Grand Canyon: Where UPS and FedEx Fear to Tread

The Grand Canyon is one of Earth’s most beautiful and mysterious places. Its depths stretch seemingly forever and its sheer size can be breathtaking.

The Grand Canyon attracts millions of visitors to northern Arizona each year all hoping to snap an amazing photo of the canyon’s vast landscape. The mile-deep gorge is the centerpiece of such an expansive view that it can’t all be seen at once; at 277 miles long and up to 18 miles wide the Grand Canyon is so large it creates its own weather. Deep canyons and rough terrain strongly influence solar heating and air circulation. Consequently, many different microclimates are found throughout the canyon. In fact, getting a view from its two most popular rims (aka tops) requires nearly five hours of driving time. 

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Grand Canyon is under the care of the National Park Service yet the park boundaries don’t contain it entirely; the portion protected by Grand Canyon National Park totals 1,904 square miles, a span larger than the smallest U.S. state. In comparison, the tiny East Coast state of Rhode Island contains just 1,214 square miles.

Today, the Grand Canyon is the second-most-visited national park (bested only by the Great Smoky Mountains in 2022).

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Grand Canyon was one of the first North American natural wonders to be discovered by Europeans. In 1541, a party of the Coronado expedition under Captain García López de Cardenas stood on the South Rim, 138 years before explorers found Niagara Falls, 167 before Yellowstone, and almost 300 before Yosemite. A group scrambled down toward the river but failed to reach it and returned to announce that the buttes were much taller than the great tower of Seville. Then nothing! Some Coronado chroniclers did not even mention this side trip in their accounts.

Francisco Tomas Garcés, a Franciscan friar traced tribes up the Colorado River then visited the rim in 1776, discovered the Havasupai tribe, and departed. Fur trappers based in Taos knew of the great gorge which they called the Big Cañon and shunned it. When they guided exploring parties of the U.S. Army Corps of Topographic Engineers in search of transportation routes they steered the expeditions away from the canyon which offered no passage by water or land.

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Then in 1857, Lt. Joseph C. Ives led a steamboat up the Colorado River in explicit quest of the Big Cañon. After the steamboat struck a rock and sank near Black Canyon, Ives traveled down Diamond Creek to the inner gorge, briefly touched at the South Rim and in 1861 concluded with one of the most infamous proclamations to ever emerge from an American explorer: The region is, of course, altogether valueless … after entering it there is nothing to do but leave. Ours has been the first and will doubtless be the last party of whites to visit this profitless locality.

>> Related article: How Theodore Roosevelt Saved the Grand Canyon

Eight years later Major John Wesley Powell descended the Colorado River through its gorges renamed the Big Cañon as the Grand Canyon and wrote a classic account of the view from the river. In 1882 Captain Clarence Dutton in the first monograph published by the new U.S. Geological Survey wrote an equally classic account, this time from the rim.

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Something had changed. Mostly it was the advent of geology as a science with broad cultural appeal. The Grand Canyon might be valueless as a corridor of transport but it was a wonderland for the new science. It helped enormously that artists were drawn to landscapes of which the canyon seemed both unique and dramatic. Urged by Powell and Dutton, Thomas Moran and William Henry Holmes transformed a supremely visual scene into paint and ink.

Before Powell and Dutton, the Grand Canyon was a place to avoid. Now it was a marvel to admire. Twenty years later Teddy Roosevelt stepped off a train at the South Rim and added nationalism to the mix by declaring it “a natural wonder … absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world.”

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It was an astonishing reversal of perception. The geologic mystery of the canyon is how the south-trending Colorado River made a sudden turn westward to carve its way, cross-grained, through four plateaus.

Unlike most great features, the Grand Canyon is invisible until you stand on its rim. You aren’t drawn to it as to a river’s source or a mountain’s peak. You have to seek it out and then cope with its visual revelation. It simply and suddenly is.

>> Related article: Chasing John Wesley Powell: Exploring the Colorado River—Canyonlands, Lake Powell & Grand Canyon

President Benjamin Harrison first moved to protect the area in 1893 as a forest reserve; President Theodore Roosevelt designated it a national monument in 1908. It would take a third President—Woodrow Wilson—and 11 more years for the Grand Canyon to become the awe-inspiring national park it is today.

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Numbers don’t lie

1,000: Estimated number of caves within the Grand Canyon

5: Species of rattlesnakes found in Grand Canyon National Park (including the pink Grand Canyon rattlesnake, only found there)

278: Miles of the Colorado River that run through the Grand Canyon

4.7 million: Visitors to Grand Canyon National Park in 2022

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Mail is delivered to the bottom of the Grand Canyon

Got mules? The most unusual mode of delivery used by the Postal Service is the mule train.

Most visitors to the Grand Canyon admire the landscape from overlooks never venturing to the gorge’s bottom. Yet mail-carrying mules trek 3,000 feet down to the floor of the canyon three hours down but five hours back up, five days a week delivering packages, food, and supplies every day to the Supai village where the Indigenous Havasupai people have lived for nearly 1,000 years. 

It’s unclear how long mail has been delivered this way but mule postal deliveries were first documented in 1938. Up to 22 mules are part of the all-weather mail train carrying up to 200 pounds of goods each and traveling 9 miles down into the canyon outside the national park’s boundaries. The trip takes three hours down and five hours on the return and according to the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum is the last official mail-by-mule route in the country and possibly, the world.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The mail supplies the Havasupai people with a multitude of modern amenities from packaged food to medicine to small appliances. The village could not sustain itself without the mail.

Insulated by its own remoteness and towering red cliffs, this village of a few hundred people is a step back in time: no paved streets, no cars, and no streetlights.

>> Related article: Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon

One of the mule train’s last stops before the canyon is in Peach Springs, Arizona. It’s the only post office in the country with a walk-in freezer to keep frozen food as cold as possible before the next leg in its journey.

For the Havasupai Indians, the mule train is a lifeline; the nearest supermarket is 120 miles from the top of the canyon.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From there a contractor picks up the mail and drives it an hour on a rough road to the top of the canyon. It’s then handed over to the mule team. According to Daniel Piazza, chief curator of philately (the study of stamps) at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum, the same person has held the contract with the Postal Service for more than 25 years and chances are good his son will inherit it when he retires—there aren’t many people clamoring to run the mule mail.

>> Related article: Grand Canyon National Park Celebrates Its 100th Anniversary Today

Another unofficial route carries mail to a tourist lodge called Phantom Ranch—it’s not through a U.S. Postal Service contract but the mail that comes and goes as a courtesy to guests does get a special marking that it was mailed by mule.

These areas are not accessible by road. There are only three ways to reach them: by hiking (mule optional) down the canyon, rafting down the Colorado River, or by helicopter.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since the 1930s, mules have been carrying mail and goods to the Havasupai people located inside the Grand Canyon:

  • 10-22 mules are used daily along with one wrangler on horseback, 5 days a week, traveling 9 miles down into the canyon to the Supai Post Office
  • It takes 3 hours to get down and 5 hours to get back up
  • On the way back up, the wrangler untethers the mules and sends them back up on their own
  • Each mule can carry up to 200 pounds and the weight is loaded equally on each side for balance
  • The Supai Post Office has a special Mule Train postmark

Worth Pondering…

Leave it as it is. You can not improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it. What you can do is to keep it for your children, your children’s children, and for all who come after you, as one of the great sights which every American if he can travel at all should see.

—Theodore Roosevelt

How to Plan a Southwest Road Trip

The landscapes across America’s Southwest are some of the most spectacular to be found anywhere on the planet

A Southwest road trip is America at its best. Picture yourself driving along desert roads sometimes for hours on end. Highways snake between burnt red canyons, beside acres of geological anomalies you can’t quite imagine until you’ve seen them for yourself. Your Southwest road trip itinerary may have you passing through tiny towns with names like Tropic and Beaver and diners slinging Navajo tacos alongside more classic greasy spoon fare.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A road trip is a perfect way to explore special spots in the Southwest—Nevada, Utah, and Arizona—where you can see ghost towns, hoodoos, natural arches, sandstone spectacles, dark-sky stars, and a huge hole in the ground.

But, the real reason to undertake a road trip through Utah, Arizona, and the rest of the American Southwest is the National Parks. Legendary parks include the Grand Canyon and Utah’s The Big FiveZionBryce, ArchesCapitol Reef, and Canyonlands. The Southwest is a quintessential part of any US National Parks road trip.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On top of that, there are tons of national monuments (Bears Ears, Dinosaur, Hovenweep, Natural Bridges, Rainbow Bridge, Cedar Breaks, and Grand Staircase-Escalante, to name a few) and plenty more state parks and federal lands worth checking out. It goes without saying that you might not see everything in the American Southwest in one sweep. While fully customizable, I’d recommend at least a two-week itinerary to get the most out of your Nevada, Utah, and Arizona road trip.

Before you begin, consider purchasing an annual national parks pass at the first park you enter. That $80 pass gets everyone in your car into every national park for a full year. You don’t have to be an American citizen to buy an annual pass but if you are and you’re age 62-plus buy your lifetime pass for $80 and never again pay to enter a U.S. national park. (Considering that Zion National Park’s entry fee is $35 per car, getting the annual pass is something of a no-brainer.)

Las Vegas RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nevada: Ghosts, gold and Red Rock

While the lure of Sin City in Nevada is strong, there’s more to the Vegas environs than casinos and outlet malls. So sleep in Las Vegas to start your adventure, if you’d like, perhaps at Las Vegas RV Resort where we have stayed on several occasions.

Start with an easy ride to Red Rock Canyon Park where you’ll need a timed reservation to enter between October and May. It’s just 15 minutes west of the Strip but transports you to a completely different world of massive striated red rocks where easy walking trails lead to ancient Native American petroglyphs.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock is lovely but a favorite Nevada stop is Rhyolite, a gold-rush ghost town northwest of Vegas. Founded in 1904, it grew to a city of 5,000 residents—and was abandoned by 1916. Today it is a delightful mix of art installations (begun in 1981) known as the Goldwell Open Air Museum and the ghost town’s abandoned brick homes, banks, railroad depot, and a house built of glass bottles. The combination is absolutely fascinating and well worth the drive into what seems to be the middle of nowhere.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area is located on the Colorado River about 25 miles from the Las Vegas Strip. With 1.5 million acres of mountains and valleys there are plenty of activities visitors can enjoy at and around Lake Mead. Bicyclists are welcome to ride on park roads, on routes designated for bicycle use, and hikers can enjoy beautiful trails with impeccable views. 

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah: Hoodoos, arches and more

Rolling north into southern Utah transports you into a world of contrasts from vast arid deserts to densely wooded mountains, massive sandstone cliffs, amazing natural-stone arches, and seriously wacky rock formations.

Begin in Zion, Utah’s first national park where most months you’ll need to park your car and ride the free shuttle from the visitor center into the park. This park and its famous sites—Zion Canyon, Kolob Arch, the Narrows, Great White Throne, and Angels Landing—are so popular that massive crowds form especially during the spring, summer, and fall seasons. Jump on and off the shuttle as often as you’d like but don’t miss the last one as you’ll be walking nine miles to get out of the park if you do!

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park is probably the most eye-popping, mind-boggling place you will ever see with its hoodoos (to call them irregular rock formations is just inadequate) of every shape and size. It’s the largest concentration of these magical forms anywhere in the world and a true must-see.

Set up camp at one of Ruby’s beautiful campsites nestled in the pines. Located ½-mile from the entrance to Bryce Canyon, Ruby’s Campground & RV Park offers RV spaces with full hookups.

Make your way up the road to see all of the incredible sights, hike down into the canyon for a closer look, and don’t miss the Milky Way stargazing led by a park ranger. Much of the Southwest is toasty in summer but you’ll need a warm coat for this park where the night (and early morning) temps can be seriously chilly at any time of year.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moving on to the northwest, Capitol Reef National Park is the true undiscovered gem of Utah. You’ll be gobsmacked at the huge cliffs of bright, rainbow-colored sandstone looming high above you with peculiarly shaped hoodoos hanging at perilous angles. Find hidden arches and petroglyphs, take a horseback ride or a hike and be sure to spot the iconic white sandstone dome, shaped like the U.S. Capitol building.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Approaching the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park on the Utah/Arizona border brings a strange sense of deja vu if you’re a film fan. Turns out those iconic landscapes are real, not cinematic sets. Monument Valley served as the spectacular setting of numerous famous movies. Think Stagecoach, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and Fort Apache for this is the place that John Wayne and John Ford turned into the world’s ultimate vision of the Wild West; later, Forrest Gump cemented it as an Instagram hotspot.

Monument Valley is owned by the Navajo Nation so book a camping site at The View RV Park and then drive in, paying $8 per person to see the Mittens, Elephant Butte, John Ford’s Point, Artist’s Point and more on the 17-mile loop drive within the park. Taking a Navajo-guided tour is an incredible way to learn more about this sacred place and the indigenous people who still call it home.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona: Sunrise, sunset, and a flyover at the Big Hole

The last stop on our Wild West road trip is Arizona’s big hole in the ground also known as the Grand Canyon. One of the world’s truly astonishing natural wonders, the canyon is the longest on the planet but not the deepest despite being more than a mile down. The Colorado River began eroding away this sandstone and limestone eons ago to create this eye-popping place.

El Tovar Hotel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Book way ahead to stay at the iconic El Tovar Hotel inside the park for it’s the best way to see the sun rise and set right out your front door as the canyon changes hues. Alternately book a camping site at Mather Campground (no hookups) or Trailer Village (full hookups) in the South Rim Village.

Hike down into the canyon as far as you can go to see it up close but do remember that climbing back out is a lot harder to do. For an once-in-a-lifetime thrill, hop on a helicopter via Grand Canyon Helicopters at the airport just outside the south rim entrance, soar over the edge and swoop down into the canyon—a perfect ending to a Wild West journey filled with adventure.


Worth Pondering…

One of my favorite things about America is our breathtaking collection of national and state parks, many of which boast wonders the Psalmist would envy.

—Eric Metaxas

How Theodore Roosevelt Saved the Grand Canyon

Theodore Roosevelt’s bold Grand Canyon move

Leave it as it is. You can not improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it. What you can do is to keep it for your children, your children’s children, and for all who come after you, as one of the great sights which every American if he can travel at all should see.

—Theodore Roosevelt

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What makes the United States special? Not everyone agrees. A growing number of people think that it is not special at all. But in at least one respect, they are dead wrong: America is home to unique land formations of unparalleled beauty. These sacred spaces used to embody the essence of what it means to be an American—and in the eyes of many, still do.

Most of the annual visitors to the Grand Canyon probably count themselves among this number. It is difficult to gaze into the seemingly limitless, mile-deep ravine and not feel a sense of awe mixed with pride. But were it not for Theodore Roosevelt, it is unlikely that millions of people would be able to have this experience.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Beginnings of Conservation

While the Grand Canyon has a long geological history, the political side of its story begins in 1872. In that year, two things happened: President Grant inaugurated Yellowstone as the first national park and he signed the General Mining Act declaring all mineral deposits on federal public land to be “free and open for exploration and purchase.” These two pieces of legislation set in play contradictory aims of conservation and economic extraction that, to this day, remain unresolved.

The Grand Canyon was one place where these competing ambitions clashed. Some gazers beholding its breathtaking rock strata reflected dollar signs in their eyes. In the 1880s, Senator Benjamin Harrison tried three separate times to introduce legislation naming the Grand Canyon a national park. On each occasion his bills were defeated by private interest groups. After becoming president, Harrison was able to name the site a forest reserve in 1893.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Establishing this was problematic, though, since the Canyon’s only forests were located on its rim. Furthermore, having Forest Reserve status did not offer sufficient protection against mining claims or even loggers or ranchers, all of whom simply ignored the new law.

Arizona politicians and businessmen had a vested interest in both extracting natural resources and developing the area around the canyon for tourism. Ironically, it was the encroachment of the railroad that aided the goal of furthering the site’s protection.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A New Champion

In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt took a cross-country trip by train. One of his stops was the Grand Canyon. Peering over the edge of its rim, he fell silent with awe. Then in a speech, he delivered before a large crowd, he stated, “I shall not attempt to describe it, because I cannot.”

He admonished his audience to “Leave it as it is. Man cannot improve on it; not a bit. The ages have been at work on it and man can only mar it. What you can do is to keep it for your children and your children’s children and for all who come after you, as one of the great sights which every American, if he can travel at all, should see.”

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roosevelt’s words carried weight. He had a reputation for being a great outdoorsman. Though asthmatic and frail as a child, Roosevelt cultivated athletic prowess and later explored the Dakota Badlands. He witnessed firsthand the closing of the frontier, the exploitation of the West for economic gain, and the disappearance of species (admittedly contributing to this latter effect through his own big game hunting).

In his chosen career as a politician and statesman, he developed a vision of promoting the public good over personal profit. While Harrison was president, Roosevelt played his part by founding a club dedicated to championing laws protecting America’s beautiful spaces. He even helped get the Forest Reserve Act of 1891 passed.

When Roosevelt accidentally became president after McKinley’s assassination in 1901, Big Business had a new enemy in the White House. Although Roosevelt was a part of the emerging progressive movement, this term had a somewhat different meaning than it does today.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Like the present-day conservative movement, the progressives saw the political philosopher Edmund Burke as their great precursor. Roosevelt went so far as to quote Burke in his Fifth Annual Message to Congress in 1905, to the effect that “Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites.”

Roosevelt had a hard time reining in corporate appetites, though, despite his forceful personality. He created five new national parks but like Harrison failed to add the Grand Canyon to that number when he encountered the same entrenched opposition. Something more would be needed to safeguard it.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Antiquities Act

Conservation laws took a giant leap forward in 1906 when Roosevelt signed into law “An Act for the Preservation of American Antiquities.” It classified a new type of public land, the national monument. This classification was made necessary not only due to industrial exploitation but also because thieves were plundering ancient archeological sites in search of valuable relics. Local and state organizations were ineffective in their efforts to stop them.

The meat of the Antiquities Act is the clause opening Section 2 where it states that the president is authorized “to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments…the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Antiquities Act gave the president unprecedented domestic powers in a way that no other law has before or since. While he could designate national monuments without resort to Congress, it took an act of Congress to abolish the proclamation. He named Devil’s Tower the first such monument in September of that year. It did not extend far beyond the rock formation itself and clearly corresponded to the Act’s scope of keeping a designated space “confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management.”

Within the first six months of signing the act, Roosevelt designated four other monuments. Archaeological sites like the Gila Cliff Dwellings of New Mexico were unambiguous antiquities that could easily be classed as “objects of historic or scientific interest.”

The Grand Canyon was a different case entirely. Fortunately, it contained prehistoric ruins that were of historic interest. But the canyon itself, though, lent scientific interest by virtue of its unique geology and was much more than a mere archaeological site. The landscape was larger than the state of Rhode Island extending for nearly 2,000 square miles. How could such a vast area be managed?

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Under Roosevelt’s tenure, the Forest Service had been created in 1905 as a way of managing the 150 national forests he established. Another agency would be needed to manage national parks and monuments. For the time being, this function would be carried out by the Department of the Interior. But neither Gifford Pinchot, first chief of the Forest Service, nor any administrators of the Interior Department, had any clear idea of how to appropriately deal with these landmarks.

Roosevelt was not one to allow legal terms or procedures to get in the way of realizing his vision of America. Specific methods could be worked out later. He interpreted the vague scope of the clause in a loose manner when, on January 11, 1908, he declared the Grand Canyon a national monument.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Consequences and Influence

Despite the far-reaching powers the Antiquities Act gave Roosevelt, his decision met with predictable opposition from the usual suspects. The most vehement enemy of Grand Canyon National Monument was Ralph Henry Cameron, a party boss and mining investor who became an Arizona Senator. Well into the 1920s, he filed lawsuits against the U.S. government to assert his supposed property rights. It was a blatant use of public office for private gain and fortunately, he was not successful.

Roosevelt’s expansive interpretation of the Antiquities Act was adopted by later presidents. They have used it almost a hundred times. Critics have pointed out that the Act concentrates power in the executive branch to a degree unintended by Congress, even claiming that it grants the president a level of authority approaching European monarchs. But though one may question some of the later selections for monumenthood, the early ones that Roosevelt established are uncontroversial public treasures. His use of the law as a tool of preservation has made it one of the most influential pieces of legislation in American history.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After Roosevelt left office, the National Park Service was created in 1916 to provide competent management of America’s new landmarks. Then, only a month after Roosevelt’s own death in early 1919, Grand Canyon National Park became a reality. Although he did not live to see it receive full protection, his vigorous and shrewd actions made it possible.

In 1932, Herbert Hoover proclaimed a second Grand Canyon National Monument adjacent to the park. Following that, Lyndon Johnson established Marble Canyon National Monument in 1969. Both of these sites have since been merged into the current national park. Finally in 1979, the Grand Canyon was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As one of America’s foremost cultural icons, the Grand Canyon is a self-evident source of wonder and majesty. Less obvious but more profound was Roosevelt’s belief that this beauty was also a source of virtue—that beholding splendor could inspire one towards noble action. This is what he meant when he said, “keep it for your children.” A hundred years after his death, Americans have admirably upheld this aspect of Roosevelt’s vision.

Worth Pondering…

In the Grand Canyon, Arizona has a natural wonder which is in kind absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world.”

—Theodore Roosevelt

These Historic Arizona Towns Can Make your Next Road Trip more Fun

Arizona small historical towns each have a unique history and character-perfect for a road trip. See my fave mining, western, and funky artsy spots and work one (or three) into YOUR next road trip.

Visit any of these charming historic towns in Arizona if you want to bask in the rich heritage of the American Wild West. While some are still well populated, a handful of ghost towns are on this list which adds a fun and mysterious element to your adventure. Enjoy the scenic views and well-preserved local history and take a glimpse into American life during the turn of the century. Any or all of these historic towns in Arizona is a worthy visit for history and nature lovers alike.

Williams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Williams: Gateway to the Grand Canyon

Two things distinguish Williams: Route 66 and the Grand Canyon. Williams describes itself as “the best-preserved stretch of Route 66.” It was the last town on the mother road to be bypassed by Interstate 40 (in 1984) so it hung on to its Route 66 identity. The center of town with its diners, motels, and shops is a designated National Historic District.

We first came here to use it as a base for taking the train to the Grand Canyon but found the town itself charming. The town is the headquarters of the Grand Canyon Historic Railway and Hotel.

Williams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Because of its proximity to the park, many Grand Canyon tour operators are based in Williams. Kaibab National Forest surrounds the town, with plenty of hiking, biking, and fishing opportunities for outdoor lovers.

>> Get more tips for visiting Williams

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone: Hootin’, hollerin’ Wild West

It would be hard to get more Old West in Arizona historical towns than Tombstone (The Town Too Tough To Die). It is one of the most frequented destinations in the state for history buffs since this is home to the famous OK Corral where the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday gunned down the ornery Clanton-McLaury gang. But there’s a lot more to Tombstone including a rich silver mining history and clashes with the Apaches.

Tombstone Courthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone has done much to preserve its Old West atmosphere. The main street is still dirt and cars must share the road with horses, Western wear shops, restaurants, and saloons line the wooden sidewalks. Historic sights include the Birdcage Theater and Tombstone Courthouse.

>> Get more tips for visiting Tombstone

Prescott Courthouse Plaza © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prescott: Epitome of small town America

Prescott is one of the most charming Arizona small towns. A classic old courthouse anchors the central square. (Remember the old Back to the Future movies? It wouldn’t be surprising to see Marty McFly zipping by in his SteamPunk DeLorean.) Pretty Victorian homes and cottages line the downtown streets.

Restaurants, boutiques, antique shops, cafes, and western wear outfitters surround the courthouse square. Visit historic Whiskey Row so called because that’s where all the hootin’ and hollerin’ happened. Today you can do a bit of hootin’ and hollerin’ of your own on Whiskey Row as you don your Western duds—many of the bars feature live music.

Watson Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That western atmosphere is legit: Prescott is also home to the world’s oldest rodeo with the grounds about a half mile northwest of downtown. Nearby Prescott National Forest, Watson Lake, and Lynx Lake provide numerous opportunities for outdoor pursuits. Additionally, four of Arizona’s prominent museums are in Prescott allowing for an educational visit while you are in town.

>> Get more tips for visiting Prescott

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bisbee: Funky, artsy, and historic

Bisbee was established in 1876 as a copper mining town tucked away in the southeastern part of Arizona. The area once known as the Queen of the Copper Camps is home to a charming community among the Mule Mountains, popular with artists and retirees. The mine is no longer operational but Bisbee has now transformed itself into a cool and funky destination with a sort of Victorian-meets-midcentury kind of vibe.

Queen Mine © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Learn how copper helped shape both the town and the nation at the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum and then see the real deal underground on a Queen Mine Tour. Browse Bisbee’s many art galleries and spend the night (or three) at the Shady Dell Vintage Trailer Court or one of the town’s picturesque bed and breakfasts.

Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yuma: An Old West border town

Yuma is a small Arizona town in the extreme southwest corner of the state. Sitting along the banks of the Colorado River made Yuma a strategic location in the 18th and 19th centuries. Initially, it was missionaries who traveled this route. Passing through Yuma became one of the fastest ways to get out west during the California Gold Rush.

Yuma Territorial Prison © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today visitors to Yuma can get the feel of a real Old West town by visiting the historic downtown. The center of town took off during the gold rush years. Yuma was also home to the Yuma Territorial Prison which is now a state park. (The prison figured largely in the classic Western movie 3:10 to Yuma). Visit the Colorado River State Historic Park to learn about the importance of the crossing throughout the past few centuries.

>> Get more tips for visiting Yuma

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oatman: A braying good time

The ghost town of Oatman is a worthy destination to visit for history lovers and you will find businesses operating there despite the lack of residents. A must-stop on a Route 66 road trip, Oatman is another former mining town that offers the chance for visitors to experience the Old West as pictured in so many cowboy films.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While it’s a ghost town, in recent years it’s taken on new life as a popular tourist attraction. Wild burros roam the streets in search of treats, the carrots that are purchased from one of the numerous carrot stands. In fact, more burros reside in Oatman than humans. The population of about 100 people is mainly business owners who make a living off of the steady stream of tourist traffic that runs through the town annually.

>> Get more tips for visiting Oatman

Tubac Presido State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tubac: Artsy historic fun

Tubac is a small historic town 47 miles south of Tucson that today is a thriving artist colony. Unlike most Arizona small towns, the history of Tubac predates mining and cattle. Because of its location along the Santa Cruz River, it was a settlement for native tribes. Inhabited for 11,000 years before being established as a Spanish Presidio in 1752, the area is steeped in history which can be explored in Tubac Presidio State Historic Park. Here, hundreds of years and layers of history mingle together incorporating Native Peoples, Spanish Missionaries, and Mexican and American soldiers. History buffs should visit Tumacácori National Historic Park 5 miles south of town.

Tubac’s multiple art galleries line the sleepy streets of Tubac. The Tubac Center of the Arts hosts rotating exhibits, art workshops, and performances.

>> Get more tips for visiting Tubac

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome: Wicked and a little creepy

Jerome is a unique former copper mining town that’s perched up high on Cleopatra Hill, not far from Sedona. It’s a hair-raising drive up a twisty road to get there (Look straight ahead, not down). But the good part is the view of the surrounding valley is spectacular. You can even see many of Sedona’s red rocks in the distance.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome once had so many saloons it was dubbed The Wickedest Town in America. Now you can browse its funky shops and wet your whistle at atmospheric bars and restaurants. It also offers history buffs a wealth of experience through the Mine Museum displaying artifacts representing the town past and present. The Jerome State Historic Park, home to the Douglas Mansion, is now a museum.

Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cottonwood: Water & wine

Cottonwood sits alongside the Verde River in the valley just south of Jerome. Due to its location along a river, Cottonwood is a unique small Arizona town: it began its life as a farming community in the late 1800s. The cute main street has a midcentury feel.

Our first visit to Cottonwood in 2000 showed a small town without a lot going on. However, all those storefronts in Old Town with potential couldn’t stay empty for long. On numerous return visits, I’ve been delighted to see a town full of unique shops, cafes, and wine tasting rooms.

Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cottonwood has stayed true to its agricultural roots. Tuzigoot National Monument is just outside of town, the stone remains of this Indian pueblo providing evidence that this has been a prime growing country for centuries. The Verde Valley Wine Trail provides more modern evidence: rows of vines grace the gently sloping hills surrounding town and that musky smell of fermenting grapes permeates the air. Over 20 wineries and tasting rooms are open for sampling in and around the town.

>> Get more tips for visiting Cottonwood

Globe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Globe: Salado pueblo and copper

Globe was founded in the 1870s on copper mining and cattle and both are still important industries today. This central Arizona small town is equidistant from Phoenix and Tucson and makes a nice day trip or weekend destination.

Besh-ba-Gowah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the heart of Southern Arizona sits the former mining camp known as Globe. Founded in 1876 and incorporated in 1907, this lovely town is brimming with century-old buildings, cottages, and hillside houses. The historic downtown area is perfect for leisurely strolls and shopping for antiques while the Cobre Valley Center for the Arts is a great spot to explore and experience the talent of some incredible artists. Other areas of interest include the Besh-ba-Gowah Archeological Park which features stunning ruins of a Salado pueblo along with an accompanying museum.

>> Get more tips for visiting Globe

Kingman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kingman: Cars, trains, and electricity

Kingman was established as a railroad town in the 1880s and soon grew thanks to mining in the surrounding area. Historic Route 66 passes right through town; Kingman is the westernmost Arizona town on the mother road. Andy Devine, one of the early stars of western movies, is from Kingman. To celebrate this celluloid hero, the portion of Route 66 that goes through the center of town is known as Andy Devine Avenue.

Kingman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today Kingman has a real road trip feel and celebrates its motoring and railroad heritage. The multi-purpose Powerhouse Visitor Center is in an old converted power station. You’ll also find the Arizona Route 66 Museum and the Arizona Route 66 Electric Vehicle Museum there.

Across the street in Locomotive Park train geeks will love the ogling historic old steam engine #3579. And there is no shortage of Route 66 photo-ops: the logo is displayed all over town on signs and painted on the street.

Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia: Chill at a bird-lover’s paradise

Patagonia is a small town nestled high in the Santa Rita Mountains about an hour southeast of Tucson. Once a mining town, Patagonia today is focused on cattle ranching and recreation. The wine-growing region of Sonoita is just 12 miles north.

The Sonoita Creek flows through Patagonia year-round (a rarity in Arizona’s dry climate). As a result, the region is a popular flyway for many unique types of birds⏤and is a great spot for birdwatchers. Downtown Patagonia has a few funky art galleries, shops, and cafes. The town’s high altitude (4,500 feet) keeps it cool in the summer, and many visitors like to stay for a week, enjoying nearby State Park at Patagonia Lake or ropin’ and ridin’ at the historic Circle Z Ranch.

Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A visit to any of these beautiful historical towns in Arizona will let you take a peek into what the times of the Wild West were really like. Visit an abandoned ghost town, a National Historic Site, or a museum in any of these destinations to learn more about the people and life in early American history. You can also appreciate the scenic landscapes and rich biodiversity that Arizona has to offer, including the scenic backdrop of rugged cliffs and mountains at every turn.

Worth Pondering…

The trip across Arizona is just one oasis after another. You can just throw anything out and it will grow there.

—Will Rogers

Patagonia Lake State Park: A Southern Arizona Oasis for Boating, Fishing, and Camping<

Whether you are interested in birding, fishing, camping, water sports, or just enjoying one of the favorite lakes in southeastern Arizona, make a stop at Patagonia Lake State Park

When a sign suddenly popped up along a two-lane highway carving through Arizona’s wine country I wondered if it was a mistake. It pointed to a back road leading into the desert foothills promising an unlikely destination. Is there really a lake amid these gentle rolling hills covered in desert brush?

Taking that turn we traveled a road whose route is dictated by the landscape almost doubling back on itself as it follows the path of least resistance. The drive took us through semi-desert grasslands and rolling hills studded with ocotillo, yucca, and scrub oak. After four miles it ended at small lake tucked within the contours of rolling hills.

Road to Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Birding and fishing in winter

The first glimpse of water at Patagonia Lake State Park came through the tents and RVs that crowd the campground. On a winter morning early risers walk their dogs nodding to their fellow campers taking leisurely strolls through scenery that demanded attention.

The 2½-mile lake plays hide and seek throughout its length ducking around bends and into coves. On this day, anglers are the first ones on the water, prowling for bass, catfish, crappie, and even rainbow trout which are stocked during the winter. Fishing opportunities abound from both shore and boat, and anglers typically do fairly well in their pursuit of whichever species they are targeting.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Later on they will be joined by kayakers who cruise silently along the placid surface. Two-thirds of Lake Patagonia’s 265 surface acres are devoted to no-wake zones, the perfect playground for those who prefer to explore in a canoe or kayak.

Patagonia Lake also draws those who have binoculars and know how to use them. More than 300 species of birds have been spotted and the area has a national reputation among birdwatchers.

More on Arizona State Parks: Spring Is the Season to Hike Arizona State Parks

Many head to the east where the Sonoita Creek Trail leads to a riparian area perfect for the area’s full-time avian residents as well as those stopping briefly during migration. Birders have reported seeing such common species as the broad-billed hummingbird and great horned owl as well as the harder-to-find vermilion flycatcher, elegant trogon, and spotted towhee.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sonoita Creek

Sonoita Creek flows for two-and-one-half miles along the edge of the park providing some of the richest riparian habitat in the area.

Sonoita Creek courses its way through Coronado National Forest between the Santa Rita Mountains in the north and the Patagonia Mountains in the south and is notable for its extensive, well preserved riparian corridor which harbors many rare species of plants and animals, especially birds. The creek creates a band of greenery in the otherwise arid mountains in a transition zone between the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts and which stretches for 15 miles from the village of Patagonia to the low elevation foothills east of the Santa Cruz Valley where the waters evaporate or seep below ground.

Sonoita Creek State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A dam over the creek (constructed in 1968) formed Patagonia Lake, a small but scenic reservoir. Its blue waters are surrounded by a narrow band of trees and bushes set beneath barren, rocky hillsides bearing cacti and yucca. Below the dam, several miles of the creek and an area of hills on both sides are further protected as the Sonoita Creek State Natural Area (see the above photo).

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RV and tent camping

One hundred five developed campsites with a picnic table, a fire-ring/grill, and parking for two vehicles. Select sites also have a ramada. Sites have 20/30/50 amp voltage. Sites tend to fill up in the evening from May until November. Campsite lengths vary but most can accommodate any size RV. Quiet hours (no generators, music, or loud voices) are from 9 p.m.–8 a.m. 

More on Arizona State Parks: The Ultimate Guide to Arizona State Parks

There are also two non-electric campsites available. They have a picnic table, a fire-ring/grill, and parking for two vehicles with a ramada for shade. These two sites are 22 feet long and are suitable for camper vans and short trailers.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boating and swimming in summer

As the weather warms, Patagonia Lake becomes an altogether different beast. The park is no secret to the thousands who come each summer to splash along its beach or carve rooster tails on its western third where wakes are to be jumped rather than shunned.

People from all over the area come to escape the heat. Summer weekends can get pretty crazy.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most summer visitors settle in at the beach finding a seat among the dozens of picnic tables shaded by a ramada or playing in the gentle water of the protected cove as parents make sure their children don’t venture past the line of buoys protecting the area from passing boats.

About a mile away on the lake’s western portion motor boats dominate, most of them towing skiers in an orderly counter-clockwise circle. At the end of the day some will head to the handful of camping sites available only by boat enjoying sunset from their secluded nooks.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A history of recreation

The lake’s popularity nearly killed it when local citizens first dammed Sonoita Creek 50 years ago to attract recreational enthusiasts. Members of the Patagonia Lake Recreation Association built facilities to make the area popular with those who wanted to fish, water ski, or simply have a picnic. Visitors flocked to the lake in the late 1960s and early ’70s so much so that owners couldn’t safely keep up with the demand.

More on Arizona State Parks: The Most (and least) Popular Arizona State Parks

Eventually the area was acquired by the state and on April 1, 1975 it was opened as Patagonia Lake State Park.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia Lake State Park Fact Box

Size: 2,658 acres

Elevation: 3,804-4,200 feet

Established: April 1, 1975

Location: Southeastern Arizona, 15 miles northeast of Nogales

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Directions: From Tucson, take Interstate 10 east to Vail (Exit 281); south on SR 83 to Sonoita; west on SR 82 past Patagonia to the Patagonia Lake State Park turnoff (distance is 177 miles one way)

Nearest services: In Patagonia, 10 miles away.

Park entrance fee: $15/vehicle Mondays-Fridays; $20/vehicle Saturdays-Sundays.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best time to go: Summer, if you want to cool off; Winter, if you want to kayak or fish when crowds are gone and the lake is calm.

Trails: There are more than 25 miles of hiking trails. All but a half-mile of them are within the adjacent Sonoita Creek State Natural Area

Visitor center: This should be your first stop for maps and a list of boating and swimming rules. Wakes are prohibited along two-thirds of the lake and rangers keep a close eye to make sure everyone is enjoying responsibly.

More on Arizona State Parks: Focus on Birding in Arizona State Parks

Picnic areas: Ramadas and picnic tables are scattered about the lake’s south shore with most clustered at the beach.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Campground: There are 105 sites with electricity and room for two vehicles. Sites with electricity are $25-$30 per night; non-electric sites are $20-$25. The 12 boat-in campsites ($20-$25 per night) have no power or bathrooms. Cabins have a queen-size bed, two sets of bunk beds, table and chairs, mini-fridge, microwave, ceiling fan, heating and air conditioning. Bring your own bedding and supplies. Cabins cost $119 per night, $129 on holidays with a three-night minimum. Campsites and cabins can be reserved at

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Supplies: The Lakeside Market sells food, drink, and other common provisions and also offers boat rentals, fishing licenses, and bait.

Worth Pondering…
Patagonia is a tiny hamlet located in the Sonoita Valley in southeastern Arizona. A few blocks from the main street through town, on the edge of The Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, lies a non-descript ranch house that is no less than one of the most famous bird watching sites in the world.

―Mathew Tekulsky, National Geographic News, 2004

12 Movies You Didn’t Know Were Filmed in Arizona

The following movies are remarkably diverse in nature but share this description: filmed in Arizona

Movies filmed in Arizona go beyond Westerns. From Oscar-winning dramas to titans of sci-fi, big-screen stories have been making the most of Arizona’s iconic landscapes since 1912.

Anyone can recognize a famous skyline in a blockbuster flick but scene-spotting for movies filmed in Arizona brings a unique challenge. How many people can pinpoint Amado’s cow-skull restaurant in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore? And who recognizes the Canyon de Chelly backdrop that outperforms the plot in Poltergeist 2?

Petrified Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s this very thing—the shape-shifting quality of Arizona’s geological terrain—that has enticed more than 2,000 productions to film in the state.

“We have the most diverse topography of anywhere in the U.S.,” says Matthew Earl Jones, director of Film & Digital Media for the Arizona Commerce Authority.

This means that if a film scout seeks New England in the fall they can find it in Arizona’s White Mountains. A director who desires an alien planet? The vast badlands near the Petrified Forest will more than suffice.

When it comes to the silver screen, Arizona does it all from starring roles in legendary movies to bit parts in indie films. Here’s a peek at some of Arizona’s best work.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)

Who can forget Clark Griswold’s classic Grand Canyon visit? After a few seconds of wonderment, Clark and the family were off to their next adventure.

The classic Chevy Chase comedy revolving around a family road trip gone awry was filmed in several Arizona spots including Flagstaff, Monument Valley, and Sedona—the site of Aunt Edna’s famous death scene.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone (1993)

Okay, this one was easy. Tombstone, Arizona remains a famous tourist attraction for being the site of Wyatt Earp’s gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

>> Related article: 11 Must Watch Films Shot on Route 66

The 1993 film starring Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer revolves around the gunfight and the ensuing Earp Vendetta Ride. Tombstone was filmed primarily at the Old Tucson Studios.

Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Star Wars VI, Return of the Jedi (1983)

Parts of a galaxy far, far away are actually located in Arizona. The Return of the Jedi is the final film in George Lucas’ original Star Wars trilogy. After using parts of Tunisia to film the Imperial Sand Dunes in the previous films, Lucas and the company wanted to stay closer to home.

For the last film, they decided on building a set about 15 minutes away from Yuma around Castle.

Near Casa Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Three Kings (1999)

George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, and Ice Cube starred in this drama set in the aftermath of the Gulf War.

In order to make the setting look like Iraq, director David O. Russell needed a flat and barren desert landscape. He chose Arizona—with many of the scenes being shot in the deserts of Casa Grande.

Old Tucson Studios © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

¡Three Amigos! (1986)

Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Martin Short star in this irreverent comedy about silent movie stars forced to save a Mexican village from the famous (or infamous) El Guapo. Hilarity ensues while fish out of water actors sing and dance their way to heroes.

>> Related article: The Ultimate Road Trip for Clint Eastwood Fans

Set in Mexico, much of the film was shot in Old Tucson Studios and the Coronado National Forest south of Tucson.

Yuma Territorial Prison © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3:10 to Yuma (1957)

This story about a small-time rancher transporting an outlaw by stagecoach is one of the most famous westerns and even spawned a remake starring Christian Bale in 2007. While the remake doesn’t stay true to its Arizona roots, the original was filmed all over the state.

Filming occurred in Old Tucson, Sedona, Dragoon, Yuma, and Willcox.

Old Tucson Studios © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Into the Wild (2007)

Few movies showcase Arizona’s natural beauty. One exception is Sean Penn’s Into the Wild starring Emile Hirsch. As Hirsch’s character hitchhikes to Alaska, audiences get a glimpse at many of Arizona’s lesser-known but gorgeous areas.

Some of the areas captured in the movie include Kingman, Lake Mead, Topock, and Page.

Lake Powell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Planet of the Apes (1968)

One of the most iconic movies in sci-fi history, Planet of the Apes re-imagines the world. An astronaut crew crash-lands on a planet in the distant future. Intelligent talking apes dominate, while all the humans remain mute, oppressed, and dressed in animal skins. Terrifying stuff!

The desert scenes were all filmed on location in Arizona in the desert-like terrain of northern Arizona. The Grand Canyon, Colorado River, Lake Powell, Glen Canyon, and Page all make blockbuster appearances.

Canyon de Chelly © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Sea of Grass (1947)

This western begins with St. Louis resident Lutie Cameron (Katharine Hepburn) marrying New Mexico cattleman Col. James B. ‘Jim’ Brewton (Spencer Tracy) after a short courtship. When she arrives in Salt Fork, NM she finds that her new husband is considered by the locals to be a tyrant who uses force to keep homesteaders off the government owned land he uses for grazing his cattle—the so-called Sea of Grass. Lutie, has difficulty reconciling her husband’s beliefs and passions with her own.

>> Related article: Most Iconic RVs from the Movies

Filming occurred at Canyon de Chelly.

Lake Powell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eight Legged Freaks (2002)

After a long absence, Chris McCormick returns to his quiet hometown of Prosperity, Arizona, to reopen his late father’s mines. However, a chemical spill and lethal toxic waste have created an unstoppable army of giant spiders who prey on the unsuspecting locals turning Prosperity into an endless buffet. Now, it’s up to Chris; Sheriff Sam Parker; her son Mike; Sam’s plucky daughter, Ashley; the conspiracy theorist, Harlan, and a handful of survivors to stop the hairy menace and save the town. But, who can stand in the way of the disgusting eight-legged freaks?

Filming locations include Glendale, Superior, Black Canyon City, and Lake Powell.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Edge of Eternity (1959)

Helped by socialite Janice Kendon, Arizona Deputy Sheriff Les Martin works to solve three brutal murders in and around the Grand Canyon. His efforts lead to the killer fleeing with Janice as a hostage and a chase by car and helicopter leading to a climax on a miner’s bucket on cables a mile above the canyon floor.

Some of the areas captured in the movie are Grand Canyon, Kingman, and Oatman.

Lake Powell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

John Carter of Mars (2012)

John Carter, a Civil War veteran who in 1868 was trying to live a normal life is asked by the Army to join but he refuses so he is locked up. He escapes and is pursued. Eventually they run into some Indians and there’s a gunfight. Carter seeks refuge in a cave. While there, he encounters someone who is holding some kind of medallion. When Carter touches it he finds himself in a place where he can leap incredible heights, among other things. He later encounters beings he has never seen before. He meets a woman who helps him to discover that he is on Mars and he learns there’s some kind of unrest going on.

>> Related article: Filmed in Utah: 9 Itineraries through Hollywood’s Most Iconic Settings

Filming occurred in a variety of locations including Lake Powell.

Worth Pondering…

I think cinema, movies, and magic have always been associated. The very earliest people who made film were magicians.

—Francis Ford Coppola

The Unique (and Surprisingly Wet) Biodiversity of the Sonoran Desert

In Arizona, the country’s most diverse desert teems with kaleidoscopic spring flowers, charming desert tortoises, and the famous saguaro cactus

The Sonoran Desert is something of an anomaly; it gets a surprising amount of rain each year, usually between 10 and 12 inches in its wettest areas. The Desert’s roughly 100,000 square miles stretch from the southern reaches of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula to the heart of Arizona where its biodiversity flourishes. The Sonoran Desert is thought to be the most biologically diverse in North America with over 2,000 species of plant and over 550 species of animal.

Sonoran Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Much of this biodiversity comes from that rain which falls more heavily in Arizona than it does in the drier southern and western regions making it the best place to experience the region’s abundance. The seasons of the Sonoran desert include two rainy seasons: wet summer (July to mid-September) and winter (December to February). December rains bring an always-changing permutation of spring flowers and summer rains bring lush fall vegetation. The expansive, verdant plant life also supports the wide array of animals that live in the desert from desert tortoises to the ever-popular roadrunner (yes, like the one in Looney Tunes).

Sonoran Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Notably, the Sonoran desert is the only place where the saguaro cactus grows natively. Tree-like, they grow up to 40 feet tall with arms that reach up to the sky like a friend waving to you. Imagine a clip-art cactus in three dimensions: you’re likely picturing a saguaro.

Sonoran Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The saguaro has tremendous cultural value and it’s fascinating biologically. It’s the tallest plant in the Sonoran and can live for upwards of 200 years though it grows at a glacial pace: a one-inch-tall cactus might be ten years old one that has reached a foot tall might be hitting the ripe age of 20. It begins reproducing at 50 or 70 years old and has long been an important food plant to the Tohono O’odham people who have lived in the area for thousands of years; its bright-fuschia fruit is incredibly nutritious.

>> Related article: Snowbirding in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert

Saguaro cactus in bloom © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The saguaro and its other cactus brethren like the fuzzy, coral-shaped cholla cactus and the stout Southwestern Barrel have their own seasons. They begin to bloom in late April and early May when birds begin to nest in the saguaros’ sky-high flowers. (Other birds perch on its arms year-round; woodpeckers often peck holes into its flesh.) The fruit ripens in July when their buds pop for nearby birds to graze on. The fruit not gobbled up by birds or harvested by local humans falls to the ground becoming food for those humble animals that cannot fly like tortoises, deer, foxes, and the pig-like javelina.

A landscape of saguaros is just so stunning.

Sonoran Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Saguaro also develops important relationships with other plants. Take the Palo Verde, Mesquite, and Ironwood trees which serve as nurse trees to the saguaro while it grows. When the saguaro is still tiny, it can’t store very much water and it’s very susceptible to drought. The trees protect them from the heat in the summer and the cold in the winter. There’s a lot going on underground in the desert—it’s hot above ground and so a lot of the action is in the roots. When it rains, plants compete over who can soak up the limited water available to their roots.

Desert tortoise © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Animals also spend a lot of time below ground often retreating to burrows or caves during the hottest part of the days and the coldest part of the nights. Just about every animal goes underground in one way or another. Desert tortoises, for example, are only active a small part of their lives—most of the time they’re tucked underground in deep burrows where humidity and temperature are more constant.

>> Related article: What Are You Waiting For? Get Outdoors in the Sonoran Desert NOW!

Sonoran Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Like cacti, Desert Tortoises are experts at storing water—so much so that they’ve earned the nickname of walking saguaros. When they hear the rains come, they emerge from their burrows and find flat stretches of rock where they can hoover the rain directly through their noses. Once rehydrated, they expel waste they’ve been carrying around since the last rain and the cycle begins again.

Sonoran Desert in bloom © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Locals also anticipate the rains as well as the changing seasons of the desert and the benchmarks they promise: cactus flowers in spring, rains to break the scalding summer heat, and wildflowers coloring the landscape like a confetti bomb. Unlike the rest of the country, the Sonoran desert has five, not four, annual seasons: spring, hot summer, wet summer, fall, and winter. Each has its charms, and its natural wonders, to explore.

Sonoran Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winter (November to January)

Winter in Arizona’s desert is quiet and temperate during the days with much colder nights. Many animals make themselves scarce during this time. Even if they’re not technically hibernating, they go dormant. You’re unlikely to see lizards, snakes, and tortoises in the winter months; mammals that are more nocturnal during summer months are more day-active in the winter changing their habits to take advantage of the most pleasant times of day.

>> Related article: Pristine Sonoran Desert Camping

Winter is also a wet season though erratically so. The winter rains are less predictable as they are tied to long-term weather patterns coming off the Pacific Ocean.

Sonoran Desert in bloom © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spring (February to Mid-April)

Warmer days arrive in spring as does the possibility of floral abundance. I continue to be surprised by the variability in the spring blooms of Arizona. In the North, spring comes and the seeds germinate—it’s pretty predictable— while in the desert germination is a combination of temperature and precipitation. Some seeds, for example, will only germinate when there’s a rain event in the fall where it’s not as cold as winter. The years when there’s explosive, beautiful flower blooms in the spring are quite often the result of fall rain. If significant rains don’t fall until winter, the spring flowers will likely be different from those that bloom after fall rains. And if the winter and spring are both wet, flowers about in March.

Sonoran Desert in bloom © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dry summer (Mid April to Mid July)

By mid April, winter visitors are leaving because it’s starting to get pretty warm. Temperatures in June and July can easily reach 100 degrees. It’s a dry heat—the region’s driest months—but it can still be incredibly overwhelming during the day with relief coming at night. Certain plants like the desert zinnia will go dormant during dry periods, the way that snakes will go dormant in the winter. It is important to avoid hiking during the day in these months.

Sonoran Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wet summer (July to Mid September)

In the dry summer everybody looks forward to the summer rains. They often arrive very dramatically in July—the clouds will begin to build up and eventually explode into energetic thunderstorms where a lot of rain can fall in short periods of time. While it also increases the humidity during the hot months the afternoon cloud buildup keeps the days a little cooler and the rain makes the days more pleasant.

>> Related article: Arizona Lakes: 6 Sonoran Desert Oases

Animals will come out for a drink and certain plants come back from the dead. The ocotillo, for example, will grow leaves when it rains; when the rain stops, the leaves will shrivel up and fall off.

Sonoran Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall (September to October)

Fall can be incredibly green or drab depending on the level of rain that falls at its beginning. This year has been quite wet and the desert is pleasantly verdant. It’s an easy season with pleasant shoulder-season temperatures that visitors and animals alike enjoy for outdoor activities.

Worth Pondering…

When I walk in the desert the birds sing very beautifully

When I walk in the desert the trees wave their branches in the breeze

When I walk in the desert the tall saguaro wave their arms way up high

When I walk in the desert the animals stop to look at me as if they were saying

“Welcome to our home.”

—Jeanette Chico, When It Rains

Sedona: A Fairytale Setting Filled With Romance

If you are looking for a journey filled with beauty and enchantment then the dramatic scenery of the Red Rocks of Sedona is beckoning and here’s what to do

After almost 25 years of traveling to Sedona, I still find new adventures and unexpected wonders around every turn. Even though this town has changed over time, the heart of this city is still the dramatic scenery that can be seen only here by those who seek the majesty of the Red Rocks.

Due to the overwhelming number of awe-inspiring Instagram-worthy photos on social media, tourism has exploded in Sedona and why wouldn’t it? Sedona’s beauty captures the imagination and desire to roam like no other place I have traveled which is why I return again and again.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For the last four decades, Sedona has been seen as a New-Age mecca, offering healing crystals and vortexes to endeavor spiritual awakening and enlightenment. For some of the 3 million visitors each year, the opportunity for renewal comes in another form, that of outdoor adventure and the awesome appreciation of the natural beauty that is Sedona, Arizona. With its Red Rock cliffs and mesas and the vast trail system that surround this city, visitors hope to find a reprieve from their daily lives in search of a powerful connection with nature.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With a population just north of 10,000, Sedona has a reputation that far outweighs its size. It is, after all, one of the most beautiful small towns in America. Plus, there are enough things to do in Sedona, that you’ll want to push back the visit to the nearby Grand Canyon to spend extra days enjoying its scenery.

>> Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Sedona

Cathedral Rock, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The town’s innumerable hiking trails bring you to stunning vistas and iconic destinations like Cathedral Rock. Forget traditional museums; those visiting Sedona will have museums without walls with Mother Nature leading the exhibition. The town is surrounded by incredible scenery punctuated by vortex sites and rock formations that will have you scratching your head. Plus, after a big day of exploring, you can kick back at the many local wineries before enjoying the iconic desert sunset.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nearly 3 million tourists visit Sedona annually—a figure that’s tripled over the last decade or so. Just a day trip from Phoenix, Sedona is a gem-of-a-town surrounded by forests and red rock buttes that thrust into the sky like skyscrapers with streets lined with crystal shops and cafes, all obvious reasons why so many seek out the new-agency Northern Arizona town.

Bell Rock, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recognized for their powerful energy and scenic views, Bell Rock, Boynton Canyon, Airport Mesa, and Cathedral Rock are said to be the strongest vortexes in town. What does a vortex feel like, exactly? You’ll have to experience it for yourself in Sedona.

>> Read Next: The Seducing Magic of Sedona: 20 Ways to Fall in Love

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona is a four-season, red-rock playground where families can escape, romantic adventures materialize, and photographers’ dreams come true. Surrounded by stunning red rock formations and an abundance of activities for people of all ages and interests, it’s no wonder Sedona has been ranked as one of the most beautiful places on Earth by Good Morning America.

There’s no denying that Sedona occupies a setting that’s rife with romance. It is a vertical land of soaring red rocks, columns, and towers rising above forests and streams. That romantic allure should come as no surprise. The town began with a love affair.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although American Indians lived in the region as far back as 1100 AD, European settlers didn’t arrive until 1876. Drawn by the abundance of water and fertile soil, pioneers began farming crops and planting orchards on the banks of Oak Creek. The community continued to grow, and by the turn of the century, about 15 homesteading families worked the land.

At the turn of the 20th century, T.C. Schnebly built a large two-story home that served as general store and hotel near Oak Creek. He also organized the first post office. When it came time to name the community, his original suggestions of Oak Creek Crossing and Schnebly’s Station were rejected by the Postmaster General as too long.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That’s when Schnebly came up with a grand romantic gesture—the kind of thing that would have gone viral on social media today. He simply named the fledgling community after his beloved wife, Sedona.

It was a name invented by Sedona’s mother because she thought it sounded pretty. It has no other origin. Little did she know how much the name Sedona would come to define beauty and romance for generations of travelers.

Red Rock Scenic Byway Visitor Center, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although the Schnebly family moved away from Oak Creek for a time, they returned. Sedona—or Aunt Dona, as she was known by many residents—was a cherished member of the community until she died in 1950. Her husband T.C. died in 1954. Both are buried in Cook Cemetery off Airport Road.

>> Read Next: Sedona’s Red Rock Energy

To truly appreciate the legacy of Sedona’s early pioneers, spend time outside reveling in the same heart-freeing beauty they experienced. Hike the trails they carved from this wilderness. Over a century later—even as Sedona has grown into a world-class destination filled with art galleries, resorts, spas, and restaurants—you can still walk the same pathways the earliest residents walked. That’s part of the magic of this landscape, how closely connected it is too wild country.

Schnebly Hill Road, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some of the grandest sights of all can be found by traveling Schnebly Hill Road. The rugged wagon road was scratched from the steep, rocky hillsides by Sedona pioneers. And it hasn’t changed much in the years since. This was the route Schnebly used to haul wagonloads of produce north to Flagstaff and how he brought in supplies for his general store.

Schnebly Hill Road, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Schnebly Hill Road makes a twisted ascent through red rock tablelands to the pine forests of the Colorado Plateau with sprawling vistas along the way. While the first mile is paved, don’t be fooled. The road quickly turns primitive—a lane pockmarked, ledged and littered with stones. If you don’t have a high-clearance vehicle, consider taking a Jeep tour. A steady stream of Sedona’s commercial Jeep companies snake their way up Schnebly Hill daily.

Schnebly Hill Road, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One notable formation the road passes on its steady climb is Merry-Go-Round Rock, which has become a popular spot for weddings. People travel from all over the world to tie the knot in Sedona, or to renew their vows. That should come as no great surprise. It’s a fairytale setting filled with romance.

>> Read Next: Sedona Is a Must-Stop

And after all, the entire town was built on a love affair.

Worth Pondering…

There are only two places in the world

I want to live—Sedona and Paris.

—Max Ernst, Surrealist painter

The Ultimate Arizona Road Trip: 25 Places You Must Visit

Arizona is an outdoor-lover’s dream with deep canyons, dramatic landscape, and a host of adventures where the land formations are the star of the show

Arizona is well-known for its beautiful landscapes and scenery. These beautiful, must-experience places are bucket-list worthy; some are well-known while others are hidden gems you might not have known about. From national landmarks to historical towns and breathtaking outdoor landscapes, here are 25 places to visit on your next Arizona road trip.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon

The most obvious landmark and Arizona road trip (and the most breathtaking of them all) is the Grand Canyon. If you have never experienced the sight of this outstanding view you absolutely must add this to your bucket list. You can check into El Tovar Hotel which is a historic property that opened its doors in 1905 and has entertained celebrities and presidents for over 100 years. Just steps away from the Grand Canyon’s edge, El Tovar has breathtaking views from every window and the resort’s dining room is as close to the canyon as you can get with cuisine that’s almost as memorable as the views as well as several hiking trails that will leave you speechless. Plus many photo opportunities!

>> Get more tips for visiting the Grand Canyon

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved


What seems to be one of Arizona’s best-kept secrets is the interesting town of Bisbee. The former mining town is a small, unique community that sits high in the mountains near the Mexican border and in the far southeast corner of Arizona. With plenty of things to do, activities, events and festivals, shops, galleries, and nightlife plus birdwatching, gallery-gazing, dining, or pub-crawling, Bisbee will offer you a plethora of choices to keep you entertained.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Home to Lake Powell, The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is a stunning region of blue water with a desert landscape and dramatic stone walls. One of the largest manmade lakes in the United States, this area is known for land- and water-based recreational activities.

This gorgeous lake is located in northern Arizona, stretches up into southern Utah, and is part of the Colorado River in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area with nearly 2,000 miles of shoreline. You can enjoy a summer’s day with perfect weather, cool water, amazing scenery, and endless sunshine. This is the perfect place to escape to and rent a houseboat, stay at a campground, or enjoy the lodging and hop aboard a guided expedition.

>> Get more tips for visiting Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved


Due to its distinctive culture, Sedona is truly a place unlike any other. Visitors can navigate remote canyons, rejuvenate at an energy vortex site, and experience the ancient culture of the Sinagua people. Throughout the red rock are multitudes of secluded viewpoints, cliff dwellings, and well-preserved petroglyphs. In downtown Sedona, you’ll find a vibrant art community dense with unique shops and galleries. Hikers and adventurous types will enjoy the various trails and renowned Pink Jeep off-road adventure tours.

>> Get more tips for visiting Sedona

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park

With the Santa Catalina Mountains beckoning in the distance and canyons and seasonal streams dotting the landscape, Catalina State Park provides a delightful respite in the Tucson area. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The park’s 5,500 acres provide miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails that wind through the park and into the nearby Coronado National Forest. More than 150 species of birds call the park home. This scenic desert park also offers equestrian trails and an equestrian center provides a staging area for trail riders with plenty of trailer parking. The state park offers 120 campsites with electric and water utilities suitable for RVs of all lengths. 

>> Get more tips for visiting Catalina State Park

Globe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved


In the foothills of the Pinal Mountains sits the former mining camp known as Globe. Founded in 1876 and incorporated in 1907 this lovely town is brimming with century-old buildings, cottages, and hillside houses. The Besh-ba-Gowah Archeological Park features stunning partially restored ruins of a Salado pueblo along with an accompanying museum. The historic downtown area is perfect for strolls and shopping for antiques while the Cobre Valley Center for the Arts is a great spot to explore and experience the talent of some incredible artists.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apache Trail

As scenic drives go, the 40-mile Apache Trail (Highway 88) winds through the Southwest’s most stunning scenery. It’s a rugged ribbon of hairpin turns and stark drop-offs that meanders past three lakes and carves through canyons and over the Superstition Mountains before concluding at Roosevelt Dam. 

Highway 88 runs northeast from Apache Junction passing through Tortilla Flat along the way to Roosevelt Lake. While you can still access the road to Tortilla Flat, the portion north of the town is temporarily closed. 

>> Get more tips for driving Apache Trail

Williams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved


The opium dens, bordellos, and other landmarks of Williams, Arizona’s rough-and-tumble past are long gone. But some kinder, gentler vestiges of this town’s Wild West era remain. Today, the town’s Main Street is a National Historic District. Its storefronts house curio shops, an old-fashioned soda fountain, and classic diners and motels which preserve a bygone era. The town of 3,000 residents, considered the gateway to the Grand Canyon is also home to the Grand Canyon Railway an excursion between a historic depot and the canyon.

>> Get more tips for visiting Williams

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park

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. The German prospector purportedly hid caches of the precious metal throughout the Superstition Wilderness. Fact or fiction, Waltz’s windfall gave the park its name. You might not find gold during your visit but other treasures include great hiking and biking trails and 138 RV camping sites (68 with electric and water) with sunset views.

>> Get more tips for visiting Lost Dutchman State Park

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Right along the U.S.-Mexico border, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument has the kind of scenery you’d expect when you picture the desert. The monument’s tall, skinny namesake cacti abound in every direction. Instead of growing with one massive trunk like the saguaro, the many branches of the organ pipe rise from a base at the ground. Take a ride down Ajo Mountain Drive for great views of the “forests” of Saguaro (another species of cactus native to the area).

>> Get more tips for visiting Organ Pipe National Monument

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park

Picacho rises from the desert seemingly out of nowhere, its sharp buttes like lighthouses guiding travelers home. It wasn’t always a sight for road-weary eyes, though. In 1862, Confederate and Union soldiers clashed here in the Battle of Picacho Pass, a fight marked in history as the westernmost battle of the Civil War. These days during the spring, vibrant wildflowers carpet the ground; come winter, the challenging trails that ascend the sunny peaks draw thrill-seeking hikers.

>> Get more tips for visiting Picacho Peak State Park

Hoover Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hoover Dam

Linking Arizona and Nevada, Hoover Dam is one of America’s great engineering marvels to date and a fantastic Arizona road trip. Completed in 1935, this massive and hard-to-miss structure crosses the Colorado River and sits at a total of 726 feet high and 1,244 feet long. You can drive or walk across the dam for free or take a tour of the dam. The visitor center provides information on the tours and has a café where you can stop for some basic grub.

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Montezuma Castle National Monument

With its impressive location tucked in the limestone cliffs in the desert of Camp Verde, Montezuma Castle is sort of like an ancient skyscraper. Towing some 80 feet above the valley floor, the 20-room residence was built by the Sinagua people beginning in around AD 1100 and served as an important shelter to escape floods. It was among the first four sites given the designation of National Monument back in 1906 with the site also including further dwellings around Montezuma Well, six miles from the castle.

>> Get more tips for visiting Montezuma Castle National Monument

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alamo Lake State Park

As far as lakeside parks go, this one in western Arizona has no beach and not much shoreline hiking. But! It’s considered one of the best bass fishing lakes in the country. Anglers: Pack your gear and reserve one of the 15 full-service camping sites or cabins where the front porch makes for an ideal spot to spin yarns about the catch of the day.

>> Get more tips for visiting Alamo Lake State Park

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved


An old mining town-turned ghost town-turned tourist attraction, Jerome sits on a mountainside just above the desert floor. Jerome is unique and quirky, to say the least with the Sliding Jail in Jerome that was originally built around 1928 and was built on a clay slick; it soon began to slide and now sits 2,500 feet from its original location. While you’re there, you can visit the town’s most appreciated historical landmarks including the Gold King Mine Museum and the Jerome State Historic Park.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

A comparatively little-known canyon, Canyon de Chelly (pronounced “de shay”) has sandstone walls rising to 1,000 feet, scenic overlooks, well-preserved Anasazi ruins, and an insight into the present day life of the Navajo who still inhabit and cultivate the valley floor. This park is owned by the Navajo Nation and is managed cooperatively. A few Navajo families still live, raise livestock, and farm in the park. For the most memorable experience take a canyon tour with a Navajo guide. It’s a truly authentic, welcoming experience you’ll remember forever.

>> Get more tips for visiting Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock State Park

Oak Creek runs for nearly 2 miles throughout this 286-acre state park adorning the sandstone mesas and red boulders with leafy riparian habitats. If we’re judging Sedona hiking hot spots, it doesn’t get much better than the park’s juniper-studded trails and vortex-framed vistas. Red Rock State Park is one of the most ecologically diverse parks in Arizona which is why it makes sense that it serves as an environmental education hub. From the Visitor Center’s interactive exhibits and film presentations to guided nature walks and full moon hikes, programming offers insight into Sedona’s majestic landscape.

>> Get more tips for visiting Red Rock State Park

Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved


Surrounded by mountains, Tucson is a beautiful city set in the Sonoran Desert and is the second-largest city in Arizona. With many historic sites and cultural attractions, Tucson is a place to unwind and explore. Highlights include the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Saguaro National Park, El Presidio Historic District, and Sabino Canyon. You will also discover hiking trails and afterward find a bite to eat at one of the many wonderful restaurants Tucson has to offer.

>> Get more tips for visiting Tucson

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley

Along a 17-mile self-drive route along a one-way gravel road, you will find the heart of the valley, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. While visiting this area which straddles the border between Arizona and Utah, you’ll experience the true Arizona desert feel with miles and miles of beautiful landscape and scenery of mesas and buttes, shrubs and trees, and windblown sand, creating all the wonderful and majestic colors of the Valley.

>> Get more tips for visiting Monument Valley

Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved


With its small-city feel and defined seasons, Prescott has tall Ponderosa pine trees, lakes, and the occasional sprinkle of snow. This charming town has much to offer including the Courthouse Plaza, Sharlot Hall Museum, Smoki Museum, Elks Theatre Opera House, Watson Lake, and numerous hiking areas including Thumb Butte Trail. You can grab a bite to eat at one of the downtown restaurants or spend a night at one of the beautifully restored bed and breakfasts or hotels.

>> Get more tips for visiting Prescott

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park

One of Tucson’s most popular attractions is Saguaro National Park which is a great place to experience the desert landscape around this well-known town and see the famous saguaro cacti up close. With an east and west portion, the park has two sections approximately 30 minutes apart. Both sections of the park offer great opportunities to experience the desert and enjoy hiking trails.

>> Get more tips for visiting Saguaro National Park

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved


Once a gold-mining boomtown, Oatman hunkers in a craggy gulch of the Black Mountains, 28 miles southwest of Kingman along Route 66. Rising above the town is the jagged peak of white quartz known as Elephant’s Tooth. Often described as a ghost town, Oatman comes close to fitting the category considering that it once boasted nearly 20,000 people and now supports just a little over 100 people year-round.

Though Oatman is only a shadow of its former self, it is well worth a visit to this living ghost town that provides not only a handful of historic buildings and photo opportunities but costumed gunfighters and 1890s-style ladies as well as the sights of burros walking the streets.

>> Get more tips for visiting Oatman

Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest is known for its treasure trove of fossilized logs exposed after eons of erosion by wind and water. About 60 million years ago tectonic action pushed the Colorado Plateau upwards exposing the layers of rock containing the park’s Triassic fossils. The park is composed of two sections: the north section is a colorful badlands called the Painted Desert, and the southern section contains most of the petrified wood.

The park consists of a 28-mile road that offers numerous overlooks and winds through the mesas and wilderness. Visitors can also choose to hike a variety of trails ranging from easy to difficult.

>> Get more tips for visiting Petrified Forest National Forest

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved


You can’t come to the Wild West and not truly experience the Wild West with staged gunfights in the streets and characters walking through town in period costumes to recreate the glory days of this small Arizona town that is great as an Arizona road trip. With top-rated attractions such as OK Corral, Allen Street, Boothill Graveyard/Gift Shop, and Courthouse State Historic Park, each shop, restaurant, and attraction is designed with tourists in mind and gives you the chance to see and soak in the town’s history.

>> Get more tips for visiting Tombstone

Ajo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved


With its rich tradition as a former copper mining hub, Ajo is a casual town with relaxed charm. Enjoy its mild climate, low humidity, and clear skies. Take in the historic Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, Sonoran Desert flora and fauna, and panoramic views. Step back in time at the Historic Plaza and railway Depot. Gaze at Spanish Colonial Revival architecture in the downtown Historic District.

Verde Canyon Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bonus trip: Verde Valley Railway

Park the RV and board the train as you embark on a spectacular journey accessible only by rail. Powering the train are two EMD FP7 diesel locomotives built in 1953 for the Alaska Railroad. They were painted in 2019 with an apropos American bald eagle motif. Alert passengers may spot the U.S. national bird soaring in the canyon. From December to March, visitors have a greater chance of seeing these special raptors since migrating and resident bald eagles share the canyon during nesting season.

Worth Pondering…

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

2023 Wildflower Season is coming soon. Will it be a Superbloom?

Winter showers are bringing spring flowers and a great wildflower season is expected. Here’s a sneak peek at where to go for the best views!

Spring is on the way, bringing one of Arizona’s best features: Wildflowers.

As far as wildflowers are concerned, a lot of things have gone right so far this winter in Arizona. Widespread rains came early and often. The moisture has been well-spaced so there were no extended dry periods. Temperatures have stayed moderate. All those factors matter for how many and what types of flowers are likely to bloom.

Wildflowers at Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are no guarantees when it comes to wildflowers but the 2023 season seems full of promise. The Arizona deserts may be teetering on the edge of a superbloom. It’s still too early to say but no matter how things play out during February, the desert should be filled with a colorful array of poppies, lupines, and other flowers this spring.

This is a wildflower season that should not be missed. Here are seven Arizona wildflower hotspots worth exploring and which blooms you are likely to see.

Estrella Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Estrella Mountain Regional Park

Overview: This big park in Goodyear always seems to get a jump on some of the other spots in the Valley and it flashed lots of blooms in January. Visitors will find a nice medley of brittlebush, Mexican goldpoppies, globemallows, rock daisies, and fiddlenecks among others.

What to look for: Some of the best sightings can be found along the Rainbow Valley Trail sprinkled with poppies, scorpionweed, and brittlebush. On the Gadsden Trail, the blue/purple lupines are already blooming and noted for being “extra heavy and extraordinary in color and expanse.” Poppies of varying hues sway on both sides of Flycatcher Trail. Stop at the Nature Center for the exhibits and to get the latest info.

Lupines and poppies at Estrella Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When to go: Right now if you want. Abundant blooms should continue through February and into March.

Camping: Unless a Park Host site is available, there is no camping in the park.

Location/address: 14805 W. Vineyard Ave., Goodyear

Park entrance fee: $7 per vehicle

Contact:  602-506-2930, ext. 6

>> Get more tips for visiting Estrella Regional Park

Wildflowers at Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park

Overview: Good to excellent. They’ve had plenty of rain and poppy plants are out in force on the lower slopes of the mountains although few flowers are visible yet. Joining the poppies will be lupines and a healthy mix of perennials including some rare globemallows with lilac-hued flowers.

Wildflowers at Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What to look for: This is a good park to visit even for folks with limited mobility. Visitors will be able to enjoy plenty of color from the park roadway and adjacent picnic tables. For a closer look, good showings of color can be found on the easy Nature Trail, Children’s Cave Trail and the moderate Calloway Trail.

When to go: Mid- to late February. The season often starts early at Picacho Peak although a late January cold snap could delay it a bit this year. Colorful blooms should continue into March.

Picacho Peak State Park camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping: Picacho Peak State Park’s campground has a total of 85 electric sites for both tent and RV camping. Four sites are handicapped-accessible. No water or sewer hookups are available. Access to all sites is paved. Sites are fairly level and are located in a natural Sonoran Desert setting. High speed Wi-Fi internet access is now available at all campsites provided by Airebeam. Additional fees required for access.

Wildflowers at Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park entrance fee: $7 per vehicle

Location/address: 15520 Picacho Peak Road, Picacho

Contact: 520-466-3183

>> Get more tips for visiting Picacho Peak State Park

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park

Overview: Park rangers are cautiously optimistic predicting an above average year while hoping for a stellar one.

What to look for: In some recent years, the poppies at Lost Dutchman have been drastically reduced by late season freezes. So that is always a possibility. Yet even if that does happen, hardier perennials like brittlebush, globemallow, and chuparosa should still flourish. If poppies show up to the party, it makes for an unforgettable sight with the steep ramparts of the Superstition Mountains rising directly from a sea of shimmering yellow and orange. For some of the best flower viewing, start up the Siphon Draw Trail and then circle back on Jacob’s Crosscut and Treasure Loop.

When to go: End of February through mid-March.

Lost Dutchman State Park camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping: The campground has 135 sites and three group camping areas: 68 sites with electric (50/30/20 amp service) and water and the remainder non-hookup sites on paved roads for tents or RVs. Every site has a picnic table and a fire pit with an adjustable grill gate. There are no size restrictions on RVs. Well-mannered pets on leashes are welcome, but please pick after your pets.

Park entrance fee: $10 per vehicle

Location/address: 6109 N. Apache Trail, Apache Junction

Contact: 480-982-4485

>> Get more tips for visiting Lost Dutchman State Park

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Overview: If not a superbloom, something very close to it. Conditions seem pretty close to ideal at this remote park in southwestern Arizona. While poppies will bloom at Organ Pipe, they are not as predominant as at some other locations. Here visitors will enjoy a mixed bouquet of lupines, chuparosa, ocotillos, fairy dusters, brittlebush, globemallows, and more.  

Wildflowers at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What to look for: In the monument, take the 21-mile Ajo Mountain Drive (a well maintained mostly dirt road) looping into rugged country for a colorful mix of flowers. Or hike the Palo Verde and Victoria Mine trails for a closer look. If the season develops like they expect, rangers may schedule some guided wildflower hikes. Check the website or call the visitor center for details.

When to go: March is the prime time. Heading south on State Route 85 from Gila Bend, travelers are treated to big pools of Mexican goldpoppies in good years.

Twin Peaks Campground, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping: Twin Peaks Campground is located just over one mile away from the Kris Eggle Visitor Center and each campsite is surrounded by beautiful desert plants. It has 34 tent-only sites and 174 sites for RVs. Several sites can accommodate RVs up to 45 feet in length. Restrooms have running water and a three have free solar-heated showers. Hookups for electricity, water, or sewer are not available

Park entrance fee: $25 per vehicle, good for seven days

Location/address: About 150 miles southwest of Phoenix off SR 85

Contact: 520-387-6849

>> Get more tips for visiting Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Wildflowers at Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bartlett Lake

Overview: Good to excellent. After a couple of disappointing years there are high hopes for a colorful season at Bartlett Lake.

What to look for: The road to the reservoir quickly leaves suburbs behind and winds past rolling hills to the sparkling reservoir cradled by mountains. Poppies and lupines grow in profusion on the banks above the water. Be sure to keep an eye peeled for white poppies; this is a good spot for them. Some of the best flower sightings are along the road to Rattlesnake Cove. The Palo Verde Trail parallels the shoreline pinning hikers between flowers and the lake, a wonderful place to be on a warm March day.

Wildflowers at Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When to go: March. Peak color should be in the middle of the month but much will be determined by temperature.

Camping: Campground fees at various sites around Bartlett Reservoir might be separate from the Tonto Day pass. Call Cave Creek Ranger District (480-595-3300) for specific details.

Wildflowers at Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park entrance fee: An $8 Tonto Day Pass is required. Buy one before you go; purchasing options are listed on the website.

Location/address: Bartlett Lake is about 57 miles northwest of Phoenix.

Contact: 480-595-3300

>> Get more tips for visiting Bartlett Lake

Mexican poppies at Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park

Overview: Good to excellent. All winter the rains have pounded this scenic park on the north side of Tucson. It even led to flooding of the big Cañada del Oro wash in January. All that moisture has greened up the saguaro-clad foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains and the lush garden is thick with flowering plants.  

Fairy duster at Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What to look for: The Sutherland Trail offers the best assortment of flowers with fields of poppies, cream cups, lupines, penstemon, and desert chicory. Best color can be found near the junction with Canyon Loop and continuing for about 2 miles on the Sutherland across the desert.

For those looking for a quick outing, a good wildflower spot is on the Nature Trail. The path climbs a low hill that’s often carpeted with an array of blooms. Guided hikes and bird walks are offered several days a week.

When to go: Mid-March through early April.

Catalina State Park camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping: The campground offers 120 electric and water sites. Each campsite has a picnic table and BBQ grill. Roads and parking slips are paved. Campgrounds have modern flush restrooms with hot, clean showers, and RV dump stations are available in the park. There is no limit on the length of RVs at this park.

Park entrance fee: $7 per vehicle

Location/address: 11570 N. Oracle Road, Tucson

Contact: 520-628-5798

>> Get more tips for visiting Catalina State Park

Wildflowers on Peridot Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Peridot Mesa

Overview: Moderate to good. This rocky mesa on the San Carlos Apache Reservation east of metro Phoenix is known for some of Arizona’s best poppy displays, stretching across a broad hill and sweeping down the slopes.

Wildflowers on Peridot Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What to look for: Sharp-eyed visitors will spot lupines, desert chicory, and blue dicks mingled among the blaze of orange. But the hillsides blanketed in poppies are the absolute showstopper. With the cooler temperatures this winter, peak bloom isn’t expected until later. The mesa is down a dirt road a short distance off U.S. 70 east of Globe. The road can normally be managed in a passenger car.

When to go: Late March into early April. If temperatures heat up, the season could develop sooner.

Camping: The closest camground is Apache Gold Casino RV Park, 12 miles east of Peridot Mesa.

Poppies on Peridot Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park entrance fee: Since the Peridot Mesa is located on San Carlos Tribal Lands, visitors will need to purchase a permit to travel to the wildflower spot.  Permits are $10 each and can be purchased at the Circle K in Globe (2011 U.S. 70), or the San Carlos Recreation & Wildlife Office in Peridot.

Location/address: 30 miles east of Globe on US-70

Contact: 928-475-2343

>> Get more tips for visiting Peridot Mesa

Worth Pondering…

Colors are the smile of nature.

—Leigh Hunt