/ The Phoenix Traveler
Phoenix — By Heather Wright Schlichting on April 23, 2010 at 6:38 am
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A Hole of a View at Papago Park

For an easy trek with an amazing view, hike Trail #1 to the Hole-in-the-Rock at Papago Park in Central Phoenix.

Papago Park (map) is a hilly desert park covering over 1400 acres.  Surrounded by Tempe and Scottsdale, Papago Park is the third jewel that makes up the family-friendly area next to the Desert Botanical Garden and the Phoenix Zoo.

The distinctive red sandstone geological formations of Papago Park were formed some 6-15 million years ago. A major landmark, Hole-in-the-Rock openings or holes eroded over time. There is some evidence that the Hohokam—a now-extinct aboriginal tribe that once lived in the Phoenix area—used the openings and sunlight to track the solstices.

The holes, called tafoni, in Hole-In-The-Rock were formed by water breaking up the minerals in the rock. Throughout the park, a thin veneer of sand and rock overlie a bedrock landform, with some areas worn away to reveal the outcropping of bedrock.

As you approach the formation, you see a large opening at the top, approximately 7 x 20 feet.  You realize it’s a hole clearly because you see the blue sky surrounded by the red sandstone of the formation.  When I saw an image of a person blocking parts of the sky, I knew that I was in the right place.

Man-made stairs lead up to the Hole-in-the-Rock

Free parking is located at the foot of the trail and the trail is only 6/10 of a mile winding behind the rock.  As we made our way to the back of the rock it was a relief to see the man-made stairs made out of the earth leading up to the hole, making it the easiest trail I’ve ever hiked.  When you climb the stairs to the top the rock levels out and you only have a few steps before you enter through the hole.  But first, turn around and check out the view.  In the distance is Camelback mountain to the north, Sky Song, ASU’s innovation center for businesses, to the east and an oasis with a fishing lagoon surrounded by tall palm trees on the south side of the park.

When you enter into the Hole-in-the-Rock you’re in a type of cave that has even more expansive views of downtown Phoenix.  There are even man-made stairs for hikers to easily step into the cave.  This is a great place for family outings; even young children found the hike easily accessible.  I suggest you take a seat, relax and soak in the views.

A Park for Everyone
The park also features picnic areas, several small lakes, hiking trails, bicycle paths, a fire museum, and Hunt’s Tomb, the pyramidal tomb of Arizona’s first governor, George P. Hunt. The Tempe side of the park better known as Tempe Papago Park includes baseball and softball fields, picnic ramadas and a small lake.

Papago Golf Course a totally restored, revitalized historic course officially reopened in 2008. The course offers golfers of all levels a challenging course with wonderful views.  I’ve heard great reviews of this new and improved course and winter prices (high season) are reasonable with $59 for Arizona residents and $99 for non residents.

If you go towards the “Hunt’s Tomb” area, look on the hill for Big Horned Sheep, just across the fence in the Phoenix Zoo. Other wildlife exist with cottontail rabbits, jackrabbits, rock squirrels, quail, flickers, and others running around the grounds.

A total of nine trails rating Easy to Easy/Moderate with Elliott Ramada Loop being the longest at 2.7 miles are a great place for a family hike or to hone your mountain biking skills.

A shot of the Phoenix skyline in the background once you enter the hole.

A Little History
Papago Park was designated a reservation for the local Maricopa and Pima tribes of aboriginal Americans in 1879. It became the Papago Saguaro National Monument in 1914, but this status was abolished by Congress in 1930; divided amongst the state of Arizona, the city of Tempe, the Arizona National Guard, and the Salt River Project.

During WWII, the park housed a POW camp with as many as 3,100 prisoners from 1942 to 1944. It was also the site of the largest mass escape from any United States prison camp in World War II. The Great Papago Escape occurred on December 23, 1944 when a German U-Boat Captain and crew of 25 escaped using a 178-foot escape route and made their way to the Arizona desert.  They quickly realized that they knew nothing about the landscape or climate and turned themselves back in. After the war it served as a VA hospital, then an Army Reserve  facility. The state owned portion of the park was sold to the city of Phoenix in 1959 and an 18-hole championship golf course was built by the city in 1963.

Today, the park is utilized and enjoyed by many.  It was even the finish line in the fourth season of the television show, The Amazing Race.

So, pack a picnic, bring your fishing pole and wear your hiking boots or cleats; Papago Park has something for everyone.

Photos from personal collection.

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  • Bob says:

    Very nice, love the WWII history.

  • heather says:

    Thanks Bob,

    I thought that bit of information was really interesting. I love the part about the German prisoners escaping and then giving up because they couldn’t withstand the desert elements. Who can??

    Thanks for visiting!

  • Good background information about Papago Park. My sister got married at the park about a year ago and took some really nice pictures in the hole in the rock. Definitely a great park to hang out in!

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