Situated amid the ponderosa hills and Sonoran scrub valleys of Tonto National Forest, Cherry Creek Lodge tucks visitors into upscale accommodations that mirror the rustic environment. Although richly appointed guestrooms and gourmet meals may entice some to remain indoors, the postcard-worthy surroundings pull most sojourners into Pleasant Valley, which plays host to hunts for the 11 different game species—including elk, quail, and mule deer—that populate the region, as well as activities such as sporting clays, cattle drives, and fishing Lake Sharon’s largemouth bass.
Although today's lodge inhabitants can be found regaling one another with fishing stories or roasting pinecones over the hearth, the Pleasant Valley scene wasn’t always so tranquil. In the late 1800s, the valley provided the setting for an infamous dispute between the Graham and Tewksbury families that became known as the Pleasant Valley War. The conflict garnered national media attention at the time and generated numerous unresolved theories concerning its causes.
Sprawling across 392 acres and home to thousands of unusual plant and animal species, the Boyce Thompson Arboretum is far from a standard classroom. Here, people learn through exploration rather than through textbooks; they’re able to smell the plants they study and ask native squirrels for direct quotes about soil quality. Jaunts through the park cover a range of terrain. Butting up against the northern face of Picketpost Mountain, the park encompasses canyons, hills, and trails carefully landscaped to duplicate arid environments from around the globe. The cactus garden features plants both sinuous and spiny, creating a vast collection of shapes and textures nestled into the dusty red landscape. Queen Creek Canyon provides respite from the sun, its towering trees thriving in the cool shade. Visitors pick up tips on how to enhance their own yards in the demonstration garden of drought-tolerant plants, which are relatively easy to care for except for when they demand chocolate milk. Additional education can be found in classes and lectures held at the Smith Interpretive Center.
In Arizona's arid climate, there's one little purple blossom that adds a pop of brightness to the dusty red soil: lavender. The growers at Red Rock Lavender cultivate fields of the flowers at high altitudes, and once a year, they like to celebrate the achievement. During the Red Rock Lavender Festival, they invite the public to stop in and smell the complete absence of roses. Each day of the festival is chock-full of lavender cooking demonstrations, grower discussions, and Topic of the Day panels. Visitors also get the opportunity to roam the picturesque fields and collect their very own bundle of fresh lavender.
The farm's staff doesn't just grow the flowers, though. They derive a whole range of products from the fragrant blossoms, including herb blends, lotions, and scented candles. They carry all these products in the store, and they will also be available during the festival.
Since it first put down roots in the foothills of the Superstition Mountains in 1982, Don Donnelly's D-Spur Ranch & Riding Stables has shown off its picturesque 5,800-acre expanse to horseback riders of all skill levels on a variety of trail rides, like the Greenhorn, which clops across the dusty trails for an hour. Nervous riders can sign up for a lesson before setting out across the arid desert, which is home to such wildlife as coyotes, mule deer, javelina, and grazing longhorns.