The email came two days before we were ready to leave. We had hotel rooms rented, we had kept up with our training, and we were already planning out our meal situation for the quick, 24-hour trip to Payson when we found out our favorite mud run of the year was canceled. It actually fell victim to a raging wildfire instead of COVID-19 — which is itself, according to reports, again spreading like wildfire in Arizona.
Cancellations in 2020 are becoming all too familiar: Campsites we had reserved earlier this year for a summer getaway were canceled, as was a concert, which would have been the first ever for one of the kids. One of our favorite city pools will remain closed all summer, too.
To stay sane, and to keep disappointment at bay, we retreat to the outdoors. But we do that differently, too, these days. Instead of flooding shorelines with public access, we look for that tiny spot, big enough just for us, away from other people. Sometimes it comes with more thorns or a rockier entry into the water, but it also comes with peace of mind. We know we’re doing everything we can to keep our distance, get our valuable infusions of vitamin D and seize opportunities to unplug.
Arizona is a desert, yes, but it sure does have a bounty of water to splash around in. And most of our bodies of water come with incredible views of the mountains, up close and off into the distance. So instead of crowding together in areas of public access, challenge yourself this summer to uncover a spot for just you. Wear water shoes and hike along the shoreline, be it at one of Arizona’s many lakes, along a river or through a creek.
It requires a little planning and a little research before heading out, but it costs basically zero dollars to try, if we’re not counting gas money. Consider venturing over to the Salt River to see the wild horses that frequent the area, or taking a road trip north to jump into Oak Creek. Study the lake closest to you, be it Saguaro or Pleasant or Canyon, and target a place to splash around.
Regardless of the destination, bring a raft, float on a noodle or find a cool, rocky outcropping waiting to be jumped off of — after first testing the depth, of course.
After monsoon storms pass, hike out to trails that get replenished with running water, from little pools spilling into one another to waterfalls that cascade down a mountain.
We have the privilege of living in an area where mountains meet water and water meets desert. Open space is plentiful; we’ve got plenty of elbow room. Take this social distancing thing as an opportunity to safely and economically explore parts of our state offering refreshing relief to overheated bodies and spirits in need of lifting.
Less crowded spots to explore
There are multiple ways to cool off, safely, in and around the Phoenix area. Here are a few of the less crowded spots to check out this summer. Remember to wear water shoes for rockier water-entry points, stay a safe distance from others and always pack out what you bring in.
Oak Creek Canyon. Everyone is aware of Slide Rock State Park, which fills to capacity early, but some people may not know that the creek can be accessed at multiple points along 89A. Between the north end of town and up to Slide Rock, visitors will find a number of places to pull off and hike down to the river. The earlier you go, the better chance you’ll have at finding a parking spot on the side of the road and a secluded area on the river. Remember: “No parking” signs are enforced.
Local lakes. We like to scoot out to Canyon Lake, because it’s the closest to us. And when we do, we park in a pull-off on the side of the road, away from the public access point near the marina. It avoids crowds and the usage fee. At the lake nearest you, look for those types of pull-offs. Every lake is different, so have patience when you’re headed out. Most fill up early in the day.
Salt River. Salt River Tubing has been closed for the month of July but there are different parts of the river you can explore on your own terms. A number of managed recreation sites offer river access, and within those sites are spots to find solitude. Tonto National Forest’s website lists recreation areas where you can find space just for you. Be sure to pick up a Tonto Pass if you plan to park at any of the designated areas.