Prescott: Courthouse Plaza, Whiskey Row, Sharlot Hall Museum & More

Prescott is located half-way between Phoenix and Flagstaff. At a mile high in elevation, Prescott stays about 10 to 15 degrees cooler than Phoenix and 10 to 15 degrees warmer than Flagstaff.

If for you these last few months stuck in coronavirus quarantine have felt a little weird, you’re not alone. For me, April seemed to take forever. Now, in May, I can’t remember what day it is half the time. I’m starting to feel like I’m enduring a perpetual time loop, reliving the same day over and over.

Today is Tuesday. I think. As we pack up the RV and head out on a road trip for Prescott to explore “Everybody’s Hometown”.

Courthouse Plaza, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled in a stunning mountain bowl and surrounded by one of the largest ponderosa pine forests in the West, the beautiful town of Prescott is steeped in history with an authentic taste of western heritage. Unlike most towns in the West that occurred haphazardly by the promise of cheap land, the availability of water, or the craze of prospectors or speculators, Prescott was designed as a proper city from the beginning.

Fremont House, Sharlot Hall Museum, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Miners prospecting for gold first settled this area. It was that presence of gold that prompted President Lincoln to designate Arizona as a territory in 1863. The cash-poor Union was two years into the Civil War.

Sharlot Hall Museum, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lincoln dispatched a contingent of loyal Midwesterners and New Englanders to build the territorial capital here in the north-central part of the territory. This was a political play, as he wanted to keep the Arizona Territory in the Union camp. He definitely did not want governing power in its southern reaches—namely Tucson, 200 miles south—where Confederate sympathies prevailed.

Watson Lake, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1867 with the war over, Arizona’s capital finally shifted to Tucson. It moved back here later, but shifted permanently to Phoenix in 1889.

Thus Prescott was created and by outsiders from back east. It was their prim, aesthetic temperament and sense of decorum that forged the town’s character which continues strong to this day.

Courthouse Plaza, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With shaded trees, well-kept yards, and Victorian houses of an earlier era, Prescott seems the idealized small town. Courthouse Plaza, dominated by the 1916 Yavapai County Courthouse, works for me as the classic town square—the centerpiece of Anytown, USA. In the evenings, people show up here to read, stroll, play on the grass, or just sit and talk.

Sharlot Hall Museum, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While walking around the Courthouse Plaza, we encountered the bronze statue of Captain Bucky O’Neill, a Rough Rider, sitting astride his mount. Created by noted Western sculptor Solon Borglum, brother of the creator of Mount Rushmore’s four notable presidents, this memorial to the Rough Riders has been called one of the finest equestrian bronze sculptures in the world. Locals refer to it as the “Bucky O’Neill statue” in honor of a former mayor who died at the Battle of San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War.

Sharlot Hall Museum, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beneath the statue, etched in cement, a time line denotes past historic events, such as: 1869, John Wesley Powell explores the Grand Canyon; 1945, World War II ends; and 1912, Arizona achieves statehood.

Lynx Lake, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On one side of the Court House Plaza is Whiskey Row. It’s more sedate now than it was prior to 1900 when the whiskey flowed and the faro tables were jammed 24 hours a day in its forty or so saloons.

Whiskey Row, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In spite of its “proper” beginning, Prescott was a cowboy town. In the early 1900s, there were some 40 saloons along the wooden sidewalk of Montezuma Street. The Palace Saloon was one of them. It is still here, serving whiskey and beer at the oldest bar in the state.

Fremont House, Sharlot Hall Museum, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

John C. Fremont, the storied Western explorer and Civil War general was the territorial governor here for five years. Fremont’s home has been moved to the site of the Sharlot Hall Museum. Prescott boasts 525 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Several important structures forming part of the Sharlot Hall Museum complex—two blocks from the Courthouse Plaza—were relocated there to save them from destruction.

Sharlot Hall Museum, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We wandered the complex visiting the governor’s mansion, the log cabin called Fort Misery and the 1875 home of John Charles Fremont, who became Arizona’s colorful governor in 1878.

Fremont House, Sharlot Hall Museum, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Strolling the meandering walkway from building to building felt like visiting a quaint 1860s village. From the Bashford House, we walked past the ornate gazebo to the Fremont House. Though sparse by today’s standards, the cottage back then stood clapboard and gingerbread above the rough log house across the path that functioned as the Governor’s Mansion at the time.

Prescott from Thumb Butte Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been.

—Diane Arbus

Sedona’s Red Rock Energy

Is it the natural splendor or the metaphysical vibe that makes Sedona such a rejuvenating escape?

We’re thinking about all the places we’d love to take our RV once the lockdown comes to an end. Looking for a place to heal and hope…when you’re ready?

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona is a well-known hotbed of energy—one that’s conducive to both meditation and healing—and this is one of the reasons 4.5 million travelers flock here annually. That and the region’s red rocks: stunning sandstone formations that jut upward thousands of feet and change colors from orange to rust to crimson as the sun passes through the sky.

But the city’s reputation as a New Age hub also defines it.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To preserve its beauty, this city of just over 10,000 people has a strict building code and zoning laws: Structures can’t grow too high and must be colored in hues that complement the natural tones of the red rocks. Even the golden arches at McDonald’s are turquoise here to enhance the desert’s natural beauty.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This splendid geology attracts outdoor enthusiasts, myself included, who love the area. But many visitors to Sedona come looking for something in addition to this beauty. Native American legend recounts a spot where the earth’s energy is concentrated and crackling, a place where you can experience a range of sensations that encourage self-healing and spiritual awakening.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop in at any souvenir shop along uptown Sedona’s main street and you’ll be inundated with polished gemstones and handmade dream catchers. Want a psychic reading? Pick from myriad places. There’s also no shortage of tour companies ready to whisk visitors—believers and skeptics—to Sedona’s four main vortices, pockets of “spiraling spiritual energy” said to create a sense of heightened awareness that can only be achieved in a few locations worldwide.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nailing down exactly what a vortex is in this context can be pretty difficult. It’s an abstract concept you might tell yourself you ‘get’ before you do, much in the same way you might tell yourself you ‘feel’ it before you do. A vortex is simply a place where natural Earth energies are strong. Many believe Sedona’s vortexes have healing or spiritually activating powers that help with everything from health to general problem-solving abilities and clear-mindedness.

Oak, Creek, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Even if you find this idea a little too hippy-dippy, think of Sedona as a place so inspirationally beautiful you can’t help but contemplate the scientific fact that your body is made of the exact same atoms as the dirt and mountains around you.

The view of Sedona from Airport Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Even if you’re not an adherent of the New Age movement, plan on visiting at least one of Sedona’s famous vortexes. They’re at some of the most gorgeous spots around town. Vortexes (the proper grammatical form “vortices” is rarely used here) are thought to be swirling centers of energy that are conducive to spiritual healing, meditation, and self-exploration. Believers identify four primary vortexes: Boynton Canyon, Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock, and Airport Mesa.

Bell Rock, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The supposed healing power of vortexes gained popularity during the late 20th century. In 1987, some 5,000 believers flocked to Sedona for what became known as the Harmonic Convergence. The event began as an interpretation of the Mayan calendar; tens of thousands of people around the world gathered around spiritual centers for meditation to protect the Earth from spinning away into space.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While praying for a global awakening, many of those who came to Sedona developed a feeling of deep, astral connection to the red rock formations. Word of Sedona’s mysterious vortexes began to spread.

Cathedral Rock, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of Arizona’s most popular tourist attractions beyond the Grand Canyon, Sedona has long been on my list of sites to explore, but I’ve found myself rolling my eyes whenever someone mentions its metaphysical qualities. Sedona is a spiritual power center? Sure it is. Its energy rejuvenates you? Uh-huh. So rather than get bogged down clearing chakras (energy centers of the body) and attending talks on past-life regression, I decided to do Sedona my own way—beginning with an afternoon trek.

Red Rock Crossing, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It wasn’t until we departed our home base in nearby Camp Verde the following day that I truly recognized—and appreciated—Sedona’s real appeal. A place with so much natural beauty, one in which you can hike through a forest, climb a towering butte, and take in sights unavailable in urban areas. Relaxation comes with the territory.

Oak Creek and Cathedral Rock, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

There are only two places in the world

I want to live—Sedona and Paris.

—Max Ernst, Surrealist painter

Discover Arizona’s Extraordinary Verde Valley

Located in the ‘heart’ of Arizona, the Verde Valley is ideally situated above the heat of the desert and below the cold of Arizona’s high country

The Spanish word verde means “green,” so the name may seem like a misnomer for arid Arizona. Yet, in the central part of the state, approximately 90 miles north of Phoenix, lies Verde Valley with nearly 80 percent of its land set aside as national forest. The valley encompasses about 714 square miles of red rock formations and lush canyons fed by the Verde River.

In the Verde Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the shadows of Mingus Mountain and in the heart of the Verde Valley, Cottonwood offers a distinctive historic district lined with shops and restaurants on its Main Street. History is alive in nearby Clarkdale whose homes and buildings still reflect its early copper smelting heritage. Four specialized museums focus on Native American cultures, international copper art, and local railroad and town history.

Wine tasting in Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cornville/Page Springs offers wineries, tasting rooms, and a relaxed take on some of Arizona’s most pristine high-desert scenery. Camp Verde, located in the geographic center of Arizona, is rich in history and offers a variety of recreation and outdoor activities to experience and enjoy.

Looking toward Mingus Mountain and Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With so much to see and do, where do you start? Here are five attractions that are a sure thing. And, here’s a quick tip: The word “verde” is pronounced so that it rhymes with “birdie.”

Verde Canyon Railroad, Clarkdale

Verde Canyon Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park the RV and board the train as you embark on a spectacular journey accessible only by rail. Keep your eyes on the scenery as the engineer takes you on a four-hour, 40-mile round-trip excursion between two national forests, through a 680-foot tunnel, and past ancient ruins and towering red rock buttes.

Verde Canyon Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gaze at the remote wilderness through large windows as you sit comfortably in climate-controlled passenger cars complete with rest rooms. Or choose to enjoy the open-air viewing car for fresh canyon air and an amazing 360-degree panorama.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Cottonwood

Dead Horse Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Ranch State Park is located adjacent to and across the Verde River from the community of Cottonwood. Offering over 100 spacious sites, the campgrounds give access to the park features like trails, playground, lakes, and the Verde River. The campground consists of four loops that each have varying numbers of spots available for you to stay.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most campsites are RV accessible with hookups. Many of the pull through sites can accommodate RVs up to 65 feet in length. There are three lagoons within the park that offer great fishing and a place to watch the area aquatic wildlife and birds. Dead Horse Ranch is a great place to stay while you explore the natural beauty and rich history of this popular Arizona region.

Tuzigoot National Monument, Clarkdale

Tuzigoot National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Sinagua people began building the limestone and sandstone hilltop pueblo around the year A.D. 1000. They expanded the settlement over the next 400 years to involve 110 rooms housing more than 200 people. Then, in the late 1300s, the inhabitants began to abandon the pueblo. By the time the first Europeans arrived, Tuzigoot had been empty for nearly 100 years. It’s believed the citizens joined what are now the modern Hopi and Zuni tribes or stayed nearby and became the ancestors of people now belonging to the Yavapai-Apache Nation.

Montezuma Castle National Monument, Camp Verde

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The name of this incredible settlement really is a misnomer. Montezuma Castle was named in the 1860s by people who mistakenly thought the Aztec emperor was somehow affiliated with it. Truth is it was built by the Sinagua people who lived in it and then abandoned it before Montezuma was born. Montezuma Castle, built directly into the side of a cliff, rests 50 feet above the valley floor. Standing five stories tall, the castle has 20 rooms and covers 3,500 square feet.

Montezuma Well, Camp Verde

Montezuma Well © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And as they say, wait—there’s more. A second, detached part of the park, known as Montezuma Well, is about 11 miles northeast of Montezuma Castle and has its own extraordinary features. First, Montezuma Well is not actually a well. The water in it is continuously refreshed by subterranean springs in an enormous limestone sinkhole measuring 368 feet across.

Montezuma Well © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An astounding 1.5 million gallons of water per day flow here. Even more amazing, the water fell as rain on the nearby Mogollon Rim between 10,000 and 13,000 years ago. For years, the water has been slowly seeping through the rock until it reaches an impenetrable layer of rock and then is forced back to the surface.

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

Canyon de Chelly National Monument: People Still Live Here & I Can See Why

Stunning scenery blends with Navajo culture

We know COVID-19 (Coronavirus) is impacting RV travel plans right now. For a little inspiration we’ll continue to share stories from our favorite places so you can keep daydreaming about your next adventure.

A comparatively little-known canyon, Canyon de Chelly (pronounced “de shay”) has sandstone walls rising up 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.

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

People have lived in the canyon for more than 5,000 years, archaeologists believe, making it the longest continuously inhabited area on the Colorado Plateau. Ancient ruins are tucked along its cliffs, as are centuries-old pictographs.

Chinle in the Navajo Nation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the mesa east of Chinle in the Navajo Nation, Canyon de Chelly is invisible. Then as one approaches, suddenly the world falls away—1,000 feet down a series of vertical red walls.

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

The sheer walls, shaped and smoothed by thousands of years of rain and wind, provide a dramatic backdrop for those who still live and farm within the canyon.

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

There are two ways to experience Arizona’s lesser-known canyon. You can drive along the rim stopping at overlooks to marvel at the vertical cliffs and stone spires and hike on one trail, the White House Trail. Otherwise, there is no entry into the canyon without a permit and Navajo guide. A popular choice is riding down the canyon aboard a 20-passenger tour truck.

Hiking White House Trail at Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyon de Chelly is managed through a partnership between the National Park Service and the Navajo Nation, and many areas, including the backcountry, are accessible only with a permit and an official Navajo guide. Start your visit to Canyon de Chelly at the visitor center to learn more about the history and rules at this unique place. To enhance your visit, a motoring guide and a trail guide are available at the bookstore in the visitor center.

Begin your visit to Canyon de Chelly National Monument at the Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The northernmost and southernmost edges are accessible from paved roads—the North and South Rim drives. The South Rim Drive offers the most dramatic vistas, ending at the most spectacular viewpoint, the overlook of Spider Rocks—twin 800-foot towers of rock isolated from the canyon walls and a site of special significance for the Navajo.

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

From the visitor center to the last overlook is about 16 miles one-way. There are seven overlooks from which to view Canyon de Chelly. Watch for changes in vegetation and geology as the elevation rises from 5,500 feet at the visitor center to 7,000 feet at Spider Rock. Allow two to three hours for this drive—and considerably longer, if you’re a photographer.

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

The third overlook, Junction, affords the first look at the canyon’s depth, and the signs warn that it’s a sheer drop of 600 feet to the bottom. Junction has views of Chinle Valley and the confluence of Canyon del Muerto and Canyon de Chelly.

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

The scenery elevates to spectacular at the Sliding Rock Overlook, about 700 feet above the canyon floor and site of ruins that once slipped off the canyon walls. Face Rock Overlook is even higher and sort of a prelude to the most magnificent of all—Spider Rock Overlook. From here you can see the volcanic core of Black Rock Butte and the Chuska Mountains on the horizon.

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

According to legend, Spider Woman taught the Navajo how to weave and now lives on top of the spire that is covered with white limestone. The legend says the white stuff is the bones of bad children who were carried off by Spider Woman.

Sharing the White House Trail with Navajo sheep herders at Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also worthwhile, but not quite as scenic, the North Rim Drive has only three overlooks from which to view Canyon del Muerto. Some of the most beautiful cliff dwellings are along this 34-mile route from start to finish. Allow a minimum of two hours for this drive.

White House Ruins at Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t miss the White House Ruins. This is a superb hike. Long ago, hundreds of people lived in the structure built into the cliffs. Now the walls are a reminder of how life once thrived in the canyon.

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

For your efforts you’ll get an up-close look at White House ruins, mentioned in the Navajo Night Chant as “white house in between”. The trail begins at the White House Overlook and is a two- or three-mile round trip, depending on which signs you believe. Allow two to three hours to complete the trail. The drop from the rim to the canyon floor is 600 feet. Since the trail is considered moderately strenuous, hiking boots are recommended. Ensure you take plenty of drinking water, especially if you’re hiking in the summer’s heat.

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

Worth Pondering…

We didn’t inherit the earth; we are borrowing it from our children.

—Native American Proverb

Most Beautiful Towns in Arizona

From former mining town gems, to desert beauties and mountain charmers, here are seven of the most beautiful towns in Arizona

Located in the Southwest, Arizona is steeped in history and beautifully diverse landscapes found throughout the state in the form of historical, scenic towns that truly impress. With special attention to the reigning favorites and a few of our own sprinkled in, here are the most beautiful towns in Arizona.

Tubac

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colorful architecture and mountain backdrops define Tubac’s Southwest scenery. See both at Tumacácori National Historical Park, where O’odham, Yaqui, and Apache people once dwelled. Tubac Presidio State Historic Park offers a glimpse at 2,000 years of Arizona history. Tubac features over 100 eclectic shops and world class galleries situated along meandering streets with hidden courtyards and sparkling fountains.

Sedona

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of all the places to visit in the Southwest, Sedona may be the most beautiful. The Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive climbs 4,500 feet from Sedona, but before you begin stop at the stunning Oak Creek Vista. Along the way, you’ll see evergreens, red rocks, and wildlife. Red Rock State Park features a range of trails, from flat walks near Oak Creek to ascending paths with impressive views.

Williams

Williams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A small town nestled in the Ponderosa pine of northern Arizona, Williams offers outdoor adventures including fishing and hiking to horseback riding and camping. Route 66 history buffs can explore more than six blocks of historic buildings and shops. After a 59-mile drive north, the Grand Canyon will lie before your eyes. Once there, you’ll grasp why this 277 river miles long, one-mile deep, and up to 18 miles wide canyon is hailed as one of the world’s seven natural wonders. The Grand Canyon Railway offers daily trips to the Grand Canyon aboard vintage diesel powered trains and historic steam engines.

Tombstone

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The spirits of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the Clanton Brothers live on in the authentic old west town of Tombstone, home of Boothill Graveyard, the Birdcage Theatre, and the O.K. Corral. After getting its start as a silver mining claim in the late-1870s, the settlement grew along with its Tough Nut Mine, becoming a bustling boomtown of the Wild West. From opera and theater to dance halls and brothels, Tombstone offered much-needed entertainment to the miners. The “Town Too Tough to Die” town contains many preserved buildings from the 1870s and 80s.

Globe

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 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.

Jerome

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A charming National Historic Landmark on Cleopatra Hill, Jerome is a former mining town. Meandering around the hilly, winding streets, visitors will discover galleries and art studios. Not forgetting its past, Jerome offers history buffs a wealth of experience through the Mine Museum, displaying artifacts representing the town’s past and present, and the Jerome State Historic Park, home to the Douglas Mansion.

Page

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

A small town in northern Arizona, Page is located on the southern shores of magnificent Lake Powell in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The location is ideal for exploring many of the American Southwest’s national parks and monuments and discovering the unique culture of the Navajo Nation. Marvel at the beauty of the slot canyons as you hike with a Navajo guide in Antelope Canyon. Enjoy the majesty of the lake and surrounding red rock desert. Explore hundreds of miles of shoreline by houseboat power boat, or kayak.

Worth Pondering…

Oh, I could have lived anywhere in the world, if I hadn’t seen the West.

—Joyce Woodson

Take the Exit Ramp to Adventure & Scenic Drives

Venture off the beaten path to take in Arizona’s diverse topography

Many of the Grand Canyon State’s most interesting and beautiful roadways unwind after a short detour off the busier roads and Interstate highways. So take the exit ramp to experience four of Arizona’s scenic drives and byways.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock Scenic Byway

Officially Arizona Highway 179, this byway is only 14.5 miles long. But you could spend a whole day exploring the spectacular red rock formations, shops, galleries, restaurants, and other attractions that line this link between Interstate 17 and Sedona.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get oriented at the Red Rock Ranger District Visitor Center. Then head to the Village of Oak Creek (about five miles south of Sedona) to pick up picnic supplies on the way to Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte. These two beloved and much-photographed landmarks are ringed by hiking and biking trails.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continuing to Sedona, sculptor Marguerite Brunswig Staude’s Chapel of the Holy Cross is a meditative and powerful retreat, with windows framing buttes and rock outcroppings. At the northern end of the drive, stroll around Tlaquepaque, an architecturally authentic Spanish Colonial village that houses galleries, retailers, and restaurants.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Road tip: A Red Rock Pass ($5/day) is required for vehicles parked on National Forest land around Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon. If you plan to park and explore on foot, pick up a pass and display it on the dash of your RV or toad.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apache Trail Historic Road

On this winding 41.5-mile road, just off U.S. Highway 60 near Mesa, designate a driver to keep their eyes on curves and hairpin turns while passengers “ooh” and “ahh” over the lakes, mountains, and canyons in Tonto National Forest’s wilderness areas.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Part paved and part well-graded gravel, Arizona Highway 88 was an old stagecoach route that shuttled in supplies for Roosevelt Dam’s construction in the early 1900s. It begins near Goldfield Ghost Town, a re-created Wild West town, complete with gunslingers. You’ll pass Canyon Lake, where you can cruise on the Dolly Steamboat.

Goldfield Ghost Town © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Road tip: Due to its narrow width and tight turns, this route is not recommended for larger vehicles including RVs.

Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sonoita to Patagonia

Starting near Vail on Interstate 10, pick up this 52-mile drive south on State Route 83 through the Santa Cruz River Basin of southeastern Arizona.

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

In Sonoita, visit the nearby wineries of Arizona’s burgeoning wine country. Then connect back with State Route 82 heading south and watch the landscape morph from rolling grasslands to cottonwood stands and juniper forests.

Bird watching at Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Patagonia, wander the town’s charming coffee shops and retailers. Or bring your binoculars to spot wildlife at the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, a popular birding spot that’s home to more than 300 species of birds. Continue on to Patagonia Lake State Park where visitors hike, swim, fish, and camp while taking in the lush landscape of the surrounding hills.

Kingman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kingman to Oatman (Route 66)

A visit to the old powerhouse which has been converted to a Route 66 Museum and visitor’s center is a must when in Kingman. The Powerhouse Building is also home to Arizona’s Route 66 Association.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Kingman, take the 28-mile scenic drive through the Black Mountains to Oatman. Once a gold-mining boomtown, Oatman hunkers in a craggy gulch of the Black Mountains. Rising above town is the jagged peak of white quartz known as Elephant’s Tooth.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A shadow of its former self this living ghost town offers a handful of historic buildings and photo opportunities, costumed gunfighters and 1890s style ladies. Burros from the surrounding hills wander into Oatman daily and mosey around town blocking traffic, greeting visitors, and chomping carrots sold by the local shop owners.

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

Discovering a Hidden Gem: Parker Canyon Lake

Stopped by to hike and take photos and found a hidden gem

We’re always on the lookout for new adventures and hidden gems, places that are interesting but few people know about, even locals.

On the road to Parker Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It was somewhat by chance that we discovered Parker Canyon Lake. While touring Coronado National Memorial on the southern edge of the Huachuca Mountains in southeastern Arizona, we drove a winding mountain road that culminates at Coronado Pass overlook (elevation 6,575 feet) close to the western edge of the memorial. Note that vehicles over 24 feet in length are prohibited due to steep grades and tight switchbacks.

Coronado Pass looking southeast to the San Pedro Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of Arizona’s most breathtaking overlooks, the pass offers sweeping views of the San Pedro Valley to the southeast (see above) and the San Raphael Valley to the west (see below) . Interpretive signs highlight the major landscape features looking east and west. On clear days, Baboquivari Peak, at an elevation of 7,720 feet, on the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation, can be seen 80 miles to the west beyond the Santa Rita and Patagonia mountains.

Coronado Pass looking west to the San Raphael Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the pass we continued west along the unpaved and often rough forestry road that leads through Coronado National Forest to Parker Canyon Lake (18 miles).

Traveling west from Coronado National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This medium-sized 132 acre lake is nestled in the gentle Canelo Hills east of the Huachuca Mountains. Just seven miles north of Mexico, Parker Canyon Lake was created in 1966 by the Coronado National Forest and the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

Parker Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ringed with cottonwoods, juniper, piñon pine, scrub oak, and manzanita, Parker Canyon Lake offers a number of recreational possibilities for those willing to drive the dirt roads that lead to it. Locals say the temperature in the area, which lies about 5,400 feet above sea level, generally runs about 10 degrees cooler than Tucson.

Parker Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For those who like to fish, Parker Canyon Lake offers both cold and warm water species, including stocked rainbow trout and resident bass, sunfish, and catfish. There is a fishing pier and a paved boat ramp at the lake, as well as a lakeside paved area and a graveled path along some of the best catfishing shoreline.

Parker Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is also a concessionaire-operated country store at the lakeshore where you can pick up some last minute supplies, buy a fishing license, camping gear, tackle and worms, or rent a boat.

Parker Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From just about any point along the shore, Parker Canyon Lake doesn’t look very big. Take off on the trail around the lake, though, and you’ll find it’s a heck of a lot bigger than you thought.

Parker Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The lake has a number of side canyons, inlets, and coves that stretch back from the main body of the lake, creating a surprising amount of shoreline.

Parker Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Parker Shoreline Trail is a fairly level dirt pathway that, for the most part, stays within a few yards of the water. There are a couple of places, however, where the route climbs rather steeply over high rocky bluffs and the trail becomes a slightly exposed, narrow passage 50 or 60 feet above the lake’s surface.

Parker Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Parker Lakeshore Trail offers excellent vantage points from which to enjoy the ducks and other waterfowl that are invariably bobbing on the lake’s clear waters. Some of those points even have benches and interpretive signs. Bald eagles, herons, and osprey are regularly sighted in this area, as are spring warblers and hummingbirds in season.

Parker Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the terrestrial side, Coues whitetail deer can be seen browsing among the oaks and grasses that surround the lake and in the two campgrounds near its shores. Coatimundi, javelina, and roadrunners, three animals that are about as southwestern as you can get, make occasional appearances as well.

Parker Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The easiest place to start this hike is from the parking area near the store and boat launch on the southeast shore of the lake; go counterclockwise. (However, if you just want to go to the dam and back, it’s shorter to go clockwise.) The first 300 yards is a paved, shoreline sidewalk that passes a couple of rest benches—fine places to sit and enjoy the serenity of the area.

Parker Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the trail bends west, then north, around the Lakeview Campground area, you’re almost directly across from the dam. Allow more than 2 hours for the fairly easy 4.5-mile loop around the lake. 

Leaving Parker Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Parker Canyon Lake the road continues on to Sonoita (30 miles) or alternately through the Arizona Wine Region near the small town of Elgin.

Worth Pondering…

Exploring the roads less traveled…America is laced with nooks and crannies, good places that go undiscovered by many mainstream travelers.

4 Ecosystems Meet at Coronado National Memorial

The park was established to commemorate the Coronado Expedition of 1540-1542 and the lasting legacies of the first interaction between American Indians and Europeans in the American Southwest and northwest Mexico

Take Montezuma Canyon Road to the scenic Montezuma Pass Overlook where you can reflect of the impact of the European arrival in this region.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Four major ecosystems meet in Southeastern Arizona: the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts, the Rocky Mountains, and the Sierra Madre. This is a beautiful natural area with an unlimited supply of interesting sights to visit.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The San Pedro River valley attracts hikers and birders because of the variety of species that live there. Bisbee is a friendly, funky place to wander and explore. Tombstone trades on a Wild West image. And there are the tens of thousands of sandhill cranes that gather each winter at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Southeastern Arizona is an incredible blend of sky mountains and grasslands and desert, hot and cold, and Coronado National Memorial is a great place to learn about it. Coronado National Memorial commemorates and interprets the significance of Coronado’s expedition and the resulting cultural influences of 16th century Spanish colonial exploration in the Americas.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the early 1500s, Spain established a rich colonial empire in the New World. From Mexico to Peru, gold poured into her treasury and new lands were opened for settlement. The northern frontier lay only a few hundred miles north of Mexico City; and beyond that was a land unknown. Tales of unimaginable riches in this land had fired the Spanish imagination ever since Spain’s discovery of the “New World”.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On January 6, 1540, the Spanish government commissioned Francisco Vázquez de Coronado (1510-1554) to command an expedition to find the rumored seven “large cities, with streets lined with goldsmith shops, houses of many stories, and doorways studded with emeralds and turquoise!”

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We have no way of knowing Coronado’s exact route, but historians believe he followed the San Pedro River when he passed through southeastern Arizona in 1540 with about 2,000 men, an army of 336 Spanish soldiers, and hundreds of Mexican-Indian allies. The journey was fueled by more than 1,500 stock animals and blind ambition.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It was a fool’s errand. Coronado died in relative obscurity, his mission a failure. But as we look back his journey seems remarkable, if only because it was so long. He traveled from Mexico City to what is now Kansas on horseback, and was one of the first Europeans to see this part of the country.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The location was chosen for the panoramic views of the United States-Mexico border and the San Pedro River Valley, the route believed to have been taken by Coronado. The creation of the Memorial was not to protect any tangible artifacts related to the expedition, but rather to provide visitors with an opportunity to reflect upon the impact the Coronado Expedition had in shaping the history, culture, and environment of the southwestern United States and its ties to Mexico and Spain.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Situated in oak woodlands on the southern edge of the Huachuca Mountains, the 4,750-acre park offers a visitors center, Coronado Cave, hiking trails, and a scenic drive that culminates at Coronado Pass overlook (elevation 6,575 feet) with breathtaking views of the San Pedro Valley to the southeast and the San Raphael Valley to the west. Note that vehicles over 24 feet in length are prohibited due to steep grades and tight switchbacks.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A short trail leads to the top of Coronado Peak (6,864 feet) with even better views, including south to distant mountains in Mexico. The panoramic view is breathtaking.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the pass the unpaved and often rough forestry road leads through Coronado National Forest to Parker Canyon Lake (18 miles) and on to Patagonia or alternately through the Arizona Wine Region near the small town of Elgin.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

When your spirit cries for peace, come to a world of canyons deep in an old land; feel the exultation of high plateaus, the strength of moving wasters,
the simplicity of sand and grass, and the silence of growth.

—August Fruge

Catalina State Park: Sky Island Gem

The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros

Neighboring the Coronado National Forest, Catalina State Park is located at the foot of the Santa Catalina Mountains and offers a variety of hiking trails available for on-foot travelers, bicyclists, and horse riders alike. 

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of southern Arizona’s numerous Sky Islands, the Santa Catalina Mountains dominate Tucson’s northern skyline. These Sky Islands are small mountain ranges that rise steeply from the desert floor and often feature a cool and relatively moist climate at their highest reaches. Their wooded slopes offer desert dwellers a respite from the summer heat. Conversely, the adjacent desert canyons and foothills offer spectacular scenery and excellent recreation during the cooler months of the year.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park protects a choice section of desert on the western base of the Santa Catalinas. The environment at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains offers great camping, hiking, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. An equestrian center provides a staging area for trail riders and ample trailer parking is also available.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Miles of equestrian, birding, and hiking trails wind through the park and the adjoining Coronado National Forest, as well as an interpretive trail to a prehistoric village. Each trail offers a showcase of the region’s varied qualities, ranging from the footsteps of a myriad of animals known to inhabit this mountainous area such as the javelina and mountain lion on the scenic Nature Trail, to the archeological wonder of the Romero Ruins — the remains of a Hohokam village — on the aptly-named Romero Ruin Interpretive Trail. Elsewhere, the Upper 50-Year Trail will offer a rockier climb while the Birding Trail provides a scenic walk with a small flight of stairs.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

 Where the values of each trail converge, however, is when it comes to the sheer value of appreciating nature. Expect to be bombarded by the sheer vastness of local flora and wildlife on natural display on the park’s 5,500 acres of prairies, foothills, mountainsides, and washes.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The locale was first inhabited by the Hohokam people, Native American agriculturists who disappeared mysteriously around AD 1450. Remains of their village site are still evident in the park. In the late 1800s, prospectors worked claims along the banks of a wash called Canada del Oro, translated from the Spanish into “wash of gold”. Cattle ranching also became prominent around 1850 and continued until the early 1980s when the park was established.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The most common plants include mesquite, palo verde, and acacia trees; crucifixion thorn, ocotillo, cholla, prickly pear, and saguaro cactus. Desert willow, Arizona sycamore, Arizona ash, and native walnut grow along the washes.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the special features at Catalina State Park is an amazing population of saguaros. There are about a half-dozen large stands within the park, each numbering close to 500 plants. Along with hundreds of scattered individuals, these stands account for an estimated saguaro population of close to 5,000 plants.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than 300 types of flowers are cataloged at the park. A binder in the visitor center has a picture of each type of flower in the park, the common name, when it blooms, and where it can be found. They are sorted by color so if you find a flower in the park you can identify it.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are 120 campsites available, 95 with water and 50/30 amp electric service. Most sites are spacious and level easily accommodating the largest of RVs. A dump station is available. Campsites have picnic tables and grills. Restrooms are handicapped accessible with showers. Reservations are recommended during the busy snowbird season.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Please note: Catalina has NO overflow area. When all sites are occupied, you will be turned away.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This scenic park is located on Oracle Road which becomes State Route 77, just minutes from the bustling city of Tucson. Watch for the signed entrance to Catalina State Park at Milepost 81.

Worth Pondering…

The vast emptiness and overpowering silence of the desert and surrounding mountains sharpens your senses, enhancing self-contemplation, and stimulates creativity.

Mountain Island in a Desert Sea: Exploring Southern Arizona Sky Islands

A sky island is an isolated mountain range that rises up out of the surrounding desert “sea”

Arizona truly is a land of extremes. Temperatures vary from place to place and even day to night. Few geographic formations in the world illustrate this stark climactic contrast—and its importance to biodiversity—better than Sky Islands.

Mount Wrightson in the Santa Rita Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors to Southern Arizona are often struck by these vast mountain ranges rising suddenly out of the desert and grasslands. Saguaro, prickly pear, and ocotillo rapidly give way to a coniferous  forest, and a much cooler climate. Usually 6,000–8,000 feet in elevation—sometimes exceeding 10,000—these majestic mountains emerge from a sea of desert scrub and provide an oasis for an abundance of wildlife. These Sky Islands encompass some of the most rugged and remote lands in the Southwest and feature some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world.

Hiking Madera Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Sky Island is defined as a mountain that is separated from other mountains by distance and by surrounding lowlands of a dramatically different environment. The result is a habitat island, such as a forest surrounded by desert. As the mountain goes up in elevation, ecosystem zones change at different elevations.

Catalina State Park in the Santa Catalina Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Coronado National Forest protects the twelve Sky Islands of Southwestern Arizona which are the real treasure houses of the region.

Coronado National Monument in the Huachuca Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona’s Sky Island ranges include the Chiricahua Mountains, Whetstone Mountains, Huachuca Mountains, Galiuro Mountans, Dragoon Mountains, Pinaleño Mountains, Santa Catalina Mountains, Rincon Mountains, and Santa Rita Mountains. The tallest of these areas are the Pinaleño Mountains, rising to 10,720 feet above the Gila River near the town of Safford.

Mount Lemmon Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thanks to their rapid gain in elevation, Sky Island peaks remain temperate even in the fiercest summer heat. When Tucson’s mercury climbs above 100 degrees in summer months, the 9,157-foot summit of Mount Lemmon in the Santa Catalina mountains offers respite to overheated fauna (including the human variety) with temperatures that rarely exceed 80 degrees.

Mount Lemmon Ski Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the winter, Mount Lemmon is the southernmost downhill ski area in the country. One of the most scenic drives in southern Arizona, the Sky Island Scenic Byway provides access to a fascinating land of great vistas, natural rock sculptures, cool mountain forests and deep canyons spilling out onto broad deserts.

Ramsey Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the meeting point between desert and forest, Sky Islands provide a variance of climate zones, including tropical and temperate climates, that supports a vast range of wildlife. The lower temperatures of the high elevations allow snow to accumulate, which melt into summer streams that feed to other riparian areas. The diversity of the region exceeds anywhere else in the U.S., supporting well over half the bird species of North America and 104 species of mammals.

Chiricahua National Monument in the Chirachua Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beginning at the valley floor one is surrounded by typical Sonoran desert—saguaro and cholla cactus, and ocotillo. Traveling toward the peak, one travels through eight distinct zones: desert, arid grassland, chaparral, pinyon-juniper woodland, Madrean evergreen oak woodland, Ponderosa pine forest, mixed conifer stands of Douglas fir and white pine, and eventually a true spruce-fir forest with burbling creeks and quaking aspens. 

Saguaro National Park in the Santa Catalina Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Sky Island idea was first published in 1943, in an article in Arizona Highways magazine called “Monument in the Mountain.” In the article, writer Natt N. Dodge referred to the Chiricahua Mountains in southeastern Arizona as a “mountain island in a desert sea.” 

Coronado National Monument in the Huachuca Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The term was later made popular by nature writer Weldon Heald, a resident of southeastern Arizona. In his 1967 book, Sky Island, he demonstrated the concept by describing a drive from the town of Rodeo, New Mexico, to a peak in the Chiricahua Mountains, 35 miles away and 5,600 feet higher in elevation. Ascending from the hot, arid desert, the environment transitions to grassland, then to oak-pine woodland, pine forest, and finally to spruce-fir-aspen forest.

Chiricahua National Monument in the Chirachua Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Around the same time, the idea of mountains as islands of habitat took hold with scientists, and the idea was included in the study of island biogeography.  Although the name may have originated in Southern Arizona, Sky Islands are not limited to mountains of the Southwest, but can be applied to any geographic location where mountains are isolated from each other by lowland habitats.

Saguaro National Park in the Santa Catalina Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On your next visit to a Sky Island, note how the vegetation changes from cactus to thornscrub to oak forest, pine forest, and mixed conifer forest as you ascend the slope.

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