We went to Arizona this year and missed the coldest stretch of weather in Minnesota. Once again, we were super lucky. But it is not about going to Arizona, it is about escaping the cold.
Phoenix is a neat place to visit. We stayed in Tempe near the Salt River and it was a great spot – easy to get anywhere in any direction due to the access to the highways. We ended up hiking quite a bit in and around Phoenix. The Phoenix Mountain Preserve turned out to be a stellar place to hike. It’s amazing to me a place with “make your adventure in difficulty” for hiking exists in a metro area like that – it took all of 15 minutes to drive to the trail head and the place didn’t get old even though we went to the same preserve multiple times. We did three different hikes in three different areas but it’s still the same park. Pretty neat.
The restaurants were fun. There was the very first “Waffle House in the early morning” experience for some of the travelers because our hotel didn’t start breakfast until 9AM our local time. I’ve been to Waffle Houses during my work travels so it was fun to have the Waffle House experience with others. In the search for good Mexican / tamales we ended up going to the same restaurant we visited back in 2018. The place was exactly the same and as delicious as we remembered.
We went to Phoenix last year too. This experience was quite a bit different because the COVID restrictions are nearly gone and the ‘new normal’ is in effect. For example: masks were not required nearly anywhere, restaurants were substantially more expensive, hotel service and hotel services were still extremely limited. What’s wild is the COVID response is pretty much over everywhere and we have just accepted the changes.
We saw many sunrises and sunsets this year – different than last year. For whatever reason, we didn’t really watch the sunrises or sunsets last year. We missed out. They are spectacular in Arizona and especially beautiful in the Tucson area. It’s neat having unobstructed views, mountains to break the scenery, and light clouds to make for some absolutely stellar sunrises and sunsets. We did a few hikes to overlooks in time for sunrise but most sunrises and sunsets were done from a high-ish point we walked or drove to. 100% worth it.
We had a lot of fabulous hikes. There are a ton of easy hikes and there are a ton of hikes where people regularly die due to the difficulty. It’s a ‘make your own adventure’ type of region for hiking. So it worked out very well for us – we had chances to hike in the morning and afternoons and both were great for different reasons. The biggest surprise I had was hiking in the superstitions at the First Water trailhead, walking into a fairly deep canyon, and encountering plants with dewcicles. It was a bit chilly but it was surprising to find plants with dew to begin with and the dewcicles were a lot of fun to look at. We hiked multiple trails where we encountered running water or pools of water and it was a bit baffling – I just don’t expect to see running water in nature in these arid places.
We went to Tucson this year and Tucson is not a place I want to visit again any time soon. It is difficult to get anywhere, the things we can get to aren’t that great, and the city / region itself is a dump.
Driving in Tucson is the worst. I have been to 49 states, 42 countries, numerous cities and Tucson takes the cake:
- It’s crap shoot whether I’ll be driving 10-20mph below or above the speed limit.
- Turn signals are rarely used. Getting cut off is common. It is common to see vehicles take a hard right from the far left lane and cross a total of three lanes of traffic.
- There is a lack of highways and freeways. Instead, there are a bunch of three lane roads going in every direction with a bunch of stoplights since they intersect a bunch of other three lane roads. This arrangement makes it possible to get stuck in traffic on a Sunday morning at 7:45AM. As the day progresses the traffic gets worse and it takes even longer to get anywhere.
- It takes forever to get anywhere due to the above. Much like the place I grew, there are many ways to get anywhere I want to go but they all suck because whoever is responsible for urban planning / traffic / stop light timing was either completely absent or straight up suck at their jobs.
- We even saw the city busses run red lights because they are sick of the BS.
The city / region itself is a dump. Dilapidated homes, businesses, and trash are everywhere. It’s astonishing. It’s hard to get away from people and enjoy nature. There seems to be a road, a building, octagarians, or, many other people around at all times. That could be due to the trails we picked – it takes forever to drive anywhere so the thought of driving even further and wasting more of my day in the car was motivation to pick closer trails?
There were three positives – the food was great and sunsets and sunrises are stupid beautiful, there’s a distinct lack of things blocking the view of the mountains so catching the sunrise and sunsets is quite the treat, and, the saguaro forest is one of a kind. The donuts there taste different – they aren’t super sugary and they aren’t super filling, it’s great. So far, it’s the best donuts I’ve had ever. From a distance, the saguaro forest is incredible and has an odd beauty. “These sorta look like trees, these should be trees, but these are not trees” was a common thought I had while hiking in the cactus forest. Close up, it was all pretty fugly – it’s a desert after all. We witnessed some amazing sunsets and sunrises; they were stunning and the 1,000s of other upper midwesterners we encountered agreed!
The number of people from Minnesota down here right now is wild. We regularly see Minnesotans. Makes sense considering it’s -15F in Minnesota right now.
Otherwise – I’ll probably never visit Tucson again, or I’ll change HOW I visit Tucson dramatically. It’s not great in Tucson.
I’m not sure if we’re headed back to the Phoenix are next year. We might try to switch it up. I would love to go back simply for the easy access to hiking but I am just one vote 🙂.
Enjoy the photos!