The boys of summer are back at it. The 2020 Cactus League spring training season is underway in Arizona. Fifteen major league teams play across Greater Phoenix, and no two ballparks are more than a 45-minute drive from each other. Catching multiple games is easy, but be sure to set aside an extra vacation day or two to explore beyond the baseball diamond, because the desert knows how to keep you busy and unexpectedly cool.
I don’t know that there’s a better way to beat the heat and see first-hand just how beautiful the desert is than making a splash on the lower Salt River. Located in the Tonto National Forest, it’s about a half hour from Mesa, and a 40-minute drive from Scottsdale.
Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch offers guided rafting trips along this incredibly gentle, scenic stretch. You can also rent kayaks to float along and if you’re lucky, you just might meet some wild horses along the way. Also keep your eyes open for egrets, juvenile bald eagles, and cormorants. The water is so calm, you could practically take a nap. That said, the scenery is so fantastic, this is something even a more advancer paddler will be happy with.
As amazing as the desert looks from the ground, it really rewards folks that chase a bird’s eye view.
Yes, you have to get up early. My flight with Rainbow Ryders came with a 5:30am hotel departure, but you forget about having to roll out bed in the dark when you are gliding through the air.
Balloon flights give you a whole new perspective of the desert terrain and there’s no denying they are one of those bucket list items. It’s quiet and still in between the hot air bursts of the balloon’s propane burners. And those propane burners put off heat, so wear a hat to keep your head from getting to toasty. You’re typically always welcomed back to solid ground with a champagne toast.
Locally owned and operated Hot Air Expeditions takes it a step further offering a tasty breakfast in the desert next to your landing site.
After seeing the desert terrain from above, you owe yourself a closer look once back on solid ground. The Desert Botanical Garden boasts some 50,000 desert plants on 140 acres. Short, themed trails all a third of a mile or less, highlight everything from cactuses and succulents to wildflowers. If you like the idea of hiking while you’re in town, but are maybe a little intimidated by the thought, this is a great starting point. A combination of level, paved and dirt trails, you can get stretches of amazing desert scenery to yourself from time to time, without worry of getting lost, and the convenience of docents, water fountains, and bathrooms.
If your idea of a vacation includes breaking more of a sweat, do it with a view hiking in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Home to more than 215 miles of trails prime for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding, the views along Tom’s Thumb Trail provide great motivation to keep moving. There are some steep areas on the 4-mile out and back trail, but when you decide you’ve had enough it’s easy to turn around at any point. The Preserve is open from sunrise to sunset and there is no charge for parking or access. Be sure to bring plenty of water.
Before or after a Giant’s game, spend some little time exploring downtown Scottsdale. There are half-a-dozen wine tasting rooms within walking distance, in addition to a buzzing craft beer scene. If your feet hurt, no worries, the Arizona Party Bike has you covered. Expect to get some looks and waves as you roll through town. Average rides last a couple hours and typically stop at three bars. But the bars changes with every ride. Guides poll riders to get a feel for where to go. So another creative way to get the lay of the land in Scottsdale.
Dana’s trip was organized by Scottsdale, Arizona, but as always Dana’s thoughts and opinions are her own.