedona, in addition to a monthly-themed video, such as butterflies in May. Moreover, the park puts on events throughout the year to educate and entertain visitors about the chronicles of the desert, such as the lives of the Sinagua Indians.
Book a ride with the Pink Jeep Tours, which offers three adventurous, highly entertaining off-roading experiences in the wilderness of Sedona. Your professional guide and driver will disclose the science and history of the mysterious landscapes, while performing exciting feats of vehicle acrobatics on the red rock formations. Beat the summer heat at Slide Rock State Park, where you can ride a natural water chute, cruise the slippery creek in a tube, or sunbathe on the rocky banks. Formerly, the 43-acre landsite was developed into an apple orchard by Frank L. Pendley in 1912, and it continues to produce bountiful harvests of the delicious fruit to this day; visitors to the park can explore the farmer’s homestead and walk the groves.
The Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village, an outdoor shopping center modeled to look like a traditional Mexican village, complete with mosaic fountains and cobblestone streets, boasts several art galleries and specialty shops that house unique creations of varying mediums and genres. Dubbed the “Art and Soul of Sedona,” Tlaquepaque promotes cultural diversity with its annual festivals and fiestas, such as Cinco de Mayo and the Festival of Lights, calling the attentions of people of many backgrounds to come together for a time of celebration and unity. Even the Village’s dining opportunities are imaginative, as each restaurant offers up exceptional dishes that equally satisfy the eyes and stomach of the diner. Finally, lovers of wine should follow the self-guided tour of the Verde Valley Wine Trail, which delivers you to seven wineries and eight tasting cellars in and around Sedona to supplement your palate for vino.
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Uncover Oracle, AZ
Oracle – an hour and 50-minute drive southeast – is a small country town with hidden resources of outdoor relaxation and amusement. Take in the stunning view of the Sonoran Desert with an adrenaline rush along the longest zip line in Southern Arizona. Arizona Zipline Adventures offers daylight and moonlight Zipline EcoTours along five zip lines that range 400 to 1,500 ft in length. Hiking trails are available, as well as gold panning and team-building activities along high and low rope courses.
Recover with a weekend getaway at the rustic bed and breakfast inn of Triangle L Ranch, which puts on a much-anticipated multimedia art event each fall called GLOW to celebrate the visual and performing exploits of various artists. The Ranch also features an outdoor sculpture path decorated with pieces created by the most prominent sculptors in Southern Arizona. And, keeping close to its love and support of artistic talent, the town of Oracle throws an annual artist studio tour in April to allow more than 40 artists of varying mediums to display and sell their original pieces.
Finally, take a tour of the Biosphere 2, a facility that houses living systems, such as a desert, rainforest, and savannah, with the end goal to research and educate populaces about the human impact upon the Earth. This objective was extended upon in the early ‘90s when, on two occasions, a group of people were sealed inside of the biosphere to determine the level of survivability. At present, daily tours of the biosphere are available, allowing you to walk through each system, see inside one of the “lungs” that moderated air pressure for the once-sealed environment, and explore a million-gallon ocean complete with a coral reef.
Additional Sources: Visit the Town of Oracle