Perhaps the most amazing thing about Arizona is the landscape – both the desert areas and canyons but also the mountains. There is snow and rain in the high country in winter, while between June 15 and September 30, it is the monsoon season with large storms. Winters can be warm, while mid- summer can be unbearably hot and dry.
The hot dry summers and desert climate is the ideal climate for Cactus to grow – and while each cactus type is unique, they are designed to hold on to every drop of moisture and water to get them through the dry-times.
The most spectacular Cactus is the Saguaro Cactus – the tree like cactus that you see on postcards and throughout the south in Arizona around Phoenix and Tucson. The Saguaro can grow to heights of up to 40 or 60 feet high, and live as long as 200 years. They are also incredibly slow growing with a 10 year old tree being maybe just 1 ½ inches high. They are also very specific as to where they grow, and one of the very subtle changes that you may notice as you drive in Arizona is the changes in the type of cactus that you see, and then pine trees that also change type as you drive to higher altitudes. One moment you are seeing a mountain range which appears as rock, and the next you see one covered in trees.
Deserts have their own color spectrum – the reds, yellows, ochres, orange, greens and greys – and shapes, shades and shadows that play with the light. In many ways, shape takes on even more importance than color, and this is especially so when you some of the canyons and amazing mountain areas.
The Grand Canyon –in the Grand Canyon National Park is the 'big daddy' of all canyons and is some 277 river miles long and a mile deep and right down there is the Colorado River. Most people simply look over the edge from lookouts and look down to the sides of the canyon and the vastness of it across the canyon and below them, and it is possible to do this, or take a helicopter or small plane flight across the top of it, or hike on one of the trails that lead to different parts of the canyon, or even advance book a mule ride -
See www.grandcanyonlodges.com/muletrips and www.canyonrides.com for details.
There are two 'rims' of the Canyon – the North Rim and South Rim, with the South Rim being more popular and accessible and open year round, whereas the North Rim with far less tourists is closed in the winter months from late October re-opening in May, depending on the weather. The two Rims are 21 miles directly across from each other but it is a 220 mile road trip, with the North Rim being 1000 feet higher in altitude – hence the reason it is colder and closed through winter. The best known trail that heads from rim to rim is the Kaibab Trail down into the canyon. It is a long way down, and feels twice as long heading back up. There are also tour companies that run different hiking adventures. For one of these companies See www.justroughinit.com Tel: (480)857 2477.
The first thing to decide is how long you want to spend seeing the Grand Canyon – just taking a day tour or staying over to see more and experience the Canyon from different views and times of day as the light changes, or do some hiking. If staying over, there are lots of accommodation options from camping to lodges and hotels, but check to see how close you are to the Canyon – be that right on the Rim, or further away, and book early to get a room.
If exploring the South Rim – head to Tusayan and the South Entrance to the National Park and Visitor Center, where you will find lots of information, film clips and hear talks by Rangers about the Canyon. Free Shuttle buses leave from there and take you on a hop on/hop off trip to Grand Canyon Village and other viewpoints along Hermit Road and on Desert View Drive that runs 25 miles along the South Rim. You can also hire a bike (See www.bikegrandcanyon.com).
The Grand Canyon West – closer to Lake Mead and Nevada (Las Vegas – 125 miles away) is where you find the Grand Canyon Skywalk – a glass floor platform that hangs over the side of the Canyon with the Colorado River 4000 feet below you. This is about 250 miles from the South Rim Visitor Center on Hualapai Tribal lands. (See www.grandcanyonskywalk.com )
Most people coming to see the Grand Canyon come by tour bus or car, but you can also catch a train on the Grand Canyon Railway (Est. 1901) that leaves from Williams in Arizona in the morning returning by the end of the day. See www.thetrain.com You can also stay over in Williams too which is on the old Route 66, take tours from here, including Helicopter Tours, and drive through Bearizona Drive Thru Wildlife Park to see Black Bears, wolves, sheep and Bison. See www.bearizona.com in natural surrounds. Also look for the Planes of Fame Air Museum – 755 Mustang Way Valle-Williams – See www.planesoffame.org and The Grand Canyon Deer Farm at 6769 E. Deer Farm Road to see fawns, deer and other animals. See www.deerfarm.com Tel: 928 635 4073.
Colorado River Rafting – it is one thing to see the Grand Canyon from the North or South Rim, but quite another to look up from the River and see the canyon walls towering above you. There are lots of tour companies and trips can be a day trip or even up to 19 days long. For day trips see www.rafttheriver.com For longer trips see www.grandcanyonwhitewater.com , www.raftarizona.com, www.canyonexplorations.com , www.grandcanyondiscovery.com , www.westernriver.com , www.oars.com, www.riveradventures.com , www.azraft.com Weather permitting, these trips can be the trip of a lifetime but you need to book early too.
Lake Powell and Page, Arizona – The town of Page (population just over 7000 people) is beside Lake Powell, a man-made lake 186 miles long that straddles the border between Arizona and Utah in the north. The lake was created when they built Glen Canyon Dam in 1963 filling Glen Canyon with waters flowing from the three rivers - Colorado, San Juan and Escalante River. It took 17 years for the Lake to be fully filled with water creating a spectacular waterway (the second biggest man-made lake in the USA, Lake Mead being the biggest) with the blue water contrasting with the colors and incredible shapes of the sandstone walls in the Canyon. In Page you can hire a houseboat, go fishing, rafting, swim, play golf, go horse riding and take tours of the Lake, Dam, Canyons and just enjoy the amazing scenery in the land of the Navajo. If you can take a tour of Antelope Canyon to see the spiral rock arches. Also an amazing sight is Horseshoe Bend Overlook – where you look down from the rocky Overlook to the Colorado River far below you. where it flows around a horseshoe shape. Ask a local how to get there. It is about 2 miles south of Page off US 89.
Monument Valley - is east of Page and north of Kayenta on the border with Utah. This valley is a symbolic landmark of the west with 1000 foot high red pinnacle rocks, buttes and mesas standing tall above the desert floor, rock archways and other geological formations creating a panorama which has been used by Hollywood film makers, photographers and artists for over a century. The Monument Valley is Navajo Nation Reservation land, and there is a Visitor Center which has information about the Valley and its significance to Navajo people, as well as selling Navajo arts and paintings. See www.navajonationparks.org
Flagstaff – on Route 66 is the biggest city in the northern part of Arizona and is about 80 miles south of the Grand Canyon with a population of around 68,000 people. The City has an elevation of 7150 feet and is surrounded by 1.8 million acres of Ponderosa Pine forests, with lots of parks, 100's of miles of hiking trails, fishing, cafes, boutiques, shopping centers, art galleries, horseback riding, craft brewers, ski fields with the San Francisco Mountain Peaks overlooking the city.
There's a lot to do in Flagstaff with the old town center, great hiking trails and of course the Snowbowl ski field just 14 miles away where there are 6 ski lifts and 40 ski runs, with the ski season being December to April. See www.arizonasnowbowl.com The highest mountain peak in Arizona is located here too, Humphreys Peak which rises to 12663 feet. Also see the Flagstaff Nordic Center for cross country skiing – See www.flagstaffnordiccenter.com The scenic Chairlift (Skyride) also runs in summer to 11,500 feet with great views from the top.
In town, some of the things to see and do are
- Take a tour of the old city on a 'Pedaler' – a bicycle bus where 14 passengers provide the peddle power to move the bus along. Great fun. See www.alpinepedaler.com and check out what is happening around Heritage Square in the center of the historic old town – 11 E. Aspen Avenue and along Route 66.
- Visit museums - The Pioneer Museum – 2340 N. Fort Valley Rd spread out over 3 acres with historic buildings, farm equipment and other interesting things to see; the Museum of Northern Arizona – 3101 N. fort Valley Rd; Northern Arizona University Art Museum in the 1899 Old Main Building cnr. Tormey Ave. & Knoles Drive.
- Riordan Mansion – 409 W. Riordan Rd – is an Arts & Crafts style mansion built in 1904 with more than 40 rooms.
- Fresh air, trails and Parks – There are many gardens, parks and trails to see in Flagstaff and these are some of them. Visit the Arboretum at 4001 S, Woody Mountain Rd – See www.thearb.org – with greenhouses, gardens and high altitude plants; The Pumphouse County Natural Area – 3305 Kachina Trail – 7 miles south of the city Exit 333 off 1-17. This is a 128 acre wetlands area where you can see lots of wildlife – deer, elks, birds and other animals; Rogers Lake – 10 miles south-west of Flagstaff on Woody Mountain Road with 1400 acres of wetlands and animals in the wild too; Buffalo Park is located at 2400 N. Gemini Road and has many trails and great views of the San Francisco Peaks. See www.flagstaff.az.gov to see more trails and park information about the Coconino National Trail System and Flagstone Loop Trail.
Lowell Observatory – is the place where the planet Pluto was first seen in 1920. Today you can also star gaze with tours in the day and stars to see at night. See www.lowell.edu Tel: 928 233 3211 located at 1400 W Mars Hill Rd.
- Tree Walk Adventure – head to Fort Tuthill County Park – just west of 1-17 at Exit 237 where you can do a tree walk 15 to 60 feet above the ground – See www.flagstaffextreme.com The Pepsi Amphitheater (Entertainment Center) is here too – See www.flagstaffamp.com as well as the County Fairgrounds, tennis courts, picnic grounds and trails.
- Canyons, pueblos and craters – Just 12 north of Flagstaff on Highway 89 is the Sunset Crater National Monument a trail that leads you to a 900 year old volcanic crater. Eldon Pueblo is a 60-80 room Pueblo, the ancient home of the Sinagua culture and Hopi people. It is located at Townsend-Winona Rd, west side of H'wy 89. Further north on Highway 89 is the Wupatki National Monument – where there are 800 year old pueblos. Walnut Canyon Is 10 miles east of Flagstaff via 1-40 at Exit 204 where there are also cliff-side pueblos. There is also the Meteor Crater located 35 miles east of Flagstaff on 1-40 Exit 233. It was formed 50,000 years ago creating a massive hole 550 feet deep and a mile across. See www.meteorcrater.com
- Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert - This is an amazing place to see, and is located east of Flagstaff about 116 miles, or 25 miles past the town of Holbrook. The petrified forest of wood is 200 million years old, and the colors of the rocks has given name to this as the "painted desert". It is an amazing place to see.
- Canyon de Chelly National Monument – is 214 miles north eastwards, almost on the border with New Mexico, near the small town of Chinle. This is on Navajo Nation lands, and there are towering cliffs and Ancestral Pueblos to be seen. It would take a full day to see the canyons and ruins driving around the South and North Rims and also doing a hike to the bottom of the canyon too, but you could cut this shorter seeing just one side of the Canyon and not doing the hike.
- Hubbell Trading Post – This is a real Trading Post and the business first started in 1878 and has traded ever since from this stone building. If you are headed to Canyon de Chelly, stop over. The trading post is located at ½ Arizona 264 in Ganado and this is a good place to see and buy Navajo rugs and Turquoise jewelry.
Flagstaff is a good place to base yourself if you are looking to spend time in the north of Arizona, as it has all the city shops and places to stay, as well as the forest and ski fields and is also relatively close to the Grand Canyon and other places to the north, east, west and south.
South of Flagstaff – North of Phoenix
To the south west of Flagstaff are a number of small towns and spectacular scenery that are a must see if you are in Arizona – Sedona and the Red Rock State Park, Slide Rock and the one of my favorite places, Jerome.
- Red Rock State Park- head to 4050 Red Rock Loop Road to see the massive Red Rock stone cliffs and mountains with all sorts of shapes that create this unique landscape. There are lots of trails, but you also can see the rocks from the road and parking lots too. It is definitely a place for photographers. This rivals the Grand Canyon in terms of spectacular scenery. People also look to the sky with sunlight creating different shadows and shapes at dawn as the sun rises, during the day and at sunset. Storms also add their own magic too.
- Sedona and Oak Creek – are the very popular towns that are located here surrounded by the spectacular Red Rock Mountains, which have featured in many western movies over the past century. There are lots of hotels, bed and breakfast places in Sedona, cabins, tourist shops, tour operators, and arts and crafts stores and a beautiful Golf Course (See www.Oakcreekcountryclub.com . Also look for the Heritage Museum at 735 Jordan Road (See www.desonamuseum.org). You can take tours out of Sedona, and even take a helicopter or bi-plane tour too. See www.sedonaairtours.com & www.skytreks.com Look for Talaquepague Arts and Crafts stores at 336 H'wy 179 (See www.tlaq.com ) and Kachina House at 2920 Hopi Drive (See www.kachinahouse.com) as well as other places along the roads leading into and in Sedona and Oak Creek. Certainly one of the 'must-sees' is the beautiful Chapel of the Holy Cross located at 780 Chapel Rd in Sedona. It is built high up into the side of the mountain – and the location, views, atmosphere and ambience of the chapel itself make this a very special place. A lot of people come to Sedona for the scenery but also the climate too making Sedona a popular holiday destination. Just out of Sedona at 6871 North Highway 89A in the Oak Creek Canyon is Slide Rock – a popular swimming spot and natural rock slide. Arizona's biggest Trout Fish Hatchery is located at 1600 North Page Springs Road in Cornville. Tel: (928) 634 4805.
- The Verde Valley Monuments – Montezuma Well, Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot Monument are located in the Verde Valley with Montezuma Castle located on Beaver Creek at 2800 Montezuma Castle Road in Camp Verde (Tel: (928) 567 3322). The castle is built into the cliff sides about 100 feet above Beaver Creek and is said to be some of the best preserved multi-storey buildings of the Ancestral Puebloan people. Also in Camp Verde at 125 East Hollamon Street is Fort Verde Historic Park with the Fort's history dating back to the 1800's (Tel:: (928) 567 3275) Montezuma Well is located at 5525 Beaver Creek Road in Rimrock (Tel: ( 928) 567 4521)and it is like an oasis in the desert. It was formed millions of years ago when the roof of a large underground limestone cave collapsed to create the well with underground water flowing into it and water flowing out. Tuzigoot is located at 25 W. Tuzigoot Rd Clarkdale (Tel: (928) 634 5564) is an Ancestral Puebloan 110 room building, almost like a citadel crowning the top of a mountain, its history dating back thousands of years.
- Mesa Verde Canyon Railroad – is located at 300 North Broadway Clarkdale (See www.verdecanyonrr.com Tel: (928) 639 0010). Clarkdale is about 25 miles west of Sedona on Main Street off Highway 89A. The train runs year round and has first class, coach, open-air viewing car and a caboose. It travels along the upper Verde Valley, over bridges and through tunnels from the old mining town of Clarkdale to Perkinsville Ghost Ranch and back. It's a 4 hour journey and great way to see the valley, with music and a commentary telling the stories of the train, the Ancestral Puebloan people, animals, birds and the land through which you are travelling.
- Jerome – is an old copper mining town perched high on a steep mountain side with great views over the Verde Valley below it. The town in its mining boom times was one of the richest towns in America, with mine shafts deep underground extracting the copper. More than a Billion dollars in copper was mined here between the 1920's and 1953 ehn the mine closed. Today it is a tourist town, but has retained its real character – with an interesting quirky mix of antiques, art galleries, boutique clothing stores, jewellery, saloons, restaurants and places to stay. It is a really great place to visit and even better to stay over.
- Out of Africa Wildlife Park – this Park is located at 3505 W. Camp Verde Bridgport Highway, Camp Verde (near Cottonwood). (See www.outofafricapark.com Tel: (928)567 2840). Here you will feel that you are in the Serengeti Desert in Africa with lions and tigers, giraffes and other animals all here. You can catch a safari vehicle to travel through the park getting up close, or even catch a zipline and sail over the top if you wish.
- Prescott – started as a mining town and was founded in 1864. It was once the Territorial Capital City of Arizona – from 1864 to 1867 and 1877 to 1889, the year that the Capital was moved to Phoenix. The gold and copper mines and then cattle brought wealth to Prescott, and this was reflected in the building of a number of Victorian style homes, as well as log buildings using the Ponderosa Pine timber in their construction. There are three really good Museums in the center of Prescott – the Sharlot Hall Museum (415 W. Gurley St), Phippen Museum of Modern Art (4701 North Highway 89) and the Smoki Museum (147N. Arizona Ave). At the Sharlot Hall Museum you can see the log built Governor's Mansion, Fremont House and Bashford House, as well as lots of things to see, even a 1885 Iron Turbine Windmill, an old stage coach and other historic items. Also head to the old town Plaza and Whiskey Row on Montezuma Street. Just outside of Prescott is the Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary (See www.heritageparkzoo.org Tel: (928) 778 4242 located at 1403 Heritage Park Road) which has 10 acres of grounds next to Willow Lake. Look for the Tarantula Grotto if you love spiders and Reptile House! Also see the endangered Mexican Grey Wolf. There are also a number of hiking trails around Prescott, and in the summer months you can hire a canoe or kayak to paddle around Watson Lake, the shoreline a mass of granite boulders.