My 5 Favorite Spring Experiences in the Arizona Desert
When I experienced the fall in the Northeast for the very first time, I fell madly in love with it. I couldn’t help dreaming of living with these trees that paint the sky with palettes of gold, red, orange and yellow. It wasn’t northeast, but the house I bought in Seattle had such a special maple tree near the living room balcony. But when winter came, all its beautiful leaves fell! It was then that, being from the tropics, I knew that I would not endure the peak of winter for long in such a place.
So when at the end of our 8-year full-time RV phase, my husband and I were looking for a place to settle down, it had to be further south. This is how we discovered the Arizona desert, an environment generally described as arid, without water and without vegetation. Considered dull, uninspiring, or even unlivable due to extreme heat or cold, people wonder why others would choose to live in a city like Phoenix or Tucson. It’s simple, really. We are people who tolerate the heat of the desert in the summer better than the winter cold in the north. Luckily, we were rewarded with these springtime desert experiences that rival fall leaf viewing up north.
1. Enjoy simple things at home
Spring is when the temperatures are ideal at home. Weatherspark, my favorite forecaster of average temperatures anywhere in the world, says that from March 1 through May 31, the highs around Phoenix are 75 to 90 and the lows are 55 to 70. Because neither is it wet but dry, it’s about as perfect a climate as it gets for people like us. It’s that time of year when we don’t turn on the air conditioner or the heater. We just open the windows to let in the fresh air!
It’s the slightly cold air that wakes you up, giving you perfect mornings with your hot coffee, chocolate or tea. A little later, it becomes the perfect time to go around the garden, ride around in a golf cart and soak up the abundant vitamin D. The nights are also ideal for cocktails on the terrace, another little walk with the dog or to go in style and comfort.
2. See colors burst everywhere
When we first arrived in the Phoenix area, I thought I would only see dull colors – until I saw the wildflowers sprouting in the spring! Flowers of desert marigold, brittlebush, globemallow, purple lupine and chuparosa bring the Sonoran Desert to life with the sights and smells of a cool spring. They paint the desert floor across the spectrum and carpet valleys and hillsides. Several regional parks – Estrella, White Tank and Cave Creek – and state parks – Lost Dutchman and Picacho Peak – are a few we visit during this time. The flowers come out more when the winter has been particularly wet and the snow that has accumulated on the tops of the mountains produces greater melting. Then, a super desert bloom occurs.
The wildflowers really transform the desert floor, but that’s not what really thrills me. At first, I clung to the idea that I always preferred to fall in the northeast because the color swatches are so huge; they are splashed on the big trees! Well, imagine my joy when I saw the state tree of Arizona, the desert trees called Palos Verdes – green sticks in Spanish, all parts of which, from leaves to branches, limbs and trunk, are green – turn yellow in spring! Their small yellow flowers grow, bloom with abandon and turn the crowns entirely yellow. Imagine the scene when they are miles away together. You will appreciate my greatest pleasure because I am passionate xanthophile (a lover of the color yellow)!
There are two native Arizona Palo Verdes: Foothills and Blue. They bloom at different times, so the golden flame remains for two months, from mid-March to mid-May. The Foothill Palo Verde has a more yellowish bark and lighter yellow flowers. Blue Palos Verdes have twigs, young branches, and bluish-green leaves and flowers that border orange. Both are everywhere: in parking lots, highway banks, private gardens and public grounds.
The first to flower are the Blues, followed by the Foothills about two to three weeks later. Their flowers are both five-petaled, with the banner petal protruding from the plane of the other four. Among the Blues, the petal of the standard is yellow, sometimes spotted with orange. The petal of the Foothills banner is white. Once these flowers are pollinated, they produce edible beans.
Finally, Arizona’s signature desert cacti, the adorable saguaros that can grow to about 75 feet tall, also bloom in the spring. Just go to Saguaro National Park in May and you’ll see how beautiful it is when they all bloom at the same time! Imagine those green, thorny, bulky trunks and arms turning into delicate, flowering desert trees. Truly quite a show!
3. Take advantage of bodies of water
Some people react in disbelief when told that Arizona is blessed with 128 lakes and seven major rivers. So endowed, the desert invites outdoor enthusiasts to swim, hike, raft, ski, and fish, especially in the spring. The same melting snow that waters the plants ensures that these bodies of water come to life. In spring, waterfalls gush, lakes fill and rivers rise.
In fact, there are over 15 waterfalls in the state; many are in the Havasu area, especially the spectacular Havasu Falls. Close to home, the usually dry one on White Tank Mountain Regional Park’s Waterfall Drive is finally gushing after February and March rains.
And because the lakes are full, we take advantage of the two “steamboats” that ply the two beautiful lakes all day – the Steamer Dolly on Canyon Lake and the beauty of the desert on Lake Saguaro – offering lunches, cocktails and dinners on tour. The many beaches come alive around these lakes, especially Great Lake Havasu where the UK’s London Bridge was rebuilt; Apache Lake, which offers motel rooms from which you can literally walk on the beaches; and the wonderful playground that has become Lake Powell.
There are also seven major rivers in Arizona. The mighty Colorado River is one and Salt, Gila, Verde, Blue, Virgin and Agua Fria are the others. There’s rafting, tubing and kayaking galore. My husband and I particularly enjoy photographing the wild horses of the Salt River Valley playing in the tributaries of the Gila River. If you want to do the same, check out my tips for how to spot wild horses in Salt River Canyon, Arizona, here.
4. Go to markets, festivals, ghost towns and ballparks
The days are perfect so the markets come alive at this time in the desert. There always seems to be a farmers market to go to, every day of the week. It’s delicious as tropical fruits like avocados, watermelons, and cantaloupes, citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, grapefruits, and limes, and even vegetables like artichokes, hearts of palm, and Brussels sprouts are very cheap. At this time of year, I rarely stock up on groceries.
Festivals also abound, from arts and crafts to music, film, wine and everything in between. Go to the Indian Fair + Market run by one of the nation’s top Native American art museums, the Heard Museum of Phoenix, Nascar Weekend at Phoenix Raceway, or the massive Maricopa County Fair (check dates at advance and plan your visit accordingly). Outdoor concerts and drive-ins are numerous. Even ghost towns like Goldfield come alive with gunfight re-enactments, stagecoach rides and steam locomotive tours offered again after winter closures.
Even sports teams choose spring in the desert for training. Come see your favorite baseball players practice at Cactus League Spring Training at ball diamonds around Phoenix – from the Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago Cubs to the Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians , Colorado Rockies, Kansas City Royals, LA Angels, LA Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers. When not in practice, I bet the players thoroughly enjoy spring in the desert!
5. Visit national parks and monuments
This is the best time to visit the national parks and Arizona monuments the region is famous for: Sedona, Grand Canyon, Walnut Canyon National Monument, Wupatki National Monument, Montezuma Castle National Monument, Petrified Forest and more. of the. You will be pleased with how they are dotted with spring flowers. And, in addition to the cacti in full bloom at Saguaro National Park, the same happens at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, where creamy blooms open in the evenings of spring. In fact, all cacti bloom in the spring!
Winter in the desert can be cold, so we go further south to Mexico. And the summer heat, while no worse than the humid heat of the Midwest, motivates us to visit our children who all live in great summer places. Fall was my favorite season, hands down, until we got to the Phoenix area. It’s such a paradise in the spring. Also, spring now means more to me than fall: it signals the beginning of life rather than its end.
We make it a point to be home from all our trips in April and May. It’s the moment in the desert where it’s as if the sun has discharged its energy, lending its rays to everything it touches, and the color yellow pervades the entire scene without the warmth associated with the brightness of it all. . I chose the right place to make our home. And now is the time to come visit us!