It’s about that time again. Time for the boys of summer to get back to work. Half of all Major League clubs—that’s 15 teams—pack their bags and head to the Phoenix, Arizona area for spring training. Stadium hopping couldn’t be easier thanks to the close proximity of the numerous ball parks. Scottsdale alone is home three teams: the San Francisco Giants, Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks.
In addition to the obvious hundreds of games, spring training offers baseball fans a seemingly endless number of perks including cheap seats, access to favorite players, and sunny skies, just to name a few. But in between home runs and seventh inning stretches, the Arizona desert is full of surprises, and I’m not talking about the kind you find in a box of Cracker Jacks. Fans can fly high in a hot air balloon, kayak with wild horses, or come face to face with a fire breathing dragon. It’s the kind of adventures vacations are made of; the kind of adventures that might even have baseball fans thinking about skipping a game or two.
It’s easy to get carried away and forget about the first pitch when you’re soaring across the Sonoran Desert. Hot air balloon rides typically rise up with the sun, so you have to roll out of bed in the dark, but it’s worth the early wake-up call. (Select times of year, afternoon/sunset flights are available.) Hot Air Expeditions has been flying in Arizona for more than 25 years. Take-off and landing sites vary depending on wind conditions, but the views are always exhilarating.
Whether you’re a first-time flier or ballooning pro, don’t forget to wear comfortable clothes and shoes. Layers are best. The temperature above should be about the same as the temperature on the ground, but be sure to bring along a hat. The hot air used to keep balloons afloat can make your head feel toasty warm as well. Once back on solid ground, fliers enjoy a sit-down gourmet breakfast in the desert complete with mimosas.
When you think of the desert, water isn’t typically part of the picture that comes to mind, but the Lower Salt River is a spot you’ll want to seek out and dip your toes into. Most stretches are only a few feet deep, and gentle conditions make it a place you’ll want to kayak or go paddle boarding again and again.
“The experience is different every time you are out there,” says Annemarie Kruse, Director of Marketing for Arizona Outback Adventures. “The water flow varies. The wildlife varies.”
The cast of amazing characters that call the Lower Salt River home includes beavers, river otters, and bald eagles, but it’s the wild horses that seem to make the most lasting impressions. (They even have their own Facebook page.) Some believe the wild horses are descendants of Iberian horses originally brought to the area by Spanish explorers in the 1500s. Regardless of where their origins lie, a 2017 census estimated more than 400 mustangs make their home along the entirety of the Salt River.
Mother Nature is never a sure bet, but if you’re lucky you’ll catch sight of a few grazing along the river’s edge as you float by. Arizona Outback Adventures runs half-day guided kayaking and stand up paddle board tours. They provide all the necessary gear, including water, snacks, and dry bags.
Taliesin West was the winter home and school of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It was built by Wright and his apprentices in the 1930s, but constantly evolved until his death in 1959. A home, studio, and architecture school, tours of the National Historic Landmark are offered daily. Reservations are strongly recommended to avoid disappointment. If you can make it work with your schedule, the night tour comes with the strong possibility of an amazing sunset and a glimpse of a fire breathing dragon…sculpture.
You’ll feel the heat when visiting nearby Cosanti too, as you watch artisans at the foundry create wind bells out of liquid bronze, heated to more than two thousand degrees. Cosanti is the home and studio of late architect and craftsman Paolo Soleri. The former Wright student was known for creating many things, including wind bells.
What time was that game again?