Triassic World: Petrified Forest National Park

The Real “Triassic” Park

The colorful rock layers of northeastern Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park form a visual display of eroded badlands, dating to the Triassic.

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.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The land below is awash in burnt sienna, deep maroon, dusty purple, and sprinkled here and there with green plants.

Petrified Forest, a surprising realm of fascinating landscape and science, was set aside as a national monument in 1906 to preserve and protect the petrified wood for its scientific value. The Painted Desert was added later, and in 1962, the entire monument received national park status.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is recognized today for having so much more, including a broad representation of the Late Triassic paleo-ecosystem, significant human history, clear night skies, fragile grasslands ecosystem, and unspoiled scenic vistas.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than 200 million years ago, flourishing trees and vegetation covered much of this area of northeastern Arizona. But volcanic lava destroyed the forest, the logs washed into an ancient river system and were embedded into sediment comprised of volcanic ash and water. Oxygen was cut off and decay slowed to a process that would now take centuries.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Minerals, including silica dissolved from volcanic ash, absorbed into the porous wood over hundreds and thousands of years, and crystallized replacing the organic material as it broke down over time. Sometimes crushing or decay left cracks in the logs. Here large jewel-like crystals of clear quartz, purple amethyst, yellow citrine, and smoky quartz formed.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Erosion set the logs free millions of years later, revealing the petrified wood made mostly of quartz—that visitors to the park come to see.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though only seven species of tree have been identified through petrified wood, over 200 species of plants have currently been identified from other Triassic fossils, such as leaves, pollen, and spores.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best way to enjoy and experience Petrified Forest National Park is on foot. Designated trails range in length from less than a half-mile to almost three miles.

Petrified Forest National Park stretches north and south between I-40 and U.S. Highway 180. There are two entrances into the park. Your direction of travel dictates which entrance is best to use.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Westbound I-40 travelers should take Exit 311, drive the 28 miles through the park and connect with Highway 180 at the south end. Travel 19 miles on Highway 180 North to return to I-40 via Holbrook.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eastbound I-40 travelers should take Exit 285 into Holbrook then travel 19 miles on U.S. Highway 180 South to the park’s south entrance. Drive the 28 miles north through the park to return to I-40.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many of the features at Petrified Forest are on a scale best appreciated by leaving the car. Plan enough time to walk among the fossil logs and Painted Desert badlands.

For a half-day visit, follow the park road from the Rainbow Forest Museum toward Pintado Point. If you can stay longer, include a walk to Agate House, take the trail into the Blue Mesa badlands, and consider a hike in the Petrified Forest National Wilderness Area.

Worth Pondering…

The way in which many Paleozoic life forms disappeared towards the end of the Permian Period brings to mind Joseph Hayden’s Farwell Symphony where, during the last movement, one musician after the other takes his instrument and leaves the stage until, at the end, none is left.

—Curt Teichert, 1990

Magnificent Monument Valley: Where God Put The West

The mesas, thin buttes, and the tall spires rising above the valley, and the contrasting orange sand, makes Monument Valley the most impressive landscape in the southwest

One of the most iconic and enduring landmarks of the American Wild West, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park has isolated sandstone mesas, buttes, and a sandy desert that has been photographed and filmed countless times.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley boasts crimson mesas, surreal sandstone towers which range in height from 400 to 1,000 feet. Made of de Chelly sandstone, which is 215 million years old, the towers are the remnants of mesas, or flat-topped mountains. Mesas erode first into buttes like the Elephant, which typically are as high as they are wide, then into slender spires like the Three Sisters.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The angle of the sun accents these graceful formations, providing scenery that is simply spellbinding.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is one of those sights that takes your breath away and makes you speechless—what the Western writer Zane Grey once described as “a strange world of colossal shafts and buttes of rock, magnificently sculptored, standing isolated and aloof, dark, weird, lonely.”

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Known as Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaii (or Valley of the Rocks) to the Navajo, they believe it is a gift from their creator and each unique formation has a story.

Entering Monument Valley is to enter a world of mystery, incredible beauty, and age-old tradition.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The landscape overwhelms, not just by its beauty but also by its size. The fragile pinnacles of rock are surrounded by miles of mesas and buttes, shrubs, trees, and windblown sand, all comprising the magnificent colors of the valley. All of this harmoniously combines to make Monument Valley a truly wondrous experience.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our visit to Monument Valley was in two parts: Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park and Goulding’s Trading Post.

Our first stop was the legendary Goulding’s Trading Post located just north of the Arizona-Utah border, six miles from the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After arriving Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park in mid-afternoon and obtaining information about available options for exploring this wonderland of rocks, we departed the Visitor Center at Lookout Point and started the Valley Drive, a 17-mile self-guided dirt road. The road winds past the valley’s best red rock buttes and spires, with 11 stops for photos.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is considered one of the world’s premier spots for landscape photography. The best stops for photographing the towers are the Mittens and Merrick Butte, Elephant Butte, Three Sisters, John Ford’s Point, Camel Butte, The Hub, the Totem Pole and Yei Bi Chei, Sand Springs, Artist’s Point, North Window, and The Thumb. The best times for photography are early mornings and late afternoons when the shadows lengthen and the sun brings out the reds and oranges in the buttes.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Allow at least two to three hours at the posted 10 mph. Expect to eat the valley’ orange dust, because other vehicles will kick up thick clouds of it during the dry weather that you’ll find in this high desert most of the year.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In a swirl of red dust we dropped down into the valley rim in our four-wheel-drive dinghy with guide map in hand.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The road is dusty, steep in a couple of places and rather uneven, but does not need a four-wheel-drive—the journey is suitable for the majority of family cars, and small to medium sized RVs, though the surface is perhaps not improved too much in order to increase business for the many Navajo guides and 4WD Jeep rental outfits, which wait expectantly by the visitor center. 

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though rough in many spots and probably impassable in wet weather, the road was easily travel on this day.

We wound our way past the Mittens, Elephant Butte, the Three Sisters, and to John Ford’s Point—named for the famous director who made movies in Monument Valley, many of them starring John Wayne.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The weather was perfect—sunny and warm—as we continued on past Camel Butte, the Hub, and to the Totem Pole and Yei Bi Chei. The changing light and shifting shadows created an never-ending stream of views. Continuing on around Raingod Mesa and Artist Point, we timed our drive to return to the

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After photographing the amazing sunset we drove our toad east to our camping site at Cottonwood RV Park in Bluff, Utah, a round day trip of 119 miles.

Worth Pondering…

So this is where God put the West.

—John Wayne

Explore Arizona’s Spooky, Haunted Ghost Towns

You need not travel far in Arizona before encountering a ghost town or two. These quirky towns make the perfect spooky road trip.

Arizona’s 19th-century mining boom gave rise to numerous towns that bustled with near-instantaneous commerce, but whose rapid growth ended abruptly when precious metals were depleted.

Today, many of these outposts are little more than abandoned buildings. Yet others have taken on new life, drawing artists and free spirits who embrace their town’s haunted past and welcome visitors in search of spooky tales and Old West lore.

In a state full of ghost towns, you have your pick from the famous (Bisbee) to the infamous (Tombstone). Below are some of Arizona’s most distinctive ghost towns, each with its own quirks and curiosities.

Bisbee

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Delve deep into Arizona’s mining past in Bisbee, a town of colorful architecture and equally colorful characters, and a ghost or two—many of the town’s locales are rumored to be haunted.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you stroll through Bisbee’s winding, narrow streets and alleys, the town’s historic mining role resounds through remarkably preserved architecture, museums, and the underground Queen Mine Tour. Beautifully landscaped parks, cultural activities like the Bisbee Farmers Market and Arizona’s oldest baseball park, along with unique events like the Bisbee Stair Climb, Sidepony Music Festival, and Alice in Bisbeeland embody a community dedicated to entertainment for locals and visitors alike.  

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Those interested in the town’s spookier side, an evening walking tour with Old Bisbee Ghost Tour will introduce the towns dearly departed.

Oatman

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This tiny town in a rugged area carved out of the wilderness by determined miners is now populated by more wild burros than people. Good-humored shops line the street and the furriest residents—small donkeys descended from miners’ beasts of burden—contribute to the annual fall Burro Biskit Toss.

Oatman Hotel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than 500,000 visitors are drawn annually to Oatman’s gold mine history. The town prides itself on maintaining a Wild West feel, down to the wooden sidewalks, staged shootouts, and kitschy shops.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Clark Gable and Carole Lombard allegedly honeymooned at the 1902 two-story adobe Oatman Hotel after marrying in nearby Kingman. Some say the lovebirds’ spirits as well as other former lodgers still vacation there.

Jerome

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Founded in 1876, Jerome was once home to the wealthiest mine in the world owned by one man; the whole town was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1967.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The third largest town in Arizona at its peak, the boom town was called the Wickedest City in the West in 1903. A local count showed 37 bars, 13 bordellos, and four churches. Jerome was the largest producer of copper, gold, and silver in Arizona in the 1920s before the mines closed in 1953 and it became the largest ghost town in the west.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beginning in the 1960s, the town was restored with historic accuracy and revitalized as an arts community.

Jerome and the red rocks of Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled a mile high on the side of Cleopatra Hill overlooking the Verde Valley with spectacular views of the Red Rocks of Sedona and the distant San Francisco Peaks above Flagstaff, Jerome is a clear ‘don’t miss’ stop in Arizona.

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 OK Corral.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. In 1886, the mines flooded and the miners moved on to the next claim.

Boothill, Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But the “Town Too Tough to Die” didn’t earn its nickname name for nothing. Now a tourist hotspot, you can still hang up your cowboy hat and dust off your chaps in the numerous saloons, restaurants, and shops that line Allen Street.

Worth Pondering…

The undiscovered places that are interesting to me are these places that contain bits of our disappearing history, like a ghost town.

—Ransom Riggs

Magnificent Monument Valley: Goulding’s Trading Post & Hollywood

The Monument Valley Trading Post is unlike any other you have visited. It offers a wide selection of contemporary and traditional American Indian Art, memorabilia of Monument Valley, and souvenirs of Hollywood movies shot on location.

Magnificent Monument Valley is not a national or state park but, with 91,696 acres, it is a small part of the great Navajo Nation that covers much of northeastern Arizona and stretches into Utah and New Mexico.

Our visit to Monument Valley was in two parts: Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park and Goulding’s Trading Post. Our first stop was the legendary Goulding’s Trading Post located just north of the Arizona-Utah border, six miles from the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park.

The road to Goulding’s Trading Post © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Established in the early 1920s by Harry Goulding and his wife, Leone, nicknamed Mike. For half a century they maintained a warm relationship with the Navajo, trading with them and finding markets for their handmade items, helping lift them from poverty that plagued the reservation.

Along the road to Goulding’s Trading Post © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And then came the Depression, hitting the valley with a brutal vengeance. There was a terrible drought in 1934 and then another one in 1936. Income from the trading post diminished to virtually nothing. 

Then, in 1938, with times desperate and conditions bleak, Harry Goulding took his one-in-a-million shot to Hollywood and what he managed to do reverberates to this day.

The road to Goulding’s Trading Post © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Armed with a photo album of 8-by-10 scenes of the valley made by famous photographer and close friend, Josef Muench, the Gouldings drove to Hollywood and sold movie director John Ford on the idea of using Monument Valley as a backdrop for Stagecoach, released in 1939. It won two Academy Awards and made John Wayne a star. The connection forged in that office on that day between Ford and Harry Goulding was the beginning of a new era in the American Western.

The road to Goulding’s Trading Post © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s said that when John Wayne first saw the site, he declared: “So this is where God put the West.” Millions would agree. 

The road to Goulding’s Trading Post © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over the next 25 years, John Ford would go on to shoot six more westerns in Monument Valley: My Darling Clementine (1946), Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), The Searchers (1956), Sergeant Rutledge (1960) and Cheyenne Autumn (1964). In addition to introducing the valley’s spectacular scenery to an international audience, each movie pumped tens of thousands of dollars into the local economy.

Along the road to Goulding’s Trading Post © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goulding’s Trading Post is now a sprawling complex of 73 motel rooms, a campground, and a souvenir shop. (Harry Goulding died in 1981, Mike in 1992.) The original 1925 trading post has been turned into a museum. Goulding’s Trading Post Museum is both a showcase of varied artifacts and a glimpse into a bygone era. 

Goulding’s Trading Post © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goulding’s Trading Post Museum is comprised of several different areas. The first is the Trading Post Bull Pen, where the locals would bring their goods to trade for items: kitchen wares, canned goods, material and threads, and even guns. 

Goulding’s Trading Post © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The next section of the museum is the Ware Room where surplus and supplies were stored: bags of raw wool, crates of coffee, and saddles. Today the Ware Room is filled with photographs of the early days at Goulding’s and pictures of local Navajos from the 20th Century. 

Goulding’s Trading Post © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Josef Muench Room boasts a variety of artwork and photography, principally, that of famous photographer and close Goulding friend, Josef Muench. 

Goulding’s Trading Post © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Movie Room was originally built as the mess hall for the crew of The Harvey Girls; today it is filled with movie stills, call sheets, and posters. Always playing in the Movie Room is a classic John Ford/John Wayne film. 

The Living Quarters is upstairs and has been restored as closely as possible to how the Goulding’s home appeared in the late 1940s and early 50s. 

Goulding’s Trading Post © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Captain Nathan Brittles’ Cabin, also called John Wayne’s Cabin, is located just behind the museum. In actuality, it was Mike Goulding’s potato cellar, where she stored her fruits, vegetables, and other perishables. 

Goulding’s Trading Post © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enjoy breakfast, lunch, or dinner at Goulding’s Stagecoach Dining Room while experiencing the beauty, culture, and history of the true American West. The dining room offers Navajo and American Southwestern cuisine in a historical, awe-inspiring setting.

Goulding’s Trading Post © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goulding’s Campground offers 66 full-service campsites nestled amid red rocks.

Worth Pondering…

…a strange world of colossal shafts and buttes of rock, magnificently sculptured, standing isolated and aloof, dark, weird, lonely.

—Zane Grey

The Most (and least) Popular Arizona State Parks

Arizona is home to some amazing state parks

A certain large national park may come to mind when most people think of outdoor spaces in the Grand Canyon State. But Arizona boasts 29 state parks, too, and new data show a slight uptick in visits to those lands over the past year.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Birders, campers, boaters, hikers, and others made 3.2 million visits to Arizona state parks during the Fiscal Year (FY) that ended in June, an increase of about 1 percent over the previous 12 months, according to data published by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. That’s up from nearly 2.7 million visits about three years ago. But 1 percent suggests the growth in visitors is leveling off after years of 8 and 9 percent increases.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The wet, cool, and windy winter weather likely affected the crowds at Lake Havasu, the state’s most popular state park where the number of visits declined about 10 percent to around 500,000 over the previous year.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park saw visitation drop, also, by around 19 percent following the closure of a pedestrian walkway. The state plans to rebuild it next year. The number of visitors also decreased at historic sites including Tubac Presidio, Fort Verde, McFarland Historic Park (original Pinal County Courthouse in Florence.

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

The desert wildflowers that followed the damp and cool winter resulted in a boost for parks in the Sonoran Desert. Picacho Peak between Tucson and Casa Grande saw a 46 percent increase in visitors during the last fiscal year, tallying 121,000 visits. And yes, we were there. Oracle and Catalina state parks in Southern Arizona also saw increases in visitors. The increase in visitation at these parks raises concerns about how best to balance the park’s popularity with the rustic feel of the site.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park with the biggest increase in visitors in proportion to the previous year was Lyman Lake State Park, where attendance nearly doubled reaching 31,100. That’s still not many people compared to other locations. Situated on the Little Colorado River east of Show Low, the park is secluded. The water is higher than it has been in years and has no size restrictions on boats.

Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1) Lake Havasu

Visitors during FY 2019: 504,000 (down 10.6%)

It should be no surprise that the most popular state parks in Arizona are situated on water. This park is an oasis on the Colorado River near Lake Havasu City, boasting beaches, boat ramps and campsites.

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

2) Slide Rock State Park

Visitors during FY 2019: 434,400 (down 5.5%)

This 43-acre historic homestead near Sedona used to be an apple farm. But visitors don’t just come for the agricultural history, as they flock to the park in Oak Creek Canyon for its namesake slide.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3) Catalina State Park

Visitors during FY 2019: 251,100 (up 18.2%)

Catalina includes 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams outside Tucson. Oh, and it has nearly 5,000 saguaros and awesome sunsets.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona’s least-visited state parks

1) McFarland State Historic Park

Visitors during FY2019: 6,800 (down 13.9%)

The original Pinal County courthouse in downtown Florence offers a glimpse into the past. Built in 1878, it’s an architectural showcase, demonstrating the incorporation of Spanish design into the style of Anglo settlers.

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

2) Tubac Presidio

Visitors during FY2019: 7,900 (down 11.2%)

This park preserves the ruins of the oldest Spanish Presidio site in Arizona, San Ignacio de Tubac, built in 1752. The presidio was outpost of the Spanish empire, a base for troops and a station for further exploration of what would become the American Southwest.

Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3) Fort Verde

Visitors during FY2019: 10,700 (down 17.1%)

When troops left this Apache Wars-era fort, the premises was divided up and sold at auction. This small state park attempts to preserve some of the structures and give the public a look at life at mid-19th century Arizona.

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

Enjoy Arizona’s Beauty Year-Round!

It’s always postcard perfect somewhere in Arizona, no matter what time of year it is

In the high plains and elevation of Arizona, the changing of the seasons is always a wonder to experience. It’s often hard for visitors to imagine how different things can be one season to the next.

Grand Canyon Railway

Grand Canyon Railway at the Grand Canyon depot © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This round trip departs from Williams around 65 miles south of the Grand Canyon. At first, it’s hard to marry the dense pine forests that surround the train with the desert colors of the landscape that waits. Eyes peeled for elk, coyotes, condors, and bald eagles, you’ll reach the popular South Rim a little over two hours later. If you choose to return the same day, you’ll have about four hours to marvel at its beauty; it’s understandably tempting to spend at least a night to more fully appreciate this wondrous natural phenomenon.

Canyon de Chelly National Park

Canyon de Chelly © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A comparatively little-known canyon, Canyon de Chelly 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. The northernmost and southernmost edges are accessible from paved roads. 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.

Oak Creek Canyon

Oak Creek Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive is a 14 mile drive along Route 89A between Sedona and Flagstaff. Oak Creek Canyon is a breathtaking stretch of beauty on a winding road that climbs 4,500 feet from Sedona to the top of the Mogollon Rim. The scenic drive can ascend the canyon from Sedona or descend from Flagstaff. Either route is equally breathtaking as you slowly descend or ascend through picturesque forests.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park

Boyce Thompson Arboretum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park is the place to discover the intricate beauty and seasonal faces of Arizona. Encompassing 323 acres, the Arboretum is Arizona’s oldest and largest botanical garden. Featured are plants from the world’s deserts, towering trees, captivating cacti, mountain cliffs, a streamside forest, panorama vistas, natural habitats with varied wildlife, a desert lake, a hidden canyon, and specialty gardens.

Catalina Highway

Along Catalina Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Catalina Highway, also known as the Sky Island Scenic Byway, climbs Mount Lemmon, the highest peak of the Santa Catalina Mountains. You won’t get all the way to the 9,100-foot summit on this drive, but don’t be surprised if the temperature at the end is 30 degrees lower than when you started your drive. And enjoy the cooler weather. Even in September, you might need a sweater.

Prescott

Courthouse Plaza, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled at an elevation of 5,200 feet above sea level amongst ponderosa pine, Prescott’s perfect weather provides an average temperature of 70 degrees with four beautiful and distinct seasons. Once the territorial capital, Prescott is rich with history embodied in its famous Whiskey Row and abundant historical landmarks. Enjoy breathtaking landscapes complete with mountains, lakes, streams, and meadows filled with wildlife.

Red Rock State Park

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock State Park is a 286 acre nature preserve with stunning scenery. The creek meanders through the park, creating a diverse riparian habitat abounding with plants and wildlife. Trails wind through manzanita and juniper to reach the banks of Oak Creek. Green meadows are framed by native vegetation and hills of red rock.

Apache Trail

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some of the best scenery in central Arizona can be seen along the Apache Trail. A route for the adventurous traveler, the trail is partly paved with a section of the route graded dirt. Along a loop drive of 80 miles, you will find spectacular scenery to rival any in the state. The unpaved section of the trail provides magnificent views of the mountains with forests of saguaro and several deep blue lakes along the way.

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

Making a Grand Trip Grander

The Grand Canyon’s fantastic landscape turns a train trip into a fascinating geology lesson

Since 1901 the Grand Canyon Railway has enchanted millions of people from around the world. From its yester-years of transporting ore to present-day journeys to the canyon with authentic characters that bring the Old West to life, the story of the railway is almost as dramatic as the spectacular surroundings.

The Grand Canyon Railway made its first journey in 1901 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon Railway made its first journey to the Grand Canyon on September 17, 1901. And since that time, notable passengers to ride the Grand Canyon Railway include Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, William Howard Taft, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Clark Gable, Jimmy Durante, Doris Day, Warren Buffet, and Bill Gates.

The Grand Canyon Railway pulls out of the station in Williams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As we boarded the Grand Canyon Railway and rolled out of the historic town of Williams, we were traveling across the bottom of what was once a prehistoric sea. We also traveled across the peak of a huge mountain—all at the same time.

On board entertainment © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The shallow sea that once covered Arizona dried up at the end of the Pre-Cambrian Era billions of years ago, but the soft curves of the seabed are still distinct atop the 1,152-square-mile Kaibab Plateau which is a only a fraction of the 130,000-square-mile Colorado Plateau it rests upon.

Grand Canyon Railway station at the Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To the rhythm of the steady and hypnotizing click-clack of the historic train, the dramatic landscape became a mesmerizing sight. It commanded our attention throughout the 65-mile journey to the Grand Canyon Village where even more spectacular wonders awaited.

Grand Canyon Railway station at the Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But for now, on a trip that lasts just over two hours, we looked outside our window and peeked into the past as we witnessed billions of years of geological evolution caused by erosion, volcanoes, weathering, and tectonic uplifts. The show began as we departed the depot in Williams and traveled across the deposits of dozens of now-extinct volcanic cones that erupted from roughly 15 million to just a few thousand years ago. It is the accumulated ash, cinders, and hardened lava thrown across the ground that created the land on which we traveled.

Grand Canyon Railway station at the Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Not long into the northbound trip, we looked to the right and saw the largest volcano of all in the range of the San Francisco Peaks, outlined on the broad plain roughly 30 miles east of the tracks. Like Washington’s Mount St. Helens, the summit here—estimated to once have exceeded 15,000 feet—was reduced to 12,633 feet after a high-pressure eruption blasted the peak from the top of the now-extinct volcano.

Grand Canyon Railway station at the Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While the scenery is already larger than life, the grandeur of this world is magnified when viewed from the comfort of the Grand Canyon Railway’s parlor cars, observation cars, and historic Pullman coaches. Incredibly, the magnificent drama of the Colorado and Kaibab plateaus heightens when you roll into the station at the Grand Canyon Village. As volcanoes were creating new land, rivers were washing it away to create one of the Natural Wonders of the World.

Grand Canyon Railway station at the Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s no better way to make a grand trip grander than on the historic train to the Grand Canyon. Like us, you’ll travel over 120 round-trip miles through beautiful northern Arizona while being entertained by historical cowboy characters and strolling musicians. Spend several nights in Williams next door to the train depot at the Grand Canyon Railway RV Resort.

Grand Canyon Railway station at the Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Estimated to be between 1.7 million and 2 billion years old, the canyon floor is roughly half as old as the planet itself! And, that is something worth contemplating as the train pulls into the Grand Canyon Village.

Grand Canyon Railway station is a short walk to the rim of the Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself.

—Major John Wesley Powell, Exploration of the Colorado River and its Canyons

Dam Bridge: Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge

It stands like a sentinel, watching in the wind over one of America’s most treasured landmarks, the Hoover Dam

When the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge—and the rest of the 3.5 mile-long Hoover Dam Bypass—opened to traffic on October 19, 2010, it was an instant tourist attraction while providing a quicker, safer drive between Phoenix and Las Vegas.

The bridge is the second-highest bridge of any kind in the United States and 14th in the world. It is the highest and longest arched concrete bridge in the Western Hemisphere and has the world’s tallest concrete columns of their kind.

Mike O’ Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

It is a composite steel and concrete arch four lane bridge of 1,500 feet, located downstream from the dam and is perched 890 feet above the Colorado River, wedged between rock cliffs that form Black Canyon.

The bridge is a twin-ribbed arch, two parallel arches joined by 10 horizontal struts to strengthen the bridge against a quake’s side-to-side motion.

Hoover Dam as seen from Mike O’ Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Seven pairs of concrete columns rise from the slopes of the canyon’s rock walls, and a series of eight more pairs are along the top the semicircular arch. The columns are made of stacked prefabricated concrete blocks and the arch was poured in place in midair.

1,200 skilled workers and 300 engineers worked on the project.

Mike O’ Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The tight switchbacks that descend into the Colorado River canyon and across the Hoover Dam had long been a major bottleneck on busy Highway 93 which links Las Vegas, Nevada with Kingman, Arizona and Interstate 10. Since the dam’s completion in 1935, large trucks had to negotiate several tight switchbacks along the two-lane road before dodging hordes of tourists visiting the Hoover Dam and visitor center.

After 2001, trucks were diverted south to Laughlin on Highway 95 but the congestion had reached a point where it became obvious a high level bypass would be the only real solution.

Hoover Dam as seen from Mike O’ Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The bridge is named for Mike O’Callaghan, a former Nevada governor and executive editor of the Las Vegas Sun, and Pat Tillman, an Arizona Cardinals football player who joined the Army and was killed in Afghanistan. Both died in the spring of 2004; O’Callaghan at age 74 and Tillman at the age of 27.

To get to the bridge from Las Vegas, drive east bound on US 93, through Boulder City and pass Lake Mead. Just past the Hacienda Casino, there is an exit for the Hoover Dam. If you stay on the 93, you’ll cross the bridge. However, due to four-foot high concrete walls on either side, you won’t see anything as you cross. There are no parking areas along the 93 to pull over and have a look.

Mike O’ Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

After you take the exit off 93, and before you get to the Dam, you’ll come across the parking lot for pedestrian access to the bridge. If you’re heading into Arizona after some sightseeing at the Dam or on the pedestrian walkway, be warned that you can’t rejoin the 93 on the Arizona side. The Hoover Dam road exit dead ends about one mile past the Dam on the Arizona side.

After taking the Hoover Dam exit, you’ll make a clearly marked left turn to get to the Dam. If you turn right, it will lead you to a parking area for Gold Strike Canyon, which features a very scenic, and somewhat difficult, hike to Gold Strike Hot Springs. To get to the Dam, and to the bridge’s pedestrian walkway, just follow the signs; it would be almost impossible to get lost.

Mike O’ Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Key Facts

Construction of the Bypass began in February 2003. Construction of the bridge began in January 2005.

The bridge is 1,900 feet long and its twin concrete arches—at 1,060 feet—are the longest in the western hemisphere. At 890 feet above the river below, it is the second tallest in the United States, second only to the Royal Gorge Bridge in Colorado.

Hoover Dam as seen from Mike O’ Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The bridge’s roadway deck is 890 feet above the Colorado River and 277 feet above the Hoover Dam.

Construction of the bridge required the excavation of more than 3.6 million cubic yards of rock and embankment.

Mike O’ Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The bridge used 30,000 cubic yards of concrete with the entire Bypass using 63,000 cubic yards of concrete overall.

The bridge contains about 16 million pounds of steel including more than two million feet of cable stay strand.  

Mike O’ Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Over the eight years of construction, workers endured 374 days of triple-digit temperatures (the highest being 117 degrees) with gusts of wind topping 35 mph about 80 times each year.

Looking upstream from Hoover Dam at Lake Mead © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.

—Neil Armstrong

Canyon de Chelly National Monument: A Truly Special Place

For nearly 5,000 years, people have lived in these canyons

A one-of-a-kind landscape and the cherished homeland of the Navajo people, Arizona’s Canyon de Chelly National Monument is a truly special place.

Spanning more than 83,000 acres, Canyon de Chelly National Monument offers an excellent opportunity to immerse yourself in the wild Arizona landscape, and to learn more about the history of the Navajo people.

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

This unique park is located entirely on Navajo Nation land and offers a rich history with countless options for outdoor recreation.

Sheer cliffs rise on either side of this flat-bottomed, sandy ravine, an area created much the way uplift and water formed the Grand Canyon. Though only a fraction of the Grand Canyon’s size and majesty, Canyon de Chelly offers more than a rugged landscape. Native Americans have worked and lived there for thousands of years, and today Navajo people still call it home.

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

Canyon de Chelly’s blend of landscape and cultural heritage allows a glimpse at an area originally inhabited 4,000 years ago and which still sustains people today.

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 reserve

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.

Chiseled by millions of years of stream-cutting and land uplifts, the colorful sheer cliffs of Canyon de Chelly National Monument may look harsh and barren, although in fact, natural water sources and rich soil make them anything but. These canyons have supported human inhabitants for thousands of years, from the Ancient Puebloans who planted crops and raised families here 5,000 years ago to their descendants—the Hopi people—who cultivated peach orchards and cornfields among the cliffs.

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

The Navajo—also known as the Dine’—settled in the region much later, and Canyon de Chelly National Monument continues to be a protected land for Navajo people and their culture. The park was established in 1931, largely to preserve its rich archaeological sites, and to this day, the homes and farms of the Navajo are visible from the cliff tops.

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

Visitor Center: 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 free park map, activity schedule,  and trail guide are available.  The visitor center is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., except on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.

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

Scenic drives: South Rim Drive and North Rim Drive, each more than 30 miles long, are excellent driving routes along the canyons. The scenery is spectacular, including the White House Ruin cliff dwellings and the 800-foot sandstone spire known as Spider Rock.

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

Hiking: A self-guided hiking trail is located at the White House Overlook on the South Rim. The round-trip hike usually takes about two to three hours, leading down to the White House Ruin and back.

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

Ranger-led programs: A wide range of free ranger-led programs are available between Memorial Day and Labor Day, including talks and guided hikes into the canyons. Because of the sensitive nature of the canyons’ geology and historic artifacts, the only way to enter is with a ranger or an authorized guide from one of the private companies that offer canyon tours.

Camping: Primitive campsites are available at the Cottonwood Campground on a first-come, first-served basis. Showers and hookups are not available, and a camping fee is required.

Getting There

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

There is no entrance fee to visit Canyon de Chelly National Monument, and the main entrance is just east of Chinle, Arizona. Starting on Highway 191, take Route 7 about 3 miles east to the park entrance and visitor center. Gas, groceries, supplies, and a post office are available in Chinle, and there is also a camp store located at the visitor center.

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

Nearby Parks

Canyon de Chelly National Monument is nestled in a corner of northeastern Arizona where several national parks are within a few hours’ drive of each other, including: 

  • Petrified Forest National Park
  • Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site
  • Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
  • Grand Canyon National Park
Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

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

—Native American Proverb

Coronado National Memorial: A Journey of Conquest and Exploration

For Wealth, For God, For Empire

These were the driving motivators of a journey through the arid desert and rugged mountains of the southeastern Arizona landscape now designated as Coronado National Memorial.

This exhilarating initial expedition left the Spanish with none of the gold they’d expected to find but opened a way for later Spanish explorers and missionaries to colonize the Southwest, developing the distinctive Hispanic-American culture we know today.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Early in the 16th century, 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 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 their arrival in the “New World”.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

After Cabeza de Vaca arrived in Mexico City in 1536 with a story of mythical seven cities of Cíbola “filled with gold, streets lined with goldsmith shops, and doorways studded with emeralds and turquoise,” Viceroy Mendoza planned an official expedition and chose his good friend Francisco Vásquez de Coronado to lead it.

On February 23, 1540, Coronado’s crew of over 300 Spanish soldiers, over 1,000 Aztec/Mexica allies, a handful of Franciscan priests, and scores of servants and slaves set out to unearth the cities for themselves.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

On July 7, they reached Háwikuh, south of present-day Gallup, New Mexico, and first of the fabled Cities of Cibola. But a major disappointment awaited the Spaniards. Instead of a golden city, they saw only a rock-masonry pueblo occupied by Indians who were prepared to defend their village. After failed peace negotiations, the Spaniards attacked, then used the ravaged village as their headquarters, sending troops as far west as the Grand Canyon.

As they went east near modern-day Santa Fe, they met “The Turk,” a Plains Indian who astonished them with his tales of unbelievably great wealth further to the east in a land called Quivira.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

While they waited to launch their next expedition in the spring, a hostile situation developed. A series of battles followed, resulting in the Spaniards killing the occupants of one pueblo and forcing the abandonment of several others. However, The Turk remained friendly with the Spaniards and in 1541 led them to Quivira, near modern-day Salina, Kansas, and they were disillusioned once again.

It was here that the Spaniards’ belief in the seven cities of gold vanished. Although The Turk had indeed led them to Quivira, it was a village of primitive grass huts with no gold to be found.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Turk was eventually executed after admitting his deception. Coronado and his men soon after began their long grueling return march back home mired in bitter disappointment at having failed their mission

They finally reached Mexico City in the spring of 1542, where they were publicly scorned and discredited.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Ten years after his return, at the age of 42, Coronado died in relative obscurity. He could not know, however, that his courage had set the stage for the larger-than-life saga of the great American West.

The site of the Coronado National Monument features panoramic views of the United States-Mexico border and the San Pedro River Valley, which was the route believed to have been taken by Coronado’s expedition. Today, the park stands as a reminder of the geographical and cultural bonds between the two countries.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

If you’re interested in life in this region before the Coronado Expedition, take a tour of the Coronado Cave, which may have housed inhabitants from 8,000 years ago. One of the few undeveloped caves in southern Arizona it stands 600 feet long and up to 70 feet wide, making for a moderate hike followed by as much exploring as you wish. 

For those looking to stay above ground, the scenic overlook at Montezuma Pass (elevation 6,575 feet) provides breathtaking views of the San Raphael Valley, the San Pedro Valley, and Mexico. The park also features over 8 miles of trails that run the gamut from an easy 1-mile hike down Coronado Peak Trail to a difficult 4 miles through Crest Trail toward the highest point in the range, Miller Peak.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Even though the Coronado Expedition was inspired by a grand myth, the discoveries it yielded (or lack thereof) impacted the entire region for years to come. Take a road trip to Arizona and witness the stunning, natural beauty and rich history of Coronado National Memorial for yourself.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.