Sonoran Desert Tour

Scottsdale, AZ

I just returned from a wonderful four-day weekend to Scottsdale, Arizona and the highlight of my trip was an ATV tour of the desert. After doing a bit of research before I went, I chose a tour close to Scottsdale where the company actually picked us up from our hotel in a very nice Mercedes van.

There were plenty of independent tours to choose from. Some used dune buggies, four-wheelers, three-wheelers, jeeps, hummers, segways and even hot air balloons. This Green Zebra tour I picked was 2.5 hours long, with only  a 30 minute drive from our hotel to the starting point, and provided us with water and a colorful bandana. It sounded like the perfect plan for us. A morning tour of the desert left us with plenty of time for a late lunch and shopping in the afternoon!

We dressed in closed-toe shoes and grubby clothes, grabbed our sunglasses and hats, and were ready to roll. Our driver/guide Mike picked us up from our hotel and we drove through Scottsdale towards Fort McDowell. Mike explained many of the sights along the way. Our starting point for the tour was actually on tribal land belonging to the Yavapi Indians. We pulled into the main facility (which reminded me a little of the Alamo!) and unloaded. We used the restrooms, donned our bandanas, and listened intently as Mike gave us our instructions for the trail.

The TomCar ATVs were gas powered, military grade and did not have power steering or power brakes. There were two-seaters and four-seaters. We elected my daughter Rachel to drive our four-seater with me in the back and my sister-in-law in the front passenger seat. Luckily, the TomCars did had “over-the-shoulder” harness type seat belts (to keep you from bouncing out) and windshields (to keep a large percentage of red dirt and dust out of your face!). The main rules were to stay on the trail behind the guide and to stay 1-2 car lengths behind the car in front of you. We had this!!

The scenery along the way was gorgeous! The Sonoran Desert has heavy rainfall in the summer and winter and it was more lush than I had imagined. It was rugged but very beautiful. Our TomCars drove through brush, climbed rocky hillsides, and bumped along through dry rocky riverbeds and canyons that showed evidence of flash floods during the rainy season. Our excursion took us from rushes of adrenaline to quiet peacefulness in this remote landscape.

Our first stop was a high overlook at the Verde River. We actually talked to an Arizona Fish & Wildlife employee who had set up cameras at this location to study nesting bald eagles in the large trees down below. The scenery here from this high vista was amazing. We saw Scottsdale, Fountain Hills, and Phoenix in the distance. We could see how the Verde River split the tribal lands down the middle. Mike pointed out the Yavapi’s reservation housing and their expansive acreage. The Native Americans farm citrus groves, pecan groves, alfalfa, and other grains for their vast livestock. When investors wanted to dam the Verde River miles upstream decades ago to create luxury waterfront real estate, the presence of bald eagles here (then on the endangered species list) kept this from happening and the Yavapi kept their lands fertile with this water source. They are presently a very wealthy and prosperous tribe.

Our next adventure took us through dense mesquite groves, where we saw recent evidence of a herd of wild horses. The trail ended at a low spot by the Verde River, so we stopped and got out for a water break. Mike then explained all about the mesquite trees and how important they were to the Native Americans. The wood was used for firewood and smoking meats. The flowers and pods were edible. The “peas/beans” were a source of protein in lean months and could be dried and ground into flour. The sap was used as a hair product. These mesquite trees are much larger than the scrubby ones we see in Texas.

Our third and final scheduled stop was to check out the cacti near the trail. This huge saguaro we examined was over 200 years old. Mike also pointed out many other plant and cacti species that thrive in this desert climate. He talked about the geology, history, and wildlife in this area – it was very interesting. He also had a killer John Wayne impression! We then found several kangaroo rat burrows, but unfortunately – no rats. They were wise and stayed hidden from us (as did the rattlesnakes). Mike told us these desert rodents live their entire lives and never drink water (they get moisture from the seeds and vegetation they eat) and instead of urinating liquid, they excrete a small drop of yellow paste. So being the mature adults we are….we then spent the next five minutes looking for mustard colored kangaroo rat droppings, but never found any.

This was a such a fun and educational experience! My sister-in-law Linda is not the most adventurous type – but even she enjoyed the tour and got out of her comfort zone a little (okay… a LOT!). My daughter was completely in her element with this excursion and loved driving our TomCar. We were covered in dirt from head to toe when we finished and our clothes were a dusty mess. It took a couple of showers and many kleenex and Q-tips to erase all the “evidence” of this adventure – but it was well worth it! We made wonderful memories on this morning and I hope you have the opportunity to do the same one day.

If you would like, please leave me comments or additional information relating to this blog. I would love to hear your thoughts on this trip and your own experiences. I highly enjoyed this brief trip to Scottsdale and urge anyone to visit – especially if you enjoy excursions like this. Please subscribe to my blog for more travel and dining updates. Thanks!

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the beautiful Sonoran Desert on a warm, cloudy morning

3 thoughts on “Sonoran Desert Tour

  1. After planning a trip for a friend to Sedona and reading this blog, I need to head on over to AZ myself! Loved reading it!

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    • Thanks! We really wanted to drive up to Sedona, but it was another almost 2 hours from Phoenix and we only had 4 days total. I plan to return and check out Sedona. The spas and Indian ruins would be on my short list! Scottsdale was incredible though. I have never seen one place with so many nice restaurants – you could not throw a shoe and not hit a great eatery. My kind of place! You would LOVE it.

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