Recently my husband and I planned and then took a trip to Phoenix Arizona. The first question you may ask is….Why Phoenix? And the simple answer is Family and Friends. Since our family members have moved to different locations, regular get-togethers at “someone’s” home town are important to all of us.
In 2016 we took a major trip to Arizona with a broad route to Sedona, Flagstaff, the Grand Canyon, parts of Utah. But this current trip was set to focus tighter on the Phoenix area to see what makes this metropolitan area special. And, of course, everything we do is seen through an accessibility lens.
When planning a trip to Phoenix anyone can start by looking at official resources. There are several organizations that promote and support tourism to this area We started by looking at “Visit Arizona” [https://www.visitarizona.com/] from the Arizona Office of Tourism, It contains a lot of information and links to even more information covering places to go, things to see, events to attend and more. We specifically searched for information about disability accessibility. There was general information about ADA compliance throughout the state and all facilities within Arizona, but little specific information by site.
Since we were looking for Phoenix information, the Visit Arizona site directed us to “Visit Phoenix” [ https://www.visitphoenix.com/], a non-profit organization that promotes the Greater Phoenix community to travelers. Like the state tourism site, this one provides a lot of great information, but very little specifically focused on disability and accessibility.
Finally, we looked at the sites for the National Park Service [https://www.nps.gov/state/az/index.htm] (Arizona has 24 National parks, monuments, recreation areas and historical sites listed) and Arizona State Parks [ https://azstateparks.com/] (Arizona has 35 parks listed on their website). So many choices many of which can be day trips from Phoenix!
One other thing we did was to research the sites of disability writers, bloggers and activists. Interestingly, several actually are based in the Phoenix area.
The best site I found focused on visiting the Phoenix area from a disability access perspective was from “Wheelchair Jimmy” (https://wheelchairjimmy.com/phoenix/) He reports a lot of information about hotels, restaurants, transit and ”things to do” in featured cities. And Phoenix was one of his featured cities. He gave his review of 12 things to do when visiting Phoenix, 8 of which are in Phoenix / Scottsdale area.
With all of this information, and needing to satisfy the interests of several family members, what did we ultimately choose to do?
Well, we chose one amazing museum, several parks, back roads through a national forest, a steam boat ride on a lake and a day trip to the legendary town of Tombstone!
The Musical Instrument Museum
https://mim.org/ This museum is amazing! Here’s what they say in their description and I can’t say it better:
MIM displays more than 7,000 instruments collected from around 200 of the world’s countries and territories. Most displays are enhanced by state-of-the-art audio and video technologies that allow guests to see the instruments, hear their sounds, and observe them being played in their original contexts—performances that are often as spectacular as the instruments themselves. What’s more, all guests are invited to play instruments from around the world in the Experience Gallery. They can also see instruments from music icons such as Elvis Presley®, Johnny Cash, Pablo Casals, John Lennon, and many more.
It was all this AND PERFECTLY ACCESSIBLE! It had wide passageways, electric doors throughout, benches for slow-walkers and more. We spent the better part of a day there and even enjoyed a tasty lunch in their on-site café.
South Mountain Park and Preserve
It was reported that this is the largest municipal park in the United States, and one of the largest urban parks in North America and in the world. Their materials say that this park has 50 miles of trails through 16,000 acres of the Sonoran Desert, all within the city limits of Phoenix. Our “able-bodied” family members hiked trails and even took a 1+ hour trail ride on horseback.
Although we were told that there are several wheelchair accessible trails, we opted to drive up the 5.5-mile Summit Road up to Dobbins Lookout, the highest accessible point in the preserve. The views were spectacular in several key spots. Unfortunately I was not able to go out to Dobbins Lookout in my chair because of it’s rough gravel and stone pathway. The visitors center, however, was wonderful and fully accessible.
Canyon Lake and Dolly Steamboat
Canyon Lake is the smallest of four reservoirs that were formed by the damming of the Salt River. This one was formed by the Mormon Flat Dam, has a surface area of 950 acres (1.484 square miles.) and is located about 45 miles outside of Phoenix
There are many ways to experience this lovely lake, but we opted to take the 1½ hour “Scenic Nature Cruise” from Dolly Steamboat. It was just as promised. We saw wildlife (at a distance) and a wide array of peaceful inlets, stunning cliff walls and plenty of just natural beauty. The lower level of the Dolly Steamboat was fully accessible and the staff was very attentive to the requirements of “special needs” guests. My only challenge as a wheelchair user came from the restrooms at the main building, which were older, small and could not easily and appropriately handle a wheelchair (the accessible stall barely fit a wheelchair and door could not be closed).
After our boat ride we went to the Goldfield Ghost Town in nearby Apache Junction (http://goldfieldghosttown.com/). This recreated town is pleasant, but not very accessible. It is built on a hillside and has unpaved, sandy walkways. They have installed some ramps and benches, but they were not always easy to find. In contrast with what we experienced in Tombstone (see below), this is not an ideal destination for wheelchair users
Tonto National Forest
– To Payson, Mogollan Rim Lookout, Young, Roosevelt and the Apache Trail to Tortilla Flat
What an amazing drive, what a gorgeous adventure. On one of the days we were in Phoenix we decided to go for a drive to the northeast of the city through the Superstition Mountains up to Payson. Not knowing exactly what to do, we just headed to Payson. When we got there we stopped for gas, and asked locals for suggestions of what to see. They suggested that we drive to the Mogollon Rim Overlook. We did, it was gorgeous, windy and cold (Yes. It can be cold in Arizona in May!) And the gift shop, viewing platform and restrooms were reasonably accessible.
While there, we looked at our maps and decided to drive the loop through Young to Roosevelt. It looked to be a two-lane road which was fine since we were not in a hurry and welcomed the potential of seeing local and natural scenery. A short distance down the road came a sign….unpaved road ahead. We moved ahead cautiously and ultimately found that the road to Young, and later, the one from Young to Roosevelt were hard-packed dirt roads – a bit dusty, but quite acceptable and offering many pretty sights and views along the way.
It is important to note that as we left the “comforts of civilization”, the likelihood that my wheelchair and I could leave the car for more direct exploration decreased. But the car windows still offered beautiful sights.
When we reached Roosevelt there was an opportunity to stop. View the lake and seek out accessible facilities.
The next leg of the trip from Roosevelt to Tortilla Flat also showed as a two-lane road, but, again did not indicate the reality of what we’d find. This road, the “Apache Trail” was also unpaved, but much sandier, dustier, narrower and curvier that before. An appropriate road for a Jeep, not all of the cars (and a full-size RV towing a boat) that we encountered. As we wove along the hillsides (OK…cliffsides!), we continued to see amazing sites.
My conclusions…. We were very grateful to my husband, our driver, who had to work very hard that day to safely give us this unique experience. To anyone taking this trip make sure to come with a good vehicle and a great driver! Second, know that non-ambulatory travelers will find very limited opportunities to leave the vehicle. But often the challenges are the fun of traveling and this was a wonderfully memorable day!
Several family members are true fans of the Western movie genre. And for that reason we chose to drive to Tombstone and spend a day there. Tombstone is closer to Tucson than Phoenix, but the high speed limits on smooth open highways made it a reasonably quick trip to go there.
We learned that the city has been rebuilt several times through history. The current iteration is designed to look authentic but work well in appealing to the “creature comfort” needs of the tourists that are now their lifeblood. As that implies, disability access was good almost everywhere. Paved walkways, ramps, benches and curb-cuts were structured to look “natural” even though they may not have been historically accurate. There were also public restrooms available that were acceptably accessible.
When we arrived, our first stop was the famous OK Corral and the re-enactment of that legendary gunfight. Their location was fully accessible, and the show was well cast and acted! While in town we saw several small museums / displays including the ones at the OK Corral. The Rose Tree and part of the Bird Cage Theater. Everywhere we were being summoned to additional gunfights and other shows. A lot of fake death in this town. But an enjoyable day nevertheless.
There was much more that we could have seen on a trip to Phoenix, but this assortment worked so well for our family this year. I am happy to say that almost every place we visited had tried to accommodate their guests who have disabilities. We look forward to going back to Arizona in the future and seeing even more of their unique offerings!