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Best nature photo / hiking spots in Phoenix, Arizona area

Jonathan Sacks , Feb 09, 2004; 02:19 p.m.

Spur of the moment, my wife and I have decided to travel this coming weekend to Phoenix, Arizona for nature photography and hiking. We will have 3 full days and a car, and we can stay in any motel or hotel, but we must fly into and out of Phoenix. I think anything within a 5 hour driving radius of Phoenix is fair game.

The question is, with 3 precious days, what national parks, state parks or other areas should we see?

There are so many great places nearby and it is hard to know which ones to choose. I have been previously to Organ Pipe NM and Saguaro NP so was thinking of heading east and/or north from Phoenix.

Any input is much appreciated. Thank you!


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Rob Bernhard , Feb 09, 2004; 02:27 p.m.

Superstition Wilderness within the Tonto National Forest. 40 miles east of Phoenix near Apache Junction, AZ

An excellent spot.

Steve Levine , Feb 09, 2004; 02:27 p.m.

Phoenix itself is pretty ugly & over crowded.(It resembles Los Angeles,without the beach).On the other hand,within a 200 mile circle there is some of the most spectacular scenary in North America!

Bill Proud , Feb 09, 2004; 04:18 p.m.


As Rob mentioned, one area is the Superstitions. Head east to Apache Junction, then head for Tortilla Flat and Canyon Lake. I'll load a shot of the lake from the west side. It's okay but the best sunset color when I was there was shooting west from the other end of the lake. Unfortunately, the boat docks are there making access difficult. If you continue on past Tortilla Flat, the road turns to dirt but was two wheel drive accessible all the way to Roosevelt Lake. Tonto National Monument is just south on 188. You can then drive south to Globe and head west back to Phoenix. The dirt road section, I thought was pretty scenic. You gain elevation beyond the lake and have some nice vistas.

good luck

Canyon Lake, Tortilla Flat, Arizona

Wayne Crider , Feb 09, 2004; 08:15 p.m.

1st day Check out the Vulture mine in Wickenburg NNW of Phoenix by about an hour and a half. You'll not want to leave the mine. They had to kick me and my brother out. Pictures galore! Afterwards eat at Anita's Cocina in town. Good mexican food.

2nd day, Canyon Lake, lunch at Tortilla Flat and up to the Roosevelt dam. There's an old indian settlement (now a park) on the other side of the dam.

3rd day, Sedona in a day easily with breakfast or lunch at the Coffee Pot restaurant, the local yokel place. A great hike is Slide Rock State park in spring but you'll be early. Still nice tho. Go north on 89A from downtown.

J. W. Wall , Feb 09, 2004; 09:08 p.m.

Next time, come to Tucson! I moved here from Phoenix not long ago and this is THE place for outdoors, nature, etc. (and breathable air) - Lots of snow on Mt. Lemmon and the Santa Catalinas, Rincons and other ranges last week. SE Arizona is a world class birding area, habitat is gorgeous. Etc.

But, from Phoenix, you could try Cornville area, not far southeast of Sedona if memory serves. East of there, Montezuma Well, Montezuma Castle. If you just want to drive north from Scottsdale, look in the area of Carefree (The Boulders is a beautiful resort near there) and Cave Creek, Horseshoe Dam, Bartlett Lake. Good shooting!

Bill Proud , Feb 09, 2004; 11:10 p.m.


Hey, any word on wildflowers this year. I've heard not too good news.


Jonathan Sacks , Feb 10, 2004; 09:00 a.m.

Thank you all

Thank you all for your helpful responses (and the beautiful photo, Bill!). From your responses and from reading a number of other posts scattered on photo.net, we are going to stay centered around Sedona to spend less time in the car and more on the ground, as we only have 3 days.

It sounds like the key spots for us to see are: -Sedona -Oak Creek (west fork) -Apache Trail loop (incl. Canyon Lake, Superstition, Tortilla Flat) -Wupatki NM (preferably at Sunrise) plus an assorted few other things on the way (Slide Rock SP?).

Also, I'm sure you've all seen it but I think the best map of such things in Arizona and all the southwest is: http://www.americansouthwest.net/arizona/map.html

Thanks again.

Joseph Smith , Feb 10, 2004; 10:44 a.m.

You have some good suggestions, especially the Sedona area. When I took the Apache trail about 20 yrs ago, it was an all day trip because the road was quite primitive--a rough dirt road. Check out Arizona Highways magazine on the Internet and see what they have to say. Joe Smith

Gary Reese , Feb 10, 2004; 11:16 a.m.

Photographers who seek just the "Best nature photo" sites are setting themselves up to come back with the 10,000th (1/000,000th ?) views of the same icons previous photographers have shot. The chance of their viewers having seen the subjects before is great and the chances of getting commercially worthwhile images from a single trip are low. These photographers are setting themselves up for failure, unless they are in Jack Dykinga's words: "a human copy machine," or they have a life list of places in which they want to emulate the images taken by the master's of photography (who used "lesser equipment").

I suppose: "different strokes for different folks." But some brief research into past issues of Arizona Highways, at any of the Bookman's bookstores in Arizona, can lead one to discovering some locations which fit THEIR ideal of a fun place to shoot. I can't know, without a series of questions, what kind of subject matter my students are most motivated to shoot on any given trip. When that students shops around for recommendations and ends up choosing the most recommended sites, we are back to my argument: they are setting themselves up for a quick photographic high but little that will be noteworthy in the long run.

There are enough variables from the weather itself that one should be prepared to lead to where ever the light/wind/clouds are best at any given time. A few reference books and an atlas and a partner who is willing is both read them out loud enroute, then enjoy the shoot with you, is a ticket to photographic nirvana.

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