By Timothy Rawles / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ
Nothing tells the history of an area more than its environment. Whether it be the natural surroundings of native plants and animals or the careworn facades of historic buildings. These are the earmarks of progression in America’s history. Arizona’s Pinal County is a bevy of natural and manmade landmarks, and luckily some have been preserved in the state park system. Here are four such examples located in Pinal County that are well worth a visit.
McFarland State Historic Park
Florence, Arizona was once known as “the garden city.” Cottonwood trees lined the city streets amid a carpet of green grass that spread across the area. Today grass has been replaced by gravel and the Cottonwood trees gave way to much heartier species.
But one thing remains intact — the nearly 150-year-old Pinal County Courthouse. After years of disrepair, this piece of Florence's history was restored and dedicated as a State Historic Park in 1979 after then-Governor Ernest McFarland bought the property and restored it with his own money.
When it was first built in 1878, the courthouse was built with adobe bricks made from native soil. The lumber had to be transported from northern Arizona. Today visitors can take a step back in history and walk through each room to discover the building’s important past, including the courtroom and hospital.
Picacho Peak State Park
It’s hard to miss the Picacho Peak State Park. This prehistoric area has a giant landmark; a 1,500-foot titular peak that can be seen from miles away. This park has many trails that lead up to the summit and depending on what time of year you go; the wildflower sprays are awe-inspiring. The peak was once used as a marker for explorers, notably the Anza Expedition in the 1700s.
There is a visitor’s center located in the park along with informative exhibits and a store. Campgrounds are available and kids can have fun at the playground.
There are many trails of varying difficulties, so it’s advised to know your limits. Hikers should bring lots of water, and food and use the appropriate footwear. Keeping that in mind, the desert vistas and scenic overlooks are well worth the effort.
Lost Dutchman State Park
Forty miles east of Phoenix at the base of the Superstition Mountains lies the Lost Dutchman State Park. It’s not named after a ghost ship as the name invokes, but a fabled lost gold mine that is believed to be still hidden somewhere in the mountains. Many have tried finding it, some died in the process.
Several trails root through the mountain’s wilderness system and into the Tonto National Forest. There is an easygoing Native Plant Trail or a very difficult climb on the Siphon Draw Trail to the top of the Flatiron; a craggy plateau that overlooks the lower desert.
If rain is plentiful for the year, visitors will get a beautiful display of wildflowers. However, the landscape is filled with native plants any time of year. Wild animals keep watch over the area and they include deer, coyotes, javelina, and jackrabbits.
Oracle State Park
With its 4,000-acre wildlife refuge, Oracle State Park is perfect for those who want to experience plants and animals in their natural habitat. There are over 15 miles of trails to explore either on foot, by bicycle, or on horseback.
There are day-use picnic areas and because it’s considered an International Dark Sky Park, at night the sky becomes a glittering mass of limitless wishes.
This park also serves as a Center for Environmental Education offering programming for all ages. School field trips are a common occurrence at Oracle State Park where students get an immersive learning experience on habitat and symbiosis.
State Parks are the backbone of protected history. They are often beautiful depending on your preference for visual history, but all serve the same purpose: to preserve what is left of the past for the benefit of future generations.
For more information on Arizona’s State Park system check out their website.