In case you’re wondering, it has been beautiful at the Grand Canyon.
Blue skies that touch eternity. Highs in the 80s, and much cooler at night. Fresh air and one of nature’s most awesome views.
It has been so nice there, and it’s getting so beastly hot here, that the Grand Canyon looks to be one of the more popular destinations as Arizonans hit the road for summer’s first holiday weekend. But at the Grand Canyon, and in the rest of the state, there’ll be elbow room for all.
At the Grand Canyon, for example, spokeswoman Maureen Oltrogge said that while most camp sites and hotel rooms at the park likely will be full by Friday morning, accommodations will be available outside the park.
She advised visitors to arrive before 10 a.m. or after 2 p.m., and instead of driving around she urged them to park their cars and either use shuttle buses or walk. The park recently built two trail segments and a new visitors center.
Tonto National Forest, which borders some East Valley cities, expects most of its sites in the popular Payson area to be filled by late today or early Friday, according to Dave Killebrew, the forest’s duty officer. “But there are other places you can go on the Tonto that won’t be full at all,” he said.
He recommended the area around Roosevelt Lake for campers who don’t mind warm afternoon temperatures in exchange for cool nights and a lake with plenty of room for boating.
Killebrew said lakes nearer the East Valley — Bartlett, Saguaro, Canyon and Apache — probably will be at capacity before noon each day of the weekend. Once their parking lots are full, no more boaters are allowed in.
Developed campgrounds in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests are going fast, said forest spokesman Bob Dyson. “But there’s always room for people in the dispersed areas of the forest. There’s always room for one more.”
In fact, Ellen Bilbrey, spokeswoman for the state park system, said the main issue is whether you want a campfire. If you do, you’ll need a developed space. If not, camping is allowed virtually anywhere in Arizona’s public lands as long as people obey fire rules.
Fire is much on the minds of Arizona forest and campground administrators in this, the driest part of the year. Most of the state’s national forests imposed restrictions this week, as have most Maricopa County parks.
Bilbrey said there were some 1,800 known wildfires in the state last year, most caused by runaway campfires and smoking materials. Dyson said Apache-Sitgreaves already has had 10 fires this year, half of them escaped campfires. “We just can’t tolerate any of that stuff,” he said.
Bilbrey said that while some state parks fill up quickly, others seldom do. Lyman Lake State Park, which offers fishing, boating, hiking, camping and even a buffalo herd near Springerville, is in that category. So is Roper Lake State Park near Safford.
The Arizona Department of Transportation will try to make traffic flow better by suspending all road construction in the state during the weekend, said department spokesman Matt Burdick.
Even so, travelers can expect slow going, especially on Interstate 17 north of Phoenix and state Route 87, the Beeline Highway, between Payson and the East Valley.
Memorial Day can be a deadly time on the roads. Last year, Burdick said, the weekend saw 843 crashes statewide, killing 11 people and injuring 572. Three of those deaths and 101 of the injuries were alcohol-related, he said.
In addition, our climate makes it vital to take extra supplies in case of a roadside emergency, Burdick said. Water is essential for people and vehicles alike; babies will need diapers if the family car is stuck in traffic or broken down.
People don’t have to drive far to enjoy the outdoors, however. Rand Hubbell of the Maricopa County parks department said camping is available at Usery Mountain Recreation Area in northeast Mesa and McDowell Mountain Regional Park near Fountain Hills.
County parks offer the best of both worlds, Hubbell said. “You have a feeling of isolation but if you get out there and realize, ‘I have everything but a frying pan,’ you’re only a half-hour to 45 minutes from home.”
Stay-at-home East Valley residents seeking heat relief also can find some beginning 9 a.m. Saturday at Salt River Recreation in northeast Mesa, which offers inner-tube rides on the lower Salt River for a $12 daily pass.
The water temperature is always 68 degrees, said Lynda Breault, the company’s vice president — a nice contrast to weekend highs expected in the 100-degree range.
“If you put your bottom in a tube and you’re floating along, it’s a cool way to enjoy the water,” she said.