Desert oases: Water activities abound near Mesa, Arizona
When planning a vacation around water activities, most travelers would not consider the desert. The variety of such activities will surprise those who visit Mesa, Arizona.
There are three lakes and two rivers within 30 minutes of this third-largest city in Arizona. The lakes and rivers offer water sports from kayaking to water skiing, scenic desert views and relaxing while fishing from one of the many miles of shoreline.
Traveling to Louisville, Kentucky, or Memphis, Tennessee, one would expect to take a steamboat cruise. But, in the middle of the desert in Tortilla Flat, Arizona, it is unexpected. Here the Dolly offers a scenic, 90-minute nature cruise on Canyon Lake that spotlights the Superstition Mountains and their lore. As the captain guides the Dolly he tells of the stories and history.
Cruisers will most likely come upon bald eagles, elusive bighorn sheep and other desert wildlife while enjoying the beautiful desert mountain landscape. Learn about the desert flora and the magnificent saguaro cacti. Don’t forget your camera, and maybe bring binoculars to help see those sheep that virtually hang on the mountain side. Visitors also will learn how the area was formed geologically.
The Dolly Steamboat has been cruising since 1925. Also available are a twilight dinner cruise and the Astronomy Dinner Cruise, including a presentation on the solar system with Dr. Sky and dinner.
The boat is air-conditioned and a snack bar is on board offering snacks, water, soda and alcohol. Visit dollysteamboat.com for regulations and reservations, or call 480-827-9144. CDC COVID-19 safety recommendations are being followed on Dolly cruises.
Canyon Lake has 28 miles of shoreline and offers RV and tent camping, boat rental and fishing. Visit canyonlakemarina.com.
Saguaro Lake — named for the cactus — was the last of the reservoirs built on the Salt River. The Stewart Mountain Dam was completed in 1930, forming the lake. Travelers here usually notice the tall cactus that is not seen in many places throughout the western deserts; this area is surrounded by them.
With more than 22 miles of shoreline, Saguaro Lake offers an oasis in the middle of the desert. It is a great place for boating, fishing, camping, jet skiing, sailing and kayaking. The Saguaro del Norte Recreation site near the dam is where travelers find the marina. The ShipRock Restaurant is also here, with great elevated views of the lake. Visit saguarolakeshiprockrestaurant.com for menus.
Kayak rentals are available at Canyon & Cliffside Kayaking. It is one of the best and most beautiful ways to explore the lake. Kayakers will receive basic safety and paddling instructions and suggestions on where to go.
Things to know:
• Call ahead for reservations; info at saguarolakeranch.com.
• No experience is necessary.
• You will get wet, so wear appropriate attire.
• Bring sunblock.
• No alcohol or glass is permitted. Coolers will be inspected.
• Water shoes or tennis shoes are highly recommended.
• Bring a dry bag or waterproof bag for personal items.
• Bring water.
May through September, depending on water levels, the scenic lower Salt River is also open to tours. Imagine the peacefulness of gently floating along the river in a raft or inner tube. That option is available at saguarolakeranch.com.
Other lakes offering fishing, camping and more are Apache Lake, which is 17 miles long (apachelake.com), and Roosevelt Lake, with 112 miles of shoreline and hotels (rlmaz.com).
For more information on the lakes and boating and fishing regulations go to visitmesa.com.
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