Do you think you know everything there is to know about the Phoenix area? Let’s find out. Come join us on our tour of the top interesting, fun, and unique facts or spots in the Phoenix area and see if anything surprises you!
1. Phoenix heat is no joke -- but we’ve had snow before, too.
On an average of 110 days every year, Phoenix either reaches or exceeds 100 degrees Fahrenheit. (Yowza!) This includes most of May, June, July, August, and early September. But that’s not the hottest it gets -- on June 26, 1999, Phoenix recorded its hottest temperature ever of 122 degrees Fahrenheit.
To balance things out, wouldn’t you think there would be some cooler days during the other months? Nope. There are only 5 days on average when Phoenix gets below freezing temperatures.
However, there have been a few times as far back as 1917 when Phoenix actually received enough snow to measure. Do you remember where you were when we last got snow? Were you even born yet?
These occasions included (11):
The largest amount of snow recorded in Phoenix was 1.0 inch on January 20, 1933, and also 1.0 inch on January 21 and 22, 1937
0.5 inch on February 2, 1939
0.4 inch on December 21 and 22, 1990
0.2 inch on March 12, 1917
0.1 inch on November 28, 1919
0.1 inch on December 11, 1985
2. Like bats? You can watch thousands of them fly out of the Bat Cave of Phoenix.
The adventurous among us might enjoy a visit to the Bat Cave of Phoenix, located on the north bank of the Arizona canal. If you get there at the right time (dusk), you’ll get to see up to 20,000 bats head out for their nightly activity and feeding! Follow the details here to discover exactly where, when, and why the bats display this behavior and how you can get the best view.
3. The opening scene of the movie Psycho featured a hotel in downtown Phoenix
The old Jefferson Hotel was part of the introduction of Alfred Hitchcock’s renowned thriller Psycho, which panned the 1960 skyline of downtown Phoenix. The building has also been known as Barrister Place. Located on the southeast corner of Central and Jefferson, the hotel was built in 1915 and was featured in the movie due to Hitchcock’s love of its large windows. It has since been purchased and renovated into condo units with space for shopping and dining.
4. There was once an underground bowling alley in downtown Phoenix -- see its remaining skylights.
Watch for the glass blocks underfoot if you walk on the sidewalk near the southeast corner of Central Avenue and Pierce Street in downtown Phoenix. There, directly across from the Westward Ho building, an underground bowling alley called the Gold Spot once existed--with the glass blocks being the building’s skylights! The Gold Spot is reported to have closed sometime between 1950 and 1959, with the building being demolished in 1991. According to a plaque posted near the skylights, the Gold Post featured actual pin boys who physically set up the bowling pins instead of using mechanical pin-setting machines, then rolled the bowling ball back to the bowlers by hand.
5. Find your way to a hidden, unmarked speak-easy bar in downtown Phoenix.
Have a love for the mysterious? Take a journey back in time to the days of the speakeasy bars! Honor Amongst Thieves, a 1950’s-themed speakeasy located above the Stock & Stable restaurant on North 7th Street, is just such a place -- and is tricky to find unless you have all the clues. One way to get there is by entering the bar’s longitude and latitude coordinates, hidden in their business logo, into your GPS. If that doesn’t work, you can enter the address, 5538 N 7th St #100, Phoenix, AZ 85014. The most popular way? Walk upstairs from the Stock & Stable after enjoying dinner and linger for forbidden cocktails after 6 pm when Honor Amongst Thieves opens. You can get in through the fire escape behind the building, or via a fake freezer door in the kitchen.
6. Camelback Mountain has the highest peak in Phoenix.
Named after its two summits which look like the head and hump of a kneeling camel, Phoenix’s Camelback Mountain reaches a peak of 2,704 feet, the highest point in Phoenix. With trails available for both the advanced and the beginner hiker, the mountain is a delight for nature and wildlife lovers. For those rugged enough to make it to Camelback’s highest peak, a few common rituals are known to take place. Opening a bottle of champagne, grilling up some barbecue or bacon and eggs, or toasting a couple of cold beers while kicking back in lawn chairs are just a few you might observe at the peak. Want to make your way to Camelback? Check out the parking tips, directions, and other suggestions here before you start your trip.
7. Phoenix is home to the Saguaro Cactus, found only in the Sonoran Desert areas of Arizona, Mexico, and southeastern California – and it is illegal to cut one down!
The Saguaro Cactus is plentiful in the Greater Phoenix region, but is rarer than you would think growing only in certain parts of the Sonoran Desert. It can live over 150 years and grow to over 50 feet tall. Saguaro Cacti grow slowly, at a rate of only around one foot per year. They don’t grow ‘arms’ until they are at least 50 years old - and some never grow any at all. If you’d like to see some of these majestic beauties, here’s a map representing where they grow.
Enjoy their blossoms in late April, which are also the state flower, and their vibrant red fruits in June--but make sure never to touch, harm, or cut down any Saguaros. They are covered in sharp spines, as well as protected by the government. Cutting down a Saguaro, even on your own property, is punishable by up to 25 years in prison and/or a felony criminal damage charge. You must contact the Arizona Department of Agriculture to remove one.
Best place to view them? If you’re in downtown Phoenix, you can see them at the Arizona Center. Otherwise, head over to Lost Dutchman Phoenix State Park for the best views. You’ll need a permit to take pictures there -- read about the permits here.
8. In downtown Phoenix, east-west streets were named one way, while north-south streets are named another.
The streets in downtown Phoenix which run from east to west are named after U.S. Presidents - although they aren’t all in order as planners once added streets just as they were needed. Similarly, north-south running streets were once named after Native American tribes but were later changed to a numbering system instead. Prior to the numbering system, some names included Montezuma, Maricopa, Pima, Pinal, Arivapai, Tonto, Apache, Cortez, and Mojave.
9. There are over 50 murals in Phoenix, and you can plan a walking tour of your favorites.
Phoenix is brimming with art and culture, and the vibrant murals adorning its walls and alleys are a highlight you simply cannot miss. This is one example of a walking tour of 40 such murals, based around the 3 biggest mural centers in the city: Roosevelt Row, Calle 16, and Grand Avenue. Just map out your tour and begin whenever you want to see them at your own pace!
Whether you choose the above walking tour or just design your own, make sure you don’t miss local favorites like:
Barrio Cafe’s outer wall at 2814 N. 16th St., #1205, Phoenix
Mural Alley at 901 N. First St., Phoenix
Prince Tribute at 1350 W. Roosevelt St., Phoenix
Lalo Cota Collaboration at 128 E. Roosevelt St., Phoenix
Oak Street Alley between 14th and 15th streets on Oak Street in Northwestern Phoenix
Lauren Lee’s Mural, on the wall of Oasis on Grand at 1501 W. Grand Ave., Phoenix
Sonoran Waltz at 2202 North 16th Street, Phoenix
10. Heavy rocker Alice Cooper has roots in Phoenix and gives back by helping the kids there.
Rock and roll superstar Alice Cooper has lived in the Phoenix region since he was 12 years old. He studied at Cortez High School where he formed his very first band. Since buying a house in Paradise Valley with his first real paycheck in 1972, Cooper and his wife Sheryl have continued to live there and enjoy views of Camelback Mountain from their southeast-facing windows. Their house has undergone impressive renovations since then and was featured on the cover of Phoenix Home & Garden in August 1991.
To this day, Alice Cooper runs a center for at-risk youth in Phoenix called Solid Rock. With classes available in art, music, dancing, stage lighting, and much more, this center is free to teens aged 12-20. Contact the center at 602-522-9200 for more information. Note: The center is currently open by appointment only due to COVID restrictions.
11. Phoenix’s population has grown surprisingly fast in recent years.
By the year 2017, Phoenix had become the fifth-largest city in the United States, currently home to a remarkable 4,584,000 residents in its current metro area--up from 4,511,000 in 2019. Known also as the ‘Valley of the Sun’, many agree that it’s Phoenix’s job opportunities, business-friendly setup, and affordable cost of living that make it such an attractive and fast-growing location.
12. Phoenix’s first governor is buried in the city -- in a pyramid.
If you’re ever roaming in Papago Park or the Phoenix Zoo, look up and see if a white pyramid is in your line of sight. If so, you’re probably looking at the burial pyramid of Phoenix’s first governor who served from 1912 until 1933. That’s right -- a burial pyramid, right in Phoenix!
A beloved man to the residents of the city, the governor’s name was George W.P. Hunt, but he was affectionately called ‘Old Walrus’ due to his large build of approximately 300 pounds at a height of 5 foot 9 inches tall. He was known for his kindness and work on behalf of the people, which included advocating for women’s suffrage, opposing and abolishing child labor, knitting scarves for the soldiers of World War I, and more. He was laid to rest in the pyramid one year after he left office as Governor.
Alongside Governor Hunt lie his wife, for whom he originally had the tomb built in 1931, as well as her parents and her sister. If you ever wish to pay your respects to Old Walrus, there are benches near the pyramid where you can sit and honor his memory. It’s located at 625 N. Galvin Pkwy, Phoenix, Arizona.
13. What makes a man walk away from his job, his wife, and his baby to create a strange castle for over 15 years?
Step into Phoenix’s Mystery Castle and see what you can find out!
The story goes that the man, named Boyce Luther Gulley, took his daughter to build sandcastles in Seattle one day, where she asked him if he’d make her a castle the water couldn’t wash away. Later on, the man disappeared leaving his wife and daughter behind, to create Mystery Castle.
The castle is reported to be crafted of a variety of found materials and items like stones, automobile parts, and telephone poles adhered together with a blend of goat milk, cement, and mortar. The unusual castle also ended up having 18 rooms, 13 fireplaces, and an impressive array of what now would be considered antiques.
In 1945 when Mr. Gulley passed on unexpectedly, his family was notified and his daughter, who was an adult then, went to live in the castle. She gave tours of it until her death in 2010. It’s been featured in the New York Times, the National Inquirer, the show ‘Strange as it Seems’, and more.
Located at 800 E. Mineral Road, Phoenix, AZ 85040, the castle can be visited to this day. It’s open to the public even during COVID as long as masks are worn. For further guidance on tours and directions to the castle, go here.
14. On the night of March 13, 1997, many Phoenicians saw something in the sky that has since been called “The Phoenix Lights”... but what was it?
In what some refer to as the most famous “UFO” sighting known to the world, the residents of Phoenix braced themselves in mid-March 1997 as the sky behaved in ways unseen before.
While witness reports are countless already, every year more people gain the courage to come forward and share what they saw that night. Some report a series of lights arranged in the shape of a boomerang sitting still in the sky, while others state they saw an enormous, beautiful, triangle-shaped slow-moving aircraft that flew over their homes and was so mesmerizing they couldn’t take their eyes off it. Additionally, V-shaped formations were noticed flying above Phoenix.
However, according to a CBS news report, the lights were nothing special at all. In fact, the report says that “the U.S. military maintains those lights were part of a training session involving flares dropped over the Barry M. Goldwater Range near Gila Bend, Arizona.” The problem is that no one requested the Federal Aviation’s radar information before it was automatically deleted two weeks later -- so we’ll probably never know exactly what it was without any doubt.
Got a tip of your own about this mystery? Report it to Matthew Hendley at Phoenix New Times.