Coachella Valley-Rancho Mirage-Palm Springs Getaway

Often our trips to the Palm Springs, Calif. area involve little more than dining, shopping, relaxing poolside with an icy drink and a good book. We wanted to do a bit more this visit; we planned a couple of hikes, a tramway trip to the top of San Jacinto Mountains followed by the inevitable dining, shopping and relaxing poolside. But we found ourselves in the first week of this month with temperatures well below the average, accompanied by strong winds, rain, and at the top of the mountain: snow. Which brings us to the number one travel tip: Always have a “plan b.”

The first morning we started out with a short hike. The winds were whipping around the desert at 30 mph, so we located a short hike that was somewhat protected by nearby hills and a thousand or so palms: the easy 1.7 miles to McCallum Pond at Coachella Valley Preserve.

Our second hike on this getaway weekend was also fairly short. We made the 1.8-mile climb up to Tahquitz Canyon Falls.

Both hikes are excellent for all ages and abilities. Both offer great views, geographic variety and photographic possibilities. Both can be prime activities for those looking for one to two hour excursions to supplement a day of shopping, sightseeing, a round of golf or lounging poolside.

In the case of inclement weather, always have a few indoor activities lined up. Several museums, shopping malls, galleries in the area provide indoor things-to-do. Because both my husband and I enjoy craft beer, we opted to visit two of several craft beer breweries. One is La Quinta Brewing in La Quinta, a 15-20 minute drive from Palm Springs. Old Town La Quinta is a picturesque and pleasant array of shops, galleries and eateries.

Beers sampled at La Quinta included the Poolside Blonde, an easy-drinking, light blonde ale, the Bloody Hot Summer, a refreshing, fruity beer, the Even Par 7.2 IPA, a smooth, perfectly balanced IPA, the Heatwave Amber Ale, a tasty brew with malt and caramel, and the Koffi Porter, with rich coffee, chocolate and malt.

 

The second brewery we visited was Coachella Valley Brewing Company, located about two miles north of our resort Westin Mission Hills.

Coachella Valley Brewing (or CVB) has many types of brews with a wide variety of flavors and blends, something for almost everyone, except the amber, red or brown ale drinker.  Beers we enjoyed were the I-10 IPA, a lower alcohol session IPA, the Kolschella, a refreshing Kolsch-style German ale, the Harvester, an imperial IPA with grapefruit, and the Palms to Pines, a triple IPA at 13 percent APV!

After a weekend of wind and rain, we wrapped up our getaway with a day of abundant sunshine next to the Westin Mission Hills pool. We like to recommend: Allow ample time on the last day to let the events of your vacation soak in. Let the intermittent bursts of kids splashing and laughing blended with faint sounds of different styles of music and low rumble of adult chatter lull you into relaxation as you turn the page of your book or magazine or swipe your Kindle. Gaze up at the sun through the palms, take a deep breath and know: no matter what the weather or other environmental factors; you’ve had the time to unwind.

“Lost” in the Superstition Mountains: A conversation

Okay, maybe we weren’t ‘lost’ in the purest sense, more like disoriented. But in the Superstition Wilderness, there’s a fine line between being disoriented and lost. It all boils down to the quantities of confidence, water supply and daylight.

Always download the map to a GPS or phone. Don’t depend on cell phone service, as it’s usually spotty. Carry a paper map as a back up, as well as plenty of water, emergency provisions, first aid kit.

“We just came down this path the last time we were here a few years ago, right?”

“No, I think we came down from a different trailhead, but we’re still coming out in the same place… at least I think. It all leads to about the same place.”

“Yeah, I don’t remember this at all.”

“Doesn’t this trail go past Hackberry Springs… where we saw the mules last time?”

“I think so.”

 

“Wait, I think we’ve gone too far down First Water Creek! Aren’t we supposed to cut back up the hill toward Garden Valley?

“It all looks so different now, after just a couple of years.”

“It’s been more like six years… Yep, it’s way overgrown now. All the rain and snow melt.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, we don’t want to get turned around like we did that time when we started down into Boulder Canyon and thought we were headed to Hackberry. That would’ve been a long day of hiking.”

“Okay, this looks all too familiar now.”

“Yep. This is Garden Valley. I can see Weaver’s Needle.”

“Now we’re back at the intersection of Black Mesa and Second Water Trails. So, the First Water Trailhead should be up past that rise.”

“Should be. We have to cross First Water Creek again.”

“Hey, look! More poppies! Boy, I bet Lost Dutchman (state park) has a bunch in bloom right now!”

What was supposed to be a five-mile loop turned into a 7.5-mile loop. When we arrived at the main First Water parking lot, it was full so we were forced to turn back and park at the staging area. We began our Hackberry Springs/Garden Valley Loop from there, heading down toward First Water creek, unknowingly passing by the old windmill and corral area, and wallking along the creek on the west bank, heading north, and ultimately missing the turn heading east. When we realized our error, we reversed course, crossed over the creek and come up around the bluff at Hackberry, gradually along the ridge to Garden Valley. Not having gone this clockwise direction before, most of the territory appeared unfamiliar.

We recommend starting at First Water, completing the loop counterclockwise, with the only precaution to not overlook the turn to Garden Valley. Rock cairns usually mark the spot, but not always! After the sign to Black Mesa, look for a trail veering left. After crossing the “valley,” the terrain changes. Keep to your right (easterly), and the trail will lead you along a canyon ridge with sweeping views. After 1.7 miles, you’ll arrive at a sort of rocky roundabout, you may be tempted to take a trail to the left, but stay to the right, Once you’ve descended into the thickly-grown springs area, you’ll have the bluff on your left. Continue along the creek; watch closely and you may see a dripping pipe protruding from the rocks. You’ve made it to Hackberry Springs! Continue along the creek toward the windmill and corral and walk up the old road to the staging area parking lot/trailhead or the main First Water Trailhead and parking lot.

Happy hiking!

 

 

 

Random images from our Arizona getaway to Cottonwood

We recently made a weekend getaway to Old Town Cottonwood and found there’s lot to do and see in this quaint, historic section of the central Arizona town.

flowers

We started out the morning with a short hike along the Jail Trail in Old Town Cottonwood. At the trail head, we noticed beautiful morning glory vines weaving along the fence at the Wild Rose Tea House.

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Views along the trail include these giant pampas grass clusters on the banks of the Verde River.

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Pampas grass plumes bent to the morning breezes, resembling billowing ostrich feathers.

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Fungus took over residence in a downed cottonwood trunk.

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We lingered for a while at the edge of the Verde River, near the Tuzigoot Road bridge.

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The far end of the Jail Trail connects to the entrance of Dead Horse State Park.  (Tip: Walk-in entrance fee is only $3.)

breakfast

After walking along the river, we stopped for a bit of brunch at the Red Rooster Cafe.

coffee

There’s nothing better than a frothy latte on a chilly morning in Old Town Cottonwood.

larrys

Even if you’re not enthusiastic about antiques, you’ll find enjoyment browsing Larry’s Antiques & Things.

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While shopping for unusual antiques, we not only found a “alien receiving” sign, but we found an alien to go with it… 🙂

pillsbury

Finally, we topped off the day with wine tasting at one of several tasting rooms in Old Town Cottonwood including the Pillsbury Wine Company Tasting Room on Main Street.

Thinking about a road trip? Now is the perfect time to visit Cottonwood:

March 29 is the Verde River Runoff.

The Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival is April 24-27.

A blues festival, guitar concert and local history program are among the events dot at the Old Town Center for the Arts.

Check the Cottonwood Chamber of Commerce calendar for more events.

Enjoy your Arizona Getaway!

 

Ready for winter hiking in Arizona?

Winter provides stark beauty to San Pedro River area

Winter provides stark beauty to San Pedro River area

Two mile nature trail weaves along San Pedro River

Two mile nature trail weaves along San Pedro River

Saguaro Lake's Butcher Jones Trail is perfect start-of-season hike for winter

Saguaro Lake’s Butcher Jones Trail is perfect start-of-season hike for winter

 

Hunter Trail is a popular option at Picacho Peak

Hunter Trail is a popular option at Picacho Peak

 

Don't forget Phoenix's South Mountain Trails, take the National Trail to Garden Valley and Fat Man's Pass (shown here)

Don’t forget Phoenix’s South Mountain Trails. Take the National Trail to Garden Valley and Fat Man’s Pass (shown here)

 

Boulder Canyon 103 heading back

Another winter hiking possibility starts across from Canyon Lake Marina: Boulder Canyon Trai

Chuck, Molly and I in front of the forest service sign

Hieroglyphics Springs Trail is a great one for showing off the Arizona desert to your visiting out-of-towners.

Ready for a winter hike? Take a look at AZGetawayTravel’s hiking list.

See you on Arizona’s hiking trails!

‘Parting shots’ of Picacho Peak State Park

Picacho Peak State Park will close for the summer season on May 24. To my knowledge, it’s the only Arizona state park to shut down completely during the hottest part of the year. The park will re-open Sept. 14. Although there are only a few weeks left to visit the park before it closes, you can still squeeze in some early morning hikes, picnic lunches and long, respectful gazes of this famous historic and geographical Arizona landmark.

In April we spent a Sunday morning hiking along a couple of the trails at the park, located just off I-10 between Tucson and Phoenix. Poppies, lupine and most cacti had completed their flower shows weeks before. Only the Ocotillo continued to splash its red and coral colors onto this canvas of Sonora desert rock and sand. As we returned from our hike, and as the temperature hovered around 90 degrees, we noticed the noon heat was beginning to get a bit uncomfortable for hiking. Fortunately, a Dairy Queen has been strategically placed across the highway from Picacho Peak State Park.

We look forward to hiking the trails of Picacho Peak next fall, winter or early spring. And as usual, we’ll be promising ourselves to be better prepared: “We’ll have amped up our gym workout. We’ll leave the dogs at home. We’ll start earlier in the day. We’ll have more water and better footwear.”

Yeah, whatever. And of course next time, I’ll try to keep my eyes focused on the ground right under my feet and not on the ground 1000 feet below.

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Here are some shots taken April 14, 2013.

Ocotillo blossom at Picacho Peak State Park

Ocotillo blossom at Picacho Peak State Park

A hiking trail for every ability at Picacho Peak

A hiking trail for every ability at Picacho Peak

Great views from the end of the short, easy Calloway Trail

Great views from the end of the short, easy Calloway Trail

Loop trails connect picnic and parking areas

Loop trails connect picnic and parking areas

Hunter Trail provides cables for climbing

Hunter Trail provides cables for climbing

"If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?" -T.S. Eliot

“If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?” -T.S. Eliot

Feel a Pacific power blast at Maui’s Nakalele Blowhole

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Considering a spring trip to the Hawaiian Islands? The island of Maui offers a variety of spectacular sights and sounds. Think about hearing the sound of the Pacific Ocean jetting through a lava shelf. Imagine seeing the sight of a huge blast of sea shooting up over 50 feet up above the rocks.  If you can picture these, you’d likely be thinking of the Nakalele Blowhole.

The Nakalele Blowhole is located approximately 16 miles north of Lahaina, just off of Highway 30. This northern tip of Maui claims sweeping views of open fields, majestic cliffs and fascinating rock formations. Near mile marker 38 is a parking turnout and what appears to be an old dirt Jeep trail. Park here and follow this path down to the small lighthouse. Here you will think that the trail ends. You will need to continue following the coast in a southeasterly direction along the rock shelf for about 15-20 minutes. The total distance one-way is probably only about half a mile. There is another, smaller blowhole before you get to the “real one,” so just persevere and eventually you will see – and hear it!

Some visitors park their cars along Highway 30 a short distance past the first turnoff and walk down the hill from the road. That route may be quicker but not as exciting or interesting.

Tips: Wear sturdy shoes, as the rocks are uneven and can be slippery. Wear swimsuits or quick-drying shorts and shirts. Bring towels – plan to get wet!

The hole through rocks is about 18 inches to two feet in diameter, if memory serves. I have learned about accidents at this blowhole that have left visitors severely injured or dead, because they got too close to the opening. New homemade signs now carry the warning. I’d stay several feet back – it’s still possible to feel the thrill and cold spray – and “shoot some footage.”

Read some of the reviews on travel sites like tripadvisor.com and watch a few of the many videos on youtube.com before you go. For the best blowhole shows, try to visit during high tide and high surf.

We recommend using mobile apps such as EveryTrail.com and Oakley’s Surf Report for more information while at the site.

Blowhole is the upper right corner

Blowhole is the upper right corner

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What’s on your hiking checklist?

Doug and Chuck start off on the Butcher Jones Trail at Saguaro Lake

Doug and Chuck start off on the Butcher Jones Trail at Saguaro Lake

 

Spring in Arizona always brings a renewed excitement of outdoor activity. It’s the best time for spring training baseball, festivals, picnics, wildflower watching and day hiking. I already have found myself plotting courses to the Superstition, Catalina and White mountains. I’ve dusted off my day pack in anticipation of my next hike. But first it’s time to do a little equipment inventory before hitting the trail again, so I’m compiling another day hiking checklist. (I knew the last one was outdated because it listed such items as “fanny pack” and “film.”) Please help me — could you suggest some additional items? Here’s what I have so far (in no particular order):

  • Water (100 oz. for my Camelbak M.U.L.E. hydration pack)
  • Compass/GPS
  • Maps (single sheet trail maps can be put in a waterproof pouch if phone service fails)
  • Hiking boots or shoes (I love my Keen’s – they seem to mold perfectly to my feet)
  • Hat (I’m learning to wear a hat that covers ears too.)
  • Gloves (for chilly mornings or steel cable hand-rails)
  • Small flash light or headlamp
  • Reflective emergency blanket
  • Cell phone (Fine, when it’s usable when in cell service area. Otherwise it’s feels like a “boat anchor.” So my phone usually serves as a timepiece and camera.)
  • Mophie Juice Pack Plus (To extend cell phone battery life)
  • Digital SLR Camera (Only if I’m sure I’m going to capture that National Geographic Photo Contest winning shot. Otherwise it’s just another “anchor.”)
  • Pair of binoculars (Best for those view trails when I’m sure I’ll use it – if not: “boat anchor.”)
  • Trash bag (Plain old plastic grocery bag, just for picking up picnic trash)
  • Hiking staff (I need just one pole — for extra balance and traction)
  • Rain poncho (Small fold-up type – but this really doesn’t get much use)
  • Tissue pack
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Gauze, bandages, corn cushions
  • Ace bandage
  • Tweezers/nail clippers or small Leatherman tool (but not too large or it’s just another, you guessed it: “boat anchor”)
  • Benadryl
  • Ibuprofen
  • Lip protection
  • Whistle (Mom always said to pack a whistle – even before the “Titanic” movie)
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Matches in waterproof container
  • Identification
  • Food for snacks or lunch including: fruit, jerky/beef stick/salami, trail mix, cheese, crackers, small sandwiches

Did I forget anything? Of course, not all hikes require ALL of these items. What items will be going into your day pack? I’d like to know about your day hiking tips and your hiking checklist recommendations!

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Relive Arizona history Saturday at ghost town’s festival

Fairbank's schoolhouse, restored in 2007, will be open Saturday for Fairbank Day

Fairbank’s schoolhouse, restored in 2007, will be open Saturday for Fairbank Day

It’s festival time in Arizona! Late winter and early spring bring some kind of event to every town all around the state. There’s a festival, show or fair for just about anything and everything — gem shows, coin shows, gun shows, car shows, horse shows and RV shows. There’s a fest for science and technology, beer, wine, pecans and gourds. Chandler — my own hometown — alone claims several this time of year: a science spectacular, a classic car show and fests for barbecue and beer, jazz, ostriches, Easter and St. Patrick’s Day. It would be possible to travel from town to town around Arizona for weeks on end celebrating one festival after another.

You have another option for this Saturday. For a change of pace, consider a road trip to ghost town to celebrate and learn more about Arizona history in one day. Pack up the family and head to southeastern Arizona for Fairbank Day.

Fairbank is a ghost town north of Sierra Vista along Highway 82, 10 miles east of Highway 90. It was primarily known as a railroad stop for trains transporting silver ore from Tombstone to the mill works in Charleston, Contention City and Millville. At its peak, Fairbank recorded 100 residents, several stores, houses, saloon, stagecoach station, and of course, the depot.  River flooding and a rare Arizona earthquake caused the decline of the mines and mills, which trickled down to a decreased necessity for the railroad stop at Fairbank.

f3By the 1940s only a few buildings remained but it wasn’t until about 1974 that Fairbank bid farewell to the last businesses and residents. A few structures from Fairbank’s 1880’s heyday still can be viewed at the site, including the Adobe Mercantile Building, a couple of houses, stable and schoolhouse. Most of these aren’t accessible to the public however. The school building which was constructed in the 1920s to replace one destroyed by fire, has been restored and operates now as a visitor’s center, gift shop and museum.

Fairbank Day observes the long history of the town plus the local area around the San Pedro River. Activities include: townsite tours, guided hikes to the nearby ruins of Presidio Santa Cruz de Terrenate, train robbery reenactments, Spanish settlement recreations, prehistoric settlement archeology presentations, U.S. Calvary demonstrations, book signings and discussions by local authors, plus music and food. Donations from the event will benefit the Friends of the San Pedro River organization, which provides support for conservation efforts, advocacy and education in coordination with the Bureau of Land Management.

One of the standing house structures at Fairbank ghost town

One of the standing house structures at Fairbank ghost town

There's obviously a history of snakes at Fairbank

There’s obviously a history of snakes at Fairbank

Vistors can take a short "hike to history" on one of the nearby trails

Visitors can take a short “hike to history” on one of the nearby trails

 

How Fairbank looked about 1890 (From Wikimedia Commons. Image in public domain - copyright expired.)

How Fairbank looked about 1890

 

Fairbank ghost town has its 'day' this Saturday

Fairbank ghost town has its ‘day’ this Saturday

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Soak like Hawaiian royalty at Kauai’s Queen’s Bath

Start of trail to Queen's Bath was fairly dry during June

Start of trail to Queen’s Bath was fairly dry during June

On our first trip to Kauai, one of the first beach excursions we mapped out was the short walk to Queen’s Bath near Princeville. This 15-minute jaunt gave us an immediate (and cautious) appreciation for the Pacific’s power — the force of its waves, as well as a healthy respect for the seasonally changing coastline trail conditions.

Queen’s Bath is a tide pool along the rocky north shore. It can be a great place to try out or practice snorkeling. We made the trip during the summer, when Kauai’s north shore is calmer and a bit drier than in the winter months.

The trail location can easily found from various web resources; one of these is HawaiiGaga.com. Many of these websites will also alert visitors to safety precautions. As first time visitors from the desert, we weren’t accustomed to walking along slippery, muddy trails laced with protruding roots.  I’m glad we did a little research before our vacation and invested in good set of sturdy hiking sandals with heavy tread. With snorkeling gear and a light backpack of snacks, water, camera and tow, we started out fairly early. This turned out to be a good plan, because there is limited parking for hikers along the residential street. The warmer part of the afternoon will draw the bulk of the tourist crowd.

Following the trail, we walked past a couple small waterfalls and came through an area of lush tropical growth.  (As desert dwellers, we always appreciate any kind of vegetation deviation from creosote bush and cactus. Thicker, greener: better.) And just as we were starting to love this dense little thicket, the trail opens up to a full view of the rocky Kauai north coast. Waves come crashing on the black lava rocks, sending up the salty spray. To see this part of Kauai up close for the first time is exhilarating, exciting!

Soon we realized we are stepping gingerly along the lava rocks along the shore. Walking became a bit more “tricky,” as we kept one eye on the ocean waves and the other on the rocks below our feet. After exiting the wooded trail, we stayed to the left (West), following the rocky coast for a few hundred yards. We passed two other lava rock tide pools that reminded us of the photos we had seen of Queen’s Bath, but they were not our intended destination. Finally, we recognized Queen’s Bath as we approached, knowing it was the same iconic sight plucked from postcards and brochures, the same place we’d seen in the popular Hawaii guidebooks and websites.  It’s the only tide pool that’s almost completely surrounded by rock walls. There is only one narrow ocean outlet against the water’s edge. Several nice rocky benches and ledges on the near side of the pool made perfect places to sit down, spread out our gear and enjoy the “bath.”

Kauai’s Queen’s Bath actually is named after another site on Hawaii (the “Big Island”) that was swept away by destruction after Kilauea Volcano’s 1983 eruption, according to Wikipedia. That particular “bath” site was reserved only for Hawaiian kings and queens.

Spending an hour soaking up Kauai’s sunshine, floating effortlessly in a crystal-clear tide pool and noshing on a picnic lunch with fantastic views of Kauai’s north shore is indeed the “perfect day in paradise.”  And it’s surely enough to make any Arizona desert rat feel like Hawaiian royalty.

Waterfalls and pools along the trail

Waterfalls and pools along the trail

Beautiful Pacific Ocean views along the trail

Beautiful Pacific Ocean views along the trail

Walk past other pools along the shore trail to Queen's Bath

Walk past other pools along the shore trail to Queen’s Bath

Use care walking along those slippery rocks!

Use care walking along those slippery rocks!

We spotted a sea turtle or two in the open water

We spotted a sea turtle or two in the open water

You'll know when you've come to Queen's Bath - it's almost completely enclosed

You’ll know when you’ve come to Queen’s Bath – it’s almost completely enclosed

Queen's Bath is a great place to try snorkeling or brush up on your skills

Queen’s Bath is a great place to try snorkeling or brush up on your skills

Spectacular views of Kauai's north shore while relaxing at Queen's Bath

Spectacular views of Kauai’s north shore while relaxing at Queen’s Bath

 

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Holiday hiking at San Tan Mountain Regional Park

Chilly New Year's Day hike at San Tan Regional Park

Chilly New Year’s Day hike at San Tan Regional Park

Day hiking on holidays has become a sort of tradition for AzGetawayTravel. For the past several years, on Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas Day or New Year’s Day, we have plotted out a hike for a short two to three hour outing. Last year on New Year’s Day, we took a loop section of the National, Pima Wash and Mormon Loop Trails on South Mountain.  This year, we made a loop at San Tan Mountain Regional Park.

In past years at San Tan Park, we normally would hike to the top of the Goldmine Mountain, to see wonderful views of the Southeast Valley. The park is a popular destination on holidays. On one Easter Day hike a couple of years ago, a group of hikers had placed Easter eggs along the trail for their family members to find.  Some of the steeper trails have a few patches of slippery gravel and steep sections but nothing too difficult for novice hikers or even those recovering from too much Thanksgiving turkey or Christmas eggnog.

This time we decided to keep it simple, and start out ‘Day One’ with ease — taking a rolling stretch of trail along the Moonlight, San Tan and Hedgehog Trails, creating a five-mile loop. Fortunately we climbed up away from the sandy washes of the park and circled around a hill, allowing for more scenic walking. This loop appeared to be very popular other park visitors, because it was heavily used by all — mountain bikers, families with small children and dog walkers. It’s a great destination for your out-of-town guests.

San Tan Regional Park has a wide variety of events coming up in January – there’s something for everyone in the family: archery, photography, birding, stargazing, lunch with the snakes. (Wait a minute… lunch with what?) Just check out the website for more information. And while you’re on the website, take a closer look at the Maricopa Trail, a network of trails and canal paths connecting communities throughout the county. When this is finished it will link all 10 Maricopa County regional parks. You’ll be able to literally walk, run or bike around the entire county! Learn more and see the maps on the Maricopa County parks website.

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San Tan Mountain Regional Park trail hikes and outdoor events are perfect for family outings

San Tan Mountain Regional Park trail hikes and outdoor events are perfect for family outings

 

Wide range of views from Goldmine Mountain at San Tan Park

Wide range of views from Goldmine Mountain at San Tan Park

Spring produces hedgehog cactus blooms along San Tan Park trails

Spring produces hedgehog cactus blooms along San Tan Park trails