If there’s one thing we’ve learned in 2020, it’s just how quickly things can change. Usually when summer rolls around, the vacation options seem endless. But due to the new coronavirus pandemic, many popular getaways are off-limits.
Yet with a little careful planning, high-country escapes—with social distancing—are still an option. So here’s an Arizona bucket list of adventure appropriate for the summer of 2020. Remember to travel with caution, follow good health practices, and behave responsibly when outdoors or around other people. Also, get the latest information about your destination before proceeding. Check for fire restrictions and other closures. We know how quickly things can change.
Like every other corner of Arizona, the Red Rock Country of Sedona undergoes a remarkable transformation during summer monsoon season. Towering clouds fill the sky. The light turns wild, and colors grow even more vivid. The haunting scent of moisture in the air floats through desert and forest. Each shallow dip and trough fills with water like brimming ponds. Dusty washes turn into creeks while water gushes down from high cliffs.
While there is no bad time to be hiking in Sedona, monsoons add a splash of magic. Here is a Sedona trail I enjoyed on our last visit to Red Rock Country.Just be safe out there. Carry snacks and plenty of water. Don’t hit the trail if thunder or lightning are present. Keep your distance from fellow hikers.
Bell Rock is one of the first identifiable red rock formations you see when entering Sedona from Highway 179. It is quite clear how it received its name; it looks like a giant red bell melting into the landscape. There are a few trails that go around and near the base of Bell Rock as well as one that leads you onto the rock itself. The trails around Bell Rock are short in distance and provide moderate hiking for visitors who want to take their time and enjoy the excellent views.
Bell Rock is said to be one of the larger vortex sites in Sedona. Vortexes are said to be sites with heavy concentrations of energy spiraling upward from the Earth. Many people believe that vortex sites have physical, emotional, and spiritual healing properties. If you are open to the idea, go and feel it out for yourself.
With close to 200 established trails, Prescott is a hiker’s paradise. The Constellation Trail is a tangled web of pathways around the stunning Granite Dells. Near the trailhead is a commemorative plaque honoring the five crewmen of the Air Force Lockheed C-121G Super Constellation who perished when their plane crashed nearby in 1959. Cause of the crash is still unknown. Signs with maps are posted at each junction and all trail segments together total less than 2.5 miles as they wind their way through the Dells. Brutish boulders rise in sudden thrusts while others lay about in jumbled heaps.
This is a land of dramatic textures. The trail slithers among rocky clusters and gains just enough elevation to offer wide-ranging views. Small grottoes and narrow passageways make this a fun hike for kids. If you do it after some monsoon rains you will be rewarded with some lush riparian vegetation as well as some chaparral and many rocky granite outcroppings.
Everyone has a favorite road, often some less-traveled stretch of curvy blacktop through an area of scenic countryside. What I consider to be one of the greatest drives in Arizona fits that bill and beats the heat is a federally recognized scenic byway that climbs tall mountains, traverses sweeping grasslands, encounters the grandest of vistas, and passes through historic towns along the way.
Leaving Prescott, drive north on Highway 89 until you hit the intersection with 89A in the direction of Jerome. This piece of roadway was constructed in the 1920s as something of a shortcut over the crest of Mingus Mountain between Prescott and Jerome which was then a thriving copper-mining town. Again, it can be challenging, but in a good way.
A beautiful and satisfying drive, Arizona 89A passes through tall-pine forest. The road twists through canyons and over crests with impressive climbs, dazzling drop-offs, and views that make you want to stop the car to get out and stare. Look far ahead for a sighting of the red rocks of Sedona in the distance. You’ll want to stop to bask in the glory of the view.
The entrance to Jerome happens suddenly; one moment, you’re on this mountain road and the next you are on a narrow stretch of village streets. Small homes perch above you on the left and below you on the right with ancient concrete walls and curbs lining the road. Go slowly through here as there are homes and businesses packed close to the street and usually bands of tourists wandering around aimlessly. I’ve seen RVs navigate this narrow, twisty stretch but it’s not my idea of a fun time.
Jerome has a boom-to-bust ghost-town history that builds on its charm. From the 1890s through the 1920s, Jerome was a copper-mining boom town, fading through the Depression of the 1930s, coming back as copper demand grew during the war years, and then shriveling up in the 1950s from a peak population of about 4,400 to a low of fewer than 100.
Yet Jerome’s rugged historic beauty cast its spell on artists and offbeat souls who repopulated the town restoring its homes and its downtown as well a regular destination for a steady flow of tourists and shoppers.
As you leave Jerome, the town of Cottonwood is in the broad valley below the mountain range. There’s also an incredible prehistoric pueblo ruin called Tuzigoot National Monument just to the east. For more incredible beauty continue on 89A into Sedona with its towering red rock formations and popular downtown, then through lush Oak Creek Canyon up an amazing set of switchbacks to the surface of the Mogollon Rim and on to Flagstaff which sits at 7,000 feet altitude.
None of this trip on Arizona 89A will be in the least bit tedious especially newbies who will be enthralled by the continuous and ever-changing array of remarkable scenery. I’ve been on this route many times and never tire of it.
To my mind these live oak-dotted hills fat with side oats grama, these pine-clad mesas spangled with flowers, these lazy trout streams burbling along under great sycamores and cottonwoods, come near to being the cream of creation.
—Aldo Leopold, 1937