Although South Mountain Park is a little out of our wheelhouse, (Central Arizona) we do have many visitors to Southern Arizona Guide who are connecting from Phoenix, and hearty hikers from Southern Arizona may wish to explore something new less than 2 hours away from Tucson
The book is titled; "South Mountain Park and Preserve: A Guide to the Trails, Plants, and Animals in Phoenix's Most Popular City Park (Southwest Adventure Series) and if you intend to explore this park, this may be a good book to have. The book was written by Andrew Lenartz, a psychology professor and daily visitor to South Mountain Park. It helps that he lives nearby.
South Mountain Park, is located in South Phoenix, south of the Sky Harbor Airport (PHX), wedged between Interstate 10, state 202, and Baseline Road. Its 16,000 acres are divided into 4 sections: Central, South, East and West, through which, Lenartz notes, they managed to carved out a piece of for Route 202. this park is within the city of Phoenix and the largest City Park in the Nation.
The book is divided into four sections or chapters. Introduction, Plants and Animals, Recreation, and Enjoying the Park. Each of these chapters is a short summary of an even larger subject. The South Mountain Park is quite dear to the author and he often points out its fragility due to the proximity of what is now the 5th largest city in the country and the many factions that threaten it going into the future.
The introduction includes an Overview, Layout, Usage, Best Practices, and some History of the Park. In this section, Lenartz includes a list of the Best of: including Best Mountain Bike Trail and Best Place to have Coffee before your hike or the Best place to "Refuel" or get a Beer after your hike. It also summarizes a history of the area that is now the park, starting with geology and moving quickly to the formation and ongoing preservation of the park. There are some interesting tidbits such as the role of the Civil Conservation Corp and Frey Marcos's inscription.
Plants and Animals of the Sonoran Desert
Again, a book on South Mountain Park can only serve to introduce you to what is the Sonoran Desert, but for people who are not familiar with the Sonoran Desert plants and critters, it is an important introduction. There is a separate section on safety.
Recreation in the Park
Lenartz does a good job of summarizing the trails within the park, separating them by their section. He then describes the accessibility and usage by whether they have water, restrooms, parking, picnic tables. It names the hiking trails within the park, their distance, difficulty elevation and elevation gain. A map of the section gives you an overview of the area, while his summary lets you know what interesting things you might encounter along the way. This man knows this park intimately.
The Central Section is the most popular. It is the main section containing the South Mountain Environmental Education Center as well as the CCC-built Ranger Station. It would be a good place to start on a weekday if you have never been. There are many vistas and lookouts in the portion of the park.
The West Section is the smallest and least developed part of the park if you don't count the freeway going through it.
The East Section, according to Lenartz is the most heavily hiked due to its proximity to residential areas I would assume. There are a plethora of trails here.
The South Section looks to be a little more open but Lenartz warns that parking for this section fills up on the weekends.
Enjoying South Mountain Park
The fourth chapter in this book is Lenartz take on how to enjoy the park. He spends a lot of time on Mountain Biking here, including buying a bike. The salient point to remember is that Mountain Biking is allowed on ALL trails except one. Warnings are free and included. Mountain Bikers are always looking for new places to explore. this may be a good resource for them.
All in all, this book is a good summary of the park, its trails and its accessibility. If you are a short time visitor, I would start with the main Central Section, unless you just want to hike. In that case, the world is your oyster. Enjoy. You can purchase this book at bookstores, at UNMPress.com or Amazon South Mountain Park and Preserve: A Guide to the Trails, Plants, and Animals in Phoenix's Most Popular City Park (Southwest Adventure Series)