With the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley high on the selfie backdrop bucket list, it’s easy to see why Arizona has visitors reaching for their smartphones. But for a truly Wild West experience, you might prefer to ditch your devices and delve into the state’s lesser-known (and often signal-free) landscapes. Phoenix and its surrounding areas are full of hidden surprises and natural wonders – if you know where to look. Make the most of a digital detox from the geothermal Castle Hot Springs hotel – a luxury hideaway where natural springs punctuate the desert scenery. From here, you can step into nature’s spa and uncover a world of grand canyons, ghost towns and gold mines.
Stagecoaches and superstition
It’s up to you to decide if your digital detox includes GPS and in-car air con, but for most excursions in Arizona, we’d strongly recommend both. The Apache Trail is three hours southeast of Castle Hot Springs by car, at the foot of Superstition Mountains. This truly is an adventure back to the Old West – a former stagecoach route with views of desert flora and fauna, lakes and spectacular geology. Take a guided tour through the Sonoran Desert. Pan for gold in the aptly-named mining town of Goldfield. Or walk the hieroglyphic trail through the cactus-lined canyons of Superstition Mountains. Fans of fishing and watersports should head back via Canyon Lake, or simply hop on one of the steamboats for a relaxing scenic cruise.
Up where the air is clear
With so much stunning desert to take in, and good roads and highways, you can explore a significant section of Arizona by road. But for a different perspective, you might like to take a hot air balloon ride over the Sonoran Desert. This gives you an eagle’s eye view of jackrabbits, coyote and wild pigs in their natural habitat, before heading back over cacti, grassland and mountain foothills. The route back from the Sonoran Desert takes you via the Gila River Indian Reservation, home to the Huhugam Heritage Center and the Huhugam Ki Museum. See preserved Native artefacts and arts and crafts, including a pottery collection from the Maricopa tribe and O’odham woven baskets.
Walk the line
Don’t forget your walking shoes. With hikes like Camelback Mountain just 90 minutes by car from Castle Hot Springs, you can make a morning of it, with time in the afternoon to soak your muscles in the geothermal pools. The Camelback hike takes you from head to hump of the mountain, either on the more challenging but popular Echo Canyon Trail, or the less direct Cholla trail. Remember that these hikes can get hot, so bring plenty of water with you – now is not the time to channel your inner camel!
More natural wonders lie in wait at the impressive (yet relatively unknown) Tonto Natural Bridge, 2.5 hours northwest of Castle Hot Springs. Here you can follow a series of trails through natural limestone formations, around caves and waterfalls, taking in the spectacular and unusual geology of the state park.
Travel a little further north and you reach the city of Prescott, home to Whiskey Row (where live music and bars reign supreme), and the Prescott National Forest. While 2.5 hours is a long time to drive for a drink and a picnic, you’re met with sublime scenery, and a wealth of hiking trails for all abilities. Visit Lynx Lake, or just kick back and enjoy the drive along tree-lined roads with mountain and lakeside views. Or, if you prefer to stay closer to home, the staff at Castle Hot Springs can point you towards beautiful Bradshaw Mountain hiking trails.
The ‘wickedest town in the west’
Arizona carries a strong mining heritage – an industry that has created a number of ‘ghost towns’ in its wake. One of the largest such towns is Jerome, just along Route 89a from Prescott. Once a booming hub of industry, Jerome made its fortune from copper mining, and spent it on saloons and gambling (among other ‘vices’), earning it the title of ‘the wickedest town in the west’ in the early 1900s. Now a National Historic Landmark, you can see the good, bad and ugly at the Gold King Mining site, or head into central Jerome and practise your quick-draw. If all that’s fired your inner ‘Man with no name’, turn cowboy with a horseback ride out from Castle Hot Springs.
Round off your day’s exploring back at the hotel with a spring-side massage. Or settle into the balmy evening and watch the stars play against the dark canvas of the Arizona sky. Who needs smartphones when you’ve got desert star-scapes and spa pools?