Experience Arizona state parks

By Maria Johnson
Staff Writer

Scattered throughout the varied topographies of Arizona, 27 state parks protect nature, culture and history by promoting education and exploration. Many are located near Prescott; those more far-flung, with their bizarre land formations and echoes of human history, are well worth the drive.

Lost Dutchman State Park
Driving Time: 2.5 hours
Park Entrance Fee: $7 per vehicle, $3 per bicycle

A wildflower oasis in the spring, Lost Dutchman State Park is located in the Sonoran Desert at the foot of the Superstition Mountains. Legends surrounding this area have been ongoing since early inhabitants; stories of a gold mine have influenced searchers to explore the park to this day.

An easy 2000 feet of elevation gives way to mountainous trails in the Tonto National Forest for hiking and biking with 72 scattered campsites for nearby rest. Jackrabbits, coyotes, javelinas, bobcats and birds make this area home, so be sure to bring a camera and binoculars.

Alamo Lake State Park
Driving Time: 2 hours
Park Entrance Fee: $7 per vehicle, $3 per bicycle

The Big Sandy River and Santa Maria River merge to create this unexpected lake surrounded by low desert. Named as one of Arizona’s best fishing grounds, Alamo Lake State Park is also a wonderful location for hiking, biking, swimming, boating and viewing wildlife such as bald eagles and wild burros.

Observe the night sky on The Fifth Annual Night Under the Stars on November 19, 2011. Star-gazing equipment will be provided in order to see the sky in fantastic detail.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park
Driving Time: 1 hour
Park Entrance Fee: $7 per vehicle, $3 per bicycle

Located on the cottonwood and willow-lined Verde River, Dead Horse Ranch State Park is ideal for cooling down as summer approaches. The close proximity allows for easy day-use. Picnicking, hiking, biking, horseback-riding, canoeing and fishing are all popular activities in this park.

Every Saturday until May 7, Mountain Bike Basics takes place, in which a certified cycling instructor offers lessons on mountain biking techniques and trail etiquette.

If less extreme sports are more your style, nature walks are offered every Sunday until May 8. Riparian areas abound with diverse vegetation and active wildlife such as foxes, javelinas and coyotes. An extensive number of bird species inhabit the region, so binoculars are a great idea for close-up viewing.

Kartchner Caverns State Park
Driving Time: 4.5 hours
Park Entrance Fee: $6 per vehicle, $3 per bicycle

A unique adventure among stalactites and stalagmites awaits in Southeastern Arizona. Kartchner Caverns State Park features a limestone cave with several unusual formations that formed over 200,000 years from dripping water.

The adjacent Whetstone Mountains offer hiking trails to observe desert vegetation and wildlife such as raccoons, coatimundi, mountain lions, foxes and of course, bats! The park can be toured after reservations are made.

Catalina State Park
Driving Time: 2 hours
Park Entrance Fee: $7 per vehicle, $3 per bicycle

Nearly 5,000 saguaros stretch up their arms at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains in Catalina State Park. Located near Tucson, this area is notable for its hiking, biking and equestrian trails. Wildlife includes typical desert creatures: coyotes, javelinas and numerous bird and reptile species. Spend a night or two in the campground to observe these nocturnal animals and see the bright Arizona stars.

Saturday, April 30, is host to a Reptile and Wildlife Exhibit. Meet and learn about the tiny inhabitants of the Sonoran Desert up close and personal.

Guided casual and bird hikes happen throughout April.For more information on all the above events and more state park information, visit http://azstateparks.com.

This article appeared in the May 2011 print edition of The Raven Review.
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