I pretty much hate the desert. Or at least, this is what I thought I felt in my Contiki days as I took groups through Arizona. Naturally, I really do enjoy places like Sedona and the Grand Canyon (You’d be a seriously miserable person to not) but when it came to Phoenix my thoughts were continuously “uggghhh thank God we only stay here for one night.” I always felt bad when clients would say “I can’t wait to see cactus and drive through the desert!” and I would turn with a molded fake smile and a wink and would respond “ME TOO WOOOOO!!” This happened over and over and over again.
I grew up on a lake in Michigan. Not Lake Michigan, don’t confuse yourself, but a lake nonetheless with boats and lush, green leafy trees and water and life. All things I thought Phoenix was lacking. So when I started visiting Kris’ folks—who conveniently live in Phoenix—you can imagine my thoughts. They were somewhere along the lines of “I can’t believe I’m spending my hard-earned money on flights to go there.” I don’t particularly like the notion of getting pricked by plant life by simply brushing past them on a trail requiring pliers to get the thorns out of your ankle. I don’t think that yards made of dusty sandstone are beautiful, I don’t play golf, and I have a love/hate relationship with hiking—meaning I usually only enjoy it if there is a beer and a hot fudge sundae waiting when I’m done. Get my point?
So I spent about two and a half weeks there and Kris was determined to change my mind. Take your best shot champ, it’s not gonna happen. But it DID! And I hate to admit that. We visited Saguaro National Park (nice loop drive and hiking trails), climbed Camelback Mountain where Kris’ first statement to me was “You cannot give up on me,” and drove the Apache Trail or AZ-88 as it’s officially known (which was my favorite) to Roosevelt Lake. That’s right, I said lake…albeit man-made lake.
The Apache Trail was my absolute fav. We started off at Apache Junction (which is full of snow-birds living in double-wides) and headed into the mountains. The road takes you by 3 man-made lakes—Canyon, Apache, and Roosevelt—and ends just past the Roosevelt Dam, which reminded me of a smaller version of the Hoover Dam. AZ-88 also turns into a dirt road about half way through with plenty of places to stop off and take pictures and do a bit of hiking. These lakes are huge and are surrounded by mountains—making them seriously breathtaking. And remember it’s warm down there in the winter so people are out on boats and soaking in the sun. We also drove by Tortilla Flat, which is a little touristy stop off point with a couple of wild western stores and restaurants. There’s so much history embedded in the Apache Trail as well it made the whole experience mystical. Definitely my top pick to do if you have a car and a free day in the Phoenix area…or just need your desert attitude adjusted like me.