In early March I spent a few incredible days in Arizona exploring the Phoenix area with my niece Alex. It was our first trip together, and we had a blast doing such things as the OdySea Aquarium, and the Open Air Market. Anyway, while in the Phoenix area we were also able to visit beautiful South Mountain Park. Apparently it is the largest municipal park in the United States and is one of the largest urban parks in North America. It has been designated as a Phoenix Point of Pride.
We could see why it is a Point of Pride, as it is a stunning park. Originally known as the Salt River Mountains, South Mountain Park was formed in 1924 when President Calvin Coolidge sold its initial 13,000 acres to the city of Phoenix for $17,000. Crazy to think how much that would be today.
The park's lookout point rises over 1000 feet above the desert floor. Beyond the roads leading to ramadas and the summit, the park features 58 miles of trails for cycling, hiking and horseback riding. Much of the original park infrastructure was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the early 1930s. The landmark Mystery Castle is located within its foothills, but we didn’t see it. However we did see many people on bikes and a few horses. It was very peaceful. Granted it was on a Thursday afternoon, but it was beautiful and peaceful.
We were both shocked at how many different types of cacti there were, and how tall some of them were. It was crazy. We tried to do some research, but there were so many. The only ones I knew off the top of my head were the Saguaro, which seemed to be most abundant, and the Prickly Pear. There weren’t as many of those, but they were cool to see.
South Mountain Park is also notable for its chuckwalla population. With an average of 65 chuckwallas per hectare, South Mountain has the highest density of chuckwallas that has ever been reported. Further, male chuckwallas at South Mountain exhibit a “carrot tail” phenotype, which is unique to this population. Sadly we didn’t see any of these, but I would have loved to have seen one. Maybe we will get lucky next time.
When we got to the top, we had an amazing view of the valley below and downtown Phoenix in the distance. There were a few people up there taking pictures with us, and we all commented on how beautiful the desert is, but how deadly it can be too. It was a warm day, but I would not have been happy to be up there when it was 100+ degree Arizona day, no thank you, lol. However our trip in early March was a perfect time to explore this incredible mountain area. It is only a few minutes from Phoenix and a great place to park at one of the dedicated parking areas and taking a little walk or park at one of the trail heads and take a full day hike. Here is a link to their website with more info and hours. Enjoy, be safe, and bring lots of water no matter what time of year.