Busy cities and desolate washes, low deserts to high pine-filled mountains, black lava flows to red rocks and pastel deserts, ancient ruins to thriving modern Native American communities
Driving around Arizona, the sixth largest state in the US, it’s easy to feel like you’ve been transported into the middle of nowhere, or even onto another planet—in one moment you’re surrounded by rocky red buttes, the next saguaro-speckled desert-scapes and then, ponderosa forests.
Arizona is what road-trip daydreams are made of. But this is a destination that also richly rewards those who linger a little and set off on foot to explore spectacular hiking trails and quirky desert towns.
A trip to the Grand Canyon in the northwest of the state is an adventure no traveler can forget. The Colorado River snakes through a vast gorge that plummets to depths of more than 5,200 feet and is 18 miles across at its widest.
Sheer cliffs rise on either side of a flat-bottomed, sandy ravine, an area created much the way uplift and water formed the Grand Canyon. Though only a fraction of the Grand Canyon’s size and majesty, Canyon de Chelly offers more than a rugged landscape. Native Americans have worked and lived there for thousands of years and today Navajo people still call it home. Canyon de Chelly’s blend of landscape and cultural heritage allows a glimpse at an area originally inhabited 4,000 years ago and which still sustains people today.
Petrified Forest National Park is a surprising land of scenic wonders and fascinating science. The park contains one of the world’s largest and most colorful concentrations of petrified wood, multi-hued badlands of the Chinle Formation, portions of the Painted Desert, historic structures, archeological sites, and displays of 225-million-year-old fossils.
Located in the ‘heart’ of Arizona, the Verde Valley is ideally situated above the heat of the desert and below the cold of Arizona’s high country. The Spanish word verde means “green” so the name may seem like a misnomer for arid Arizona. The valley encompasses red rock formations and lush canyons fed by the Verde River.
In the shadows of Mingus Mountain and in the heart of the Verde Valley, Cottonwood offers a distinctive historic district lined with shops and restaurants on its Main Street. History is alive in nearby Clarkdale whose homes and buildings still reflect its early copper smelting heritage. Four specialized museums focus on Native American cultures, international copper art, and local railroad and town history.
Ninety minutes south explore the Superstitions Wilderness Area with dramatic views along the Peralta Canyon Trail and the Pass Mountain Trail. The Peralta Canyon Trail is one of the most popular hikes in the Superstition Wilderness outside of Phoenix and for good reason. This hike is one of the gateways into the 160,000-acre wilderness and offers spectacular scenery for the day hiker.
Tucson is home to the nation’s largest cacti. The giant saguaro is the universal symbol of the American West. These majestic plants found only in a small portion of the United States are protected by Saguaro National Park to the east and west of Tucson. Here you have an opportunity to see these enormous cacti silhouetted by the beauty of a magnificent desert sunset.
Although it’s called a museum, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum—about 15 miles west of downtown Tucson—is more of a zoo. In fact, 85 percent of what you’ll experience is outdoors (so dress accordingly). The facility’s 98 acres host 230 animal species—including prairie dogs, coyotes, and a mountain lion—and 1,200 local plant species (totaling 56,000 individual plants). Walking through the museum’s trails, visitors get acquainted with desert life.
And as well as the outdoor splendors, Arizona has many ways to reward you for a day’s adventure, with luxurious resorts/ spas, top restaurants, and an increasingly exciting wine scene.
RV travel allows you to take the comforts of home on the road
February is a great time to travel. If you’re looking for someplace warm with ample sunshine, there are some great destinations to consider especially for the RVing snowbird escaping the ravages of a Northern winter.
The bad news is COVID-19 has taken its toll on the tourism industry and continues to impact snowbird travel. Canadian snowbirds won’t be flocking south this winter to escape the cold and snowy weather. With their wings clipped by border closures, Canadian snowbirds have traded in their golf clubs for snow shovels.
Naturally, RVers—and, in particular, Canadian snowbirds—are looking forward to the relaxation of these restrictions. But where are the most amazing places to RV this month?
Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out our monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in January and March. Also check out our recommendations from February 2020.
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson, Arizona
The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson is a 98-acre zoo, aquarium, botanical garden, natural history museum, and art gallery. It features two miles of walking paths traversing 21 acres of desert landscape. Get to know various Sonoran Desert habitats featuring flora and fauna native to the region, 16 individual desert botanical gardens, Earth Sciences Center cave featuring the region’s geology and showcasing the Museum’s extensive mineral collection, and admission to live animal presentations and keeper-animal interactions where you can watch animals being fed or trained. A visitor favorite, the Raptor Free Flight, a birds-of-prey demonstration where visitors view from the birds’ flight path occurs seasonal mid-October through mid-April.
Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and St. Marys River, Georgia
At over 400,000-acres, Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge protects most of America’s largest blackwater wetlands sheltering a vast mosaic of pine islands, serpentine blackwater channels, and cypress forests that provide habitat for an abundance of wildlife. The largest refuge east of the Mississippi River, Okefenokee is home to a multitude of rare and declining species. Roughly 15,000 alligators ply the swamp’s placid waters. Wood storks and sandhill cranes frequent the skies. And gopher tortoises find sanctuary in underground burrows. From this vast wetland ecosystem is born the St. Marys, a blackwater river that meanders 125 miles before reaching the Atlantic. Largely unspoiled, the St. Marys River shelters the endangered Atlantic sturgeon, an ancient species that once reached lengths of up to 18 feet.
Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, Florida
Meet a manatee face-to-face without ever getting wet at Florida’s Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Underwater viewing stations allow visitors to see the manatees—and other fish as they swim by—up close and personal at this showcase for Florida’s native wildlife. The Fish Bowl underwater observatory floats in the main spring and allows visitors to “walk underwater” beneath the spring’s surface and watch the manatees and an astounding number of fresh and saltwater fish swim about. The park also features a variety of captive animals such as alligators, black bears, red wolf, key deer, flamingos, whooping cranes, and the oldest hippopotamus in captivity.
Buccaneer State Park, Mississippi
Located on the beach in Waveland, Buccaneer is in a natural setting of large moss-draped oaks, marshlands, and the Gulf of Mexico. Use of this land was first recorded in history in the late 1700s when Jean Lafitte and his followers were active in smuggling and pirating along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The French Buccaneer, Lafitte, inhabited the old Pirate House located a short distance from what is now the park. The park site, also known as Jackson’s Ridge was used as a base of military operations by Andrew Jackson during the Battle of New Orleans. Jackson later returned to this area and built a house on land that is now Buccaneer State Park.
Buccaneer State Park offers Buccaneer Bay, a 4.5 acre water park, Pirate’s Alley Nature Trail, playground, Jackson’s Ridge Disc Golf, activity building, camp store, and Castaway Cove pool.
Buccaneer State Park has 206 premium campsites with full amenities including sewer. In addition to the premium sites, Buccaneer has an additional 70 campsites that are set on a grassy field overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. These Gulf view sites offer water and electricity. A central dumping station and restrooms are located nearby.
Big Bend Scenic Loop, Texas
Touring Big Bend National Park and experiencing endless vistas straight out of an old Western would be reason enough to make this trip. But you’ll also have plenty of fun along the way exploring quirky small towns that are definitive road-trip material. Unforgettable experiences in West Texas include minimalist art installations, nighttime astronomy parties, and thriving ghost towns. Start your road trip in El Paso, a border city that’s wedged into the farthest-flung corner of West Texas and wraps up at the popular art installation—Prada Marfa. Highlights include Fort Davis and Terlingua, a one-of-a-kind thriving ghost town.
Mobile is more than 300 years old and from that fact alone there must be a lot of history associated with a city of that age. The many museums and historical homes help tell Mobile’s story. Eight National Register Historic Districts make up what is known as downtown and midtown Mobile. Explore the mighty WWII battleship USS Alabama, winner of nine battle stars, and the submarine USS Drum. Both are National Historic Landmarks. Mobile is the home to the oldest carnival or Mardi Gras in the United States.
Find yourself in Rockport-Fulton and discover why Rockport-Fulton is the Charm of the Texas Coast. You’ll find a sandy beach, a birder’s paradise, a thriving arts community, unique shopping, delectable seafood, unlimited outdoor recreation, historical sites, and great fishing.
The quaint fishing village of Rockport has been a favorite coastal hideaway and snowbird roost for many years. Be it sportfishing, bird-watching, seafood, shopping, the arts, water recreation, or simply relaxing in the shade of wind-sculpted live oaks life here revolves around Aransas Bay.
Mesilla, New Mexico
Just outside Las Cruces, the tiny town of Mesilla is one of the most unexpected surprises in the entire state. Formerly part of Mexico and the focus of more than one border dispute, Mesilla is rich in culture and fosters an independent spirit while still celebrating its heritage. Mesilla Plaza is the heart of the community with the twin steeples of Basilica of San Albino as the most identifiable landmark. The church is more than 160 years old but still welcomes the public for regular mass. The heritage is also represented in the shops and restaurants in the Mercado district. Eat dinner at the haunted Double Eagle or stick with traditional Mexican cuisine at La Posta.
Palm Springs, California
Palm Springs and its many neighboring cities in the Coachella Valley of Southern California are a desert area with abundant artesian wells. Palm Springs acquired the title “Playground of the Stars” many years ago because what was then just a village in the desert was a popular weekend Hollywood getaway. Today, the village has grown and consists of much more than just hanging out poolside. Whether it’s golf, tennis, hiking, or a trip up the aerial tram, Palm Springs is a winter desert paradise.
Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona
Since the 1840s, many have claimed to know the location of the Peralta family’s lost gold mine in the Superstition Mountains but none of these would-be fortune-seekers became more famous than “the Dutchman” Jacob Waltz. You might not find gold during your visit but you’ll become entranced with the golden opportunities to experience the beautiful and rugged area known as the Superstition Wilderness accessible by trails from the Park. Take a stroll along the Native Plant Trail or hike the challenging Siphon Draw Trail to the top of the Flatiron. The four mile mountain bike loop trail is another great way to enjoy the park’s beauty.
Depending on the year’s rainfall, you may be treated to a carpet of desert wildflowers in the spring. Enjoy a week of camping and experience native wildlife including mule deer, coyote, javelin, and jackrabbit. 138 RV camping sites (68 with electric and water) are available in the park.
Parks and gardens are ideal destinations for picnics, enjoying the outdoors, and simply taking time to relax and enjoy nature
In an earlier article I detailed ways to live healthier and extend both the quantity and quality of your life. There is evidence to support the positive impact of adopting a healthy lifestyle and following certain definitive, scientific, time-tested methods including enjoying nature.
From an ancient forest and coastal wetlands to a botanical garden and desert oasis, here are eight of our favorite parks and gardens for enjoying nature.
Frances Beider Forest, Harleyville, South Carolina
Feel the beauty and serenity of this ancient forest. Frequented by photographers and nature lovers from all over the world, this 18,000-acre bird and wildlife sanctuary offers a beauty unsurpassed in the South Carolina Lowcountry. Audubon’s Beidler is the world’s largest virgin cypress-tupelo swamp forest—a pristine ecosystem. Enjoy thousand-year-old trees, a range of wildlife, and the quiet flow of blackwater all from the safety of a 1.75-mile boardwalk. Paddle the flowing blackwater under towering 1,000-year-old cypress trees. Wildlife is plentiful and varied.
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Austin, Texas
Lady Bird Johnson was the First Lady who championed the planting of wildflowers along Texas highways. Her passion was not only for wildflowers but native plants of all kinds. So it’s fitting that the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is both a showplace for beautiful plants and a botanical research center. The public botanical garden introduces visitors to the beauty of wildflowers and other native plants and natural landscapes through experience and education. There are 284 acres of gardens, savannas, and woodlands including the Ann and O.J. Weber Butterfly Garden, the sprawling South Meadow, and the Erma Lowe Hill Country Stream.
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson, Arizona
The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a zoo, natural history museum, aquarium, and botanical garden all in one place. Founded in 1952, 85 percent of the Desert Museum is outdoors and primarily a walking experience. Located just west of Tucson, it features 2 miles of walking paths traversing 21 acres of desert landscape. The Desert Museum’s 98 acres host 230 animal species—including prairie dogs, coyotes, Gila monster, and mountain lion—and 1,200 local plant species (totaling 56,000 individual plants). This highly acclaimed Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum deserves all the accolades that it receives.
Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, Kentucky
Are you looking to connect with nature? Bernheim is the place to do it. With over 15,000 acres of land, there is an adventure waiting for everyone, no matter what your interest. At 15,625 acres, Bernheim boasts the largest protected natural area in Kentucky. Bernheim contains a 600-acre arboretum with over 8,000 unique varieties of trees. Take a scenic drive through the forest on paved roads, or bicycle around the Arboretum. Over 40 miles of trails weave their way through the forest at Bernheim.
Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, Arizona
You’ll never look at cacti the same way again after visiting the 140-acre Desert Botanical Garden. In this environment, every plant represents stunning beauty. Five marked trails, such as the Sonoran Desert Nature Loop Trail, capitalize on views (whether of mountains or flowers) and fragrances. Learn how native ancestors and current ethnic groups survived in the desert climate by traveling along the Plants & People of the Sonoran Desert Loop Trail which documents Hispanic, Tohono O’odham, and Western Apache people’s connection to plants. The Desert Botanical Garden is located in Papago Park in central Phoenix.
Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve, South Carolina
If you want to see the South Carolina coast the way the original settlers did, take a step back in time at Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve on Edisto Island. The 4,600-acre preserve includes three miles of undeveloped beachfront. This wildlife management area exhibits many characteristics common to sea islands along the southeast coast: pine hardwood forests, agricultural fields, coastal wetlands, and a barrier island with a beachfront. Only this tract has been left undisturbed.
Boyce-Thompson Arboretum State Park, Superior, Arizona
Boyce Thompson Arboretum, tucked into the foothills of Picketpost Mountain near Superior is a state park like no other. The Arboretum is home to hundreds of species of desert loving plants from around Arizona and other parts of the world. This venerable “Arizona oasis” has nearly three miles of paths and trails winding through colorful gardens, woodlands, and native riparian habitat. Founded in 1924 by mining magnate Col. William Boyce Thompson, the Arboretum is Arizona’s oldest and largest botanical garden and offers over 323 acres to explore.
Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary, Walterboro, South Carolina
There is a beautiful wildlife sanctuary located in the middle of the historic and picturesque city of Walterboro, South Carolina. Easily reached from I-95, the Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary is a great place to leave the traffic behind, stretch your legs, and enjoy nature. Located within the ACE Basin, the East Coast’s largest estuarine preserve, the 600- acre Sanctuary features a network of boardwalks, hiking, biking, and canoe trails that are perfect for viewing a diversity of a black water bottomland habitat.
The Old Pueblo has attracted visitors for centuries
First occupied by ancient Paleo-Indians as far back as
12,000 years ago, Tucson, known as the Old Pueblo, is one of the oldest
continuously inhabited cities in America.
The ancients were followed by the Hohokam, then the Pima and
Tohono ‘O’odham tribes. Next came the Spanish in search of gold. Missionaries
followed in the early 1600s in search of natives to convert to Christianity.
Tucson dates its official beginning to 1775 when an Irishman
named Hugh O’Connor established the Presidio de San Agustin near present-day
downtown Tucson. And then in 1854, the Gadsden Purchase brought Tucson under
the jurisdiction of the United States.
Today, snowbirds flock to Tucson. In late fall, when cold
weather begins to settle across most of the nation, RVs in all sizes and
vintages roll into Tucson. Drawn by the warm winter sun and the beautiful
Sonoran Desert, these snowbirds become an active and vital part of the Tucson
Tucson is diverse in its geography as well as its history.
While the area is well-known for its abundant saguaro cacti, a drive to the top
of nearby Mount Lemmon offers a snow-covered peak with a pine forest and the
southernmost ski area in the U.S.
Arizona’s second-largest city is surrounded by five mountain
ranges. The colorful landscape, rich history, and pleasant winter temperatures
draw us to Tucson.
Having visited Tucson on numerous occasions, we have set up camp at a variety of area RV parks and campgrounds that include Tucson Lazydays KOA, Valley of the Sun RV Resort, Desert Trails RV Park, Catalina State Park, and Mission View RV Resort.
The giant saguaro cacti grows nowhere else. Growing very
slowly, it may take 50 years or more for branching to begin. These symbols of
the Southwest have lent their name to Saguaro National Park, its two units
bracketing Tucson on the east and the west.
North of Saguaro Park’s East Unit and part of Coronado
National Forest, Sabino Canyon is a popular recreation area. Carved into the
Santa Catalina Mountains by its namesake stream, the canyon is a desert oasis
supporting riparian habitat including willow, ash, oak, and Arizona sycamore. A
paved road runs 3.8 miles into the canyon, crossing nine stone bridges over
Sabino Creek. It begins at an altitude of 2,800 feet and rises to 3,300 feet at
Sabino Canyon Tours offers two tram routes that provide
access to Sabino and Bear Canyons. Along both routes riders are free to get off
at any of the stops along the way. Sabino Canyon tram is a narrated,
educational 45-minute, 3.8 mile tour into the foothills of the Santa Catalina
Mountains. The trams have nine stops along the tour with several restroom
facilities and picnic grounds located near Sabino Creek
Plenty of cowboys can be found at Old Tucson Studios. John
Wayne and Clint Eastwood are among the Hollywood legends who starred in some of
the 300-plus movies and TV projects that have been filmed at Old Tucson since
1939. Today it’s a movie studio and theme park.
The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is just a few miles past
Old Tucson. “Museum” is a bit of a misnomer; it’s as much zoo and botanical
garden as it is natural history museum. About 85 percent of the museum is
outdoors, with exhibits re-creating the natural landscape. Native plants and
animals, including American black bears, mountain lions and endangered Mexican
wolves, roam in enclosed desert habitats. The Earth Sciences Center houses a
fascinating collection of minerals from the Sonoran Desert region of Arizona,
Sonora and Baja, California. The cool air in the center’s artificial cave
offers a welcome respite from the warm desert temperatures.
Mission San Xavier del Bac, also known as the White Dove of
the Desert, is a magnificent building that blends Moorish, Byzantine, and late
Mexican Renaissance architecture. In 1692 Father Kino, a Jesuit missionary,
came to the area. Eight years later he laid the foundation for the first
church. The current church, completed in 1797, serves an active parish.
Standing in the plaza, I could imagine generations of baptisms, marriages, and
funerals being performed there.
Newcomers to Arizona are often struck by Desert Fever.
Desert Fever is caused by the spectacular natural beauty and
serenity of the area.
Early symptoms include a burning desire to make plans for
the next trip “south”.