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.

You can also locate AzGetawayTravel.com on Twitter and Facebook.

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

Escape from high gas prices, admission fees with a day trip to Chandler’s Veterans Oasis Park

Okay, so gasoline prices are sky-high. You’d like to take an out-of-town day trip, but don’t want to shell out the bucks for a couple of tank fill-ups. Admission charges for zoos and animal parks also run a little too steep for your budget. Here’s a suggestion: try spending the day at one of the Phoenix-area municipal parks or riparian preserves. Many of the local parks offer a variety of enjoyable ways for a family to spend the entire day.

eec1

Inside the Environmental Education Center at Chandler's Veterans Oasis Park

 

We recently spent a few hours at our one of our local parks, Chandler’s Veterans Oasis, located at the northeast corner of Chandler Heights and Lindsay Roads. It’s one of our area’s newest parks, and it really does have a little bit of everything. The Environmental Education Center (EEC) is a standout – it houses classrooms for nature camps and classes, landscaping workshops, healthy cooking, scouting programs, fishing lessons, birding, art, even yoga. Spring Nature Camp during the two-week Chandler school spring break provides both full and half-day programs.

park018

Urban fishing lake at Veterans Oasis

 

But we didn’t come to the park to look at nature programs; we came to look at nature. The park sits on 113 acres with a five-acre urban fishing lake, over four miles of trails and walks, many picnic ramadas with grills, playground areas, equestrian trails, butterfly and hummingbird habitats, plus an outdoor amphitheater for outdoor concerts like the Sonoran Sunset Series. Upcoming appearances include a folk/country trio from Gilbert called “Firefly,” on March 8 and a locally known jazz singer, John Vold on April 12.

park013

Spring wildflowers bloom along one of the walking trails at Veterans Oasis Park

 

Municipal parks such as Veterans Oasis are the perfect getaway for a Saturday or Sunday – or any day of the week, because they provide such a different environment than you’re accustomed to. For example, the day we were there, we couldn’t believe we were still in Chandler. As we strolled around the lake, we heard some bird songs and nature sounds we certainly wouldn’t hear at our subdivision’s playground, park or retention area, or even some of the city’s other parks. And as we came around the far side of the lake, I spotted a jackrabbit about the size of my border collie, just lumbering around a few feet from us between the bushes. I couldn’t get my camera or phone out fast enough.

Veterans Oasis Park has recently been named, “Certified Wildlife Habitat” by the National Wildlife Federation. From the beginning, naturalists and park administrators have combined their efforts to plan the park so that it will attract small animals, birds, fish, butterflies and other forms of wildlife to the park and maintain the environment to protect them. Since the park’s opening in 2008, more than 135 species of wildlife have been documented.  Last year the park became the first municipally owned park to be a part of the Bird Habitat Recognition Program from the local Desert Rivers Chapter of the National Audubon Society.

park007

Part of a recent community art exhibit at the Environmental Education Center

 

Veterans Oasis Park in Chandler is the perfect location for the family to observe Earth Day 2012. The City of Chandler is combining Earth Day, Arbor Day and the four-year anniversary of the EEC into one event on April 20 from 4 to 7 p.m. with hands-on activities, live animal exhibits, food booths, artisans and prize giveaways.

The best thing of all about Veterans Oasis? It requires little gasoline to get there, (at least for those of us in the Southeast Valley) and it’s FREE!

Regular park hours are 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily. The wildlife preserve is open 6 a.m. to sunset daily and the Environmental Education Center is open Monday and Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Readers: Where are the riparian preserves or wildlife areas near you? Have any suggestions for day trips that are close to home and free? I’d like to hear about them…