In January of 2019, I headed to Phoenix, Arizona to run a half marathon and to visit my cousin and his wife. The Phoenix metro area is fairly large, and I decided to stay in Tempe, which is about 10 miles east of Downtown Phoenix, since that was where the start and finish lines of the race were located. Little did I know how much there would be to do in and around Tempe.
Being that it was January and I live in Massachusetts where they were expecting a snow storm the weekend I was in Arizona, my top priority was to spend as much time outside as possible to enjoy the warm weather.
Luckily there is no shortage of outdoor activities in Arizona and January is one of the most perfect months to enjoy the outdoors in Arizona as the temperatures were in the 70s, much more enjoyable than the temps in the 100s that they usually have in the summer.
Papago Park: Located on the Tempe/Phoenix border is the 1,500 acre desert park, Papago Park.
The park has so much history. From over a 100 years ago as a native american reservation to a POW camp during World War II to a VA hospital and an Army Reserve facility after the war. It was even considered a National Monument from 1914-1930.
Nowadays visitors to the park can experience hiking trails, picnic areas, lakes, bike paths, a botanical garden, a zoo, a golf course and recreational fields.
I was able to check out the following areas during my visit:
- Hole in the Rock
- Hunt’s Tomb
- Desert Botanical Gardens
Hole in the Rock: The geological formations in the park are thought to have formed some 6-15 million years ago. The most popular formation is the Hole in the Rock. The views are wonderful from this location of the park. The early inhabitants of the area were thought to use Hole in the Rock to record the position of the sun to mark the seasons.
The hike to the Hole in the Rock is an easy .30 miles long and great for the whole family. Steps carved into the sandstone take you into the hole where the beautiful views await you. This is definitely worth checking out for hikers of all abilities.
Hunt’s Tomb: After spending some time at Hole in the Rock taking in the views, I checked out some of the other hiking trails. Most of the trails in the park are on the easier side. I took a hiking trail that led me to Hunt’s Tomb.
Hunt’s Tomb is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is the final resting place of Arizona’s first Governor, George W.P. Hunt and his family.
The tomb is situated on a small hill with beautiful panoramic views of the local area.
While hiking to Hunt’s Tomb, you can experience the beauty of the park and the Arizona landscape. Visiting from the other side of the country, I loved seeing the red rocks and cactus throughout the park.
Desert Botanical Gardens: Established in 1939, this 140 acre botanical garden is home to over 50,000 plants, many of which are native to the area. Throughout the year the garden offers many workshops, lectures, exhibits and even concerts.
While I was there, they had an exhibit called Electric Desert. This art exhibit ran nightly for 7 months and was quite the sight to see. Using projections, lights and music it tranformed the plants into a beautiful art installation.
Hayden Butte Preserve: Otherwise known as “A” Mountain due to the “A” put on the side of the mountain by Tempe’s Arizona State University.
Hayden Butte Preserve has a strong Native American history and is considered a sacred place to the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community.
It was named after the founder of Tempe, Charles Trumball Hayden.
The trail up A Mountain is a fairly easy out and back that is less than a mile. Although it definitely may not seem that easy if you are like me and decide to do hike it the morning after running a half marathon, not my smartest of ideas. I would assume in the middle of the summer in the over 100 degree heat, it wouldn’t seem all that easy either. But the views from the top are definitely worth it. You can see all of Tempe, the mountains in the distance and even a beautiful view of the popular Camelback Mountain in Phoenix.
While I was only in Tempe for a long weekend and spent a good amount of time running the half marathon and visiting with my cousin and his wife, I only ended up with a limited amount of time to explore. There is so much more to see in Tempe though.
- Mill Avenue District – With Arizona State University being located in Tempe, the shops, restaurants and bars in this district attract the younger crowd in this college town
- Tempe Beach Park – Located on Tempe Town Lake, this park has it all, athletic fields, splash pad, kayaking, paddle boarding, fishing, concerts, festivals and running events.
- Sea Life Aquarium
- Arizona State University Art Museum
- Tempe History Museum
- Tempe Diablo Stadium – Spring training home of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and minor league home of the Arizona League Tempe Angels
- Big Surf Waterpark
With so much to do in Tempe itself and throughout the rest of the Phoenix metro area, it’s a perfect place for the entire family to visit especially if you are looking for a warm winter escape.