Here in the lower Arizona deserts, the daily temperatures are well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. City life hums with the sound of cicadas and AC units hard at work.
Even if you love summer and you love the desert (and I love both), there comes a point when summer fatigue sets in. I’m speaking of those moments when the romance of summer fades a little, and minor discomforts (mosquito bites, sweaty backs, hot steering wheels) put you in the mood for cooler days.
The best antidote for the summertime blues is a walk in the woods, a camp-out high in the mountains, or even just a short day trip to take in new sights and breathe fresh air. Here are seven places in the southwest to recapture the spirit of summer. My definition of southwest is defined rather loosely here, but the point is to escape to the outdoors before summer fades out of view.
**P.S. Summer in the southwest means it’s fire and monsoon season, so please check park alerts before heading into the wild.**
1. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (near Montrose, Colorado)
The Gunnison River carved out the marbled walls at this southwestern Colorado park, which is home to some of the oldest rock (two billion years and counting) and steepest cliffs in North America. The canyon is so narrow and deep, the bottom only receives a few hours of sunshine each day. This is a destination for experienced rock climbers and backcountry wanderers. But the park also has developed campsites, year-round ranger programs, and accessible walking trails along the rim. Outside the park, the town of Montrose offers museums, cafes, and Main Street window shopping.
[PHOTOS: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park]
2. Climb the Sandia Peaks in Albuquerque via Aerial Tramway
Leave the city behind, if only for a few hours, with a ride up the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway. Magnificent panoramic views of the Rio Grande Valley are breathtaking, especially at sunset.
[PHOTO: Sandia Peak Ski and Tramway]
3. Dark Skies, Bright Stars at Natural Bridges National Monument (Southeast Utah)
Natural Bridges in Utah is the first park in the United States to receive the designation of “International Dark Sky Park” by the International Dark Sky Association. The park has a 13-site campground available on a first-come, first-served basis, so you can camp out under one of the darkest yet most brilliant skies in North America. Conquer the 8.6-mile loop trail, where you can enjoy the beauty of White Canyon while hiking to all three bridges. Daily high temperatures can break 100, so come prepared for the heat.
[PHOTO: Natural Bridges National Monument]
4. Grand Canyon National Park (Northern Arizona)
Yup, it’s crowded in the summer. But Grand Canyon National Park is still a quintessential summer getaway and one of the most inspiring landscapes in the Southwest.
[PHOTO: Visit Flagstaff]
5. Sugarite Lake State Park (Raton, New Mexico)
Ancient forests, meadows of wildflowers, bird-watching galore, and two glittering lakes. High summer is gorgeous at Sugarite Lake State Park in New Mexico. According to the New Mexico Park and Recreation Division, the area surrounding Sugarite is home to the only known footprint of Tyrannosaurus Rex yet discovered in the world!
[PHOTO: New Mexico State Parks Division]
6. Red Rock State Park (Sedona, Arizona)
Ah, Sedona. Take in the full spectrum of the city’s natural beauty at Red Rock State Park, a 286-acre nature preserve with 10 developed trails to explore. Wind through trails dotted with manzanita and juniper, hike to Oak Creek, and take in the rare diversity of the region’s riparian ecosystem. No camping facilities on site, but there’s a visitor’s center and numerous nature programs, including daily nature walks at 9:00 am.
7. Santa Rosa Plateau (Southern California, near the city of Murrieta)
It’s hard to believe the Santa Rosa Plateau is just a short drive away from the highways and shopping malls and suburban sprawl of California’s Inland Empire.
The 9,000-acre nature preserve is located at the southern end of the Santa Ana Mountains in Riverside County and is home to a handful of unique ecosystems, including vernal pools, coastal sage scrub, riparian wetlands and oak woodlands. The vernal pools are home to a species of rare fairy shrimp. History buffs will want to explore the Moreno and Machado Adobes, the two oldest standing structures in Riverside County. Did I mention there’s also a 400-year-old Oak Tree shading the picnic areas? Explore summer in all it’s natural glory right here.
[PHOTOS: Riverside County Park and Open Space District, Wikimedia Commons]