Surrounded by chiseled mountains and deserts strewn with giant saguaro cacti, Mesa and neighboring Apache Junction are modern towns that celebrate the heritage of the American Southwest. You’ll find every amenity and comfort in these communities, but the fascinating history of the Native Americans and rugged Old West settlers is lovingly preserved in museums, monuments and living history demonstrations.
From boutique shopping and dining that showcases the region’s agricultural bounty and piquant flavors, to spring training baseball games, lively festivals, and the 2nd Friday Night Out featuring art, shopping, dining and entertainment, Mesa boasts all the trappings of a beautiful city.
Windows Into the Past
For insight into the region’s Hohokam people, the Arizona Museum of Natural History in downtown Mesa provides a compelling sweep of the region’s anthropology, archaeology and Native American culture with a walk-through Hohokam dwelling and ceramics that trace the artistic development of the Hohokam, Anasazi and Mogollon cultures. Also in the downtown area, the Mesa Historical Museum features a well-curated series of temporary exhibitions and a child-friendly permanent collection, including an adobe schoolhouse.
Aviation buffs can check out World War II airplanes and military artifacts at the Commemorative Air Force Museum, while the child-oriented i.d.e.a. Museum takes an interactive and engaging approach to the region’s burgeoning arts scene.
On the Apache Trail
About 20 miles east of Mesa, Apache Junction ripples with a wild frontier vibe. At the Goldfield Ghost Town, along the Apache Trail, visitors can tour the historic Mammoth Gold Mine, ride Arizona’s only narrow-gauge train, watch gunslingers in action and pan for gold. Just 15 miles to the west in Mesa, see a replica mining camp, an authentic Old West stagecoach stop, a ghost town and more with a tour through the Superstition Mountains into the foothills of the Tonto National Forest.
Looking for Dutchmen
The 145-mile Apache Trail loop is famed for its picture-perfect vistas of yawing canyons, surreal geologic formations and serene lakes of the Superstition Mountains that loom in the east. The history of Apache Junction is entwined with the legend of the Lost Dutchman Mine here, the most famous of the lost mine myths, which still teases and torments modern-day gold prospectors. Displays and exhibits at Apache Junction’s Lost Dutchman Museum run wild with the theme as artifacts and documents present the area’s rich heritage and folklore.
With more than 300 days of sunshine a year and scenic grandeur from every vantage point, it’s no wonder that recreational opportunities abound in these parts. Mesa connects with hundreds of miles of superb hiking, biking and horseback riding trails ranging in length and level of difficulty. Usery Mountain Regional Park is woven with over 29 miles of trails, including the 1.6-mile Wind Cave Trail that delivers breathtaking mountain views without the need for challenging elevation spikes. The more strenuous 7.1-mile Pass Mountain Trail satisfies hikers looking to feel the burn and escape the (relative) crowds. The small nature center at the park’s entrance has a clutch of exhibits devoted to flora and fauna of the Sonoran Desert.
The fifth-largest forest in the United States, Tonto National Forest spans almost 3 million acres of rugged scenery where recreational opportunities avail themselves within saguaro cactus-studded desert, flat plains, grasslands, woodland habitats and pine-forested mountains. The 4.5-mile round-trip Peralta Trail is an intermediate hike that delivers sublime views of the Superstition Mountains from the overlook to Weavers Needle.
Rivers Run Through It
Less than a 30-minute drive from Mesa and Apache Junction, three lakes and two rivers draw adventure-seeking families for boating, fishing, rafting, kayaking, water skiing, wakeboarding and personal watercrafting. From May through September, one of the valley’s most popular activities is tubing down the Salt River in Tonto National Forest. The 17-mile Apache Lake lures anglers to its prolific stores of black crappie, channel catfish, flathead catfish, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass and walleye. With clear blue waters framed by craggy mountains cast in shades of orange, russet and terra-cotta, Canyon Lake’s 28 miles of captivating shoreline makes for an excellent daytrip. In addition to a designated swimming area, there are personal watercraft for rent, and scuba diving is also available. Solitude-seekers can rent a boat and float 3 miles up the lake to the peaceful and scenic Point Campground area. When you’re ready to relax, take refuge at one of our beautiful Mesa RV resorts, where you come for the weather, but stay for the adventure.
With cliff dwellings, pueblo ruins and petroglyphs, Arizona’s human history is enshrined into countless canyons, mountains, rivers and deserts. The discovery in 1952 of the Lehner Mammoth-Kill Site, near the San Pedro River, proved monumental in tracing Arizona’s human history. The bone bed with 13 Clovis spears and other cutting tools unearthed at the site revealed that Paleo-Indians roamed the area around 9000 B.C. Today, Arizona has one of the largest populations of Native Americans in the U.S.
A number of evocative ruins and mounds bring to life the rich traditions of the Hohokam civilization, who constructed an empire that would endure for almost 1,500 years. With their penchant for agriculture and revered engineering prowess, the Hohokam cultivated thousands of acres of land throughout Arizona and constructed miles of irrigation canals. It’s worth a visit to the Mesa Grande Ruins, where a 25-foot-tall mound forms the centerpiece for a large Hohokam village that was occupied between A.D. 1100 and 1400.
Hot Air Rising
Basking in year-round sunshine, the Valley of the Sun plays host to a spirited lineup of festivals and events that take their cues from Arizona’s cultural and historical touchstones. In January, up to 30 balloon teams participate in the three-day Arizona Balloon Classic, which provides a breathtaking visual spectacle of hot air balloons rising above rugged mountains framed by electric blue skies.
The last week in February, Apache Junction’s Rodeo Park is the setting for one of the nation’s top rodeos. The Lost Dutchman Days draws the nation’s top rodeo riders as well as over 30,000 spectators for a three-day extravaganza that features carnival rides and purveyors of regional food and beverages.
For More Information
Arizona Office of Tourism