Phoenix and South-Central Arizona
Phoenix, Arizona's largest city, sprawls along with its neighboring urban areas for mile after mile across the aptly named "Valley of the Sun." You could spend weeks taking in the dozens of museums here, of which the Heard with its superb Native American exhibits is the most famous. The greater Phoenix area also gives you a chance to get close to nature at the Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix Zoo, Wildlife World Zoo, and a variety of large parks. You can explore the art world at the Phoenix Art Museum, at Arizona State University's collections, and at galleries in Scottsdale's Old Town and nearby Fifth Avenue. The range of musical and theatrical performances at numerous venues has something for everyone. Annual events peak in the cooler months, when you can take in excitement at the Heard Museum's Native American shows in Phoenix or the Parada del Sol's rodeos and parade in Scottsdale. Major league sports teams provide thrills at impressive stadiums. Rugged mountain ranges and large wilderness areas begin just beyond the urban area. Attractions outside the Phoenix area include the Superstition Wilderness, famed for its lost gold mines, the twisting Apache Trail scenic drive, Florence and other Wild West towns, the giant prehistoric building at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, and rafting in the Salt River Canyon Wilderness.
Tucson and Southern Arizona
Tucson may be number two in size among the state's cities, but you'd never know it from the excellent array of museums, art venues, and happenings. The "Old Pueblo," as it's also known, has a heritage going back to Spanish times, which you can still sense in the historic districts. You could begin at the Tucson Museum of Art and Historic Block, which provides a great introduction to the city's art and culture as well as a starting point for walks to nearby historic sites. You'll find more culture and science just east of downtown at the University of Arizona. Tucson's calendar of music, theater, and sports competes well with that of the Phoenix area. As Tucson also lies in the low desert, most major annual events take place in winter and early spring; February sees the enormous Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, which attracts rock hounds from all over the world, and La Fiesta de los Vaqueros with a horse-drawn parade and rodeo action. Great day trips lead out of town in every direction. The area's top sight, the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, lies just west of Tucson with wildlife and flora of the Sonoran Desert. Down in the extreme southeast corner of the state, best done as a multi-day trip from Tucson, you can encounter the Wild West at Tombstone, head underground into the Copper Queen mine in the picturesque town of Bisbee, wander among strange-looking rock spires at Chiricahua National Monument, and visit the vast and colorful chambers of Kartchner Caverns State Park.
Arizona's "west coast" contains both water—the Colorado River and its chain of reservoirs—and the waterless, extremely arid mountain ranges and valleys with rugged scenery, remote ghost towns, challenging back-road drives, and seldom-visited wilderness areas. Yuma, in the south, preserves its river-boating history and Arizona's first territorial prison in two state parks. Lake Havasu City, farther up the Colorado River, has the most unusual piece of history—London Bridge! Kingman, a railroad town in the north, commemorates its mining and Route 66 history in two fine museums. All three cities put on a series of entertaining events, but it's the tiny community of Quartzsite with the most amazing spectacle—the Quartzsite Pow Wow Gem and Mineral Show, which along with many smaller events, attracts about a million people to the desert. Native American tribes live and farm along the lower Colorado River; you can learn about them in cultural centers near Yuma and Parker. Wetlands in a series of national wildlife refuges attract huge numbers of Canada geese and other birds that winter here or stop by on migrations.
Flagstaff and North-Central Arizona
Flagstaff's invigorating mountain climate and surrounding natural wonders make it a handy base for lovers of the outdoors. Grand Canyon National Park, five national monuments, and half a dozen wilderness areas lie just a short drive away. Attractions in town include the Museum of Northern Arizona's excellent exhibits of regional Native American cultures and natural history. To the south, you can drop into Oak Creek Canyon on a spectacular scenic drive that leads to Sedona's magical Red Rock Country of buttes and canyons. Continuing south, you can drive up to Jerome, an old copper mining town that just barely hangs on to the steep hillside, and continue over Mingus Mountain to Prescott, Arizona's first capital. Festivals fill the region's calendar during the warmer months and include Native American shows at Flagstaff's Museum of Northern Arizona and Prescott's Frontier Days big parade and the "World's Oldest Rodeo." You'll find many places to shop for Native American and Southwestern art, such as in Sedona's recreated Mexican village of Tlaquepaque.
The Grand Canyon and the Arizona Strip
The Grand Canyon rightfully tops most visitors' lists. You'll take in awe-inspiring panoramas from easily accessible overlooks and on walks along the rims. To get to know the Canyon better, head down a trail into the Inner Canyon. For the experience of a lifetime, arrange a river-rafting trip through the Canyon on the Colorado River. Try to visit both rims if you can; the higher and more remote North Rim offers perspectives quite unlike the South Rim. High elevations on the North Rim, however, limit road access from mid-May until some time in autumn. The Havasupai tribe's famed canyon of majestic waterfalls and pools of blue-green waters below the South Rim have no road access, but you can arrange to ride a mule or horse if you'd rather not hike in. A bit farther west, the Hualapai tribe has an unpaved scenic drive all the way to the bottom of the Grand Canyon; other roads lead out to impressive viewpoints of the lower Grand Canyon. Adventurous travelers can explore wilderness areas and Grand Canyon viewpoints on the Arizona Strip along undeveloped areas of the North Rim.
Navajo and Hopi Country of Northeastern Arizona
Although very different from each other, the Navajo and Hopi tribes still follow traditional ways of life. You can get a glimpse of their lives on your travels and on visits to tribal museums. You're sure to be enchanted by the region's otherworldly landscapes of vast treeless plateaus, soaring buttes, and sheer-walled canyons. Two national monuments—Navajo and Canyon de Chelly—enclose well-preserved prehistoric cliff dwellings within canyons of exceptional beauty. Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park also has many signs of early cultures along with iconic landscapes of soaring pinnacles and buttes. The Hopi village of Old Oraibi may be the oldest continually inhabited settlement in the country. Also try to visit Walpi, where you can learn about the Hopi way of life on guided tours. With luck, you may be able to witness Hopi dances, usually held on weekends. Both tribes produce appealing artwork and crafts, which can be purchased directly from the families at roadside stalls or in Hopi villages.
Cool forests, alpine meadows, and rushing streams of the White Mountains and surrounding high country offer a refreshing contrast to surrounding deserts. In summer you can enjoy hiking, fishing, and boating. When the snow flies, Sunrise Park Resort Ski Area provides many downhill runs and some cross-country skiing. The White Mountain and San Carlos Apache tribes have adjoining reservations in this scenic region, and both offer cultural centers and recreation areas. The Coronado Trail, a wildly twisting highway between Clifton and Springerville, is one of the state's best scenic drives. North of the White Mountains, the forests gradually fade away to the Painted Desert, home of Petrified Forest National Park and its extensive deposits of colorful fossilized wood. South of the White Mountains, rugged hills drop to the Gila River Valley. Here you can drive up the Swift Trail into the Pinaleno Mountains, a sky island that soars almost 8,000 feet above the surrounding desert. To the west, a perennial creek flows through the heart of Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness, a popular hiking area.
On to Suggested Itineraries