With summer heating up, most of us in the Valley turn to daydreams about getting away to cooler climates, typically up around Flagstaff or Prescott.
But what if you don’t have the time or enough radiator coolant in the family jalopy to make the trek that far from home? Are there any hidden cool spots in and around Phoenix where summer dwellers can go to escape the sweltering sun?
For this year’s Cool Getaways issue, Valley Times consulted some of the Valley’s leading experts on cool, including a top weathercaster and travel show host, a couple of tree experts and an architect specializing in passive cooling techniques. What they recommended were little-known cool spots around the state, but also a few places in town where city engineers and local landscaping experts are fighting off the warming effects of climate change and the Valley’s notorious “urban heat island” effect (where the pavement retains the day’s heat, even through the nights) through smart use of shading, water and construction techniques.
Here, then, is our guide to cool Arizona getaways, near and far—including a few you may not have known about right in your backyard.
Cool Northern Destinations (that aren’t Flagstaff)
Growing up in the Valley and studying meteorology at the University of Arizona, KTVK-3TV meteorologist April Warnecke knows a thing or two about finding the coolest temperatures in the state. But even Warnecke is hard pressed to locate a cool getaway closer than Flagstaff.
“My favorite spot is Greer, but that’s four-and-a-half hours away,” she says. “I love it so much that I named my son after the town! There are storms almost every afternoon in the monsoon season and unbelievably cool temps in the summer.
“One of my other favorite places is Granite Dells, up near Prescott,” she adds. “They still get pretty toasty though during the summer—up into the 90s—but it cools off quicker in the evening and then you can head to Courthouse Square in Prescott and have dinner on the lawn and catch some live music sometimes.”
As host of the syndicated travel show “AAA Presents Highroads with Dan Davis,” broadcast Sunday nights in Phoenix and Tucson, veteran Arizona broadcaster Davis has seen his share of off-the-beaten path destinations around the state.
“The great thing about driving around Arizona is that you’ll always stumble upon a neat and interesting place,” Davis says. “That’s just one of the many reasons it’s such a great place to take a road trip.”
But Davis, too, has a hard time thinking of any place close to Phoenix where a family can go to cool off.
“My favorite discovery is the hotel suite at the bottom of the Grand Canyon Caverns,” he says. “Most people don’t know the caverns exist unless they happen to be cruising Route 66 between Seligman and Kingman. It’s one of the most unique places I’ve ever stayed—200 feet under solid rock, pitch black when the lights are turned off, but with all the comforts of home.”
Fortunately, John Eisenhower, a local tree expert with years of experience in smart landscaping techniques designed to maximize the cooling benefits of shade trees, has seen a few places closer to home where people can go to physically feel the cooling effects of smart tree usage for shading.
“A couple places where I have enjoyed the cooling shade of mature trees in Phoenix would be Encanto Park, the greenbelt and bike path through McCormick Ranch in Scottsdale and the Murphy Bridle Trail greenbelt and bike path along Central Avenue,” says Eisenhower, owner of Integrity Tree Service Inc. and a certified arborist and member of the American Society of Consulting Arborists.
Richard Adkins, forestry supervisor for the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department, whose pet project has been building an ambitious interactive website (www.phoenix.mytreekeeper.com) showing the location, Google Street View photo and total eco benefits for each of the 92,833 trees maintained by the City of Phoenix, is also a fan of the Murphy Bridle Trail.
“In north Phoenix, that’s where everybody goes for a cool walk,” he says. “It runs along north Central Avenue from Bethany Home up to almost Dunlap Avenue. It’s a historic district for the city, and the Bridle Trail runs along the east side of Central. Full shade, all day long. Hikers, bikers, walkers—everybody’s on there.
“In the downtown area, our Civic Space Park is kind of a model for urban shade,” Adkins adds. “There’s like 118 trees there that provide natural shade, and we also have engineered shade there that has photovoltaic cells on top. It’s a really nice place, a lot of students hang out there.”
Susan Rubin, class coordinator with the Valley Permaculture Alliance, has a couple of favorite oases right in the heart of the city.
“The two areas that come to mind for me are the garden that surrounds St. Mary’s Basilica in downtown Phoenix and the courtyard of Arizona Center,” she says. “The Basilica garden has grass, but its main cooling components are those lovely Palo Verdes that provide a cool environment because of transpiration and because they shade the ground. The calm atmosphere and the water feature also makes it seem cooler. Also in that area, the garden and trees in the courtyard of Arizona Center make it cool enough to sit and enjoy lunch on one of the benches almost all year round. Another nice aspect are the permeable surfaces on the walkways that don’t hold heat.”
Eisenhower says he also loves the quiet of the Basilica’s garden, which can provide an almost psychological cooling. “My wife and I stopped there after a show at Herberger last year, on the way back to our car,” he says. “Such a contrast to the surrounding buildings and concrete in the area—a true ‘posada’ in the desert. That’s a Spanish term; the original posadas, as I recall, were resting places along trails and roads that allowed travelers to get out of the sun and take a break.”
Matthew Salenger, an architect into sustainable design who runs Colab Studio in Tempe with his wife, Maria, and lives in an innovative glass-and-steel home that relies on shade cast by surrounding trees and plants for natural cooling (a step up from the elevated modular pods that filled the back yard prior to the birth of their son), has a few favorite urban posadas of his own.
“The Desert Botanical Garden has some shading devices in a public setting,” he says. “The Lath House downtown at Heritage Square is another example. ASU has their ‘solar canopies’ dotted around the main campus, and SkySong in Scottsdale is doing a similar thing. None are really passively cooled with anything other than shade,” he adds, “but they work!”
Water and Wine
Throwing shade on Arizona’s heated ground floor may be a good idea, but when it comes to cooling, nothing beats a little water. Lately, the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Project, extending along the Salt River from 24th Street westward to 19th Avenue, has been working to restore the native wetland and riparian habitats that were historically associated with the river, which once flowed all the time through what is now Phoenix.
“The Rio Salado area is really good for early morning, but once you get out in the middle of the day, it’s a bit stiff, unless you get down into the very bottom,” says Adkins. Adkins also likes a few wet spots farther out of the Valley.
“Arivica Canyon is one of my favorites. That’s near Winkleman in central Arizona. It’s a beautiful wilderness area, with flowing water. It’s a ‘wet hike,’ where you’re hiking through the river. That’s a fantastic area. I love to go there in the summertime. Down south of Tucson, the Santa Rita Mountains—beautiful. They’ve got nice running water there. And if you want to go to the eastern park of the state, Mount Graham in Safford has perennial streams running through all these different botanical areas. You can’t beat that.”
“There are a few vineyards in northern and southern Arizona that make for good getaways,” she says. “A couple of my personal faves are Page Springs Cellars (in tiny Cornville, about 15 minutes south of Sedona) and Arizona Stronghold, in Old Town Cottonwood.”
Besides offering actual underground cellars or above-ground wine closets where hot humans can be treated to the same highly insulated, controlled cooling conditions used to store the precious grape, visitors at Page Springs can treat themselves to a massage overlooking the vineyard and Arizona Stronghold visitors can enjoy live music in the pines.
“How cool is that?” Donati-Grayman asks.