The other day while cycling with friends in Saguaro National Park, I saw a family at the picnic grounds sitting quietly as the sun sank in the west. They had food spread out on the concrete table, and three generations were passing chicken and plastic forks. In the stillness, above their quiet conversation a cactus wren sang in the trees.
Picnics used to be common, and I find it a bit sad that they have largely disappeared in our hectic world of fast food and video games. Luckily for those of us who wish to indulge this quaint custom, the infrastructure of lonely roads leading to picnic tables persists.
Winter is the best time of year for picnics in the desert. Not only is it cool enough to enjoy being outside, but afterwards you will be able to post photos on social media and drive friends and relatives living in the tundra states mad with jealousy! Win-win!
There are several wonderful places to have picnics within a brief drive from home.
The most obvious is Saguaro National Park. Saguaro National Park is split into two sections, one is located just a few miles from Vail on Old Spanish Trail, while the other is located on the west side of the Tucson Mountains.
The two sections share their namesake cactus, but the geology and in some cases, even the plants and animals are somewhat different. Both are beautiful and even during the busiest of weekends, strangely secluded.
After your picnic under a shaded ramada, you can walk off the calories on any of several hundred miles of trails found in both sections of the park.
Agua Caliente Park off Tanque Verde and Roger has a vastly different feel. Fed by a natural hot spring, the park is a lush green oasis of stately trees and dappled lawns. For children, the pond is a natural lure and pointing out the many colorful ducks and turtles will keep them entertained.
There are no hiking trails here (though the rugged, beautiful and difficult climb up Agua Caliente Hill is located about a mile away); the lush landscape and paved sidewalks encourage casual strolling.
Colossal Cave is often overlooked; the park itself is located in a rich natural riparian area fed by Agua Verde Creek. You can picnic under tall cottonwoods that will provide shade and silvery flashes of green all summer long.
For hikers, the Arizona Trail cuts right through the park. There are also stables located within the park to provide a more rustic post picnic adventure.
These are just three of the literally hundreds of places where you and your family can enjoy a relaxing meal out in the sunshine with the wildlife and surrounded by the unique beauty of the Sonoran Desert.