Did you know that there is a bird in Arizona that will build its nest in a cactus so that predators will be torn up if they get too close? Not only that, but just to be safe, the bird, a Cactus Wren, also builds a decoy nest. I learned this from Franco Farina, a volunteer for the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy in Scottsdale, Arizona. We were hiking along and he saw a bird fly out of a cactus, stopped, and showed us the nests.
The McDowell Conservancy has a team of volunteers who act as nature ambassadors and will take you out hiking and teach you all about the nature in the Preserve.
Farina introduced us to Jojoba, Tom Thumb, the Marcus Landslide, and pointed out various creatures camouflaged in the desert. He also told us that four rattlesnakes had been seen on the trail that weekend, hanging horizontally stretched out across the trail. Apparently, they like the sun and refuse to move, so you have to walk around them. After hearing this, I began hiking very closely to Farina.
If you find yourself in Arizona this summer, you must visit the Scottsdale McDowell Sonoran Preserve. The desert here is beautiful, and there are over 30,000 acres of it with 100 miles of trails and six trail heads. And the flora and fauna of the area is something from another planet.
We saw a jack rabbit the size of a dog as well as tons of small bunnies scurrying around a variety of cactuses. Giant Saguaro stood regal and statuesque against a rocky backdrop, bright blue skies, and pops of color from desert flowers. I was taking all this in while constantly scanning my path for rattlesnakes. We didn’t see any, which was disappointing for my nine-year-old who wanted to see what he considers "a polite snake that has the decency of warning you before striking." But I was relieved. No one has died out there from a rattlesnake bite that the Conservancy knows of, but occasionally, someone is bitten.
The Conservancy has all sorts of activities and outreach programs. They are big into education and getting children involved in hiking and caring about the environment, and fostering long term stewardship and preservation. If you contact them prior to a visit and let them know what interests you (wildflowers, climbing, a guided hike, etc.), they will hook you up with appropriate people and activities and let you know where to go to find what you’re looking for.
Now why am I telling you about visiting a desert at the start of summer? Because of the screaming deals you can get if you can tolerate the heat. The Four Seasons Scottsdale offers beautiful casitas at around $160/night. This includes extras like their complimentary kids club and poolside cabanas. You can drop the kids off and head for the pool or spa for a Healing Hiker’s Massage. Sip frozen margaritas made with fresh ingredients, have an organic salad with local greens and chill out in a beautiful environment. You'll feel far away from home, and that's really what summer vacation is all about.
Pretty much all of the hotels in the area offer insanely good deals during the summer, but the Four Seasons wins out a bit because it is situated just a few minutes from the preserve and near several other excellent trailheads as well. Of course, you'll have to get to these trailheads very early in the morning to avoid the crazy heat, which comes later in the day. Desert heat is unlike anything else, as it's very dry, which can make you sweat a lot without knowing that you're overheated or dehydrated. Be sure to go prepared, drink as much water as you can, and bring some sunscreen, and you will be okay. And for those of you who cannot handle the heat at all, by November, the climate gets much more agreeable.