Sunday, April 17, 2011

Enter the Hidden Gate: Walk or Bicycle to the Desert Botanical Garden

Tucked behind the bus stop, a bicycle and pedestrian-friendly path to the Desert Botanical Garden

On my guest post on Blooming Rock, I wrote "Yet, gems like the Desert Botanical Gardens, the LoPiano Mesquite Bosque in Tempe, the little waterfall at Rio Salado restoration area, these all have nearby cycle paths, with currently no signs and little or no connection with the surrounding area. On trails out in the desert, you see cairns to indicate places where trails continue, little piles of rocks to help out your route-finding." I have also mentioned once or twice on this blog that the great path along the Crosscut Canal, just to the east of the garden, has no signage or obvious connectivity with the garden, even though it runs right along the perimeter fence.

On Saturday, I found one of those good news/bad news situations: the good news is, there actually is connectivity via a sidewalk, a signed gate, and pathway that appears to be right up my alley, intended to be used by pedestrians and cyclists to access the garden, and it is marked with some MONSTER cairns. The bad news is, the gateway is somewhat hidden behind a bus stop, and as far as I can tell is only evident if you walk or cycle right up to it. The tie-in with the public transit system is nice. The lack of signed or obvious connectivity to nearby cycling routes is not, however, and confirms my concerns about route isolation in a previous post on the subject. You can get there from here. But, either you just have to be "in the know," or be willing to take an exploratory ride in a zone dominated by the automobile. In fact, this stretch of McDowell Road, for few miles running east from the photo above, has been a zone of car dealerships for years, which are all now in the process of closing down and relocating. A photo essay on them may make for a good "Urban Desolation" post in the near future.

What you find if you venture Beyond the Bus Stop
I did not know that tall piles of rock marked this trail when I made the cairns comment. These are part of a work called "Papago Park City Boundary Project" (1991) by Jody Pinto and Steve Martino. There's more of it to the west, and I'll post some additional photos of it this week. But this post is all about the hidden gate to the garden.

An awesome path to the garden, which one could call "happy," and another monster cairn

I actually found this path and gate coming from the garden itself, rather than from the bus stop side, so my path of discovery went in reverse from the order of photos in this post. I got there by riding down the Galvin Parkway bike lane, around the roundabout, and down the driveway into the garden through the parking lot. I went that way because I reasoned that if there was any connectivity to be had, I could find it by riding along the parking lot perimeter to try to find another way in. This logic turned out to be flawless, because it led to this discovery.

Oasis, the most exciting discovery: path, native plant shade, water, benches, signage, cactus. Wow!

At the end of this path, I found the little oasis pictured above, and was actually thrilled to come across it. It is perhaps the simplest, most wonderful little oasis spot I have come across, challenged only by the restroom/shade/water oasis along the Arizona Canal at Hayden Road in Scottsdale, and the one at Thunderbird Paseo Park. It's so simple, yet so vital. Look at the green arch, the sun-dappled shade, the native landscaping. A little less pavement would be welcome, I guess. I'll make this a destination on a summer ride when the temperature is in the one-teens, to illustrate its function in a hot desert land (although at 94F and 4% humidity, this mid-April day was not exactly cool).

Current signage at the critical juncture of McDowell Road and the Crosscut Canal path

Currently, this blank, sun-faded blue sign is all you get in terms of information or guidance at the junction of the Crosscut Canal path and McDowell Road. Well, this, and all the "clean up after your dog" signs. This blue sign can just be made out to say "CROSSCUT CANAL, constructed..". This is also, by the way, where the eastbound bike route stops going eastbound, and gives you a choice between riding through the zone of struggling auto dealerships ahead, or veering northbound or southbound along the canal path. Yet, if you turn away from this sign and ride a short distance along the sidewalk-path, you'll get to the Hidden Gate to the Desert Botanical Garden, and even to the oasis pictured above. I am a firm opponent of graffiti. I seriously dislike it. But man, this blank blue sign is crying out for some creative community guidance, isn't it? 

YOU ARE HERE. You can ride just about anywhere you want in the whole city from this point, if you know where to turn. And there's a happy path, with cool shade, benches, and water within a short distance, as well as a world-class botanical garden. How about EXPLORE: IT'S MUCH BETTER THAN IT LOOKS. Do not despair, visitor, for you CAN get there from here, in any direction you chose. Just do this. Get up. Go ride.



  1. That rock lined path is awesome!
    Kudos to the folks that created it.
    Obligatory cactus pictures are expected soon.

  2. "this blank blue sign is crying out for some creative community guidance"

    Yes, it is. What say officialdom about why they've left it that way?

  3. Looks good. I am very jealous of your weather. I miss living in the southern states.

  4. IMHO, the whole Papago Park/Phoenix Zoo/Desert Botanical Gardens area is one of the best places to bicycle on this planet!

    It's only about a 30 minute ride from my place on one of the MTB's; less time on the 'bent. There is SO much to see and do that every time I ride over there I say "Wow, I've never seen THAT before" at least once!

    And as many times as I've been over there, I have never seen your Hidden Gate. Amazing.

    MOST favorite place there is the Evelyn Hallman Pond.

  5. Hey! JRA! Just in case you think I'M the only one who notices how Zen your site is, Ted Johnson over at Commute by Bike ALSO credits you for an attitude adjustment:

    Misanthropy and Whining in Phoenix.

  6. surely you will rectify the big blank sign situation with some creativity and paint. it's not graffiti if it's art. or signage, for that matter.

  7. limom as the weather heats up, the flower pictures fade, and the cactus take over! Soon they will rule this desert land in spiky glory!

    Steve it's possible that it's necessary for a mellow bicycling dude to bring the faded blue sign to the attention of the Canal Signage Authoritays.

    Dan the Man, I've spent some time in the northern tier, and summer to first frost is its time to shine...except for the mosquitos and their brethren. Man I do not miss them one bit(e).

    BluesCat: Evelyn Hallman Pond, now there's an insider's spot! I like it too. I'm wondering if they are going to gussy it up a bit as they enhance the paths. Finances being what they are, those projects seem to be moving slowly along, though. Also, thanks to Ted for mentioning my blog today, and for BluesCat for back linkage.

    Clowncar, it really runs against my nature to do something like that. Although that faded blue sign would really POP with some vibrant Arizona flag colors applied, don't you think??

  8. Last night I found that the Phoenix Zoo has put in a path from the NE corner of Van Buren and Galvin Parkway that connects with the Zoo entrance and has installed some native landscaping. I need to go back and see what it looks like during the day.


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