Digital Storytelling and Visitor Analytics for City and Cultural Institutions
South Mountain Park, a desert mountain preserve, offers over 16,000 acres with horseback riding, hiking, and mountain biking trails for all skill levels.
Formed in 1924 and originally called Phoenix Mountain Park, its initial 13,000 acres were sold by President Calvin Coolidge to the city of Phoenix for $17,000. Bond programs allowed for South Mountain Park's expansion during the 1970s into the1980s. It was renamed due to its location which is south of central Phoenix.
The park's lookout point ascends to over 1000 feet above the desert floor where one can view the landmark Mystery Castle, located within the park's foothills.
Hiking aficionados have no shortage of options, with over 58 miles of trails ranging from moderate to very difficult but all rocky and steep. There are many desert critters including rattlesnakes along the way so hikers are cautioned to let them be and keep going. Guided horseback tours are available from Ponderosa Stables. These tours allow you to ride through the breathtaking desert scenery or visit the park's education center to learn about plants, animals, and natural history of the Sonoran Desert through various exhibits.
There is also a variety of flora and fauna within South Mountain Park, most notably the Elephant tree named for its unique trunk architecture. South Mountain Park is also notable for its chuckwalla population with an average of 65 per hectare. Chuckwallas are large lizards similar to iguanas. According to various sources, the park has the highest density of chuckwallas ever been reported. The male chuckwallas found at South Mountain have a unique “carrot tail” that only this population seems to exhibit.
Cover Image Photo Credit: shy sol from Pexels