One of the Top Ten Day Hikes in Scottsdale

Hole in the Rock is an interesting geological formation, located in the Northeastern quadrant of Papago Park, and it is one of the area’s most visited sites. The Hole in the Rock is only a half hour walk from where we were staying, the Magnuson Hotel Papago Inn, my favorite Scottsdale hotel. The Hole in the Rock is also just a few minutes’ walk from the Phoenix Zoo and about a 30 minute walk from the Desert Botanical Garden. We walked to the Rock after our visit to the Desert Botanical Garden, easily fitting both activities into one day.

The walk was cool and pleasant in December and it was along a fairly well-worn trail through the desert. We encountered other hiking and biking groups along the way and learned that there are a lot of accessible paths and loops in the area. Although there is free parking directly under the Rock, I would recommend walking to Hole in the Rock, if possible. As someone who has spent very little time in the desert, the walk was a small adventure, and I came to appreciate the landscape in a way that is impossible from a car.

What first struck me about Hole in the Rock was also what first struck me about the Arizona landscape in general. The color. The deep red hue of the earth and majestic rocks never fails to amaze me.

It is estimated that Hole-in-the-Rock was formed 6 to 15 million years ago by the erosion of water through the rock's sandstone surface. The front of the Rock is a vertical facade that looks very difficult to ascend. The back, however, opens up and the natural, slow incline of the earth brings you directly to the Rock's interior. A large hole to the West provides a gorgeous view of the city of Phoenix and beyond, while a smaller hole in the ceiling of the rock frames the sky.

There is evidence that the Hohokam People, who lived in the area, noticed the ever-changing position of the sun's rays through the hole in the ceiling of the Rock. Through their recordings of these changes on the Rock floors they observed the equinox and solstice, and therefore the changing of the seasons. 

At nearby Pueblo Grande, archaeologists have uncovered a room that functioned as a calendar for the ancient Hohokam people. For two days only - the summer and winter solstice - a shaft of light aligns with these two doorways and signals the midpoint of the solar annual cycle. Archaeologists also noted that the doors also align with the Hole in the Rock!

For a casual day of exploring the area, Hole-in-the-Rock is a must see destination. The paths are flat, and the Rock is easily accessible to kids and the elderly alike. The Rock is also surrounded by trails, picnic tables, grills, golf courses, and fishing holes, and can easily be made a starting point for the day’s activities.

After admiring Hole in the Rock, we followed a trail that led us to the Crosscut Canal multi-use path. This well-maintained and scenic 2.25 mile-long path follows the Arizona Cross-Cut Canal through the city of Tempe, depositing you only a few blocks from the Magnuson Hotel Papago Inn. The path is open to bikers and joggers and provides a scenic view of the city around it.

We walked back to the hotel as the sun was setting and the birds were chirping. After our long day of walking and sightseeing, it was a relief to take a seat at the hotel bar. With a cocktail in hand, we ordered tacos while the friendly bartender gave us advice about what to do the next day.

Story by Marjorie Pichon - Photos by Bret Wirta