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Arizona provides the quintessential road trip, where sprawling desert landscapes give way to towering peaks. In between lie lively cities, hidden artist colonies, and Old West towns that provide a glimpse of bygone days. The combination of all this provides for an eclectic trip sure to provide plenty of fantastic memories. Some of the best opportunities to explore the state appear in the southern area; we can start in Tucson, explore the greater Phoenix area, and wind up in a vast desert.
Situated in the impressive and desolate landscape of the desert southwest, stands the intriguing city of Tucson. At its heart, Tucson remains a friendly resort town, bookended by the natural wonders of the Santa Catalina Mountains and the Ironwood Forest National Monument. The Tucson Museum of Art is one of the city’s best attractions. A visit here only confirms the city’s thriving art community. Other interesting destinations can be found at the University of Arizona, such as the Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium, and the Mineral Museum. One of the more unique and fun attractions is in the nearby town of Oracle, north of Tucson on Hwy 77. The Biosphere 2, an unusual research center founded in 1991, is an artificial closed ecological system within a 3.5-acre glass enclosure. It was recently saved from property developers, and is again open to visitors and under the temporary stewardship of the University of Arizona.
Now that you’ve gotten out of the city, head a few miles east to the expansive Coronado National Forest. Here you’ll find nearly 2 million acres of prime forest loaded with great views and plenty of hiking and biking trails. Arguably, the best way to see it all is on horseback and plenty of outfitters are available to connect you with a friendly steed.
The ever-rising silhouette of Phoenix lies to the west. Be sure to time your visit here with care, and not just because of the seasonal high temperatures. Phoenix, with all its charms, has grown rather quickly and is beginning to earn its reputation as a sprawling metropolis. (The key word here is “sprawling.”). Venturing through the city at the wrong time of day can be nightmarish, especially in a big rig. Regardless, a visit to Phoenix is worth the effort. One of the many places of interest is the famed Heard Museum, a world-class art museum that features tremendous work of southwestern artists. Other local favorite activities include a tour of the Phoenix Zoo, and spending a day exploring the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, a series of city parks built in the desert landscapes that surround the city. The vibrant sports scene, thanks much in part to transplant Jerry Colangelo, features Diamondbacks baseball, Suns basketball, and Coyotes hockey.
Later February and March mark a dazzling transition for southern Arizona. Sure, the rainbow displays of desert flowers may tell some folks that spring is on the way. However, for most, nothing demonstrates that winter’s harsh grasp is melting away like baseball’s spring training camps. Each year hundreds of thousands of fans come from around the country to watch their favorite team gear up for the long haul that is the Major League Baseball season. Arizona boasts 12 such teams that comprise the Cactus League for a month’s worth of hardball. Smaller parks create the best chances most fans will ever have to get up close and personal with their favorite players. Cheap tickets, great seats, and plenty of sunshine make a spring training tour a truly unique event. Luckily, all of the Cactus League teams are within an hour’s drive from one another. Tucson features the hometown favorite Arizona Diamondbacks, as well as the Chicago White Sox and Colorado Rockies. Phoenix hosts the Milwaukee Brewers and Oakland A’s, and nearby Mesa packs in ever-loyal Chicago Cubs fans. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim play in Tempe, the Kansas City Royals play in Surprise, and both the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners stake out Peoria. And when you’re in Scottsdale and hit by baseball fever, be sure to look up the San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers. Insider’s Tip: If you’ve never experienced a spring training game, be sure to arrive on time. During these exhibition games, most of the big-league players are replaced with minor-league prospects for the last innings of games.
Traveling through Arizona, refreshing, little oasis’ seem to pop up right out of the desert. The small town of Buckeye is one such little paradise. The town is one of the prettiest, and fastest growing, suburbs in Arizona. At the White Tank Mountain Regional Park you can experience the beauty first hand, as you explore over 30,000 acres of lovely, and delicate, desert landscape. Named after the white granite exposed by river depressions, White Tank Park delivers a great hiking, or exploring, excursion. The beauty of the town can also been seen in its new Sundance Golf Course, which is nestled between the White Tank Mountains in the north, and the Estrella Mountains in the south. While in town, head over to the Buckeye Historical and Archeological Museum, to learn about the early settlers of the area—the Hohokam Indians. On display are exhibits highlighting Native American Pottery and the building of the Buckeye Canal.
For our last stop, let’s take I-10 west from Buckeye, to the town of Gila Bend. From here you can explore that vast Sonoran Desert National Monument, where nearly a half-million acres of stunning desert landscape await you.