Take a break from spring training in Arizona on these 7 great side trips

February 19, 2020 0 By JohnValbyNation

The Phoenix area transforms into baseball-fan heaven this month as players begin spring training and prepare for the 2020 Major League Baseball season.

The first spring games are next week; visitors can attend more than 200 Cactus League baseball games. For tickets and schedules go to Cactus League.

When you need to take a break from the stands, consider a quick side trip. Here are seven worthwhile Arizona destinations that you can reach by car from the Phoenix area in less than three hours.

Apache Trail

The Apache Trail, named for Native Americans who used it, served as a stagecoach route through the rugged Superstition Mountains. Day trippers can enjoy the scenery on paved roads if they mosey five miles up Arizona 88 from Apache Junction to Goldfield Ghost Town, a restored 1890s mining town.

It re-creates the era through its attractions, including a mine tour, narrow-gauge railroad and a zip-line ride. It may border on hokey — costumed locals reenact gunfights on the weekends — but it’s fun for families.

If you drive 13 miles northeast on Arizona 88, you’ll find Tortilla Flat, an old stagecoach stop that’s now a saloon that uses saddles for its bar-stool seats. Visitors can take a scenic cruise on nearby Canyon Lake aboard the Dolly Steamboat. The captain will point out bighorn sheep grazing on the hillsides and bald eagles soaring above.

Driving time from Phoenix: one hour
Info: Goldfield Ghost Town, 4650 N. Mammoth Mine Road; Apache Junction, Ariz.
Tortilla Flat, 1 Main St., Tortilla Flat, Ariz.
Dolly Steamboat, 16802 Arizona Highway 88, Apache Junction, Ariz.

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

The name “museum” is deceiving. You’ll spend most of your time outdoors at Tucson’s 98-acre desert enclave that includes a botanical garden, zoo, aquarium, natural history museum and art gallery.

Stroll on walking paths that wind among saguaro and other native cactuses, many of which bloom in March. Exhibits of desert animals show bobcats, javelinas and a mountain lion. Duck into the hummingbird aviary to take selfies with the birds as they hover over a flower; marvel at the raptors overhead in the Birds of Prey demonstration at 10 a.m. daily and stop in the Reptile Hall to safely view the venomous critters you don’t want to meet in the desert.

Driving time from Phoenix: about two hours
Info: Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, 2021 N. Kinney Road, Tucson, Ariz.

Pima Air & Space Museum

Aviation geeks will find a treasure trove at this indoor-outdoor collection of 350 aircraft, including the F-14 Tomcat Navy jet fighter like the one Tom Cruise “piloted” in “Top Gun.”

If a tram tour of 350 airplanes isn’t enough, visitors can take a bus tour (but must reserve at least 16 days in advance) of the more than 4,000 retired U.S. military and government aircraft in various stages of storage, regeneration or recycling on the adjacent 2,600-acre boneyard.

Driving time from Phoenix: two hours
Info: Pima Air & Space Museum, 6000 E. Valencia Road, Tucson

Sedona and the Red Rock Scenic Byway

Psychics claim Sedona is home to powerful earth energy vortexes that can uplift believers with a spiritual experience. But even New Age naysayers appreciate the town for its spectacular red-rock scenery.

Hike to the top of Cathedral Rock, one of Sedona’s four strongest vortexes; browse in Main Street’s art galleries and, yes, New Age shops. Drive back to Phoenix by way of the Red Rock Scenic Byway. The 7½-mile stretch of Arizona 179 winds through pine-tree-studded forests and past soaring red-rock spires shimmering with energy vortexes.

Driving time from Phoenix: two hours
Info: Visit Sedona and Red Rock Scenic Highway

Dude for a day

Arizona is cowboy country, but you don’t have to stay at one of its dude ranches for an Old West experience in the saddle. Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch welcomes non-overnight guests on wrangler-led horseback rides ($55 for an hour). You can also kayak Saguaro Lake’s waters ($47 for three hours) and join the Saturday night Cowboy Cookout complete with grilled steak, cowboy beans and s’mores around the campfire ($35 a person).

Driving time from Phoenix: one hour
Info: Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch, 13020 N. Bush Highway, Mesa, Ariz.; (480) 984-2194 for kayak and cookout reservations; (480) 984-0335 for horseback riding.

Montezuma Castle National Monument

Step back centuries a little more than 80 miles from Phoenix. One of the country’s first national monuments, prehistoric limestone cliff dwellings of the Sinagua people, were more high-rise apartment than castle. Visitors can no longer explore the interiors of the pueblo ruins — too dangerous for the visitors and the fragile pueblo — but a short walking trail leads to a good viewing point.

Nearby is the Montezuma Well, a limestone sinkhole thought to be the remains of the Sinagua’s irrigation system. Its warm, fresh water is a magnet for ringtails, muskrats and whitetail deer, so hang out quietly and you may score a wildlife viewing.

Driving time from Phoenix: one hour and 45 minutes
Info: Montezuma Castle National Monument, Montezuma Castle Road, Camp Verde, Ariz. Entrance fee: $10 a person.

Jerome, Ariz.

This mile-high former copper-mining town, rife in its 1890s heyday with drunks, gamblers and ladies of the night, was once considered the wickedest town in the West. After the mine closed in the 1950s it became a ghost town.

Today Jerome is a vibrant artist hub and tourist destination filled with boutiques, galleries, wine-tasting rooms and restaurants. Take a ghost-town tour; pan for gold at the old Gold King Mine; or learn about the area’s history in the Mine Museum at Jerome State Historic Park. I

If there’s time on the drive back to Phoenix, stop in Prescott, Arizona’s first capital, for a self-guided walking tour of the historic downtown.

Driving time from Phoenix: two to 2 ½ hours
Info: Jerome, Ghost Town Tours in Jerome, Gold King Mine Jerome State Historic Park and Visit Prescott