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An easy way to experience the almost oxymoronic sight of a lush desert is to drive east from Carefree, past bare-rock bluffs and expansive vistas out to Bartlett Lake (technically Bartlett Reservoir), a liquid sapphire that sparkles on a sunny day.

Things to note along the way:

Big Earl's Greasy Eats: Burgers, big and fully loaded, are the main attraction at this delightfully retro eatery, once a 1950s-era gas station. Forget the calories and go for the Big Earl Burger ($5.99), a hefty patty of Angus beef served on a grilled bun with pickles, onion, shredded lettuce, tomato and Earl's special sauce. Add a side of sweet-potato fries ($2.99) and a genuine malted milkshake, and you're good for many miles.

Details: 7 a.m.-midnight Thursdays-Saturdays, 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Sundays-Wednesdays. 6135 E. Cave Creek Road, Cave Creek. 480-575-7889, bigearlsgreasyeats.com.

Jojoba Trail: This scenic, 1.3-mile trail stretches from the Rattlesnake Cove Recreation Site to the Jojoba Boating Site along the lake's western shore. You can start the hike from either end; Rattlesnake Cove has restrooms, drinking water and extensive picnic facilities. Either way, you'll enjoy grand views of the cactus-studded landscape along the lake and the Mazatzal Mountains to the east. From the lake, drive about 0.7 mile north on Forest Road 459 to the signed turnoff to Rattlesnake Cove, turn east and continue about a half-mile to the large parking area.

Details: 480-595-3300, www.fs.usda.gov/tonto.

Campgrounds: There are several at or near the lake, from Riverside, at the far-southern end (on the Verde River below the dam), to Bartlett Flat, in the Yellow Cliffs area to the north. Whatever the campgrounds may lack in amenities is more than made up for in splendid scenery.

Details: 480-595-3300, www.fs.usda.gov/tonto.

Don't miss:With more than 2,800 surface acres, Bartlett Reservoir is larger than Canyon Lake and Saguaro Lake combined. Boaters can launch at Yellow Cliffs, the Jojoba Boating Site, Bartlett Flat or the marina; personal watercraft and water-skiers aren't allowed in the northern end of the lake. Anglers can catch bass, bluegill, catfish, carp, crappie and sunfish here. With hiking trails and campgrounds, there's something for nearly every outdoor enthusiast. There's a small convenience store at the marina.

Remember that you'll need a Tonto Pass for recreation at many developed locations in Tonto National Forest, including Bartlett Reservoir. Cost is $6 per vehicle, plus $4 per watercraft, per day. Permits are available at many retailers in the Valley, as well as the Cave Creek Ranger Station, about a quarter mile past the junction of Cave Creek Road and Bartlett Dam Road.

Details: 480-595-3300, www.fs.usda.gov/tonto.

Total miles: About 115, round trip, to Bartlett Reservoir. From central Phoenix, take Interstate 17 north to Exit 223 and go east on Carefree Highway about 10 miles to Cave Creek. Turn north onto Cave Creek Road and follow it about 7 miles as it loops eastward into Carefree, then northeast into the desert. Bear right onto Bartlett Dam Road and proceed about 13 miles to the lake.

This article was originally published in The Arizona Republic.