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Mesa, Arizona

Valley of the Sun

Discover desert beauty in a constellation of cities

There’s no mistaking the Valley of the Sun on the map of Arizona. It’s that cluster of towns around Phoenix right in the southern half of the state, a place fed by freeways and highways and sprawling for miles in all directions.

It would be a mistake to think that this heavily populated part of Arizona is just a series of endless cityscapes. On the contrary, each of the communities and natural attractions in this region boasts a unique character and flavor. From the desert trails of Mesa to the casino in Fort McDowell, the Valley of the Sun serves up a truly varied travel experience.

While the communities are diverse, there are a few common threads. Most notable is the scenic desert landscape—all of these places share views of majestic mountains. Another one is golf, which is a major draw in the area. In addition to hosting a handful of professional tours, the region boasts nearly 200 courses, including many municipal greens and high-end courses that are open daily. Throughout the valley, you’ll find a course to match your skill level.

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Yuma Visitors Bureau

Phoenix

Arizona’s capital and largest city, sprawling Phoenix, attracts visitors with its year-round sunshine and easy access to some of the most stunning desert landscapes in the United States. The city is popular with retirees and snowbirds, thanks to its warm and dry climate, but some prefer to avoid the area (or at least stay in the air-conditioned indoors) during the height of the summer months, when high temperatures easily hover around the 106 mark.

Winters here are particularly mild, and even in the Yule days of December, there are plenty of opportunities to get outdoors. The city also offers lots when it comes to shopping and nightlife, along with a sizable number of golf courses and spas. Make time for the abundance of excellent museums and archaeological sites devoted to educating visitors about native cultures and modern Southwest aesthetics.

With its gorgeous year-round weather and beautiful surrounding landscapes, Phoenix is a great place to get outdoors (just remember sunscreen and plenty of water; the desert can be unforgiving). Visitors and locals alike frequent Camelback Mountain, just outside of the city. This popular hiking spot can be accessed via Echo Canyon, which is just over a mile in length, but has steep grades and thus might be strenuous for inexperienced hikers.

Those who want an outdoor experience but are short on time should head to the Desert Botanical Garden. This beautiful 140-acre garden in Papago Park features five thematic trails and over 50,000 plants, including a large variety of cacti and agave. They also offer regular activities and tours for children and adults, including Q&A sessions with expert gardeners, bird-watching and even special after-dark “flashlight tours” for those who want to experience the gardens after dark.

For those interested in the culture and lifestyle of the first people to live in Arizona, Phoenix has plenty to offer. One of the city’s top museums, the Heard Museum, is home to a collection of over 40,000 objects from the native people of North America, with a special focus on the Southwestern region.

The Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park is the city’s largest archaeological site and museum, with three galleries focusing on indigenous peoples. The museum sits on the grounds of what was once a Hohokam tribal village, and the museum explains how these early residents built a complex network of canals to irrigate the arid landscape for agriculture. The Main Gallery focuses on Hohokam agricultural and cultural traditions, with dioramas, artifacts and reproductions that combine to create a sense of what life was like for the people. The family-friendly children’s gallery features fun, interactive exhibits and activities that help children learn the tricks of the archaeological trade; guests can even build a miniature Hohokam village of their own.

Mesa

Sitting 19 miles to the east of Phoenix, Mesa is a Mecca for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. In the city and surrounding area, more than 3,000 different plant species provide habitat to at least 500 species of birds, not to mention an estimated 550 species of fish, reptiles, amphibians and mammals. Within the vicinity of Mesa, there are literally hundreds of hiking trails, including mile after mile of desert hiking trails, to suit every age, level of experience, and dispensation.

Fine wildlife spotting and gorgeous mountain views coalesce within the lower Sonoran Desert habitat of the San Tan Mountain Regional Park, where eight miles of hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding trails range in length from just over one mile to five miles.

Evidence suggests that the Mesa area was first settled around 2,000 years ago. The Hohokam civilization (which translates as ‘those who are gone’) constructed an empire that would endure for close to 1,500 years. With their penchant for agriculture, the Hohokam cultivated thousands of acres of land throughout Arizona and engineered miles of irrigation canals. One of only two remaining Hohokam temple mounds that remain in the Phoenix area, it’s worth a visit to the massive Mesa Grande Ruins temple mound. Inflicted with only minor impact from excavation work, the ruins cover an area of some 57,000 square feet and stand 27 feet tall at their apex.

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Yuma Visitors Bureau

Gold Canyon

Sitting in the shadow of the famous Superstition Mountains, Gold Canyon is a wonderland of hiking, Native American history and tantalizing lore about a lost gold mine somewhere in the hills. Take a few swings at the area’s fantastic golf courses—Gold Canyon Golf Resort and Dinosaur Mountain—then go on a hiking or horseback-riding excursion around the surrounding mountains. Embark on the Apache Trail and marvel at the 1,500-year-old petroglyphs left by the Hohokam people. If you’re visiting in April, make sure to attend the Arizona Renaissance Festival, where jousters, jesters and famous figures of the age cavort in a fun setting.

Apache Junction

Apache Junction, east of Mesa on U.S. Route 60, is a launchpad to Arizona adventure. One of the most popular attractions in town is the Goldfield Ghost Town. Once a 19-century boomtown, Goldfield has been transformed into a family-friendly Wild West experience. Watch a gunfight reenactment, pan for gold or take a ride on a narrow-gauge railway. Folks interested in extreme sports can zoom on the Superstition Zip Line, which transports riders high above the desert floor.

 Goodyear

In Goodyear, you don’t have to wait for summertime to enjoy baseball. The town is the spring training home to two Major League Baseball teams—the Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians—and the state-of-the-art Goodyear Park becomes a baseball mecca when the frost melts. It’s no wonder that USA Today ranked the city as the Best Place to See a Spring Training game in the U.S. But America’s pastime isn’t the only outdoors activity in Goodyear. The surrounding hiking and biking trails that snake through the surrounding Sierra Estrella Mountains give lovers of the outdoors lots of opportunities to explore. Located just 14 miles west of Phoenix between Interstate 10 and Loop 303, Goodyear is easily accessible.

 Surprise

Known as the “Playground of the West Valley,” Surprise has plenty of outdoor pursuits for active travelers. Fantastic golf courses, numerous trails and ample tennis courts will keep your pulse rate up. Check out the Surprise Tennis and Racquet Complex, a magnet for lovers of tennis, table tennis and racquetball. Just outside town, the trailheads of White Tank Regional Park entice hikers to explore landscapes dotted with towering saguaro cacti. Sedentary visitors visit Surprise Stadium, spring training home to the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals. Sun too hot? Duck into the many museums, or spend the day at the Wildlife Zoo, Aquarium and Safari Park.

Fort McDowell

Situated in the heart of Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation on the eastern edge of Scottsdale, Fort McDowell offers golf, gaming and outdoor recreation, all nestled in a picture-perfect desert landscape. Guests can saddle up and participate in horseback riding through the Verde River—city slicker cattle drives are even available. There also are hiking, kayaking and jeep tours. If you prefer indoor thrills, step into the Fort McDowell Casino for slots, poker, blackjack and bingo. Fine dining, entertainment, golf and more will round out your experience.

Casa Grande

Located near the intersection of Interstate 8 and Interstate 10, Casa Grande seamlessly blends its compelling history with modern amenities. Founded in 1879 as a mining town, the city has carefully preserved its heritage, with a downtown that is highlighted by historic stone structures. Notable buildings include the Southern Pacific Railroad Depot, built in 1925. The nearby Casa Grande Ruins National Monument is a window into Arizona’s earliest inhabitants, the Hohokam people. Folks seeking 21st-century comfort can stroll the Promenade at Casa Grande, a state-of-the-art shopping complex with department stores and restaurants.

For More Information

Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau

877-225-5749

www.visitphoenix.com

 

Arizona Office of Tourism

866-275-5816

www.arizonaguide.com