Find Open Space on a Post-pandemic Arizona Road Trip

Miles away from ordinary

It’s arguably the most iconic highway in the United States. But motoring down historic Route 66 isn’t the only sightseeing road trip you can enjoy in Arizona. Every corner of this state has things to see and do and ways to recreate. And most importantly in this era of COVID, you can experience it all without another soul around for miles.

Route 66 between Kingman and Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the things that make Arizona a great destination is that they have the benefit of major metropolitan areas in Phoenix and Tucson while most of the state offers large areas of public lands to explore. You can find yourself alone in some of the most amazing landscapes with a little planning and knowing what you’re looking for.

The pandemic has severely impacted Arizona’s tourism. Airport traffic is down 55 per cent year to date while state park visitation is down 16 per cent. This is a state that before COVID in 2019 marked 6.1 million international visitors who spent $4.6 billion.

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

Arizona presents many opportunities for socially distanced travel in the great outdoors. For example, Aravaipa Canyon is one of the most beautiful canyons in Arizona and only 50 people are allowed in each day so it’s possible you won’t come across anyone else. Kofa National Wildlife Refuge attracts people for the same reason. It’s very rugged with little in the way of infrastructure and few visitors.

Montezuma Castle © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To really get away from it all get off the main highways onto the back roads of the state. There are many secondary routes with breathtaking scenery and quirky history such as centuries-old cliff dwellings, mining ghost towns, and still thriving cowboy bars. There are also three distinct wine-growing regions beckoning off the beaten path. Just be aware that some of these routes pass through tribal lands which at the time of writing were closed to travel due to the pandemic.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The hard part will be deciding where to go. There are 30 state parks, six national forests, 11 U.S. Fish and Wildlife refuges, dozens of national parks, national monuments, wildlife areas, and numerous certified Dark Sky Places.

Narrow down the experience you want whether it’s a road trip to see iconic landmarks or a more active trip away from the crowds. First, decide what you want your road trip to include. To minimize the number of people around you take the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and other iconic destinations off your list and focus on off-the-beaten-path places—and Arizona has plenty of these. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Hiking

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

You don’t have to go far from civilization to immerse yourself in a stunning landscape. The Superstition Mountains lie just east of Phoenix but are a world away. The Siphon Draw trail gains 2,500 feet over 3 miles before it reaches the top of Flat Iron (gulp). But wait, don’t let that stop you! Of all the Superstition Mountains hiking trails, Flat Iron may be the most demanding in the shortest distance but also the most rewarding.

A much more doable hike for the average joe is in Kofa National Wildlife Refuge off U.S. Highway 95 between Quartzsite and Yuma. Two mountain ranges dominate the 665,400-acre refuge of which more than 80 percent is designated as wilderness. The Palm Canyon Trail is a mile-long stroll through the desert. You’re pretty much on your own out here and may spot more bighorn sheep and mule deer than fellow humans. This area does attract serious climbers though to Signal Peak, Ten Ewe Mountain, and Castle Dome Peak.

The Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness area 85 miles north of Wilcox is another good bet for isolated hiking and backpacking. The area is a great mix of all of what makes Arizona so unique: canyons, cliffs, caves, deserts, and rivers. The entire canyon hike which can be accessed at either end takes 10 hours but take your time for side forays.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Two well-known areas that still have plenty of open space to explore are Monument Valley and Chiricahua National Monument. Monument Valley on the northeast Arizona-Utah border is one of the most photographed places on earth and the site of many a western film shoot due to its towering sandstone buttes. Chiricahua is in the extreme southeast near the border of New Mexico. Hiking here will take you from massive rock formations through pine forests to the Sonoran desert.

Biking

With so many national forests, there are dozens of options for both on and off-road cycling. For mountain bikers, the pinnacle might just be the Rainbow Rim Trail at the Grand Canyon. Located on the north rim in Kaibab National Forest, it’s the only single-track in the canyon and runs for about 20 miles through meadows and forests. Arizona Outback Adventures recommends bikers acclimatize first however as the route traverses between 7,500 and 9,000 feet elevation.

Organ Pipe National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the other end of the spectrum is the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument way south in the Sonoran desert bordering Mexico. This is a UNESCO biosphere reserve that attracts few visitors. So you’ll have the roads to yourself. Just be aware that bikes are not allowed on hiking trails or after dark.

Mount Lemmon scenic drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Road riders will want to head for Mount Lemmon, an hour north of Tucson. At 9,000-feet-high, it’s the tallest peak in the Santa Catalina Mountains and attracts both cyclists and longboarders (a type of skateboard popular with downhill racers). But it’s a hard climb of almost 7,000 feet of twists and turns although the incredibly fast downhill makes it worthwhile for many. Just be aware that you’ll be sharing the road with motoring sightseers.

Lynx Lake near Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Paddling

Depending on whether you want a lazy float trip, a thrilling whitewater adventure, or something in between, there are options in Arizona.

On the California border, Lake Havasu is adventure central with all manner of watersports, offroading, cycling, hiking, and golfing. It’s one of the more popular areas of Arizona but with 400 miles of coastline and 40 miles of navigable waterways, you can still find space of your own.

Lake Powell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another popular lake lies along the border with Utah. Lake Powell, a man-made reservoir attracts upwards of two million people a year. But follow the Colorado River south to Lees Ferry and you’ll find exception kayaking through the Grand Canyon. Various outfitters run trips here for those too inexperienced to navigate on their own.

The global pandemic has changed the way people view travel. For many, it’s now about really experiencing a place and finding space for themselves. There is no better way to do that than exploring the outdoors. Arizona stacks up well with options in every corner of the state.

Lower Colorado River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Lake Pleasant, an Oasis in the Sonoran Desert

With more than 23,000 acres of water and beautiful desert landscape, Lake Pleasant is one of the most scenic recreation areas in the Valley

The desert is parched and grows little but cactus. Except for roadrunners outwitting coyotes, the desert supports no wildlife. Arizona residents and seasoned snowbirds have heard it all before from first-time visitors. Sometimes they just smile and head for Lake Pleasant.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucked away amid rolling hills just 30 miles north of Phoenix, Lake Pleasant Regional Park is a sudden and dramatic escape. This expansive playground combines all the things we love about the desert—endless sunshine, rising mountains, saguaro-clad slopes, and waves of spring wildflowers—with the addition of unexpected water. For outdoor enthusiasts, this 23,000-acre park is a dream destination.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

­­Lake Pleasant History

In the mid-1920s, the Waddell Dam confined the waters of the Agua Fria River as a private irrigation project. The dam originally was named after Carl Pleasant, the engineer who designed it. The completion of the New Waddell Dam in 1994 turned Lake Pleasant into a major storage facility for Colorado River water delivered by the Central Arizona Project (CAP). The new dam tripled the size of the lake and submerged the old dam. Pleasant is the second-largest reservoir in central Arizona, behind only Theodore Roosevelt Lake. Water is pumped into the lake via the CAP canal during winter and is released during spring and summer to meet higher demands.

Lake Pleasant © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Pleasant Fishing

A dozen fish species swim in Lake Pleasant. Those fishing from shore generally goes after catfish, sunfish, and carp. From a boat, anglers can explore coves, channels, and deep holes. The lake is a popular spot for largemouth bass, striped bass, and Arizona’s only population of white bass. Others that might end up on a line include tilapia, bluegill, bigmouth buffalo fish, and white and black crappie.

Lake Pleasant © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boat Ramps and Marinas

A 10-lane boat ramp helps keep the traffic flowing onto the water even during busy times. There also is a four-lane ramp at the north end of the lake.

Never fear if you don’t have a boat. You can rent just about anything that floats at Scorpion Bay Marina. Hourly and daily rentals include pontoons, fishing boats, ski boats, kayaks, and other water toys. The marina has a general store and the Scorpion Bay Grill with indoor and patio dining.

Located on the southeastern shore outside the regional park Pleasant Harbor Marina has two four-lane boat ramps, boat rentals, a waterside restaurant, and daily cruises. Look for the world’s largest floating water slide to reopen for the season in late spring. The RV resort has more than 300 full and partial hook-up sites as well as dry camping. There is a $6 entry fee per vehicle for everyone visiting Pleasant Harbor Marina.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Pleasant Hiking Trails

Landlubbers will have plenty to keep them busy. A network of hiking trails spreads across the park some tracing the shore while others explore surrounding desert hills. It’s always fascinating to witness this contrast—groves of saguaros standing guard over a large body of water. Always remember to carry plenty of water and let someone know where you are going.​

Lake Pleasant © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here are some hiking options. All mileages are one way.

Beardsley Trail (4.1 miles): This is the longest Lake Pleasant trail as it traverses open desert parallel to South Park Road before it junctions with the epic, county-circling Maricopa Trail

Pipeline Canyon Trail (2 miles): This trail highlights the best display of spring wildflowers with the heaviest concentration stretching from the southern trailhead to the floating bridge a half-mile away

Lake Pleasant © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roadrunner Trail (0.8 miles): It follows the water’s edge connecting the Discovery Center with the 10-lane boat ramp

Wild Burro Trail (2 miles): It’s so named because it provides the best chance to see some of the park’s long-eared residents

Yavapai Point (1.5 miles): The trail makes a moderate climb to the crest of a hill at the edge of the water that offers some impressive views

Lake Pleasant Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picnic Areas

Picnickers will find numerous covered ramadas and tables dotting the landscape. Day-use areas include tables, grills, drinking water, and restrooms. The Sunset Ridge Area sits atop a hill with commanding views of the lake. It has 21 picnic sites with tables, grills, and a porta-john.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Discovery Center and Playground

In 2016, the original dam observation/visitor center building was expanded and given a stylish update. The Discovery Center now offers visitors a good introduction to the lake with exhibits on history, wildlife, plant communities, and information on upcoming events. Spotting scopes and signs on the balcony help you identify points of interest that range from features of the dam to the distant ridge of Four Peaks. Children will love the adjacent playground filled with animal-themed slides and swings. The Discovery Center is now open daily from 10 am to 4 pm, until further notice.

Lake Pleasant © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping at Lake Pleasant

Imagine starry nights or the light of a full moon shimmering on the water. Snag a campsite to enjoy that show. Lake Pleasant offers 148 sites for RV and tent camping spread across the Desert Tortoise and Roadrunner campgrounds. Campsites cost $15-$40 per night, depending on amenities.

Developed sites have water, electricity, a dump station, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, and a fire ring. Sites can be reserved up to six months in advance at maricopacountyparks.org or by calling 602-506-2930.

Primitive camping is allowed along much of the shoreline in such areas as Two Cow and Fireman’s coves. Locations change with fluctuating water levels. Park staff can provide more details.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fact Box

Location: From central Phoenix, take Interstate 17 north to the Carefree Highway (SR-74) exit. Drive 15 miles west, then turn north on Castle Hot Springs Road.

Park Elevation: 1,700 feet

Surface Water: 10,000 acres

Park Entrance Fee: $7 per vehicle.

Campsite Rates: $22-$32

Lake Pleasant © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

This was as the desert should be, this was the desert of the picture books, with the land unrolled to the farthest distant horizon hills, with saguaros standing sentinel in their strange chessboard pattern, towering supinely above the fans of ocotillo and brushy mesquite.

—Dorothy B. Hughes

Best Things to Do in Charming Cottonwood, Arizona

Located in Verde Valley, the center of Arizona, Cottonwood is a charming small town situated below the high country chill and above the desert heat

Part river town, part wine trail, and part historic hub: Cottonwood, Arizona, offers a fun and lively scene that sets it apart from the arid desert to the south and the soaring mountains to the north. Although it might be best known as a gateway to the nearby red rocks of Sedona, Cottonwood has plenty of charms of its own. They start with the quaint Old Town district and branch out to the banks of the lushly green Verde River and the nearby historic towns of Clarkdale and Jerome.

Driving from Cottonwood to Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You might initially go to Cottonwood for its proximity to the famous red rocks, but don’t be surprised if you want to stay for the laid-back atmosphere and restaurant choices.

As a frequent visitor to Cottonwood over the years, I’ve always loved the Verde River’s swath of vivid green that winds its way through the browns and grays of the high-desert terrain. For me, Cottonwood offers the perfect mix of small-town Arizona, cool river scenes, and burgeoning wine scenes.

Historic Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located virtually in the center of Arizona, Cottonwood features a mild climate that is somewhere between the sizzling heat of the Phoenix area and the cool mountain air of Flagstaff—making it a true year-round destination. Average high temperatures in the winter hover around the 60-degree mark and summer averages tend to reach the mid-90s. Springtime is lovely with average highs in the 70s to 80s. Fall remains hot and sunny through October when average highs are in the low 80s.

Here are seven of the best things to do in Cottonwood.

Historic Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Explore the Historic Old Town

Any visit to Cottonwood should start with a stop in the Historic Old Town, a district that dates back to the early 1900s when it was a center for the area’s mining and smelter industry. Today, many of the buildings feature the rock and brick architecture of the 1920s and 1930s.

Historic Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The town’s Clemenceau Smelter closed down in 1936 which dealt a devastating blow to the local economy. In recent decades, though, the Old Town has been revitalized as a vibrant business and tourism district. Cottonwood’s Old Town currently features 60 businesses including five tasting rooms, 13 cafes and restaurants, nine antique stores, six galleries, and three hotels.

Historic Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a fun time, plan to camp at nearby Dead Horse Ranch State Park or Rain Spirit RV Resort and spend some time wandering Main Street stopping at any of the tasting rooms that interest you. Consider checking out the hip Pillsbury Wine Company and the friendly Winery 101 before having dinner around an outdoor fire pit at the highly rated Pizzeria Bocce Patio Bar.

Because the Old Town area is relatively small and compact, the restaurants and tasting rooms are wonderfully walkable. On-street parking is available and convenient parking lots are sprinkled throughout the area.

Birding along the Verde River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Experience the Verde River

You’re never far from the cool waters of the Verde River in Cottonwood. As one of only two Wild and Scenic Rivers in Arizona, the Verde is a definite must-see on any visit to the region.

The Cottonwood and Clarkdale communities offer many convenient spots to access the river—some that are right on the beaten path and others that are more hidden away. For fishing, swimming, kayaking, and canoeing, check out Clarkdale’s Tuzigoot River Access Point or the Bignotti Picnic Site between Cottonwood and Camp Verde (accessed via a rough dirt road recommended only during dry weather).

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

3. Visit Dead Horse Ranch State Park

Another great access point for the Verde River is available at Dead Horse Ranch State Park, located adjacent to the state’s Verde River Greenway and not far from Old Town Cottonwood.

Known for its giant cottonwood trees, pretty fishing ponds, and wildlife viewing, Dead Horse attracts locals and visitors alike. The park is also a magnet for those looking for a peaceful campground in a moderate climate.

Tuzigoot National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Tour Tuzigoot National Monument

While much of the Verde Valley is steeped in the mining and frontier history of the late 1800s and early 1900s, the pueblo at Tuzigoot National Monument in Clarkdale goes back hundreds of years more. Experts estimate that the 110-room hilltop pueblo dates back 900 years or more to when the native Sinagua people traded and farmed the fertile land along the Verde River. The pueblo ruins were excavated and reconstructed in the 1930s and today they offer a glimpse of the lives of those early farmers and artists.

The national monument is located between Cottonwood and Clarkdale. Climb to the top of the pueblo for expansive views of the Verde River Valley, Historic Jerome, and the nearby Mingus Mountain.

Verde Canyon Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Travel Back in Time in Clarkdale

For a fascinating step back in time to a more recent era, explore the neighborhoods of Clarkdale, located about 4 miles from Cottonwood, also along the Verde River. Many of the town’s charming brick and stucco houses date to the early 1900s when Clarkdale was a “company town” for the United Verde Copper Company. Clarkdale is also the base for the Verde Canyon Railroad which takes passengers along the river’s scenic canyon.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Learn about Arizona’s Mining History In Jerome

Delve even deeper into mining history by continuing along Highway 89A toward Jerome, a one-time mining boomtown. Over the years, Jerome transitioned from its late-1800s mining heyday to a veritable ghost town in the 1950s and 1960s. Today, tourists flood Jerome’s steep, winding streets to take in the old buildings perched precariously on the mountainside and the quirky selection of shops, restaurants, and wineries.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along with its mining history, Jerome offers many spots for lunch or dinner with sweeping views of the Verde Valley below. The interesting Jerome Historical Society Museum offers a look back at Jerome’s days as the “Wickedest Town in the West.”

Mingus Mountain Mountain Scenic Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Take the Mingus Mountain Scenic Road

For some flat-out gorgeous mountain scenery, continue southwest from Jerome on Highway 89A toward Prescott. But be prepared for plenty of hairpin turns and slow-going traffic on the highway that is a favorite for tourists and motorcyclists.

The highway climbs to over 7,000 feet in elevation at the summit and offers consistently spectacular views of the rugged Mingus Mountain. The route passes through the Prescott National Forest and several scenic trails are available along the way such as the Woodchute Trail (a 2.3-mile moderate climb) and the Yeager Canyon Trail (a 2.4-mile difficult hike). Both trails traverse rough, primitive terrain.

Mingus Mountain Scenic Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The drive is great for a sightseeing excursion to the summit or for a day trip to the historic community of Prescott which is about a 50-minute drive from Jerome.

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

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

Start with scenery that makes your heart leap. Sedona nestles among a geological wonderland. It’s hard not to fall in love with Sedona, Arizona. The magic of the red rocks that tower above the town, the gorgeous hikes, the food, and culture.

Surrounded by 1.8 million acres of national forest land and buttressed by four wilderness areas and two state parks, this is a landscape built for adventure. Set amid beautiful red rock mountains, buttes, and canyons, Sedona is one of Arizona’s most beautiful destinations. The scenery here is nothing less than stunning with unbelievable views from every street corner and hiking trail. Also known as a spiritual center, particularly for its energy vortexes, the city has a unique vibe and attracts visitors with a diverse set of interests.

Attractions range from the spectacular natural areas and scenic drives to Native American ruins, architecture, galleries, and sacred sites. Many of the best things to do in Sedona are free including hiking, mountain biking, or stargazing. The city is a designated Dark Sky Community.

Cathedral Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Cathedral Rock

Cathedral Rock is the most photographed attraction in Sedona and one of the city’s most impressive sites. You can see the rock from Highway 179 as you drive from Oak Creek Village into Sedona or from the backside at several locations. The most classic view of Cathedral Rock is from Red Rock Crossing and Crescent Moon Recreation Area. If you feel an urge to climb this amazing rock formation, a hiking trail leads up to the saddle where you’re treated to incredible views to the east and west. It’s also the location of an energy vortex.

Uptown Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Uptown Sedona

Uptown Sedona is the old town where you’ll find boutiques, tourist shops, galleries, cafes, and restaurants. This area runs along with Highway 89A beginning where Highway 179 ends. If you are heading up Oak Creek Canyon towards Flagstaff you will pass right through Uptown Sedona.

Establishments here include everything from jewelry and craft stores to crystal sellers and casual restaurants to fine dining. This is also where Jeep tours start. Parking can be at a premium here especially on weekends but there is a parking garage where you can usually find a spot.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Red Rock Scenic Byway

The Red Rock Scenic Byway is a stunning drive along Highway 179 running from south of the Village of Oak Creek to Sedona. Along with numerous natural attractions, hiking and biking trails and pullouts allow you to stop and appreciate the sights. Near the north end is the Tlaquepaque arts and crafts village. Some of the most popular sights along this route are Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock, and a short distance off the road is the Chapel of the Holy Cross.

Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive

Stunning Oak Creek Canyon is upstream from Sedona on the road to Flagstaff. Rock formations, cliff walls, and forests line scenic Highway 89A as it follows Oak Creek before climbing up the canyon along a dramatic stretch of twisting road with switchbacks. The sharp corners and steep hills make this a road you will want to drive during daylight. One of the main attractions along this route particularly from spring ’til fall is Slide Rock State Park. You’ll also find hiking trails off this drive. One of the most spectacular hikes is the West Fork Trail.

Hiking trail near Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Hiking Trails

One of the best ways to explore the natural beauty around Sedona is to lace up your hiking boots and hit the trails. Many of the hikes are less than three miles and can easily be done in just a couple of hours but they offer access to some of the most amazing views in the area. Longer and more challenging hikes can also be found around Sedona leading to mountain tops and up canyons. Some of the most popular hikes are to Devil’s Bridge, Cathedral Rock, and Bell Rock.

Jeep tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Jeep Tours

Jeep tours are one of the most popular activities in Sedona. They allow you to enjoy areas you wouldn’t see without an off-road vehicle. These tours are in open-air Jeeps which are an iconic sight in Sedona. Be prepared for a bumpy ride. The drivers are knowledgeable and keen to share the local history and geology of the area.

Chapel of the Holy Cross © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Chapel of the Holy Cross

The Chapel of the Holy Cross sits perched on a small red rock plateau below a multi-hued sandstone ridge creating one of the most impressive architectural sites in Sedona. It was built in 1956 by Marguerite Brunswig Staude, a student of famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. This breathtaking landmark building incorporates a 90-foot cross that dominates the structure and the front face of the chapel is all windows. The modern appearance with sharp lines and angles contrasts with the rounded red rocks. The Chapel is a short distance off Highway 179.

Mountain biking trail near Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Mountain Biking Trails

If you’re a mountain biker you probably already know Sedona is the place to be. And, if you’re new to mountain biking, Sedona will definitely spoil you. The Bell Rock Area Trails include 16 miles of beginner-friendly riding between Courthouse Butte and Little Horse Trail. Once you’re comfortable on the Bell Rock trails head to Long Canyon, a straightforward cruise with flowing turns in upper Dry Creek. You can also link Long Canyon with Deadmans Pass, a relatively flat ride with a few short, rocky climbs.

9. Climbing

Sedona is an incredibly beautiful place to climb that happens to have some fairly soft rock. There are sport routes all the way up to seriously tough aid routes. Many of the newer routes feature liberal use of bolts where necessary.

10. Vortexes

Cathedral Rock is considered to be a vortex © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is so much more to Sedona than meets the eye. People travel from all across the globe to experience the mysterious cosmic forces that are said to emanate from the red rocks. They come in search of the vortexes. What is a vortex? Sedona vortexes (the proper grammatical form ‘vortices’ is rarely used) are thought to be swirling centers of energy that are conducive to healing, meditation, and self-exploration. These are places where the earth seems especially alive with energy. Many people feel inspired, recharged, or uplifted after visiting a vortex. Although all of Sedona is considered to be a vortex there are specific sites where the energy crackles most intensely. The four best-known Sedona vortexes are found at Airport Mesa, Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, and Boynton Canyon—each radiating its own particular energy.

Bell Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Bell Rock

One of the key natural sites around Sedona is the aptly named, Bell Rock. This bell-shaped formation is west of Oak Creek Village along the Red Rock Scenic Byway. Easily accessible this is a popular stop. You can park and have a quick look, walk up to it, do a short and easy hike along the side of the bell, and scramble up the rock a short distance. Behind Bell Rock is Courthouse Butte, another famous sight and hike.

12. Boynton Canyon

Boynton Canyon is one of the most scenic of the box canyons that make Sedona Red Rock Country so famous. Boynton Canyon always has been popular for its outstanding scenery. It has become even more so since it developed a reputation as a site of a spiritual energy vortex. Whether or not you follow this belief, you’ll no doubt agree on the beauty found among these towering buttes, crimson cliffs, and natural desert is divine. If you aren’t interested in hiking or vortexes you can simply enjoy some of the best views in Sedona. The upscale Enchantment Resort is a great place for a meal at Tii Gavo and View 180 restaurants with views through the floor-to-ceiling windows.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Day Trip to the Grand Canyon

From Sedona, it’s just a 2.5-hour drive to one of the most famous and awe-inspiring sights in America. The drive from Sedona takes you up through the beautiful Oak Creek Canyon to Flagstaff. From here, you can do a loop driving through Williams or up Highway 180 past Humphreys Peak to the Grand Canyon. Spend the day seeing the sights along the rim of the canyon or take a scenic flight over and into the canyon. Or alternately, ride the rails from Williams. The historic Grand Canyon Railway departs daily to the Grand Canyon.

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

14. Airport Mesa

Airport Mesa is a tabletop mountain in Sedona looking out over the entire area. The airport is located on a flat field on the top of the mesa thus the name. Many people come here to hike, look out from the viewpoint which is also the location of an energy vortex, or enjoy a meal at the Mesa Grill where you can watch the planes take off and land. Views here extend out over Uptown Sedona towards Coffee Pot Rock and Soldier Pass. For something a little more adventurous, you can also do the Airport Mesa Loop Trail, a 3.5-mile hiking trail that runs along the edge and around the mesa.

Red Rock Crossing © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Red Rock Crossing & Crescent Moon Recreation Area

If you are familiar with the classic site of Cathedral Rock reflecting in the calm waters of Oak Creek, this scene is the view from Red Rock Crossing and Crescent Moon Recreation Area. This is a pleasant place to enjoy the creek on a hot day. You can wade in the creek, enjoy a picnic, or simply relax and appreciate the scenery. This is an incredibly popular location with photographers who come here in the late afternoon when the sun is lighting up Cathedral Rock.

Tlaquepaque © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

16. Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village

An unforgettable Sedona experience must include spending time at internationally renowned Tlaquepaque (pronounced T-la-keh-pah-keh), Arts & Crafts Village. Nestled beneath the shade of the sycamores on the banks of beautiful Oak Creek in Sedona, Tlaquepaque is the most distinctive Sedona shopping experience to be found in the Southwest. Authentically fashioned after a traditional Mexican village, Tlaquepaque, meaning the “best of everything,” has been a Sedona landmark since the 1970’s. Originally conceived as an artist community, Tlaquepaque is a perfect setting to witness gifted Sedona artisans absorbed in their work. Shoppers can see artists at work although most of what you will find is interesting retail establishments many of which showcase glass, ceramics, sculptures, weavings, paintings, decorative arts, photography, jewelry, and decor.

House of Apache Fire at Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. Red Rock State Park

Red Rock State Park is a 286-acre nature preserve and an environmental education center with stunning scenery. Trails throughout the park wind through manzanita and juniper to reach the banks of Oak Creek. Green meadows are framed by native vegetation and hills of red rock. The creek meanders through the park creating a diverse riparian habitat abounding with plants and wildlife. One of the park’s more interesting sites is the abandoned House of Apache Fire built in 1947 situated on a hilltop commanding beautiful views. Easy hiking trails provide views out to the red rock countryside and allow for a close-up look at the House of Apache Fire. One of the more impressive views is the Seven Warriors formation, seen from the Bunkhouse Trail.

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

18. Verde Valley Wine Country

Many of the old storefronts lining Cottonwood’s Historic Old Town have been repurposed into wine tasting rooms. More than 20 vineyards from the Verde Valley Wine Region grow grapes for commercial wine production. Verde Valley is known for its Rhône-style blends of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. Also, the region has over 100 different varietals growing in the area including Cabernet, Chardonnay, Merlot, Viognier, and Zinfandel. Arizona is known for its unique varietals such as  Malvasia Bianca, Viognier, Picpoul Blanc, Tannat, Aglianico, Negroamaro, Tempranillo, and Seyval Blanc.

Schnebly Hill Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

19. Schnebly Hill Road

Schnebly Hill Road is a steep, twisty, unpaved, and wonderfully scenic route that drops more than 2,000 feet from a wooded mesa into the wonderland of Sedona. Begin the drive off Interstate 17. (You could do the drive the other way—bottom to top—but starting at the top is more dramatic.) The first stretch takes you through a lovely forest of tall ponderosa pines. Once you reach the rim, the vistas are breathtaking.

Coconino National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

20. Coconino National Forest

Just outside Sedona, you’ll find the largest ponderosa forest in the world in Coconino National Forest. But that’s not all this area has to offer. From mountains and canyons to rivers and red rocks, this is the perfect place for some outdoor exploration, whether you prefer hiking, biking, or horseback riding.

Where to Camp in Sedona

Campgrounds and RV parks in the Sedona area offer a wide range of amenities in a variety of settings.

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

Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Cottonwood

Distance to Sedona: 20 miles

Dead Horse Ranch State Park is located in Cottonwood and within the Verde River Valley corridor. The spacious campgrounds give quick access to most of the park features like trails, playground, lakes, and the Verde River. Over 100 spacious camp sites are scattered throughout the park. The campground consists of four loops; most campsites are RV accessible with hookups. Many of the pull through sites can accommodate RVs up to 65 feet in length.

Rain Spirit RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rain Spirit RV Resort, Clarkdale, Arizona

Distance to Sedona: 22 miles

Overlooking Tuzigoot National Monument and Verde River, Rain Spirit RV Resort is a new park with 63 full-service sites including 30/50-amp electric service, cable TV, and the Internet. Amenities include private restroom/showers, fitness room, laundry facilities, recreation room, library lounge, pool and spa, and dog run. This 5-star resort is a great home base from which to explore the historic town of Jerome, Sedona Red Rock Country, Old Town Cottonwood, and book an excursion on the Verde Valley Railway.

Distant Drums RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Distant Drums RV Resort, Camp Verde, Arizona

Distance to Sedona: 24 miles

Distant Drum RV Resort is conveniently located along I-17 (Exit 289) across the Interstate from Castle Cliff Casino. The interior roads and sites are paved and the park is well maintained but many sites are not level. The park features 157 spacious RV sites with concrete pads. Each site comes with full hookups, including 30/50 amp electrical service, cable TV, and Wi-Fi throughout the park. All brand new amenities include an events center, lending library, heated pool and Jacuzzi, laundry facilities, exercise room, spacious dog run, and country store.

Birding at Verde Valley Camping Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Verde Valley RV & Camping Resort

Distance to Sedona: 25 miles

Situated on the scenic Verde River, Verde Valley RV Camping offers 300 acres of picturesque beauty. A Thousand Trails membership park, Verde Valley RV is now open to the public through Encore RV Resorts.

Worth Pondering…

There are only two places in the world

I want to live—Sedona and Paris.

—Max Ernst, Surrealist painter

Spring Is the Season to Hike Arizona State Parks

Pick a trail and lace up your boots

Attention hikers! If you’re looking for a great way to get outdoors any time of year here are some tips about the best hiking trails in Arizona’s state parks. Explore these diverse options throughout this amazingly beautiful state and cross these hikes off your bucket list.

These hiking trails offer a variety of amazing sights and experiences that range from easy to difficult and encompass a wide array of scenery, topography, and temperatures. Some of the best hikes in Arizona can be found right here. Learn more about each state park then hit the trail and have some fun!

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock State Park

Look no further than Sedona’s Red Rock Country for one of the best hikes in Arizona. The 5-mile trail network consists of interconnecting loops which lead you along the lush greenery of Oak Creek and the famed red rocks of Sedona. The Eagle’s Nest Loop and the Apache Fire Loop are joined together by the Coyote Ridge Trailwhich creates one of the best trails in Arizona for family enjoyment. Eagle’s Nest is the highest point in the park (4,102 feet) with an elevation gain of 300 feet and offers amazing views of the red rock escarpments that have helped make Sedona into a worldwide destination. The park offers hikes for every skill level whether you’re going for a relaxed stroll or looking to break a sweat.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The diverse wildlife, birds and plant life you’ll encounter on a Sedona hiking adventure offer unique perspectives of this gorgeous area. While in the park, keep an eye out for the local javelina and mule deer. Numerous bird species also call Red Rock State Park home especially hummingbirds. Pick up a current bird ID list at the visitor center. Be sure to take tons of scenic photos while at this epic destination, this park lends itself very well to creative shots.

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

Dead Horse Ranch State Park

Southeast of Sedona in the Verde River Valley of Cottonwood, Dead Horse Ranch State Park offers more than 20 miles of the multi-use trail system for visitors to enjoy. This park just might offer some of the best day hikes in Arizona for beginners and advanced hikers. Distinct scenic options are available for users who desire new and exciting experiences while exploring these premier Arizona hiking trails. Choose to enjoy either the higher desert scenery of the Lime Kiln trail which follows a historic route between Sedona and Cottonwood or the more densely vegetated Verde River Greenway trail.

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

Completed in 2006, the Lime Kiln Trail connects Red Rock State Park with Dead Horse Ranch State Park. The Lime Kiln Trail traverses a 15-mile section of Arizona’s high desert and is dedicated as a shared-use, non-motorized trail experience.

The Lime Kiln leg follows a portion of the historic Lime Kiln Wagon Road. Originally the Lime Kiln road provided access to a Kiln that was constructed in the 1800s. The Kiln was used to burn limestone to create lime used as an ingredient of the mortar needed to construct fireplaces and chimneys. Soon after the construction of the kiln, the road was extended and used as a route between Sedona and Jerome. The remains of the kiln can still be seen beside the trail.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park

Named after the fabled lost gold mine, Lost Dutchman State Park is located in the Sonoran Desert at the base of the Superstition Mountains. Several trails lead from the park into the Superstition Mountain Wilderness and surrounding Tonto National Forest. Take a stroll along the Native Plant Trail or hike the challenging Siphon Draw Trail to the top of the Flatiron.

There are accessible trails like Native Plant, moderate trails like Treasure Loop or Prospector’s View, and trails for advanced hikers such as Siphon Draw and Flatiron. Regardless of hiking ability, there is a trail for everyone at Lost Dutchman State Park.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Four miles round trip, the Siphon Draw Trail winds up into a canyon known as Siphon Draw. It is possible to hike up the Flatiron (5.8 miles roundtrip) although it is not a designated, maintained trail all the way. It’s advised that only experienced hikers attempt to hike to the top as the climb is steep and difficult to follow.

Because of the close proximity to the Phoenix Metropolitan area, various Arizona hiking groups use the trails at Lost Dutchman for weekly hikes and meetings. There’s a path for every view, timeframe, and difficulty level, so pick a trail and take a hike.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park

Visitors traveling along I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson can’t miss the prominent 1,500-foot peak of Picacho Peak State Park. Enjoy the view as you hike the trails that wind up the peak and often in the spring overlook a sea of wildflowers. There are trails for every skill level. Wear suitable hiking boots. Gloves and plenty of water are strongly recommended.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dive in to Hunter’s Peak for a strenuous two mile hike up the rocks, twisting up the iconic mountain and challenging even the most seasoned hikers or take a stroll up Calloway Trail for a less strenuous hike to an overlook as you appreciate the scenery of the Sonoran Desert. Picacho Peak offers two easy trails for families that children enjoy: the Nature trail, a 0.5-mile hike and the Children’s Cave trail, just 0.2 miles and near the park’s playground.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park

Catalina State Park just outside of Tucson is a well-known, incredibly beautiful and diverse natural area that creates a feeling of remoteness despite the close proximity to Tucson’s metropolitan center. You can hike, take a horseback ride, and bicycle on the trails surrounded by the towering Santa Catalina Mountains. There are eight trails in the park varying in length and difficulty but all with amazing views.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You never know what you’ll run into at Catalina from gorgeous desert plant life to desert tortoises and bighorn sheep; Catalina’s landscapes are always showing off and waiting to be explored. Plus, as an Audubon Society Important Bird Area (IBA), Catalina State Park is a bird-watchers’ paradise.

Worth Pondering…

Alone in the open desert, I have made up songs of wild, poignant rejoicing and transcendent melancholy. The world has seemed more beautiful to me than ever before.

I have loved the red rocks, the twisted trees, and sand blowing in the wind, the slow, sunny clouds crossing the sky, the shafts of moonlight on my bed at night. I have seemed to be at one with the world.

—Everett Ruess

Arizona’s Coolest Small Towns Are Filled with Cowboys, Wine, and Mysticism

It’s a state of friendly burros, cosmic vortexes, and living history

In its not-so-ancient past, Arizona’s dusty desert expanses were home to Indigenous tribes, headstrong cowboys, and hopeful miners looking to strike gold. But despite its Old Western roots and relatively recent statehood, Arizona has become one of the country’s fastest-growing states with its capital of Phoenix firmly planted as the United States’ fifth largest city attracting nearly 50 million tourists each year to trek the Grand Canyon, see a Spring Training game, or party at the Phoenix Open.

Arizona’s small towns are wildly different, yet it’s here that Arizona’s legendary past meets its bright future as ancient civilizations and experimental communities coexist. From ghost towns and gunfight reenactment sites to vortex centers, the unconventional can be explored in the state’s least-populated cities. Arizona has always been prime road-trip country—and these are the towns that deserve a spot on any itinerary.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome 

A scenic hillside village in Verde Valley, Jerome was once a vibrant copper-mining town. Today, it’s famous for its rampant ghost stories, many of which revolve around historic hospital-turned inn―Jerome Grand Inn. While the city’s decline in residents following the mining rush earned it a reputation as a “ghost town,” it’s really anything but. Its popularity as a tourist destination has grown in recent years and it’s now home to eateries like the Haunted Hamburger, art galleries, and, of course, ghost tours for more adventurous visitors. It’s also growing as an Arizona wine hotspot thanks to spots like Caduceus Cellars.

Route 66 near Winslow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winslow

Winslow was notably immortalized in The Eagles’ hit song “Take it Easy,” but the northeastern town of roughly 10,000 has deep roots in Arizona history beyond rock. It began as a railroad hub before reinventing itself as a tourist stop along the iconic Route 66. Today, a visit to Winslow isn’t complete without paying homage to the aforementioned Standin’ on the Corner Park and statue commemorating the song reference, souvenir shopping at the Western-themed Arizona 66 Trading Company, or strolling through the Old Trails Museum. For something more adventurous, hit the nearby Meteor Crater site, the haunted Apache Death Cave, and several ancient Native American ruins.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bisbee 

Nestled among rolling hills just 11 miles from the Mexican border, Bisbee is another mining town-turned-tourist destination—but its knack for kitsch and bright colors easily makes it a favorite eclectic desert town. Its free-spirited nature and unusual architecture have even earned it the moniker “Mayberry on Acid.” Bisbee has been gaining popularity with Arizona locals and out-of-state tourists alike since the’ 90s thanks to its array of art galleries, antique shops, and one-of-a-kind boutiques. However, it’s also worth going back in time to the town’s roots by checking out sites like the Queen Mine—where visitors can don a miner’s outfit and head 1,500 feet underground—and the Mining & Historical Museum.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone 

Like many other Old West relics, Tombstone which refers to itself as “the town too tough to die” predates Arizona’s statehood having carried the spirit of the Wild West for approximately 150 years. It’s so well preserved that the ghost of Wyatt Earp could roll in and feel like nothing has changed. And, you can safely relive the town’s rowdy roots with daily gunfight reenactments, a trip to the former bar and brothel at The Bird Cage Theater, or an illuminating trek through the Goodenough Mine that skyrocketed the town to Southern Arizona fame.

Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cottonwood

Jerome may be emerging as a mini wine destination but nearby Cottonwood is the capital of Verde Valley’s fast-growing wine scene. Home to Arizona Stronghold Vineyards, colorful and quirky Old Town Cottonwood has established itself as an off-the-beaten-path food and drink destination thanks to places like Merkin Vineyards Tasting Room. Its proximity to the hiking trails of Coconino National Forest offers an added bonus. Here, you can eat and sip wine then walk it off in one of the most gorgeous patches of forest in the US.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oatman

There is perhaps no better small-town welcoming committee than a group of friendly donkeys. Such is the case in Oatman where visitors will see the wild burros that freely roam the streets. The oldest continuously-inhabited mining settlement in Arizona, the town has stayed (relatively) populated thanks to its desirable location on Route 66—which it pays hearty homage to with a main street full of themed souvenir shops. It’s also notably home to the Oatman Hotel where actor Clark Gable and starlet Carole Lombard are rumored to have stayed after getting hitched in the nearby town of Kingman. 

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona 

While Sedona’s popularity with tourists has been on a steep incline, it still has a relatively small year-round population which clears it for a spot on this list. It’s a must-visit thanks to its stunning red rocks and outdoor activities, a culinary scene that’s blossomed thanks to restaurants like the award-winning Mariposa, and the legendary mystical properties that have earned it a reputation as an energy vortex. And if you’re feeling really daring, you can even slide down the town’s 80-foot long natural water slide at Slide Rock State Park.

Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prescott

As Arizona’s original capital, this haven in the pine forests between Phoenix and Flagstaff has more than earned its spot among Arizona’s most captivating towns. While it retains a bit of Western charm like many of the state’s other small towns, it also offers a unique, laid-back atmosphere featuring events like art fairs at the Courthouse Plaza and shows at the historic Elks Theatre. It’s also the perfect town if you’re in the mood to explore a great beer scene. Hit the ever popular Prescott Brewing Company or The Palace, an iconic saloon that’s been slinging drinks since 1877. Plus, just a few miles away from downtown, visitors can enjoy all kinds of outdoor activities—from fishing to kayaking—at scenic Watson Lake and Lynx Lake.

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

Sedona Is One Huge Psychic Vortex (Supposedly)

It’s basically Disneyland for the New Age crowd

Sedona is a city of psychics, tarot readers, reiki healers, and crystal dealers. Retail stores like Center for the New Age cater to a very specific kind of tourist: those drawn to the area for its supposed metaphysical and spiritual assets. According to these truth-seekers, Sedona is one of the world’s greatest hotspots for psychic energy: whirling and vibrating, creating portals that enhance consciousness. The energy is that strong—so overwhelming, in fact, that juniper trees twist and bend themselves over it. 

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona—population 10,322— has always held a certain appeal, reflected in its 3 million annual visitors. Its lush green vegetation, towering red rock formations, and vast blue sky would inspire even the most inactive imagination. Indigenous tribes have long regarded the area as sacred. It’s the home of the Yavapai-Apache who hold a spring ceremony every year at Boynton Canyon where the Great Spirit Mother gave birth to the human race.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But the Sedona we know today began to emerge in 1980 after a professional psychic named Page Bryant (1943-2017) referred to four locations of powerful energy centers—Airport Mesa, Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, and Boynton Canyon—as “power vortexes,” or places containing mystic energy, putting a word to a concept first discovered in the 1950s. By meditating in these locations, New Age devotees believe that one will experience both spiritual awakening and physical healing.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amid these four scenic poles, psychic vibrations trembled more intensely. People noticed their skin tingling when close to the perceived energy source. Escaping to a higher consciousness just came easier in this confluence where thoughts and feelings were amplified (apparently all of Sedona is one big amplifier). Vortex locations can be described as electric, magnetic, or electromagnetic. Some say “female or male,” “positive or negative.”

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you want to get all scientific about it, there’s no actual magnetism or energy at these vortexes. But that doesn’t mean the spiritualists made up what they felt. After all, studies have found that just being outdoors has immense immune-boosting and mood-altering benefits plus increased clarity and concentration. 

For some it’s about connecting spirituality with the Earth, bringing this stuff out of woo woo and into wow wow. The therapeutic benefits of the vortexes are directly related to the physical attributes of Sedona. The high elevation, deep canyons, low population density, and the immense blue skies all combine to create an optimal environment for relaxation and brain stimulation.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colors are also important and Sedona has loads. The green of the vegetation signals growth, renewal, and hope to the subconscious. As for red-orange, the Uluru in Australia, a massive similar-hued rock is thought to hold spiritual significance. The red-orange color can be thought of as caffeine for the higher mind.

And if nothing happens? 

Relax and let the awesome beauty of the area inspire you, as it does me. 

Where to Experience Vortexes in Sedona

Sedona is filled with hundreds of vortexes. Following are the four first identified by Bryant plus some lesser-known ones recommended by “experts”. 

Sedona from Airport Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Airport Mesa

Its proximity to the center of town makes the Airport Mesa one of the most trafficked vortexes which means you probably won’t have it to yourself. The panoramic views are breathtaking especially at sunrise or sunset. You’ll see some of those twisted juniper trees, and some have claimed to see colored orbs. At night the stars seem close enough to touch. 

Bell Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bell Rock 

One of the most recognizable formations, Bell Rock is shaped like a huge standing bell. (Or, some say, an alien spaceship.) Many have reported a tingling sensation on exposed skin here. It’s easily accessible from the road with the strongest vibrations felt on the north side. 

Cathedral Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cathedral Rock 

This is the only one of the big four with “inflow” energy encouraging you to slow down and be introspective. The vortex is found where Oak Creek runs next to Cathedral Rock, and is called “Red Rock Crossing.” 

Boynton Canyon 

Boynton Canyon is a spiritual home of the Yavapai-Apache and considered the most sacred of the big four. Also known as the Kachina Woman Vortex Site, it’s both an inflow and an upflow site with the canyon as inflow and the ridges and peaks as upflow. It stretches two-and-a-half miles long with energy throughout. 

Chapel of the Holy Cross © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Chapel of the Holy Cross 

Built into the red rocks, The Chapel of the Holy Cross was actually inspired by a visit by Marguerite Brunswig Staude to the Empire State Building. It overlooks Sedona and despite it being a Christian place of worship it’s believed to be full of vortex energy. Either way, it’s a stunning place to visit. 

Schnebly Hill Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Schnebly Hill 

Schnebly Hill is a remote scenic overlook that’s quite literally off-the-beaten-path: An off-road vehicle is required to get to the top but once there you’re in one of the highest plateaus in Sedona. This amazingly scenic road which requires a high-clearance vehicle eventually connects with Interstate 17 south of Flagstaff.

Oak Creek, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eagle’s Nest

Alternative to the busy Airport Mesa is to hike to Eagle’s Nest in Red Rock State Park. It offers the same 360-degree panoramas without the people, noise, and parking problem. 

Worth Pondering…

The Image is more than an idea. It is a vortex or cluster of fused ideas and is endowed with energy.

—Ezra Pound

Become Best Friends with a Burro in Oatman

The burros own the town

No trip to Laughlin is complete without a detour to Oatman, a Route 66 ghost town in Arizona that has become a bit more touristy over the years. The new escape room at the local jail is fun. The Oatman Hotel is a great stop for lunch. The restaurant has killer buffalo burgers and the walls (and even parts of the ceiling) are covered with dollar bills.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But the real draw is the burros roaming Oatman whose ancestors were brought in to work during the mining days. A few unwritten rules to follow: first—burros and dogs don’t mix. Second—don’t feed the burros carrots which are high in sugar and do a number on the digestive tract. You’re more than welcome to feed them alfalfa squares, sold in bags for a dollar.

Finally—when the burros are in the middle of the road (which they frequently are), they have the right of way. Cars have to wait, no matter how long it takes. No honking, revving engines, or doing anything else to encourage them to move along.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

They know how to have fun in Oatman where good-humored shops line the street and the burros contribute to the annual fall Burro Biskit Toss.

More than 500,000 visitors are drawn annually to Oatman’s gold mine history as well as the legend of its namesake. Olive Oatman is entrenched in western lore as a woman who was kidnapped by an Indian tribe, then sold to a friendly local tribe before being freed to her family near what became Oatman.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oatman was sparsely settled starting in 1863 when a small bit of gold was discovered in the surrounding Black Mountains. Not much came of the discovery until two lucky prospectors struck it rich in 1915 with a 10 million dollar claim. The town grew rapidly after that, and in the course of a single year the tiny tent village became a town of 3,500 people. In the 1920s and ’30s, the population grew to around 10,000. In 1921, a fire swept through the town destroying most of Oatman’s buildings.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oatman certainly prospered during a decade-long gold rush, but when the mines dried up, so did everything else. The town’s biggest mine closed in 1924, and by 1941, the government ordered the closing of Oatman’s remaining mining operations as part of the country’s war efforts.

Because of its location on Route 66, local commerce shifted toward accommodating motorists traveling between Kingman, Arizona and Needles, California. From 1926 to 1952, the Mother Road coursed through the heart of Oatman, sustaining a healthy tourism business. Interstate 40 bypassed Oatman in the early 1950s, however, and by the early 1960s, the whole area was all but abandoned.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A revitalized interest in historic route 66 saved Oatman from demise, and while it may not be thriving, it’s got a lot to offer visitors looking for that kitschy slice of Americana. Oatman is often described as a ghost town, but that is not quite accurate. The current human population is 128. The burro population is close to 2,000.

The town prides itself on maintaining a Wild West feel, down to the wooden sidewalks, staged shootouts, and kitschy shops. (You can even adopt a wild burro and take it home!)

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. The hotel remains open as a museum and restaurant.

Oatman is surrounded by Bureau of Land Management wilderness which is also home to desert bighorn sheep. Outdoor activities include hiking, camping, hunting, photography, and rock climbing.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oatman is a day trip full of surprises—of ghost towns and ghost roads and wild burros. And one of the most scenic drives in the state. Now that’s something to bray about.

Worth Pondering…

So many ghosts upon the road,
My eyes I swear are playing tricks;
And a voice I hear, it’s Tom Joad,
Near Oatman on Route 66.

—Dave MacLennan

The Mystique of the Casa Grande Ruins

A four-story structure of mud and wood, the Great House, is all that remains of a community of Hohokam people who lived here during the 14th century

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument contains an imposing four-story building dating from the late Hohokam period probably 14th century and contemporary with other well preserved ruins in Arizona such as the Tonto and Montezuma Castle national monuments. It is situated in the flat plain of central Arizona between the Gila and Santa Cruz rivers just north of Coolidge and about 15 miles east of Casa Grande. The structure was once part of a collection of settlements scattered along the Gila River and linked by a network of irrigation canals. The area has a low elevation and is very hot—often over 110 degrees for several months in the summer. Even in winter, daytime temperatures can reach 80.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Guided tours are offered from late November to mid-April. Tours meet in the shaded Interpretive Ramada located immediately outside of the visitor center’s rear doors. While you are seated for the introduction the guide will explain the history of the ruins, the archeology, and the Hohokam Culture. Your guide then leads the tour into Compound A and points out interesting features. You may enter or leave the tour at any point or you may chose to visit the park on a self-guided tour. There are signs and exhibits to enhance your visit with volunteers and staff eager to hear your stories and discuss your questions. Tours are wheelchair friendly.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Ruins

The Great House can be seen from some distance away owing to the flatness of the terrain and the rather curious appearance from a distance—the structure is protected from the harsh desert sun by a large metal roof supported by four great pillars designed by architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. This is an impressive design made necessary to help preserve the building but it is still rather incongruous. The present cover replaced an earlier wooden construction in 1932.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The scale of the ruin is best appreciated from close up—it is 60 feet by 40 feet wide at the base and has caliche walls over three feet thick. Although visitors are not allowed into the building owing to its delicate state and for safety reasons, much can be seen from outside including details of the construction with wooden beams supporting the clay walls and various internal features such as stairways and windows. However, besides the protective canopy, the interior contains other modern items such as re-enforcing beams, metal ladders, and measuring devices on the walls, all contributing to the slightly unnatural scene.

Built by the ancestors of the present-day O’odham people the site was an ancient farming community and according to the oral history of their descendants, a ceremonial center. Walk through the indoor museum to learn about the ancient people of the desert who lived here and their ingenuity in making a life in the Sonoran Desert. Then walk through the site and experience the desert yourself.

History

It is believed that the Casa Grande functioned partly as an astronomical observatory since the four walls face the points of the compass and some of the windows are aligned to the positions of the sun and moon during the solstice. There are various smaller ruins to explore the remains of a Hohokam farming village and some are yet to be excavated. A second, similarly sized compound is located 850 feet northeast of the Casa Grande though this is usually closed to the public. Nowadays, the roof and walls of the main building provide shelter for several species of birds most notably a great horned owl.

The Hohokam themselves seem to have abandoned the complex around the 16th century. Apart from other Indian peoples and Spanish missionaries the area was not revisited until the 1880s when American settlers arrived and began to threaten the ruins by removing artifacts as souvenirs. In 1892, the Casa Grande became the first archaeological site in the US to be protected.

Explore the mystery and complexity of an extended network of communities and irrigation canals. An Ancestral Sonoran Desert People’s farming community and Great House are preserved at Casa Grande Ruins. Whether the Casa Grande was a gathering place for the Hohokam or simply a waypoint marker in an extensive system of canals and trading partners is but part of the mystique of the Ruins.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fact Box

Size: 472 acres

Established: August 3, 1918

Fees: No fee is currently charged

Operating hours: Limited Hours Due to Covid-19; check with the park before planning a visit

Great horned owl at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why go: The Hohokam were expert farmers who developed a network of 1,000 miles of canals to channel water from the Salt and Gila rivers. The monument preserves structures that are 700 years old.

Don’t miss: The tallest building is four stories high and covered with a shade structure to protect it from further deterioration. Based on holes in the walls that correlate to the path of the sun during the solstice it’s believed the building was used, at least partly, to study astronomy. Guided tours are available in the cooler months.

Worth Pondering…

Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries.

—René Descartes

An Ancient Village on the Hill: How Life was Lived at Tuzigoot

This extensive Sinagua pueblo sits on a scenic hilltop with views of Jerome and the Verde Valley

Crowning a desert hilltop is an ancient pueblo. A child scans the desert landscape for the arrival of traders. What riches will they bring? What stories will they tell? From the rooftop of the Tuzigoot pueblo it is easy to imagine such a moment.

Tuzigoot National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Built atop a small 120 foot ridge is a large pueblo. Tuzigoot is Apache for crooked water; however, it was built by the Sinagua. With 77 ground floor rooms this pueblo held about 50 people. After about 100 years the population doubled and then doubled again later. By the time they finished building the pueblo, it had 110 rooms including second and third story structures and housed 250 people. An interesting fact is that Tuzigoot lacked ground level doors having roof-accessed doors instead. The history of Tuzigoot goes back well before the pueblo was constructed and we’re here to tell you the story.

Tuzigoot National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our story begins 10,000 years ago. Hunters and gatherers passed through the lush Verde Valley in search of food. Human occupation of the Verde Valley can be traced back to about 700 when people lived in pit houses. Two Native American tribes, the Hohokam (“those who have gone”) and the Northern Sinagua (“those without water”), lived in the valley and directly influenced the Sinagua that lived at Tuzigoot. The Hohokam were excellent farmers and grew corn, beans, squash, and cotton. They even used irrigation canals. The Northern Sinagua Indians are credited for the buildings which were built in 1125. Built along the Verde River resources were plentiful. The peak time of Tuzigoot and Montezuma Castle came in the 1300s.

Tuzigoot National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mysteriously however, in 1400, the Southern Sinagua (who mainly inhabited Tuzigoot) left. Reasons for moving may include over population, consumption of resources, disease, drought, or even conflict with other tribes. For whatever the reason was, the Sinagua moved south into Hohokam villages.

After the people left the pueblo stood empty until the early 1930s when it was excavated by archeologists and then turned into a national monument on July 25th, 1939.

Tuzigoot National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pueblo shows us this ancient village built by the Sinagua people. The people who built and lived in the rooms of the Tuzigoot pueblo were part of a thriving community of farmers with trade connections stretching hundreds of miles. Their lives were part of a vast and complex society and they had a deep understanding of the world around them.

Tuzigoot National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The site is currently comprised of 42 acres that includes the hilltop pueblo, cliffs and ridges in the valley, and the Tavasci Marsh, a natural riparian area surrounding an old curve of the Verde River. A paved, fully accessible trail takes you through the pueblo giving you a good idea of what it would have looked like. Though the views from the ruins alone are worth the walk, one room is reconstructed and you can enter it and see what it would have looked like when inhabited.

Explore the Tuzigoot museum which highlights ceramics, textiles, and tools found during the excavation of Tuzigoot pueblo. Spend time with a ranger and learn about the Sinagua and the lives they led in the Verde Valley.

Tuzigoot National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tavasci Marsh lie adjacent to the pueblo in an ancient oxbow isolated from the Verde River nearly 10,000 years ago. The marsh is primarily fed by Shea Spring located in the limestone beds on the northernmost edge of this ancient meander. These perennial wetlands have attracted people, plants, and animals for thousands of years.

Tuzigoot National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tavasci Marsh is one-of-a-kind hiking or birding experience. Hike down the steep dirt road into the bottom land which is the marsh. You are there but turn right and keep on going along the marsh through a small grove of cottonwoods and emerge onto a grass land area. Bear left through the grassland and find a foot bridge which crosses the exit ditch for the marsh. Once there, you might want to take a very short walk over to the Verde River for a beautiful view. Once you cross the foot bridge turn left on the old dirt road and you will join the trail down from Dead Horse Ranch State Park. Keep hiking until you get to where the trail narrows and eventually you will find yourself at the observation platform and the end of the trail.

Tuzigoot can be found in Clarkdale, Arizona, just west of Montezuma Castle and just north of Jerome. Visiting Tuzigoot is definitely worth your while!

Tuzigoot National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fact Box

Size: 42 acres

Established: July 25th, 1939

Fees: $10/adult; fees are valid for 7 days at both Tuzigoot and Montezuma Castle National Monuments

Along the trail to Tavasci Marsh © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Operating hours: Open daily from 8 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.

Why go: This extensive Sinagua pueblo sits on a scenic hilltop with views of Jerome, Dead Horse Ranch State Park, and the Verde Valley. Check out the artifacts inside the visitor center.

Don’t miss: A paved trail loops around the structure, going in and out of some rooms making it easy to understand how people would have lived, played, and farmed here.

Along the trail to Tavasci Marsh © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Insider tip: Take the easy walk to the Tavasci Marsh overlook. This pretty spring-fed wetland attracts birds, beavers, and other wildlife.

Along the way: Cottonwood is a wine lover’s destination. There are four tasting rooms on Main Street in Old Town and several wineries and tasting rooms are a short drive away in Page Springs, Jerome, and Clarkdale.

Getting there: Tuzigoot is 90 miles north of Phoenix.

Along the trail to Tavasci Marsh © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries.

—René Descartes