South Phoenix things to do: Mystery Castle, Farm at South Mountain – The Arizona Republic

If you’re looking for something to do this summer or want to start planning your fall activities, consider an unexpected in-town destination: South Phoenix could be your next stop to experience fulfilling and sustainable adventures. 
With horseback riding, farm-to-table dining, bird watching, sustainable farming and even an eclectic “castle” made of repurposed and found materials, south Phoenix is rich in things to do. 
Want to grow your own food? South Phoenix has a place where you can do that. Don’t know how? There are plenty of opportunities to learn how to garden. 
Here are five things to do in south Phoenix and when to go.
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Less than 2 miles south of downtown Phoenix, you can do some serious bird watching at the Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center.
Previously a landfill and a gravel quarry, the center built in 2009 is part of Phoenix’s Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area, a 600-acre park in the historic Salt River corridor. 
The center offers activities and birdwatching of over 200 species. Educational programs include school field trip, guided nature walks and bird identification. You can even learn about some fun facts on burrowing owls. 
Want to volunteer? You can help improve wildlife habitats, install native plant gardens and and build burrows for owls.
Details: 8 a.m.-noon Mondays-Fridays. Outside those hours, you can still walk the trails. Trailheads are open from dawn to 7 p.m. or dusk every day of the year. 3131 S. Central Ave., Phoenix. Free. For trailhead locations and program schedule, go to
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If you’re looking ahead to fall, put Mystery Castle on your list of things to do. This eclectic structure in the foothills of South Mountain is one of the Phoenix Points of Pride. It reopens in October after its summer closure.
The home was built in the 1930s by Boyce Luther Gulley for his daughter Mary Lou Gulley. It has become a popular attraction for curious people looking for a fun day out. 
Mystery Castle was built from recycled car parts, plow discs and other found items, as well as traditional building materials such as stone and cement. The home has 18 rooms and 13 fireplaces, and no two rooms are alike.
Make sure to say hello to the caretaker, Juan Ramon Gastelum Robles.. He’s been caring for the castle for over 40 years.
Details: Tours are offered 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays from October through May. Closed in summer. 800 E. Mineral Road, Phoenix. Admission is $10, $5 for ages 5-12. Cash or check only.  Payment is by cash or check only. 602-268-1581,
Exclusive:This man has lovingly cared for Mystery Castle for 42 years
Looking for a fresh meal? Visit the Farm at South Mountain. This 12-acre orchard with over 100 pecan trees planted in the 1930s is a collective of farm-to-table businesses.
Have breakfast at Morning Glory Cafe, lunch at the Farm Kitchen and dinner at  Quiessence. During the fall and spring you can shop at Botanica, the farm’s market that offers locally sourced kitchen, garden and patio products. 
You can learn about sustainability and building a garden at Gather and Grow, the farm’s educational space that has a citrus garden and a greenhouse. 
Need a place to throw an event? The Farm at South Mountain can host weddings, meetings, picnics and other gatherings.
Details: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Sunday. 6106 S. 32nd St., Phoenix. 602-276-6360,
You don’t need to leave the city to get a Western riding experience. Ponderosa Stables offers trail rides in South Mountain Park. With over 50 miles of trails, you will definitely get the full desert experience. Rides vary from one hour to a full day. Children ages 2-5 can ride with an adult; 6 is the minimum age to ride alone. 
Details: 7 a.m-6 p.m. daily. 10215 S. Central Ave., Phoenix. $60-$90. 602-268-1261,
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Want to rent a garden plot? Spaces of Opportunity offers people the chance to rent space for just $5 a month. You can grow produce for your household or to share with your community.
The organization also offers training and support from other community farmers in case you need help with your gardening. 
The Spaces of Opportunity collaboration was started in 2015 by the Desert Botanical Garden, Tiger Mountain Foundation, Unlimited Potential, Orchard Community Learning Center and Roosevelt Elementary School District. It has transformed 19 acres of land in south Phoenix for sustainable and accessible farming. 
Spaces of Opportunity provides other ways for the community to connect. Public events include yoga in the garden, free kids gardening classes and a farmers market from 8 to 11 a.m. Saturdays. See the complete calendar online.
Details: Open sunrise to sunset daily. 1200 W. Vineyard Road, Phoenix.
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You can connect with Arizona Republic Culture and Outdoors Reporter Shanti Lerner through email at  or you can also follow her on Twitter
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