We’re off to discover some of the adventures you can have in the Old West, I mean cowboy hats and horses, exactly what you’d expect on an Arizona vacation. Just outside of Phoenix, I discovered some amazing adventures that typify what the Arizona desert is all about. You want cactus? Oh yeah, we got ‘em. You want mountains and horseback riding? Got that, too. So stick with me partner, because we’re going to do Arizona up right!

Nestled just north of the Mexican border, between New Mexico and California, Arizona is a four corners state in the American Southwest. Known for its green desert, towering mountains, and breathtaking Grand Canyon, the Arizona landscape is amazing. And still the place to find adventure!

Around these parts, when the film studios yell “action,” the six shooters are still blazing, the stagecoaches are still rolling, and the saloons are still serving up the locals. Historic mining towns like Tombstone and Goldfield invite visitors into the history of the wild, Wild West. Where guns were the law and even women were sharp shooters. But to really get a feel for the more adventurous side of Arizona, I recommend heading out into the beautiful Sonoran Desert.

Whether you’re exploring the desert the old fashioned way, or taking it to the extreme, the Sonoran Desert in Arizona is your family’s ticket to some real fun! The state of Arizona is home to the famous Saguaro cactus, and the infamous Wild West. You can’t come to Arizona without getting out in the desert. Here, you can off-road way out into the desert in 4-wheel all-terrain vehicles! We’re talking big Jeeps and Hummers.

Arizona Hummer Tours takes you out to the desert about twenty miles north of Phoenix. Now, most people would think that there’s just a lot of sand out here. But this is one of the greenest, one of the hottest, and one of the wettest deserts on earth. There’s a lot more greenery than what you would imagine. You’ll see the Saguaro Cactus, exclusively found in the Sonoran Desert, here, it’s the king of the hill. They can live up to 200 years and grow up to 25 arms…now that’s impressive!

The Sonoran Desert is huge, covering over 100,000 square miles in Arizona, California and Mexico! Can you believe it actually rains out here? But, what does get wet, evaporates really fast in the heat. With surprises around every corner, this is a great place to explore. There are thousands of cactus varieties worldwide, and they’ve got 27 different types here in the desert. The one you see the most of and what you think of when someone mentions the Southwest, is the Saguaro cactus. They are the big tall ones with arms sticking out and needles. It takes about seventy-five to a hundred years before this cactus will start growing arms off that main trunk.

Most people think this is the cactus you can chop the top off and drink the water if you’re lost in the desert, but it’s a myth. There’s actually a lot of sodium and salts inside the saguaro cactus, so it’ll dehydrate you more than it will hydrate you. It’s the Cholla cactus that takes moisture right out of the air, so this is the one that you would go to in a survival situation to get moisture from.

The ones with the flat leaves are the Prickly Pear cactus, which spring up all over the place in Arizona. Those flat leaves give out a fruit that is shaped like a reddish pear, that is sweet and edible. They taste like a cross between a strawberry or a raspberry. They’re very sweet, very juicy and they’re fantastic late spring and early summer. Culinary delights from the desert, who knew?

The wildlife here in the desert includes all the usual suspects: tarantulas, rattlesnakes, roadrunners, coyotes…and cows???? Could it be a mirage? You know, I expected to see wildlife out here, but cows weren’t quite on my list. There are a few cattle roaming the range.

The best time to visit southern Arizona is from October to May. In summer, temperatures soar to over 100 degrees, and, even though it’s a dry heat, many outdoor attractions are closed. Before you come, be sure to check on points of interest so that you don’t have any disappointments. Not to mention frying like an egg in a hot skillet. It is always mandatory to wear sun protection, the higher the SPF, the better. Take no chances on skin damage or a bad sunburn!

Now, if the Hummer Tour isn’t your idea of exploration, why not start your Arizona adventure off on a “high” note with a rappel of the side of a red rock? For this, you’ll need to check out Rappel Arizona. This attraction is for individuals or groups that visit from out of state and they do rappelling, zip line and ropes course. Everything is up in the air!

Rappelling is a controlled descent down a rock face using a rope, when the rock is too steep to go down without protection. Plain and simple, those are the facts…and the rest is just plain exciting! You simply move out and walk down a cliff with a harness strapped to a long rope, you control the length and speed by releasing the tension on the rope. It’s challenging, but almost anyone can do it…if you can wear the harness and hang on, they can probably get you down.

Now this is a fun, action packed experience for both participants and spectators, alike. Parents can hang out in the sun while the kids hang out cliff-side! A great way to get “one” with nature and definitely cure a fear of heights! Whoo hooo!

After you’ve enjoyed the great view, it’s time to slow up the pace, and once more head out into the desert, this time the old fashioned way. So saddle-up and head on over to Cave Creek Trail Rides, for exploration on horseback. Just outside of Phoenix, is a great place to go horseback riding into the Sonoran Desert.

When riding in the desert, one must dress the part. But if you didn’t bring the right western gear, not a problem, they’ve got you all covered! Literally! They’ll fit you out in a pair of chaps, just like the cowhands wore. Now what are chaps for? Are these decorative or do they serve a purpose? Chaps are all about the American West, they serve the purpose of protecting your legs while you’re out there riding in the desert or along the old dusty trails. Right, they’re protection from the cactus needles, rattlesnakes, and all that prickly desert stuff. Got it!

The horse tour takes you out and shows you some of the Sonoran Desert and the foot hills around Scottsdale, the next town over from Phoenix going east. The guides fill you in about the past history of what’s gone on in this part of the country. They show you where the miners were digging for gold and quartz deposits. That’s going back about a 150 years, headin’ back to the days of the Civil War, when the Apache Indians were the desert inhabitants and when the first pioneers who set their sights west, passed through! Just imagine coming across the desert in covered wagons in the heat!

Now, Scottsdale, Arizona, is considered one of the “West’s most western towns” and is also known as the “Valley of the Sun.” Scottsdale is a blend of the present and the past, and it’s a great place for a day trip when you’re visiting Phoenix. Just outside of this popular desert destination, awaits a real excursion…have you ever visited a real ghost town?

Just outside of Scottsdale, you can! The mining town of Goldfield is considered to be an official ghost town. This, you gotta see! Goldfield was here in the 1890’s and was really going strong with all the miners in residence. Today, Goldfield is like a huge historic puzzle, it’s been restored and recreated with authentic items to look exactly like it did in the 1890’s! This place even lets you go down into a gold mine as well as a strange tour through a mystery shack.

But what about the “gold” that Goldfield’s named for? Well, in the old days, the legend of the lost Dutchman Mine lured the prospectors into this general area and they scoured the Superstition Mountains across from Goldfield, searching for the mine that was never found. According to the host, Mayor Bob, all the gold diggers were digging in the wrong spot. With modern technology, they know where the gold is, but the cost of bringing it out of the hills and mountains today keeps most of the prospectors away.

Of course, you can’t visit Goldfield without going down into the mine. You go down via an elevator and stairs and you’ll learn how the miners worked underground using candles for lights with no end of danger with dynamite and cave-ins. There were a more than a few of those and you will hear how one fellow lived 13 days with only four candles and water…now that is no way to go on a diet, that’s for sure. Safety precautions have been put in place, so have no fears taking the tour, just be prepared to squint when you come back up!

There’s something a little eerie about walking the streets of a historic ghost town in the shadow of the Superstition Mountains. Goldfield got its start when gold was struck here in 1892. The new town quickly settled, and up sprang 3 saloons, a school, a butcher shop, a blacksmith, a general store, and a brewery. But just 5 years after its start, the gold vein ran dry…and so did Goldfield. Fast forward a hundred years, and Goldfield still looks authentic. But there’s still an unsolved mystery attached.

That’s right, it is the mystery shack. The house of illusions and wonderments, where nothing is what it seems, especially when it comes to gravity. It’s a 100 year old miner’s shack that generates a vortex that defies gravity! Inside, people walk at 45 degree angles and water runs uphill. The pull is rather strong and you will have some really strange experiences trying to sit properly in a chair, rolling a billiard ball on a table or just moving around the place. It may not be the most “dignified” tourist attraction, but, hey, it’s still loads of fun. Dozens of ghost towns in Arizona are within driving distance from Phoenix, but most are barren or neglected. Only a few are inhabited or maintained as historical sites for visitors, and Goldfield is a great example. With those Superstition Mountains in the background, what a backdrop for adventure!