The desert; some people love it and some people hate it (mom I’m looking at you 😜). Or maybe you’re someone like me who loves and hates it at the same time. There are certain things about the desert that excite me and make me want to do a happy dance and there are other things that make me want to run screaming for my life. However, I can’t deny that the desert is an amazing location for engagement and wedding photos.
The desert scenery is so unique and people from all over the world come to Arizona to witness it for themselves. Some of the things that draw people to this place are the same things that draw me to it as a photographer. The unique plants(CACTI FOR THE WIN), the warmth, the sun, and canyons; it can all be really beautiful! I have been lucky enough to live here my whole life and discover some amazing places. So today I am sharing them with you so that you can find the perfect location to fulfill your desert engagement session dreams! 😍
Red mountain is one of my favorite go to spots for the perfect desert photos. Just a 30 minutes drive from Downtown Mesa, this spot is the QUEEN OF GOLDEN HOUR so the best time to come here is sunset. This is a location that has a lot of amazing desert plants like Saguaros and other cacti which always are a great attraction in photos. A big hit at this location too is the road. I mean, aren’t we all dreaming of those “walking in the middle of the road towards the sunset” photos?? I KNOW YOU ARE! I’m telling you, this location is a great place for all of that.
Super close to the red mountain and salt river area is Coon Bluff. This location is great because it offers so many different things. If you’re someone who doesn’t love the desert a ton but you’re stuck here in Phoenix and don’t want to travel up north this is a great option. You will love the grove of mesquite trees that changes throughout the year; from green clover fields in the winter to golden grass and green trees in the summer. It’s a great way to avoid that desert look if it’s not your thing.
For anybody who’s not afraid of a little hike, there is a special surprise waiting for you. At the top of this mountain you will find amazing views of the Salt River Valley with the most gorgeous desert landscape. I love to go here during both sunrise and sunset; you really can’t go wrong with either one.
USERY MOUNTAIN RECREATION AREA
If you’re familiar with Usery Mountain you know that this place is huge, but there are a few spots in particular I’ve found and taken some couples to recently that have become a new favorite. Just 20 minutes east of downtown Mesa this location is my favorite for finding beautiful clusters of various cacti. Of course Saguros are the most popular but you can find tons of prickly pears and jumping chollas as well (chollas are my favorite for catching golden hour light). And to top it off, depending on the time of year you come, you can find that a lot of the cacti are sprouting fruit! Really a great place if you’re the type of person who’s a little obsessed with the desert.
I would say the Superstition Mountains are probably one of the most popular places in the Phoenix Desert and I’m not surprised at all. This location is about a 45 minute drive east of Downtown Phoenix and is the best place to go if you are looking for the ultimate desert location. I really don’t know if I have to explain as to why, just check it out for yourself! I love coming here for both sunrise and sunset. In the morning, the sun rises behind the mountains and you get the perfect backlit glow with the Superstitions as a backdrop. In the evening the sun hits the mountain making them look like they’re on fire. Both are so beautiful and really something special to see. I recommend coming here sometime in Winter or Spring when the landscape is green and alive, and if you’re lucky you might even find some patches of wildflowers!
Last but certainly not least is the Salt River. If you’re a Phoenix local you are probably familiar with the Salt River as a popular tubing and recreation spot, but you probably never thought of it as a great photoshoot location too. The Salt River is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to get around the heat, stay local, and get an alternative desert scene. At sunset, the mountains behind the river glow the most beautiful colors that always create eye catching photos. Some of my couples especially love this location because at the end of the session they can cool off and go for a dip in the water. I always encourage people to incorporate the locations into their photos and this is such a great spot to do so!
Well there ya go! My top 5 desert locations near Phoenix! These spots are great for anything, from engagements, elopements, bridal portraits, small weddings, or really anything else you can think of. The desert is such a unique place and these are the best places where I’ve been able to experience and photograph it. I’m so excited for you to also find the perfect desert location for you.