More than a dozen major airlines fly to Phoenix and Tucson. Fares and schedules tend to change frequently—a travel agent can help you find the best flights, or you can do it yourself on the Internet. Big-city newspapers usually run advertisements of discount fares and tours in their Sunday travel sections. Phoenix offers the most connections and generally the lowest fares. Sometimes you can get good deals to Tucson; if not, there's a shuttle bus service between the two cities. You'll have the best chance of getting low fares by planning a week or more ahead and staying over a Saturday night (any night with Southwest Airlines); round-trip fares will almost always be a much better value than one-ways, though changes may be costly.
Phoenix serves as the hub for nearly all flights within the state. Destinations from Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport (PHX) include Page (PGA), Flagstaff (FLG), Prescott (PRC), Kingman (IGM), Bullhead City (IFP), Lake Havasu City (HII), Yuma (YUM), Tucson (TUS), and Sierra Vista (FHU). The cost per mile of these short hops is high but you'll often enjoy excellent views.
US Airways (800/428-4322 , www.usairways.com) uses the Phoenix airport as a hub and claims to have the most Arizona flights; it also flies from Tucson, but all flights go via Phoenix. Southwest Airlines (800/435-9792, www.southwest.com) offers many flights from Phoenix and some direct connections out of Tucson. Southwest has long been a leader in low-cost fares, and since its flights don't appear on flight reservation computers, you need to contact them directly.
Amtrak (800/872-7245, www.amtrak.com) runs two luxury train lines across Arizona. On the northern route, the Southwest Chief runs daily in each direction between Los Angeles and Chicago with stops in Arizona at Kingman, Williams Junction, Flagstaff, and Winslow. On the southern route, the Sunset Limited connects Los Angeles with Orlando and stops in Yuma, Tucson, and Benson, but it runs only three times per week in each direction. Shuttle buses connect Phoenix with both trains.
Amtrak usually charges more than buses but has far roomier seating as well as sleepers and dining cars. Fares depend upon availability—advance planning or off-season travel will get you the lowest prices. Travel agents outside North America sell USA rail passes (not for U.S. or Canadian citizens).
Greyhound (800/231-2222, www.greyhound.com) offers frequent service on its transcontinental bus routes across northern and southern Arizona and between Flagstaff and Phoenix. The company often offers special deals on bus passes and "one-way anywhere" tickets. Overseas residents may buy a Greyhound Ameripass at additional discounts outside North America.
Local bus services run in Phoenix, Tucson, Flagstaff, and other cities. Free shuttles serve part of the Grand Canyon National Park's South Rim. Always have exact change ready when taking local buses.
Most people choose cars as the most convenient and economical way to get around; you can easily rent them in any sizable town in Arizona. Four-wheel-drive vehicles will be handy if you plan extensive travel on back roads. Phoenix and Tucson offer the largest selection as well as RV and 4WD rentals. Nearby Las Vegas and Albuquerque can be convenient for car rentals too. It's worth shopping around not only for the best deal from each agency, but also in different cities as taxes form a large part of the rental cost.
Driveaways—autos scheduled for delivery to another city—can be worth looking into. If the auto's destination is a place you intend to visit, they can be like getting a free car rental. You have to be at least 21 years old and pay a refundable deposit of $75-150. There will be time and mileage limits. Ask for an economy car if you want the lowest driving costs. In a large city—Phoenix or Tucson in Arizona—look in the Yellow Pages under "Automobile Transporters and Driveaways."
Back roads offer superb scenery in almost every part of Arizona. Joining a local club is a great way to get started. Books and literature offer tips on how to explore remote areas safely. Arizona State Association of 4 Wheel Drive Clubs, Inc. (P.O. Box 23904, Tempe, AZ 85285, 602/258-4294, www.asa4wdc.org) can direct you to clubs in the state.
The Great Western Trail (www.gwt.org) follows existing back roads between the Mexican border and Canada via Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. The 800-mile Arizona section crosses roughly the middle of the state, though some segments have yet to be completed.
To be fully alive to the land, skies, sounds, plants, and birds of Arizona, consider a bicycle tour. Gliding across the desert or topping out on a mountain pass are experiences beyond words. Some effort, a lightweight touring or mountain bicycle, and awareness of your surroundings are all that's required. Bookstores and bicycle shops sell publications on bicycle touring. As when hiking, always carry rain and wind gear and plenty of water. Also don't forget to wear a bicycling helmet.
Start with short rides if you're new to bicycle touring, then work up to longer cross-country trips. By learning to maintain and repair your steed, you'll seldom have trouble on the road. An extra-low gear of 30 inches or less will take the strain out of long mountain grades. The performance of mountain bikes for touring can be improved by using road tires (no knobs) and handlebar extensions (for a variety of riding positions).
Mountain bikes, with their suspension, fat tires, and rugged construction, come into their own in the backcountry. The national forests offer some fine riding on roads and trails. County parks surrounding Phoenix have scenic desert trails designed especially for mountain bikers. Some other parks around the state offer riding possibilities as well. For a real adventure you can try the wide-open spaces of the Arizona Strip, though you'll probably need a 4WD vehicle to carry water here. Cyclists cannot ride in designated wilderness areas or off-road on National Park Service lands.
You'll get the best feel for Arizona's canyons and mountains by visiting them on foot. The Grand Canyon offers the most challenging and extensive hiking in the state—a lifetime is too short to see everything here. Countless canyons, especially in the Colorado Plateau of northern Arizona, also offer exceptionally scenic hiking opportunities. The state's many mountains can keep a hiker well entertained, too. You can climb most summits on a day hike.
See your travel agent or travel websites for the latest on package tours to Arizona. Within the state, local operators offer everything from city tours to rafting trips through the Grand Canyon. Smaller companies offer back-road trips to scenic spots inaccessible to regular vehicles; you'll find them in Phoenix, Tucson, Yuma, Sedona, Page, Monument Valley, and Canyon de Chelly. Flightseeing trips provide a birds-eye view of Sedona's Red Rock Country, the Grand Canyon, and other spectacular areas. The "Getting Around" sections of each city list some operators; also consult local chambers of commerce and visitor centers.
Gray Line Tours provides day and overnight tours out of Tucson (520/622-8811 or 800/276-1528), www.graylinearizona.com.
Road Scholar, the new program name for Elderhostel and Exploritas, is a nonprofit organization (11 Avenue de Lafayette, Boston, MA 02111-1746, 978/323-4141 or 800/454-5768, www.roadscholar.org) with educational adventures for people 55 and over (spouses can be under 55). Many programs take place in Arizona, exploring archaeology, history, cultures, crafts, nature, and other topics. Participants join small groups for short-term studies and stay in simple accommodations, which helps keep costs low.
Grand Canyon Field Institute (Box 399, Grand Canyon, AZ 86023, 928/638-2485, www.grandcanyon.org/fieldinstitute) leads small groups on explorations of the Grand Canyon with day hikes, backpacking, river-running trips, van tours, and classroom instruction.
In emergencies, dial 911 or use the emergency number listed on most telephones. Hospital emergency rooms offer the quickest help, but cost much more than a visit to a clinic or a doctor's office.
Your greatest danger outdoors is one that can sneak up and kill with very little warning. Hypothermia, a lowering of the body's temperature below 95°F, causes disorientation, uncontrollable shivering, slurred speech, and drowsiness. The victim may not even realize what's wrong. Unless corrective action is taken immediately, hypothermia can lead to death. That's why hikers should travel with companions and always carry wind and rain protection; close-fitting raingear works better than ponchos.
Remember that temperatures can plummet rapidly in Arizona's dry climate—a drop of 40°F between day and night is common. Be especially careful at high elevations, where summer sunshine can quickly change into freezing rain or a blizzard.
If cold and tired, don't waste time. Seek shelter and build a fire; change into dry clothes and drink warm liquids. A victim not fully conscious should be warmed by skin-to-skin contact with another person in a sleeping bag. Try to keep the victim awake and drinking warm liquids.
Coping with Heat
We can take cues from desert wildlife on how best to live in a potentially hostile landscape. In summer, the early morning and evening have the most pleasant temperatures to be out and about. Photographers know that these times offer the best light for photography, too. When captivated by the grand scenery, it's easy to forget to drink enough water, but you'll be glad you did drink enough at the end of the day! For maximum efficiency, the body also needs food when hiking—snacks will increase your endurance.
•Before heading into the backcountry, check with a knowledgeable person about weather, water sources, fire danger, trail conditions, and regulations.
•Tell a reliable person where you're going and when you expect to return.
•Travel in small groups for the best experience; group size may also be regulated.
•Try not to camp on meadows, as the grass is easily trampled and killed.
•Avoid digging tent trenches or cutting vegetation.
•Use a campstove to prevent marring the land.
•If you do make a campfire, a small one on mineral soil is best. A generous amount of water will extinguish the fire. Note that burying it can be catastrophic—dirt creates an oven, which can set roots on fire and start a forest fire.
•Camp at least 300 feet away from springs, creeks, and trails. State law prohibits camping within a quarter mile of a sole water source so that wildlife and stock won't be scared away.
•Wash away from streams and lakes.
•Don't drink untreated water in the wilderness, no matter how clean the water appears. It may contain the parasitic protozoan Giardia lamblia, which causes the unpleasant disease giardiasis. Boiling your water for several minutes will kill giardia as well as other bacterial or viral pathogens. Filtering and iodine treatments usually work, too, although they're not as reliable as boiling.
•Bring a trowel for personal sanitation and dig 4-6 inches deep. In desert areas it's best to bag and carry out toilet paper because the stuff lasts for years and years in a dry climate; backcountry visitors in the Grand Canyon and Paria Canyon must pack it out.
•Carry plenty of feed for horses and mules.
•Leave dogs at home; they foul campsites and disturb wildlife and other hikers. If you do bring one, please keep it under physical control at all times. They're not allowed in the backcountry of national parks.
•Take home all your trash, so animals can't dig it up and scatter it.
•Help preserve Native American and historic ruins.
•A survival kit and small flashlight can make the difference if you're caught in a storm or are out longer than expected. A pocket-sized container can hold what you need for the three essentials: fire building (matches in waterproof container and candle), shelter (space blanket, knife, and rope), and signaling (mirror and whistle).
•If lost, realize it, then find shelter and stay in one place. If you're sure of a way to civilization and plan to walk out, leave a note of your departure time and planned route.
Summer heat puts an extra strain on both car and driver. Make sure the cooling system, engine oil, transmission fluid, fan belts, and tires are in top condition. Carry several gallons of water in case of breakdown or radiator trouble. Never leave children or pets in a parked car during warm weather—temperatures inside can cause fatal heatstroke in just minutes. Radiator caps must not be opened when the engine is hot, because the escaping steam can cause severe burns.
At times the desert has too much water—late-summer storms frequently flood low spots in the road. Wait for the water to go down, until you can see bottom, before crossing. If the car begins to hydroplane after a rainstorm, it's best to remove your foot from the accelerator, avoid braking, and keep the steering straight until the tires grip the road again. Drive in the "footsteps" of the car ahead, if you can.
Dust storms also tend to be short-lived but can completely block visibility. Treat them like dense fog: pull completely off the road and stop, turning off your lights so as not to confuse other drivers.
Radio stations carry frequent updates when weather hazards exist. With a weather radio (between 162.4 and 162.55 MHz), you can pick up continuous forecasts in many areas.
If stranded in the backcountry, whether on the desert or in the mountains, stay with the vehicle unless you're positive of the way out, then leave a note detailing your route and departure time. Airplanes can easily spot a car—leave your hood and trunk up and tie a piece of cloth to the antenna—but a person trying to walk out is difficult to see. If you're stranded, emergency supplies can definitely help: blankets or sleeping bags, raingear, gloves, first-aid kit, tools, jumper cables, motor oil, shovel, rope, traction mats or chains, flashlight, flares, fire extinguisher, maps, water, food, and a can opener.
School crossings and buses require extra care. You must stop if someone is using a crosswalk. Crossings in use by school children have a 15 mph posted speed; police have ticketed drivers going 20 mph in them! When you see a school bus stopped with red lights flashing and a stop sign arm extended, you must stop regardless of the direction you're traveling until the lights and arm are turned off, unless there is a physical barrier dividing the roadway and you're going in the opposite direction.
Unless posted otherwise, speed limits are 15 mph when you're approaching a school crossing, 25 mph in business and residential districts, and 55 mph on open highways and city freeways. Although it's tempting to let loose on long, empty highways, they haven't all been designed for extreme speeds—a speeding car could top a small rise and suddenly find itself bearing down on a flock of sheep crossing the road. Deer, elk, and other stray animals can pose a danger too, especially at night.
You can make right turns from the right lane on a red light, unless prohibited by a sign, after coming to a complete stop and yielding to other traffic. Left turns on a red light can similarly be made if you're in the far left lane of a one-way street and turning onto another one-way street and there's no sign prohibiting the turn.
Seat belts must be worn by all front-seat passengers. Child safety seats are required for those younger than five years.
Arizona has very strict laws against driving under the influence of drugs or drink. Penalties for the first offense include mandatory jail term, fine, license suspension, and screening, education, and/or treatment.
Arizona's Driver License Manual contains a good review of driving knowledge and road rules. It's available free in most large towns at the state Motor Vehicle Division office or online at www.azdot.gov/.
Arizona Office of Tourism
Located on the west side of downtown, the helpful office (1110 W. Washington Street, Suite 155, Phoenix, Arizona 85007, 602/364-3700, fax 602/364-3702, www.arizonaguide.com, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri.) provides information on every region of the state; you can call 866/891-3640 to request printed information. Local tourist offices also have the state literature.
Arizona State Parks
The main office (1300 W. Washington, Phoenix, AZ 85007, 602/542-4174 or 800/285-3703, http://azstateparks.com, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri.) has an information desk and gift shop. Staff answer a Wildflower Hotline (602/542-4988) during office hours in spring.
State Trust Lands
Although not specifically intended for recreation, these lands have some backcountry areas that you may wish to explore. To do so, purchase a 12-month Recreation Permit for $15/person or $20/family. (Licensed fishermen and hunters pursuing their activities are exempt but need a permit if camping.) Permits can be obtained by mail or in person in Phoenix (602/542-4631), Tucson (520/628-5480), Flagstaff (928/774-1425), and the Arizona Public Lands Information Center in Phoenix (602/417-9300).
The Benchmark Arizona Road & Recreation Atlas covers the state with exceptionally beautiful and easy-to-read maps at a 1:400,000 scale; it's sold in stores. The Guide to Indian Country map published by the Automobile Club of Southern California provides superb coverage of the Four Corners region, including the Grand Canyon and the Navajo and Hopi Indian reservations; it's sold in stores, and AAA members can get it free from AAA offices. The 1:126,720-scale National Forest Service maps will be handy on many backcountry drives; Forest Service offices and stores sell them. For exploring the lonely Arizona Strip, the 1:168,960-scale Arizona Strip District Visitor Map will prove essential for navigation; it's published by the Bureau of Land Management and sold at their offices and in stores. Hikers and mountain bikers will appreciate the detailed U.S.G.S. topographic maps of the region, available in a variety of scales and formats from outdoors stores. You can also download topo maps from Internet sites such as www.trails.com.
Post Offices and Telephones
The U.S. Post Service (800/275-8777, www.usps.gov) offices are open business hours Mon.-Fri. and sometimes shorter hours on Saturday.
Telephone numbers in northern and western Arizona uses the 928 area code. Phoenix, in the center of the state, has a 602 area code; Glendale and other cities to the west use 623 and Tempe, Scottsdale, Mesa, and other places to the east have 480. Tucson, Florence, and the rest of southeastern Arizona are in the 520 code. Use these when dialing 1+ or 0+ numbers inside as well as outside Arizona. To obtain a local number from Information, dial 1-411; for a number in other places or for another state, dial 1, the area code, then 555-1212; there's a fee for this service. Many airlines, auto rental firms, and motel chains have toll-free 800, 888, 877, or 866 numbers; if you don't have the number, just dial 800/555-1212.
Pre-paid telephone cards provide much lower costs for long-distance calls than plunking in coins or using a telephone company billing card; discount stores often have the lowest prices for the pre-paid cards.
Travelers in Arizona should remember that the state is on Mountain Standard Time all year, except for the Navajo Reservation, which goes on daylight saving time—add one hour April-Oct.—to conform with its Utah and New Mexico sections. Note that the Hopi Reservation, completely within Arizona and surrounded by the Navajo, stays on standard time year-round along with the rest of the state. In summer, Arizona runs on the same time as California and Nevada, and one hour behind Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. In winter, Arizona is one hour ahead of California and Nevada, on the same time as Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico.
Entering the United States
Canadians can enter without a visa, and Mexicans can apply for a card that permits visa-free crossings. Citizens of many developed countries can visit without a visa. Visit the website http://travel.state.gov for the regulations, lists of U.S. embassies and consulates, and application forms. If you don't have Internet access, simply check with your country's U.S. embassy or consulate for the application procedure.
No foreign currency exchange is available in northern Arizona. Credit cards, especially Visa and MasterCard, are accepted at most businesses. ATM machines in almost every town are the best way to get cash; the machines accept most credit and debit cards, but the latter usually have lower or no fees—ask at your home financial institution. Bring traveler's checks in U.S. dollars as a backup; they're widely accepted.
The Metric System
National Park Service literature uses both English and metric units, but otherwise the metric system sees little use in the United States.
Electric current in the U.S. is 110-120 volts, 60-cycles. Nearly all portable electronic devices have a universal power supply that will run on this voltage. Travel stores sell the adapter for the flat two-pin style of the U.S. plug; the Radio Shack chain is also a handy source of adapters in the United States. Electrical appliances manufactured for use in other countries may need a transformer, though it might be cheaper just to buy a new appliance after you arrive.
On to Phoenix and South-Central Arizona