Desert Botanic Garden
The Desert Botanical Garden and Phoenix Zoo are both located in Papago park. When we arrived at the garden (entry was free for two adults through the American Horticultural Society Reciprocal benefit provided by our Norfolk Botanical Garden Membership). Even with the pollinator garden walk closed we still spent two hours at the Garden and easily would have spent longer in better weather. Alice picked up the children’s trail guide, a scavenger hunt with a small activity to complete with each plant.
We saw more wildlife at the botanical garden than in any of our other desert excursions, including desert cottontail rabbits, a gila woodpecker, a cactus wren, and many Gambel’s quails.
The Cactus and Succulent Galleries were my favorite gardens, with divided collections arranged to help visitors better understand the diversity of succulent plants around the world. The differences between euphorbia plants (mainly from Africa) and cacti (from Central and North America) are also highlighted.
To me, it has always been fascinating to learn how indigenous people of the American Southwest were able to live with just what was provided by the desert. The Plants & People of the Sonoran Desert trail’s replicated traditional structures provided an opportunity to see how the plants in the surrounding gardens could be used for food and shelter.
We enjoyed lunch when we arrived at the Gertrude’s restaurant (available for reservations on the Open Table App), splitting the vegetarian appetizers.
We arrived in the Phoenix area at dusk, the perfect time to climb to the top of the Hole in the Rock for a sunset view of the city. As we pulled into the parking lot, it was difficult to understand how the people had scaled the nearly vertical rock to get to their perch just inside the hole. As we walked closer we learned that there was a much more gradual incline behind the rock, with steps carved into the hole’s entrance.
My height aversion on the very crowded sunset viewing spot got the best of me once we found a seat, and we decided to leave and find a less popular hill nearby. From our second chosen location we had fantastic views of the park in all directions.
Goldfield Ghost Town
The Ghostfield Mine Town (an hour east of Phoenix) was by far the biggest tourist trap of our Arizona trip, but knowing that going in meant we left not disappointed. Unlike amusement parks, the destination has more of a “pay as you go” set-up, with individual tours incurring an average of a $10 fee for each. These included a train ride, mine tour, shooting gallery, museum, bordello tour, and “mystery shack.”
The website noted that the live entertainment was offered on weekends, but I think because of the holiday crowds we found it during our weekday visit also. Actors replicate a shootout/jail break and buskers sing around the town. These are all free to visitors, with the entertainers accepting tips after the performances.
For $25, we went on the Mystery Shack tour; an entertaining “Wild West Funhouse” style activity.