The pleasures of Papago Park

Easy hikes and classic museums at Phoenix's beloved family park

During World War II, German naval personnel being held prisoner at a temporary camp in Papago Park developed a healthy interest in volleyball, played in the shadows of the park's sculptural sandstone buttes. The POWs, it turns out, were using the volleyball court to dump dirt from an escape tunnel they were digging.

Today's visitors seeking outdoor recreation still find escape in the trails and attractions within the 1,500-acre park, which straddles both Phoenix and Tempe. This month, cool temperatures and blooming brittlebush add to the experience.

Once in the park, turn east off Galvin Parkway for the trailhead to the area's signature butte, Hole-in-the-Rock, which has a large, oval-shaped opening that frames views of the valley below. A quarter-mile south, stroll up to Hunt's Tomb, a pyramid-shaped edifice that serves as the final resting spot for George W.P. Hunt, Arizona's seven-time governor and an Egyptology buff. Both hikes are easy, good for getting your bearings, and less than 1/2 mile round trip.

From either of these landmarks, you can access the park's more than 9 miles of easy walking and biking trails, which wind past other buttes, open desert, and golf courses.

The Phoenix Zoo  (9-5 daily; $12; 455 N. Galvin Pkwy., Phoenix; 602/273-1341) is highlighted by natural desert habitats for bighorn sheep and Arabian oryx. The Desert Botanical Garden  (8-8 daily; $9; 1201 N. Galvin, Phoenix; 480/941-1225) has 50,000 arid-region plants, including blooming wildflowers. The garden also features the park's best food option, the Arcadia Farms Patio Café  (8-4 daily; 480/941-1225). Try the strawberry chicken salad and prickly- pear iced tea.

Nearby, the park's branch of the Arizona Historical Society Museum  (closed Mon; $5; 1300 N. College Ave., Tempe; 480/929-0292) offers more details on Papago Park's former POWs. A look back at the early days of the park is sure to interest the visitors of today.

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