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    by mkataoka Fodor's Editor | Posted on Nov 28, 16 at 01:31 PM
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Trip Report So you want to relax? May I suggest Madera Canyon, AZ?

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Recently, my husband and I decided to take advantage of the fact that I had a conference to attend in Arizona and extend the stay for a mini vacation. In this case we came out early and my husband headed home as the conference started (tennis season was starting at home).

We flew out on a Tuesday afternoon, arriving just before 5pm at Phoenix Sky Harbor. Thanks to Fodorite advice I knew there was a carpool lane on the interstate so we moved on over once we got on the highway and sailed south and east on I-10, then took I-19 south towards Nogales from Tucson.

Just past Tucson we noticed the distance markers changed from miles to kilometers. Interesting! I don't think I have ever noticed that anywhere else in the US. Are kilometers posted on highways elsewhere (in the US)?

Our Stay in Madera Canyon - Santa Rita Lodge

We stayed 4 nights at Santa Rita Lodge (www.santaritalodge.com) in Madera Canyon. It's in a National Forest and there are only three places you can stay. We had stayed at SRL on a previous trip so I knew what to expect and was prepared.

There is spotty to no cell service, no internet, and limited television channels. It's a national forest so at the end of the day and early in the morning, there are few people about. It's just you, your SO, and the critters and birds. We stopped in Green Valley to do grocery shopping and so we never left the canyon during the stay--we had simple breakfasts and a grilled dinner every night. No need to hit restaurants.

There are tons of trails, and during the day lots and lots of people taking advantage of the trails. I was reminded that we were really at altitude here. Even the shortest walks uphill had me breathing heavily. But it was worth it!

Madera Canyon is one of Arizona's "sky Islands" and I believe it covers 4 ecozones. It's over 5400 feet at the last parking area you can reach. And, of course, you can hike up further than that. I suggested to my husband that if I hiked at that altitude it was possible I would have a heart attack :-) We kept the hikes to mid and lower canyon levels.

There were also a lot of bikers. More on the weekend, and what looked like maybe bike clubs riding uphill. Those people have to have some seriously healthy lungs.

Besides just being the most peaceful and beautiful place, we were also there for birds. We really weren't there during the best birding season, but again we were just taking advantage of my trip. However, we did get to see the Elegant Trogon several times, along with the Painted Redstart.

Those were the key birds we were looking for, but we also enjoyed the Bridled Titmouse, Acorn Woodpecker, and more. The wild turkeys every morning were also entertaining, especially the one who jumped up on the bird feeder behind our cabin. It looked like she would slide off at any moment, but she hung on for dear life and managed to get a few seeds for herself.

You will need to pay a parking fee to park anywhere else other than at your lodging (if you are staying in the canyon). We ordered ours in advance from http://www.friendsofmaderacanyon.org/. $20 for the whole year, and it is good at Mt. Lemmon (Tucson), South Fork of Cave Creek (Chiricahua Mountains), and Sabino Canyon (Tucson) in addition to Madera Canyon. The Friends of Madera Canyon site also has hiking trail maps and other great information on visiting there.

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