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Best Arizona State Parks to Visit in the Spring

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Best Arizona State Parks to Visit in the Spring

Fort Verde State Historic Park - photo courtesy of Arizona State Parks

The Top Three Choices Offer Opportunities to Visit a Historic Fort, Observe Migrating Birds, and View a Large Natural Bridge

Spring in Arizona arrives with flair as wildflowers and blossoming cacti take over the various landscapes and mesmerize visitors with the vast fields of color. Some years the Mexican poppies bloom across mountainsides, while others you will only find pockets of poppies in the wetter areas.

Fort Verde State Historic Park

Fort Verde State Historic Park is the best preserved example of an Indian Wars period fort in Arizona. The park's annual "History of the Soldier" celebration in mid-April draws military families from far and wide. Through living history interpretation, the park honors the dedication, commitment and sacrifice of men and women from around the globe in the Armed Forces of all eras. Activities include flag raising ceremonies, special memorial services and an 1870s-era baseball game. Veterans gather to attend this unique experience in Camp Verde and to tour the other state parks of the Verde Valley. In 2007, the "History of the Soldier" will also celebrate Arizona State Parks’ 50th anniversary, which will include displays and activities for children. For more information about "History of the Soldier" contact 928-567-3275.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park

Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood is the hub of activity for the Annual Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival in late April. The Nature Festival provides hands on opportunities to learn about everything from the basics of birding to outdoor survival from local experts. Vendors offer all the necessary tools for skilled and beginning outdoor enthusiasts.

Despite its distinctive name, Dead Horse Ranch is situated amidst an abundance of life along the Verde River. A six-mile reach of the river is known as the Verde River Greenway. Its unique ecosystem, the Cottonwood/Willow riparian gallery forest, is one of fewer than 20 such riparian zones in the world. Life along the river changes with the seasons, giving visitors a glimpse of the numerous species of raptors, neotropical migrants, resident songbirds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fish.

The developed portion of Dead Horse Ranch State Park covers 423 acres. The 3,300-foot elevation accounts for the mild temperatures that are ideal for camping, mountain biking in the Coconino National Forest, hiking along the Verde River, canoeing, picnicking, fishing, or just wading in the cool water.

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park

Tucked away in a tiny valley surrounded by a forest of pine trees, Tonto Natural Bridge State Park has been in the making for thousands of years. It is believed to be the largest natural travertine bridge in the world. The bridge stands 183 feet high over a 400-foot-long tunnel that measures 150 feet at its widest point. The discovery of the small and beautiful valley between Pine and Payson was documented in 1877 by David Gowan, a prospector who stumbled across the bridge while in the area. Gowan lived for two nights and three days in one of several caves that dot the inside of the bridge. He then left the cave to explore the tunnel and green valley surrounding it and claimed squatter's rights. In 1898 he persuaded his nephew, David Gowan Goodfellow, to bring his family over from Scotland and settle the land permanently.

Today, visitors can stand on top of the bridge or hike down below to capture the true size and beauty of this geologic wonder. The historic lodge has been restored with period furnishings and is filled with Gowan/Goodfellow family heirlooms. On May 12 the park will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Arizona State Parks and the 80th anniversary of the historic lodge.

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