Memorial Day 2023: Arizonans mark unofficial start of summer

Memorial Day, a day that sometimes has two meanings for Americans, has arrived.

The day, according to the Associated Press, is supposed to be about mourning the nation’s fallen service members, but it’s come to anchor the unofficial start of summer and a long weekend of discounts on anything from mattresses to lawn mowers.


Memorial Day: 5 things to know about the holiday, including its controversies

Memorial Day is supposed to be about mourning the nation’s fallen service members, but it’s come to mark the unofficial start of summer and a long weekend of discounts.

In Arizona, various events took place on May 29, ranging from events that remember soldiers who gave their lives in service to the country, to events that mark the end of a winter activity season, as well as events that, to some, kicks off the summer season. 

Tributes to fallen soldiers across the Valley

In the Phoenix area, events were held to commemorate those who died in service to the country.


During the early morning hours at the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona in Phoenix, hundreds of people gathered to pay tribute to those who who gave it all.

The grave sites of those buried at the cemetery were also decorated with flags and wreaths to commemorate Memorial Day.

"Very, very important that we remember our veterans and those who have served, because without them who died for this country, we wouldn't have the freedoms that we have today, and we want to thank God for the men and women who have lived in the ultimate sacrifice to our nation," said veteran Mark Burton.

Downtown Phoenix

Closer to Downtown Phoenix, people placed miniature U.S. flags at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza. Some even placed personal mementos.

"I think a lot of people actually forget what [Memorial Day] represents," said Joe Mayeau, who served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Some families, meanwhile, brought their children to teach them about sacrifice, honor and freedom.

"It's very important to us, because without these guys, today wouldn't happen," said Carolyn Verdugo.


In Mesa, hundreds gathered at the Mountain View Cemetery for an annual Memorial Day ceremony.

"We are so grateful that they have kept this event alive through the years to show its importance. I don't know anyone whose life hasn't been touched by a veteran," said Amanda Goodwin with Mountain View Cemetery.

Many veterans were at Mountain View Cemetery to pay their respects, and there is a special garden on site specifically for veterans.

"It's important to us because without our veterans, we don't have the freedoms that we have," said Goodwin. "Anything we do, we're honoring people, and it is an honor to honor those who have served and sacrificed so much for us."

Workout event honors fallen Navy SEAL

Some Arizonans also got up early on Memorial Day to honor the fallen by taking part in a workout.

The workout, called ‘Murph Challenge,' was held in honor of Lt. Michael Murphy, a Navy SEAL who died in Afghanistan in 2005.

The workout consists of a one-mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 air squats, and another one-mile run.

The workout routine is all done in a weighed vest, and that was the exact workout Lt. Murphy did every day. On Memorial Day, gyms across the country host the Murph Challenge to honor not just Murphy, but all who paid the ultimate price.

"The Crossfit community is very strong, and like lot of workouts, we all kind of suffer together," said Bruce Wall, who owns Crossfit Fury.

The Murph Challenge is a workout that hits close to home for Emma Weddington. Her husband, Tyler, is an air traffic controller in the Air Force, and is currently deployed.

"It's just some way that I can feel connected to him on the completely other side of the world," said Weddington. "He did it this morning, and it's something that we can text about later."

This is the first year Weddington and her husband completed the Murph Challenge apart from one another.

"He's just proud that I'm holding down the fort, and we're just counting down the days until he comes home," said Weddington.

Besides keeping Lt. Murphy's memory alive, the Murph Challenge also raises money for his memorial scholarship foundation, which gives scholarships to students in need. 

Families flock to unusually full Salt River

As one of the highest snowpack levels in the past three decades help replenish many of Arizona's waterways, a record number of people headed out onto the water at the Lower Salt River.

"It’s very full," said Jordan Stone, who is visiting Arizona from Chicago. "We were concerned getting out here. We weren’t sure if we were going to be able to get in. We made a phone call, they said they were very packed today."

It was so packed along the Salt River on May 29. So packed, in fact, that several day-use areas were shut down during an earlier part of the day, as those sites reached capacity.

Many people had to park on the side of the highway and walk, while carrying their rafts and tubes to the river’s edge.

Stone and his family, however, eventually snagged a coveted spot in the Pebble Beach Recreation Area parking lot.

"We were driving around 30-40 minutes, possibly an hour looking for a parking spot. We managed to sneak in here. We saw people pulling out," said Stone,

On the Salt River itself, however, there was plenty of room for everyone who came to visit, and the refreshing waters provided both a lazy river and roaring rapids experience.

By the late afternoon, the Pebble Beach Recreation Area re-opened as spaces opened up.  The Blue Point Bridge and Water Users Sites remained close most of the day.

According to officials with MCSO, the crowd at the Lower Salt River was one of the largest they have ever seen in one day.

Up north, one last day of skiing, snowboarding at Snowbowl

In the Flagstaff area, it's a wrap for Arizona Snowbowl's latest winter season, as Memorial Day marked the last day for skiing and snowboarding at that ski area.

"Everyone else is at the lake, and we're here at the ski hill," said one woman at Snowbowl.

Snowbowl has never been open this late into the season. Prior to 2023, the ski resort's longest season ended on May 19, 2019.

"It can't be bad. It's almost June, and we're skiing," said one man.

Locals, as well as out-of-towners, headed for San Francisco Peaks for one last time on the snow this season. While the winter season is ending for Snowbowl, there will still likely be snow in June.

"We did get 399 inches of snowfall this year. That's what's making this long closing day possible," said Angelina Grubb.

As for what happens from now until the next ski season, the area will soon be open for summer activities.