Phoenix and Surrounding Parks

February 26 – 29, 2016 – Back in 2004 we met on a road trip (on leap year), so what better way to celebrate than with a (plane/road) trip?  We wanted to get away from gray and windy Boise, and warm and sunny Phoenix seemed like the perfect destination.

The day started with a sunrise.
The day started with a sunrise.

Saturday morning we headed up towards the Grand Canyon.  There isn’t much near the southern entrance, so we stopped for lunch at a Mexican place, Plaza Bonita, attached to the hotel.  Since we were there just in time to catch the end of the breakfast service, we took advantage by ordering omelets with refried beans and home fries.  The food was surprisingly good, and in a few hours we were thankful to have had such a filling lunch.

You won't have any problems viewing cactus plants in Arizona.
You won’t have any problems viewing cactus plants in Arizona.

The weather was perfect for some walking, and we were hoping to be able to hike down part of the Bright Angel Trail.  However, signs near the visitor center warned would-be hikers that the first mile of the trail was still covered in snow and ice, and that hiking poles and winter traction would be helpful.  Needless to say that wasn’t quite what we were looking for, so instead we headed out along the Canyon Rim trail towards the South Kaibab trailhead.  We eventually hiked about 1.5 miles down the trail, to the saddle just past the first tie up for the mule teams.

Doing an early season hike may come with snow.
Doing an early season hike may come with snow.

The hike down was quite pretty, with sweeping views, and just a bit of snow/mule “presents” to avoid.  We got to watch a mule team coming up the hill, which was also cool to see.  Once we reached our turnaround point we paused for some snacks and photos, before venturing back up the path.  The way up is definitely a bit slower than the way down, despite our slow downhill pace as well given the sometimes slippery footing.  We made good time though, even with stopping to watch the condors soaring overhead.

Be sure to bring enough water for the hike. A warmer day or a longer hike would require more than a few nalgene bottles.
Be sure to bring enough water for the hike. A warmer day or a longer hike would require more than a few nalgene bottles.

Dinner found us outside of Flagstaff, and we quickly put our names on the wait list for Beaver Street Brewery.  They have good guacamole and chips, wonderful wood fired pizzas, the best salmon burger Louisa has ever had, and good beer.

Be on the lookout for California Condors around the canyon.
Be on the lookout for California Condors around the canyon.

On Sunday we decided to explore some parks near Phoenix, starting with White Tank Mountain Regional Park.  We got there fairly early and didn’t have any problem finding a spot by the popular waterfall trail, but it was definitely more crowded by the time we left.  The hike is smooth and pretty, with petroglyphs, a (dried up) waterfall at the end, and the option to add a mini look to the middle of the hike.  The views and walking area at the park are wonderful (lots of flowers and cacti) –  we would definitely come back here on other trips to the area.

You don't have to venture far from Phoenix to find tall cacti.
You don’t have to venture far from Phoenix to find tall cacti.

Next up was South Mountain Park.  This park is much more of a city park.  Yes, it’s on the outskirts, but…. I guess we’ve just never found the nice parts of Phoenix.  It was a quiet Sunday at the park, meaning no cars could drive up the road.  We went for a walk along the interpretive trail, but soon decided we’d rather get lunch.

There are some trails that provide a good view of the valley.
There are some trails that provide a good view of the valley.

Which brings us to the nice part of Phoenix.  We went to NYPD Pizza for garlic knots and Brooklyn Family pizza, with pepperoni, sausage, and fresh basil.  Everything was very good, the garlic knots weren’t as garlicky as I remember but still excellent, and the pizza was great.

We thought those photos of more than 2 hummingbirds at a feeder were a myth... until now.
We thought those photos of more than 2 hummingbirds at a feeder were a myth… until now.

The afternoon excursion was a trip to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, about an hour or so outside the city.  We had a few hours to explore the park before it closed, and happily admired the flowers, cacti, hummingbirds, and views (particularly along the upper trail).

The trails at the arboretum are varied and well-planned.
The trails at the arboretum are varied and well-planned.

We still had time in the evening, and decided to spend it in Tempe.  Beers, dates with rosemary smoke (i.e. rosemary sprigs on fire), and cheese curds (the dates were the star) were enjoyed at Pedal Haus Brewery before seeing Deadpool at the AMC next door.  And, of course, ice cream on the walk back to the car.  The Fluffernutter ice cream with Butterfinger candies was Louisa’s favorite.

It's not a trip to Tempe without climbing the butte.
It’s not a trip to Tempe without climbing the butte.

Monday was Feb 29th, and we spent it wandering around the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix before hiking up the Tempe Butte.  Since we were in Tempe already we thought brunch at Snooze could be good.  Good it was – the coffee was wonderful, the breakfast tacos were excellent, and the eggs benedict was fabulous.   We finished the day with a few flights, and dinner with beer and garlic fries and the sunset at Gordon Biersch in the Oakland Airport.

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