It’s been years since I was last in Arizona, unless you count visits to the Phoenix airport in transit from Vegas or Southern California.
My family made regular visits to the Phoenix area when I was growing up. Nearly every spring break in elementary school was spent there. My grandma lived in the Sun City West retirement community, and we’d spend four or five days at her house. We’d hit the local pool, play miniature golf, drive the golf cart around the neighborhood and pick grapefruit and oranges from the trees in the backyard.
The final day there, my mom, sister, grandma and aunt would go shopping while my dad and I would visit the spring training baseball parks.
Since 1994, however, I’ve been back maybe once. High school and college schedules made it tough to get away, and now grandma lives in Kansas City.
My Arizona drought will end a month from today when I fly to Phoenix for a friend’s wedding. Most of the four-night visit will revolve around golf, lounging by the pool, catching up with friends, drinking wine and participating in wedding activities.
It will be a much-needed vacation, providing a welcome break from work as well as some soul therapy with friends.
I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t take time to enjoy some of Arizona’s outdoor playland while I’m there. Fortunately, you don’t have to go far to find it when you’re in Phoenix.
The city of Phoenix website makes it pretty simple to find a few options, and I’ve narrowed down my possibilities to three.
The first is one of the city’s signature landmarks that I remember gazing at from airplane windows as a boy. That’s Camelback Mountain. It’s a gorgeous chunk of red sandstone that is at its most magnificent at sunrise and sunset when the first and last rays of the day reflect off of it. We hiked on its lower slopes one time when I was little, but we never journeyed to its 2,706-foot summit that, according to online reports, requires passing over some strenuous segments of trail.
My other options would cover completely new turf for me. One is the Piestewa Peak/Dreamy Draw Recreation Area which has miles of lightly-traveled trail and a 2,608-foot peak to conquer. The other is the South Mountain Park/Preserve, an area that has 51 miles of trails to explore.
All three of these places offer countless physical challenges and opportunities to explore, whether for a full day or just a few hours.
This will be a busy trip already and I don’t know how much time I will have to get away, but an outdoor escape — even if just a brief one or a pit stop on the way to the airport — will be a priority.
It’s been too long since I’ve been back to Phoenix, and there are trails to be traveled.