When it comes to public land in Arizona – i.e. Ponderosa forests, epic river valleys, unspoiled Sonoran landscapes and all the other natural wonders that set us apart from, say, Nevada – our national parks usually dominate the conversation.
They certainly pull the most tourists. Ultimately, this is why Arizona is called the Grand Canyon State, and not the Kartchner Caverns State or the Yuma Territorial Prison State, two state parks that are profiled in this issue. About 5 million people visited the Grand Canyon last year. A few thousand visited the Yuma prison, and none were so starstruck, they plunged to their deaths straining for a selfie.
So our 34 Arizona State Parks aren’t quite as popular as their national counterparts – they’re still wonderful, and arguably more important to our collective sense of identity as Arizonans, providing us not only with terrific places to camp, water ski, hike, et al., but also with enduring links to the state’s history and territorial origins. One of the newest state parks is the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial near Yarnell, which will help future generations of Arizonans remember the mortal sacrifice of 19 firefighters during the catastrophic Yarnell Fire seven years ago. That’s important, right? It’s also nice to know that at least part of Yavapai County won’t be a Circle K or Courtyard by Marriott someday.
“It’s also nice to know that at least part of Yavapai County won’t be a Circle K or Courtyard by Marriott someday.”
Anyway, this is all just a rambling prelude to my main point: The Arizona State Parks system is an often overlooked but vital part of our recreational ecosystem, particularly during the pandemic, and that’s why PHOENIX made The Ultimate Guide to Arizona State Parks our October cover story. Travel writer Jessica Dunham, who pens our 52 Weekend Adventures feature every February, was a natural choice for the assignment, and she delivers a breezy but rigorously informational package that you’ll want to hold onto for months to come, I’m fairly certain. The photography is gorgeous.
Your October issue of PHOENIX includes a lot of other engrossing stuff, including writer Niki D’Andrea’s profile of U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kelly; a visit with memoirist Nora McInerny; and the return of food critic Nikki Buchanan’s formal dining reviews, which we put on hiatus during the quarantine. Things have hardly “returned to normal” for the restaurant industry, but, you know, we thought it was time.
An idea: Take this PHOENIX down to Yuma so you have something to read on the drive, because I know you’re intrigued by the prison thing. And watch where you take those selfies.