There is a mystical kind of beauty attached to a broad desert landscape and as my horse Molly meandered down a rocky path in the Sonoran Desert

There is a mystical kind of beauty attached to a broad desert landscape and as my horse Molly meandered down a rocky path in the Sonoran Desert

Ghosts of the Sonoran

There is a mystical kind of beauty attached to a broad desert landscape and as my horse Molly meandered down a rocky path in the Sonoran Desert, I couldn’t imagine a better way to become acquainted with this unique area of Arizona.

There is a mystical kind of beauty attached to a broad desert landscape and as my horse Molly meandered down a rocky path in the Sonoran Desert, I couldn’t imagine a better way to become acquainted with this unique area of Arizona.

There is something peaceful and down-to-earth about experiencing a place on horseback. While your horse conveys you across the landscape, you are transported back in time to an era far removed from the fast pace of a modern world.

This is particularly true if you are riding in the desert near Goldfield Ghost Town, as we were. The entire point of this tourist attraction is to take you back in time to the 1890s, when the town of Goldfield was in its heyday.

Goldfield was a classic boom-and-bust gold mine town. In 1895, the community accommodated 1,500 residents, rivalling nearby Mesa in size. When the vein of gold in the local mine started to play out and the grade of ore began to drop, the town died nearly as fast as it had formed.

Visitors today can explore the ghost town and take a journey into the Sonoran Desert that surrounds it.

Located in the shadows of the Superstition Mountains and the Goldfield Mountains, this region of the Sonoran is particularly awe-inspiring.

Although you would imagine that little could survive on such parched ground, the desert is amazingly alive. Plants, animals and indigenous people survived and even thrived in this area long before there were modern conveniences like electricity and running water.

Some of the plants that grow here can be found nowhere else in the world. The Sonoran Desert is the only place in the world where the giant tree-like saguaro cactus (carnegiea gigantea) grows in the wild and these massive cacti are one of the most notable features of the landscape.

In the Sonoran Desert, everyone is a cactus expert and we had many locals who were eager to tell us about their famous saguaro cacti.

On the 30-minute ride from Mesa to Goldfield, our bus driver identified a particularly large saguaro cactus and told us he could tell that this particular cactus was at least a century old. He explained that it takes about 70 years for a saguaro to develop a sidearm and since this specimen had more than one large arm, it was at least a century old — if not two.

Later that afternoon as we explored the desert on horseback, another guide showed us a variety of saguaro cacti and explained more about them. In passing, he said that it was a bad idea to hit these enormous cacti with your car — unless you were trying to destroy your vehicle. Saguaro cacti are very efficient at storing water, and hitting a saguaro is like hitting a brick wall. I had the distinct impression he had some personal experience in this area.

Besides providing a beautiful backdrop for a horseback ride, these cacti provide homes to many desert mammals and birds. As we passed close by them on our horses, we would often see large holes where woodpeckers or other creatures had burrowed inside the cacti to seek shelter.

While we rode along, our guide recounted the history of the Goldfield Gold Mine and the rise and fall of the town. We also heard the story of the Dutchman’s Lost Mine, which is said to hold a rich stash of gold and is located somewhere in the Superstition Mountain range. To this day, no one knows where the mine is, but many intrepid explorers have lost their lives or been driven mad trying to find it. The Dutchman’s elusive gold is one of the greatest living legends of the American Southwest.

As our two-hour ride came to an end, I couldn’t help feeling an attachment to this beautiful and rugged desert environment and a sense of peace from having travelled there. Exploring it on horseback was definitely the way to go. Perhaps next time I will go on an overnight pack trip and search for the Dutchman’s lost gold.

About the Sonoran Desert

The Sonoran Desert is incredibly large, covering a total area of about 311,000 square km in Arizona, California and northwest Mexico. In addition to the saguaro cactus, you can find a wide variety of other cacti, including cholla, beavertail, hedgehog, prickly pear, fishhook, night-blooming cereus and organ pipe cactus.

If you go:

• Once an abandoned ghost town, Goldfield is today a well-serviced tourist attraction. Onsite is a railroad ride, a museum, mine tours, a reptile exhibit, gold panning, gift shops, a saloon and a floozy house. Gunfights happen on Saturdays and Sundays between noon and 4 p.m. There is also a livery offering excursions on horseback and a tour company offering guided hiking and jeep tours in the surrounding desert. For more information, visit www.goldfieldghosttown.com.

• Spring is a good time to visit this area of Arizona. During the rainy season in the desert — typically sometime between March and June — the cacti will bloom, displaying showy flowers in reds, pinks, yellows, and whites. The desert gets extremely hot during the summer months of July and August.

• The Goldfield Livery is operated by OK Corrals (www.okcorrals.com; 480-982-0133). You can book one-, two- or four-hour trail rides from the Goldfield Livery site or contact OK Corrals to book overnight pack trips into the Superstition Mountains.

• A visit to Goldfield would not be complete without a stop at the nearby Mining Camp Restaurant. The restaurant serves chicken and ribs and all the fixings family style on picnic tables inside their air-conditioned dining room. A live band plays old-time music and guests eat on tin plates and drink out of tin cups. There is an 11 a.m. seating and a 2 p.m. seating and the cost is $19.95 per adult with discounts available for children and seniors. For more information, visit www.miningcamprestaurant.com or call 480-982-3181.

• For more information on visiting this region of Arizona or to get a free guide, visit www.visitsunnyaz.com or call 866-914-1055.

Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe-based freelance writer. If you have a travel story you would like to share or know someone with an interesting travel story who we might interview, please email: DOGO@telusplanet.net or write to: Debbie Olsen, c/o Red Deer Advocate, 2950 Bremner Ave., Red Deer, Alta., T4R 1M9.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The future of Westerner Park continues to be plagued by many unknowns, including when city council will make a decision about financing its operations. (File photo by Advocate staff).
Red Deer city council delays making decision on Westerner Park financing

It will mean missing the next opportunity to apply for a provincial loan

Nineteen-year-old Amanda enjoys a ride during a visit to Spirit’s Respite Ranch near Stettler. photo submitted
Busy days at Spirit’s Respite Ranch near Stettler

The ranch, which launched operations last summer, provides support through animal interaction

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer at the announcement that the city will be getting a drug treatment court Thursday. Jason Luan, associate minister of mental health and addictions, looks on.
Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Veer concerned about rising COVID-19 cases in Red Deer

The City of Red Deer is reminding citizens to protect themselves against… Continue reading

Rode
Volunteering played major role in RDC awards

Under normal circumstances, the RDC Red Deer Bottling Athlete of the Year… Continue reading

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said on Thursday that the province has seen its first case of the B.1.617 variant. (Photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Red Deer nears record number of active COVID-19 cases

Alberta reports 1,857 new cases of COVID-19, 1,326 new variants

Curtis Labelle (second from left) and his band are planning a cross-Canada tour in 2022. Meanwhile, Labelle is continuing to host his weekly livestreamed talk show, Chattin 88. (Contributed photo).
Red Deer rock pianist takes on a talk show role

Curtis Labelle’s Chattin 88 gets views from around the globe

Toronto Maple Leafs' Nick Foligno (71) and Mitchell Marner (16) celebrate Marner's goal on Winnipeg Jets goaltender Laurent Brossoit (30) during second-period NHL action in Winnipeg on Thursday, April 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
Leafs end five-game winless skid with 5-3 win over Jets in North Division battle

Leafs end five-game winless skid with 5-3 win over Jets in North Division battle

Taylor Pendrith from Richmond Hill, Ont. salutes the crowd after sinking a birdie on the 18th hole to come in at five under par during first round of play at the Canadian Open golf championship Thursday, July 24, 2014 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
PGA Tour Canada splits into Canadian, American circuits for 20201

PGA Tour Canada splits into Canadian, American circuits for 20201

Like father, like son: Floreal emerges as one of Canada’s top sprinters

Like father, like son: Floreal emerges as one of Canada’s top sprinters

Toronto Blue Jays center fielder George Springer (4) walks on the field during a team workout, Wednesday, March 31, 2021, at Yankee Stadium in New York. The Blue Jays face the New York Yankees on opening day Thursday in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Injured Jays OF Springer to play in intrasquad game Friday

Injured Jays OF Springer to play in intrasquad game Friday

Toronto Raptors' Khem Birch (24) defends against Brooklyn Nets' Blake Griffin during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 21, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)
Raptors ride strong 3rd quarter to 114-103 win over Nets

Raptors ride strong 3rd quarter to 114-103 win over Nets

Team Canada's Jocelyne Larocque celebrates her goal past the U.S.A. with goaltender Embrace Maschmeyer during first period of Women's Rivalry Series hockey action in Vancouver, Wednesday, February 5, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Stunned Canadian players head home after women’s world hockey cancellation

Stunned Canadian players head home after women’s world hockey cancellation

Health Minister Patty Hajdu is shown at a COVID-19 press conference in Ottawa on Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/David Kawai
Health Canada proposes new restrictions on talc in some personal care products

Health Canada proposes new restrictions on talc in some personal care products

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady passes under pressure from Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Alex Okafor during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. Lawmakers are debating legislation to legalize single-event betting as a bill reaches final reading in the House of Commons. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mark Humphrey
Bill on single-game sports betting on cusp of passing — but not for first time

Bill on single-game sports betting on cusp of passing — but not for first time

Most Read