Touring Apache Country

Land of Geronimo and Cochise

With the Grand Canyon, Oak Creek Canyon, the Painted Desert, the Four Corners area, and many other geographical wonders in the northern part of the state, southeastern Arizona, steeped in both natural history and human history, is often overlooked. But it is not to be missed!

Apache Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This was the home of Cochise. This was the land of Geronimo. This was the land of copper mines, silver mines, gold mines, Army forts, Indian wars, cowboys, cattle rustlers, gamblers, the Earp brothers and the Clantons and Doc Holiday.

Southeastern Arizona was the quintessential Wild West. This place oozes with tales and legends and beauty. And it is all still here for us to enjoy.

Apache Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With summer temperatures milder than many parts of the state, southeastern Arizona offers comfortable day trips into history and adventures not possible in some of the hotter Sonoran Desert areas. There is so much to see and do in Apache Country making it easy to find something to delight each member of the family.

For the naturalist, birds abound, including some of the rarest and most beautiful in the United States. For the history buff, there is the Cochise Stronghold in the Dragoons, the site of Geronimo’s surrender, and boomtowns such as Tombstone and Bisbee to explore. There are hikes and picnic areas in national monuments that will take your breath away with their splendor.

Related Article: Best Birding in Arizona: Tips on Where to Go, Species to See, and How to Identify

There are historic (and reportedly even haunted) hotels and B & Bs as well as some of the best camping in the state. There are reenactments of the Shootout at the OK Corral and there are overlooks that fill one with amazement. There is something for everyone here. This is Southeastern Arizona, Apache Country.

Apache Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Apache

The Apache were once a nomadic people. There are Apache reservations today scattered throughout Arizona Southeast Arizona was their home.

Apache Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After the arrival of the Spanish and their horses, the Apache people developed a rich equine culture. Horses allowed them a freedom to travel they had not known before and they became excellent horsemen. The horse also allowed these people to fight for their land as the westward expansion took place—and fight for it they did. Cochise, perhaps best known for his desire to be a liaison between the two cultures, worked hard to secure peace but peace was not to be had. It was not until Geronimo’s surrender in the 1880s, also in this little corner of the state, that the Indian Wars finally came to a close.

Related Article: All Aboard & Bound For Benson

The story of the Apache is an integral part of southeastern Arizona’s history, yet far more than that. It is part of this beautiful land, much of it still the way it was when the Apache lived here. And that beauty is something we can still see and experience for ourselves.

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chiricahua National Monument

One of the most spectacular of all places to visit in this fascinating land is Chiricahua National Monument. With rock formations and pinnacles that seem to defy gravity, this is a must for anyone visiting the area.

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About 27 million years ago, this “Land of Standing-Up Rocks” was formed when a violent volcanic eruption spewed forth thick, white-hot ash. This eruption was a thousand times greater than the 1980 eruption of Mount Saint Helen in Washington. As the ash cooled, it fused into an almost 2,000-foot thick layer of volcanic rock known as rhyolite. The Chiricahua Mountains were created as well during this time. Over the eons, wind, water, and ice sculpted what are today the formations that make up Chiricahua National Monument.

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Ranger Station and Visitor Center are just inside the park entrance. From there, a beautiful scenic drive that climbs gradually through oak, juniper, and pine forests—Bonita Canyon Drive—winds 8 miles to the crest of the mountains and Massai Point. Picnic tables and restrooms are available here.

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Echo Canyon Trail and Heart of Rocks Trail offer fantastic views of balanced rocks, pinnacles, and spires. The picturesque homestead of the area, Faraway Ranch, is currently being renovated. When the renovation is completed it will be reopened for tours. The monument’s Visitor Center has an audio-visual program and exhibits, as well as books and maps for sale.

There are hiking trails, both short loops, and longer treks that take you back down the mountain and deep into the gorges and other splendors of this spectacular place. More than 20 miles of trails wind through the park. Duck on a Rock, Totem Pole, and Big Balanced Rock are a few of the more famous formations you will see.

Related Article: Family-friendly Road Trips Through Arizona: The Old West

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Massai Point you will see Cochise Head, the incredible formation that appears to be the face of Cochise, prone and facing the sky above, beautifully sculpted from nature herself in a seeming tribute to the Apache people for whom this land was once home.

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A plethora of animals and birds can be seen in the monument, many of which are found only in this corner of the southwest. Javelina, Coatimundi, hog- nosed and hooded skunks, deer, bear, mountain lions, rare hummingbirds, Scott’s orioles, painted redstarts, hepatic tanagers, and red-faced warblers are just a few of the interesting wildlife species to be found in this fantastic land.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone

The story of the west and any tour of this area would not be the same, or complete without including the legendary town of Tombstone. The entire town is a National Historic Landmark and much of the original buildings are still intact. There is something for every member of the family here in Tombstone.

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

At first glance, it might appear that gift, book, and curio shops are the main attractions but if you take the time to stroll down the boardwalks, you will find yourself drawn into the past. Besides the OK Corral and the reenactments that take place in the outdoor amphitheater, there are public and private museums, antique stores, the original Tombstone Epitaph newspaper print shop, and Boot Hill. Visitors can pan for gold, horseback ride down trails once traveled by Doc and Wyatt, take a stagecoach ride, tour the silver mines, stay at historic bed and breakfasts, and visit the infamous Bird Cage Theater where Tombstone’s haunting and colorful past will take you back to its heyday.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bisbee

Bisbee, just east of Tombstone, is a picturesque and historic town created by its huge copper mine. Today, the historic Copper Queen Hotel is the center of town. It is surrounded by art galleries, local artisan’s craftshops, and antique shops. There are tours and lookouts of the copper mine, offering many unique photo opportunities.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bisbee is in the mountains between Tombstone and Douglas and has pleasant summer temperatures. A day in Bisbee is a delight and a visit to the Copper Queen Hotel a must. Bisbee is the county seat of Cochise County.

Other Places to Visit in Southeastern Arizona

In this land of the Apache, there are historical sites, forts, monuments, boom towns, streams, mountains, mines, and wildlife to be found in abundance. It would be impossible to cover them all in one article.

Related Article: Your Cochise Adventure

Lavender Pit mine, Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But before you leave southeastern Arizona, or on your return trip to this land of history and wonder, be sure to include:

  • Cave Creek Canyon and Portal
  • Cochise Stronghold in the Dragoons
  • Fort Bowie National Historic Site

Remember, there is truly something for everyone in Southeastern Arizona! And with its milder seasonal temperatures, this region can be enjoyed year-round.

This is Apache Country!

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

Why Sedona?

Sedona has the uncanny ability to seem familiar yet mysterious at the same time

As you look into the wilderness, it may seem vaguely familiar. The familiar part is no surprise. Sedona’s distinctive red-rock landscape and renowned scenery has been featured in nearly 100 films, plus numerous videos and commercials.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop by the Sedona Heritage Museum and you’ll be treated to exhibits that highlight the region’s movie power. Beginning in 1923 with the silent film The Call of the Canyon, based on a novel by Zane Grey, through the golden age of American Westerns in the 1940s and ’50s, Sedona has had a distinguished role in film. During the peak years, virtually every major movie studio and big-name movie star worked there. Streets in a Sedona subdivision are even named after movies made in the area.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The strata that contain the famous Sedona red rock were created when a warm, shallow sea brought vast expanses of sand. When those sand grains became covered with thin coatings of iron oxide, they began taking on that red color we see today.

Cathedral Rock, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The most famous views in Sedona revolve around Cathedral Rock. Oak Creek flows past the base of the formation to create a much-photographed image. That scene is most often captured from Crescent Moon Picnic Area, known locally as Red Rock Crossing.

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

Outdoor adventure fills the Sedona area. Hiking and biking trails abound. Whether you take the easy ½-mile Allens Bend Trail, the 5.6-mile Wilson Mountain Trail with a 2,300-foot elevation change, or any of the numerous other trails, you’ll be treated to fabulous scenery and famous landmarks like Submarine Rock or Vultee Arch.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walkthrough the desert in the coolness of the evening when it’s aglow with moonlight to put a fresh spin on exploring Sedona’s terrain. You don’t need to wander alone. Naturalists at Red Rock State Park offer guided interpretive hikes during the full moon. The tour covers two miles and you’ll learn about Sedona’s fascinating geology, history, and plant life.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Long before T.C. and Sedona Schnebly arrived in Red Rock Country, American Indians considered this land to be sacred. Sedona continues to be regarded as a special place because of its vortexes. Described as intersections of natural earth energy, Sedona’s vortexes are said to inspire meditation and healing. They are usually found on or near a rock formation.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spirit seekers or those just curious about the metaphysical world can hike to one of Sedona’s vortex sites. These natural areas are said to radiate energy (considered masculine, feminine or a balance of the two) from the earth, drawing people to meditate, practice yoga, or engage in other spiritual and wellness activities.

Bell Rock, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although all of Sedona is considered to be a vortex, rock shapes called Airport Mesa, Bell Rock, Boynton Canyon, and Cathedral Rock are all sites where the energy is reportedly more intense. Some say that Chapel Rock is the site of a fifth vortex, but less powerful than the others.

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

Appearing to rise out of the red rock formations, the Chapel of the Holy Cross towers in a panorama of buttes, valleys, and sky—all a source of inspiration inviting rest and reflection. An eye-catching architectural wonder, the Chapel is built into a 250-foot-tall twin-pinnacled red rock spur. Both the chapel and its 90-foot concrete cross built into the front façade (it functions as both symbol and structural support) are visible from the Red Rock Scenic Byway (State Route 179). Yet thanks to its modernist design, there are no sky-piercing spires or ornate embellishments detracting from its dizzying position. Peek inside the 1956 chapel for a look at the 33-foot bronze crucifix commissioned by a local artist which was installed in 2018. 

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a unique experience, stop at Slide Rock State Park and cool off. You can slide down the slippery creek bed, cruise down the creek in a tube, or take a dip in the natural swimming pools. Listed on the Travel Channel’s “10 Top Swimming Holes in the United States,” this natural waterpark is 7 miles north of Sedona along 89A in Oak Creek Canyon.

Tlaquepaque, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Nestled on the banks of Oak Creek is Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village, a collection of Spanish-style buildings reminiscent of a Mexican hamlet. Cobblestone walkways meander past splashing fountains, vine-covered walls, and beneath picturesque stone archways. Flower-bedecked courtyards frame a complex of 15 specialty shops, 16 galleries, six jewelry stores, and four clothing stores—plus several restaurants.

Tlaquepaque, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Named after a suburb of Guadalajara, Mexico, Tlaquepaque is pronounced “Tlah-kay-PAH-kay.” This internationally renowned art and shopping destination mimics Old Mexico and is covered by the refreshing shade of giant Arizona sycamore trees along the banks of Oak Creek.

Sedona Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The galleries feature one-of-a-kind art in a range of media and styles, including contemporary and abstract works, American Indian, and classic Southwestern fine art. You can find everything from wildlife bronzes to Navajo rugs, wind sculptures, and traditional ceramics.

Yet, Tlaquepaque has so much more. Musicians and dancers celebrate special fiestas throughout the year, bringing the sights and sounds of Old Mexico to Sedona.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why Sedona? Perhaps the meaning of Tlaquepaque contains the most fitting answer. It means the “best of everything.”

Plan your trip: 

Worth Pondering…

There are only two places in the world

I want to live—Sedona and Paris.

—Max Ernst, Surrealist painter

8 Fun Things to do in Tucson…BEFORE it’s TOO HOT

Things to do NOW before it’s a zillion degrees outside in Tucson

Two weeks ago, Tucson hit 90 degrees for the first time in 2022.

The 90-degree day came five days earlier than usual, according to National Weather Service Tucson meteorologist Gary Zell. Unfortunately for locals and visitors, the Climate Prediction Center is currently predicting above-average temperatures every month from now until September.

Obviously that does not mean everyday is going to be above normal but they’re talking monthly outlooks.

Presidio Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s currently no indication of when Tucson will welcome (or should I say reject?) its first 100-degree day. But on average, for the years between 1991 and 2020, Tucson sees its first 100-degree day on May 18. Historically though, from 1895 through 2020, that day has been May 25.

Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As for those brutal 105-degree days that nobody wants to think about right now: From 1991 to 2020, Tucson typically saw its first 105-degree day on June 6. Historically, that day has been June 11.

There is some promising news: The Climate Prediction Center says there’s a 50-60 percent of above-normal rainfall from July to September.

Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But before the arrival of summer and the 100-degree days that accompany it, let’s focus on the cooler days ahead.

Here are eight things to do outside—before it gets too hot. (But most of the places mentioned are open year-round and some even open their doors on summer nights for folks to enjoy the cooler temperatures after sunset.)

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Bask in the desert beauty at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum may not be a hidden gem, but it’s a gem no less.

Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Check out 1,200 kinds of plants, experience the touch of a stingray, walk through a reptile and amphibian hall, and see all kinds of desert animals—bobcats, a mountain lion, javelinas, prairie dogs, gila monsters, skunks, hummingbirds, and more.

Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you visit in springtime, you may even spot colorful cactus blooms in the museum’s cactus garden. 

Hiking Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Put on your hiking shoes and head to your nearest trail

What would this list be if we didn’t include hiking?

Hiking trails are all over—short trails leading up to the top of “A” Mountain, the steep walk up Tumamoc Hill, plus there’s Enchanted Hills Trails Park, Sabino CanyonCatalina State ParkSaguaro National Park, and so many more nearby hiking areas.

While hiking in May is typically significantly cooler than hiking in June, it’s still important to hydrate and protect yourself from the sun with a wide-brimmed hat and sunscreen! Heading out during the cooler morning hours might be best.

The Old Presidio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Take a walking tour of the city

Tucson has a lot to see and a lot to love. The Presidio San Agustín del Tucson Museum knows that.

Each month, the museum hosts a series of walking tours around the downtown area—and they almost always sell out.

Historic Barrio Viejo neighborhood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Guided walking tours include the Turquoise Trail where you’ll see historic buildings and learn a slice of Tucson history, the Mainly Murals Walking Tour which shows off some of downtown’s murals and discusses the artist behind the piece, the Public Art and Murals Walking Tour which explores public art pieces and murals, and the Barrio Viejo Walking Tour which takes you through the historic Barrio Viejo neighborhood.

Riding the tram at Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Ride the tram (and hike) at Sabino Canyon

At the northeast edge of Tucson along Sabino Creek lies Tucson’s worst-hidden secret! Sabino Canyon is a premier place to hike, picnic, or just take in Mother Nature at its finest. The saguaro-draped foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson offer numerous scenic ravines but two of the most scenic are Sabino Canyon and Bear Canyon, ten miles northeast of the city center.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of the two, Sabino is more developed and more visited having a paved road running 3.8 miles up the lower section along which are various picnic sites, trailheads, and viewpoints.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Feel the magic of nature as you ride the Sabino Canyon Crawler, a convenient, narrated shuttle through the wonders of Sabino Canyon. The electric shuttle journey begins at the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area Visitor Center and carries passengers on a one-hour round trip allowing them to exit the shuttle at stops 1 through 9 to soak in the grandeur of the canyon at their own pace. The tram turns around at Stop 9 and heads back down to the Visitor’s Center at which point riders may remain on board or hike back down. 

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Cool off at Madera Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains

In the northwest face of the Santa Rita Mountains, one of southeast Arizona’s forested Sky Islands the cool refuge of Madera Canyon is just 25 miles south of Tucson and 12 miles east of Green Valley. This is part of the Coronado National Forest.

Mt. Wrightson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Madera Canyon with active springs and a seasonal creek is a lush oasis supporting an amazing diversity of life zones of the Santa Rita Mountains and Madera Canyon. From Green Valley to the 9,453-foot summit of Mt. Wrightson, the mountains rise nearly 7,000 feet. Moisture increases and temperature decreases 3-5 degrees for every 1,000 feet of elevation gain, creating a succession of four life zones. Each life zone has communities of plants and animals adapted to the environmental conditions found in the zone.

Birding at Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A world-renowned location for bird watching, Madera Canyon is a major resting place for migrating species while the extensive trail system of the Santa Rita Mountains is easily accessed from the Canyon’s campground and picnic areas.

Tubac Presidio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Step back in time at the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park

Just 45 miles south of Tucson down Interstate 19, this colorful, postage-stamp-size town is easily enjoyed as a day trip. If you come only to browse through the many galleries, you will be selling yourself short.

Tubac Presidio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Any visit to Tubac is best begun at Arizona’s very first state park—the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park. The site of the Presidio—the oldest Spanish fort in Arizona—is now a museum with fascinating insights into the local history. Visit the museum to learn how different cultures (from Native American Indian tribes to Spanish colonials, Mexicans, and pioneers) all made Tubac their home over the centuries. There is a good reason people settled here. Tours are self-guided so you can spend as long or as little time as you want here.

The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Take a historical walk on the Anza Trail

Having learned all about Juan Bautista de Anza at the museum, now is a good time to follow in his footsteps on the Anza Trail which is accessed near the Presidio and ends 1,200 miles later in San Francisco! A much more manageable 4-mile out-and-back trail is marked and for a single day trip (especially in the warmer months) just a mile out and a mile back may be enough to experience the diversity of this local environment.

It’s an easy trail that starts out wide and flat, meandering through open desert meadow before funneling into woodland. Grasses and trees line the trail. A sudden flash of green is a giveaway that water is near. The Santa Cruz River runs almost all year round.

Enjoy a Sonoran Desert sunset © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Take in the sunset

There is no better way to end a full and varied day than to watch the sun set gently over the desert landscape. Sunsets are particularly vibrant in Arizona due to the fine sand particles in the air. Check out sunset times and have your camera ready to end your picture-perfect day. 

Plan your trip to Tucson with these resources:

Worth Pondering…

Tucson had opened my eyes to the world and given me… a taste for the sensory extravagance of red hot chiles and five-alarm sunsets.

—Barbara Kingsolver

Discover Awe and Adventure in Arizona

Arizona is a wonderland of awe-inspiring sights, bucket-list adventures, and soulful journeys. Start planning your trip with this guide.

Timeless beauty. Mind-boggling geology. Pristine pine forests. Dramatic sun-drenched desertscapes. Old West haunts. Puebloan cliff dwellings. And star-filled dark skies.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona is a wonderland of awe-inspiring sights, bucket-list adventures, culinary delights, and soulful journeys. Now that 2022 has been coined the Year of Arizona Discovery, it’s a perfect time to pack up the car or RV and take a scenic road trip. Arizona has so much to offer with its incredible landscapes, diverse culture, and endless natural playgrounds. Here are a few of my favorite scenic road trips and quaint towns to check out. 

Globe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Phoenix to the Sister Cities of Miami and Globe

Heading east from Phoenix on US Route 60 toward Miami, be sure to stop at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Arizona’s oldest and largest botanical garden which has desert species from around the world, gentle hiking trails, and rich bird life.

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

In the classic western town of Miami, visit the Bullion Plaza Museum to explore the ranching and cultural history of this copper mining boomtown. In Globe, you can belly up to the bar for a burger and bloody Mary at the historic Drift Inn Saloon. Cruising the switchbacks through the Salt River Canyon Wilderness Area reveals mountain panoramas and Arizona’s “other Grand Canyon.”

Globe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While in Globe visit Besh-Ba-Gowah, the heartland of the Salado people. The term was originally given by the Apaches to the early settlement of Globe. Roughly translated, the term means “place of metal.” Here visitors will see the partially restored ancient ruin of the Salado people who occupied the site between A.D. 1225 and A.D. 1400. Enjoy the self guided tour of the village which allows visitors to experience the mysteries of those who came before.

Related: Spotlight on Arizona: Most Beautiful Places to Visit

Lake Powell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Page to Canyon de Chelly

Traveling up US Route 89 from Flagstaff leads to the marvels surrounding Page, gateway to Lake Powell. Drink in dramatic views of the famed Horseshoe Bend stretch of the Colorado River or take a tour of Antelope Canyon and witness the wonders of wind and water erosion in the narrow slots.

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

Then, road trip it to the Navajo Nation to see Canyon de Chelly National Monument where towering rock spires, stunning sandstone cliffs, and Ancestral Puebloan art and villages await. 

White House Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Charm of Cottonwood

Located in the heart of Arizona and the heart of wine country, Cottonwood is ideally situated above the heat of the desert and below the cooler temperatures of Arizona’s high country. Surrounded by the red rocks of Sedona to the northeast and Mingus Mountain to the southwest, its lower elevation makes it a perfect spot for your next Arizona adventure.

Related: Best Things to Do in Charming Cottonwood, Arizona

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

Old Town Cottonwood is known for its Main Street with over 60 businesses including charming boutique hotels, wonderful restaurants, shops, antique stores, and wine tasting rooms. The Verde Valley Wine Trail runs right through town and has more stops here than anywhere else on the trail. Sit back and sip, savor, and enjoy the fruit of the vine in Old Town.

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

Cottonwood is also home to Dead Horse Ranch State Park. Less than two miles from Old Town, this landmark has earned a reputation as a favorite fishing hole, bird lover’s paradise, and hiker’s dream. Its trails meander through sycamore and cottonwood trees along the banks of the Verde River making it a jewel in the center of Cottonwood all year round. Visit Cottonwood, the heart of Arizona wine country, where everyone is welcome!

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Verde Valley

A hundred miles north of Phoenix, the Verde Valley region is home to red rocks, green mountains, and scenic journeys. Head to Montezuma Castle National Monument, a 900-year-old, 20-room dwelling built into a limestone cliff—or, hop on the Verde Canyon Railroad luxury train and cruise through the canyons in an open-air viewing car. The Copper Art Museum in Clarkdale features galleries of amazing copper art and artifacts. Oenophiles will appreciate the Verde Valley Wine Trail whose 26 winery stops lead through charming towns like Jerome, Clarkdale, and Cottonwood. 

Related: Family-friendly Road Trips Through Arizona: Sedona and the Verde Valley

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Native American Culture

The territory we’ve come to know as Arizona has only been a state for a relatively short time, the last of the lower 48 to be admitted to the Union. Indigenous people have lived here for millennia.

Navajo Land © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are 22 sovereign nations here including the Hopi tribe, the Apache tribe, the Navajo (known as Dineh, “the people,” in the four corners), and the Hualapai, the tribe that manages the famous Grand Canyon West.

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The seven Navajo tribal parks and three national monuments in Najavoland are treasured by outdoor enthusiasts. There you will find fascinating rock formations, sandstone canyons, historical sites, and ancient ruins; and visitors have the opportunity to learn about Navajo history, traditions, and culture.

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

While in Tuba City, located on the western Navajo Indian Reservation, check out the Explore Navajo Interactive Museum which features a traditional hogan, handmade rugs, and baskets. Next door is the Navajo Code Talkers Museum dedicated to Navajo veterans who served in the US Marines and used the Navajo language to send encrypted messages during World War II.

Driving through Navajo Land © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also, don’t skip the opportunity to visit Tuba City Trading Post, which offers a variety of handmade items like extraordinary Indigenous art, handmade jewelry, and beautiful textiles.

Related: Family-friendly Road Trips Through Arizona

Hubbell Trading Post © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

East of Tuba City, Hubbell Trading Post is the oldest operating trading post in the Navajo Nation. The Arizona historical site sells basic traveling staples as well as Native American art just as it did during the late 1800s.

Worth Pondering…

It’s breathtaking. You can’t believe it. It’s very photogenic; it has a kind of mythic feeling of age, of legend…You’ve seen it in the movies, but when you see it in life, it’s so epic in its proportions that it almost stands for the whole of the West.

—Peter Bogdanovich, filmmaker

Route 66: The Road to Adventure

In its glory years, Route 66 proved an escape for drivers seeking freedom and adventure on the open road. It provides the same today for those willing to get off the interstates to traverse what’s left of it.

Michael Wallis, author of the 1990 book Route 66: The Mother Road, describes what became known as “The Main Street of American”:

“A thread looping together a giant patchwork of Americana, this fabled road represents much more than just another American highway. Route 66 means motion and excitement. It’s the mythology of the open road. Migrants traveled its length; so did desperadoes and vacationers. Few highways provoke such an overwhelming response. When people think of Route 66, they picture a road to adventure.”

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Northwestern Arizona is home to the longest uninterrupted portion of the historic highway, the 159-mile span from Seligman to Kingman. A great starting point for those wishing to explore this stretch is the Arizona Route 66 Museum and Visitor Center in Kingman where travelers can add context to their journey into a storied past.

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Formally established in 1926, Route 66 was “a 2,448-mile journey to the heart of America,” the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona pamphlet reads. “Contrasted with the other highways of its day, Route 66 did not follow a traditionally linear course. Its diagonal path linked hundreds of communities across eight states and became the principal east-west artery.”

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At first, much of Route 66 was dirt. It was not paved in its entirety until 1938. It was on this dirt road that one significant group of people traveled from the Midwest seeking a better life. The combination of economic depression, ill-advised farming practices, and severe drought led to the “Dust Bowl” in the 1930s when extreme storms literally carried the topsoil of farmland hundreds of miles away.

Related Article: Route 66 across Arizona

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Dust clouds several miles high blew across the plains covering everything with fine, dry silt,” a museum interpretive plaque states. “Crops would not grow and animals and humans were actually driven mad by the wind and the dust.”

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These harsh conditions inspired farmers who became known as “Okies” because they were centered along the panhandle of Oklahoma to travel west to find their greener pastures. Their principal route became known as the “Mother Road” because of John Steinbeck’s description of it as such in his novel, The Grapes of Wrath, which chronicled the travails of a fictional Dust Bowl family.

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Chapter 12 of Steinbeck’s masterpiece, he wrote: “66 is the path of people in flight . . . they come into 66 from the tributary side roads, from wagon tracks, and the rutted country roads. 66 is the mother road.”

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Interestingly, according to the museum’s interpretation materials, more than 200,000 people fled west to California during the era but less than 16,000 actually stayed there. “Prosperity was supposed to be just around the corner but some made the long trek to California in dilapidated ‘tin lizzies’ only to turn back after finding more poverty and despair,” one museum plaque reads.

Related Article: Get Your Kicks (And Burros) On Route 66

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The completion of paving the route on the eve of World War II became significant to the war effort. Improved highways were key to rapid mobilization during the conflict. The military chose numerous locations in the West as training bases because of their geographic isolation and good weather. Many were located on or near Route 66 including the Kingman Army Airfield Gunnery School. It was not uncommon to see mile-long convoys of trucks along the road transporting troops and equipment.

Wigwam Motel along Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is from the post-war years that most of the nostalgia for Route 66 stems. This was the era when the motor-going public decided to go out and explore the country in droves spawning a dramatic increase in roadside commerce. The development of gas stations, motels, and diners mushroomed in the 1950s and 60s and with them creative landmarks to draw tourists in, from twin arrows in the middle of the stretch between Flagstaff and Winslow to motel rooms that resembled Indian teepees at the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook.

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Driving Route 66 was literally an adventure and Los Angeles resident Jack D. Rittenhouse wrote the adventure guide in 1946, titled A Guide Book to Highway 66. It became a bible to travelers of the open road. In it, Rittenhouse provided some important advice, including:

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be sure to have your auto jack. A short piece of wide, flat board on which to rest the jack in sandy soil is a sweat preventer . . . Carry a container of drinking water which becomes a vital necessity as you enter the deserts . . . An auto altimeter and auto compass add to the fun of driving, although they are not essential.

Related Article: King of the Road: America the Road Trip Capital of the World

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The same year Rittenhouse’s guide hit shelves, Americans also heard Bobby Troup’s ode to the highway song, Get Your Kicks on Route 66, which has been covered by numerous musical groups since.

According to Tom Snyder, founder of the California Route 66 Association, Route 66 was for travelers, not tourists. To Snyder, tourists are all about rushing to the next popular place and finding the right souvenirs, but travelers are not in a hurry, want to explore, and want to find the souvenir makers, not just the souvenirs.

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1956, however, just as Route 66 was experiencing its heyday, the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower enacted the Federal Highway Act of 1956 which would authorize the construction of a 41,000-mile network of interstate highways across the country and eventually signal the death knell of the “Mother Road” which it replaced with five interstates. Throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, formerly vibrant towns in Arizona such as Seligman, Peach Springs, and Hackberry were bypassed by Interstate 40 and in a way taken off the map and out of the motoring public’s consciousness.

One of the museum’s plaques explained the end result in less than glowing terms:

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rest stops were no longer dictated by the unique and enticing attractions along the road but by large signs that said so. Today, food, gas, and lodging facilities are nearly identical from state to state and the blandness of driving an unremarkable stretch of highway takes its toll.

Like many towns along Route 66, Seligman in Arizona depended on the traffic along the highway to sustain its businesses. In 1978, when Interstate 40 replaced Route 66 and rerouted traffic two miles south of town and away from its downtown, businesses suffered, some closed and buildings were abandoned.

Old Powerhouse building along Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The old Powerhouse building became a visitor center in 1997 and the association started the museum on the second floor of the building in 2001, fittingly using money earned from the raffle of a 1964 Corvette Stingray donated to the organization. At first, the association operated the museum but then the Mohave County Historical Society which also runs the Mohave Museum and Bonelli House took it over.

Route 66 Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The museum features exhibits portraying three epochs of history along the route: the pioneer era, the Dust Bowl era and, of course, Route 66’s golden age as America’s Main Street with vehicles of each time period as each display’s centerpiece. The museum gives younger visitors the chance to complete a scavenger hunt, looking for specific items on a list within the exhibits, and if they find all the items, museum staff rewards them with a souvenir coin.

Route 66 and Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to the Arizona Route 66 Museum, the Powerhouse Building is home to a visitor center and gift shop as well as an electric car museum. Admission to the museum also allows visitors to visit the Mojave Museum of History and Arts just a block away and the Bonelli House, the restored home of a Kingman pioneer. 

Route 66 Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Well, if you ever plan to motor west
Jack, take my way, it’s the highway, that’s the best
Get your kicks on Route 66

Well, it winds from Chicago to L.A.
More than two-thousand miles all the way
Get your kicks on Route 66.

—Bobby Troup

The Ultimate Guide to Sedona

The most beautiful place on Earth

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

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the many things that I love about Sedona is that it has the perfect mixture of outdoor adventure, interesting history, and iconic landscapes. All of which are spread out throughout the region so it is a good idea to understand how the area is laid out so you can plan the best itinerary and get the most out of your time in Sedona.

A Quick Look at Sedona

Before we explore the top things to do, let’s get our bearings.

Uptown Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Uptown Sedona

Uptown Sedona lies north of the major intersection of Highway 89A and 179, also known as the Y. This part of town is more built up with a number of local attractions including the Sedona Visitor Center, Sedona Heritage Museum, and several galleries. With its central location, you’ll have everything within a few minutes’ drive.

West Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

West Sedona

On Highway 89A it feels a little more rural; however, you’ll still have the full range of amenities including hotels and restaurants. From West Sedona, you’ll have a short drive to Cottonwood while being close to the red rocks.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Surrounding Towns

The Village of Oak Creek is a popular alternative to Sedona and has several cheaper mid-range hotels plus the Sedona Golf Resort. Further west is Cottonwood found along the Verde Valley with Camp Verde to the south. There’s an excellent choice of campgrounds and RV parks along this corridor (see below for details). You’ll have a further drive to the sights in Sedona but will be near a number of great wineries along the Verde Valley Wine Trail.

Related Article: Sedona’s Red Rock Energy

Now that you have some idea of the layout of Sedona, let’s dive right into my recommended experiences and activities in and around Sedona.

Sedona trolley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

My Recommended Sedona Experiences

The Sedona Trolley

For first-time visitors, there are few better things to do in Sedona right off the bat than a trip on the Sedona Trolley. The trolley runs two distinct tours, labeled Tour A and Tour B, to keep things simple.

Tour A takes visitors to the south side of town. Along the way, you’ll see the renowned Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village, amazing views, and the Chapel of the Holy Cross.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tour B takes guests to West Sedona and Fay Canyon with expert narration. Along the way, you’ll be able to see several famous sights such as Thunder Mountain and Chimney Rock. You’ll also enjoy a 15-minute photo stop within the red rock walls of Fay Canyon.

Both tours last around an hour and cost $24 per adult and $16 per child. You can also combine both tours and save.

Oak Creek Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oak Creek Canyon

The Grand Canyon may be the most famous gorge in Arizona but Sedona’s Oak Creek Canyon is ready to surprise. It’s here that you’ll find some of the best views in town where the red rocks rise out of the green-yellow valley forming bright beacons.

Oak Creek Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The drive between Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon is also one for the books. This scenic byway follows State Route 89A all the way to the scenic Oak Creek Vista. In fact, if you’re driving from Flagstaff, take this route on your way to Sedona.

Oak Creek Canyon is packed with exciting things to do. The canyon is where you’ll find the West Fork Trail. You can also head down to the river to fish for trout or camp out underneath the stars.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock Scenic Byway

The Sedona Trolley may be a great way to get acquainted with the town. But getting your hands on your own set of four wheels is a must for any visit. This will allow you to venture down Sedona’s three scenic byways. These are the Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Road, Red Rock Loop Road, and big down, the Red Rock Scenic Byway, an All-American Road.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All of them are must-do. In fact, you’ll likely experience them anyway as you hit up the best things to do in Sedona. However, you should give yourself enough time to intentionally enjoy the experience from every winding turn through the desert valley to the memorable landmarks along the way.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Highlights of the Red Rock Scenic Byway include Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, and the Coconino National Forest. As its only 8 miles long, you have plenty of time to stop and explore in great detail. Don’t forget to stop at the Chapel of the Holy Cross which is just beyond the terminus of the Byway.

Schnebly Hill Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Cathedral Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona Vortex Sites

There are four major vortex sites in Sedona. Each is a part of a powerful phenomenon that is meant to inspire and uplift the spirits of all who stand within its energetic boundaries.

Related Article: Sedona Is One Huge Psychic Vortex (Supposedly)

Sedona, as a whole, is thought to be entirely within a vortex. But the four major sites hold the key to its power. The four vortices are found at Airport Mesa, Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, and Boynton Canyon.

Each offers a different type of power. They’re either masculine, such as the Airport Vortex, feminine like at Cathedral Rock with the Boynton Canyon Vortex being a balance of both. Interestingly, the Bell Rock Vortex is a mix of all three.

Cathedral Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cathedral Rock Trail

In a town with many photography hot spots, the fact that Cathedral Rock may be the most popular says something. You’ll spot the rock formation as you explore Sedona but you can’t beat getting an up-close view of the amazing site.

Cathedral Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although it’s only a single mile-long loop, the Cathedral Rock Trail will get your heart pumping. Starting at the Cathedral Rock Trailhead, the steep incline grows ever more challenging as you go. Bring along sturdy shoes and try to avoid climbing soon after rain.

Cathedral Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The initial trek to the viewpoint will be over in the blink of an eye, so make sure to take time to admire the towering red rock formations along the way. Eventually, the trail stops in a saddle, providing one of the most spectacular vistas in the Grand Canyon State.

Look along the valley floor to see a vibrant mix of orange, reds, and lush greens flowing into the distance until they reach the horizon and the bright blue sky above.

Tlaquepaque © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tlaquepaque Arts And Crafts Village

Hiking and four-wheel-driving aren’t the only things to do in Sedona. The town, which is synonymous with outdoor pursuits, also has a firm grasp on a creative one. One of the best examples of Sedona’s thriving art community can be found at the Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village. Housed within a series of Spanish colonial buildings, the village is a labyrinth of shops and art galleries connected by cobblestone streets.

Tlaquepaque © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arrive early (it opens at 10 am) to explore before it becomes too crowded. You’ll then have a front-row seat for some of the most memorable window shopping as you peruse eclectic boutiques and watch master craftsmen and women ply their trade.

It’s a living breathing village with many of the art galleries having artists in residence which means there is a consistent evolution of art on display. Plus, like any good village, you’ll have several delightful restaurants to enjoy before continuing your exploration.

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

Chapel of the Holy Cross

The architectural tree of Frank Lloyd Wright can be seen throughout the United States. Sedona is no different. One of the best things to do in Sedona is to pay a visit to the Chapel of the Holy Cross. Now, you may not have envisioned placing a chapel on the itinerary but you’ll be glad you made that choice.

The mesmerizing Roman Catholic chapel was designed by Marguerite Brunswid Satude. The creation ascends out of the red rocks, perfectly balancing nature with man-made beauty. When the sun splashes against the vast stained windows of the Chapel of the Holy Cross and oxidized rock formations, it creates a memorable sight for all who witness. But the best view is within.

Related Article: Family-friendly Road Trips Through Arizona: Sedona and the Verde Valley

Travelers can wander into the church to find the enormous crucifix placed upon the towering glass windows. From there, a stunning viewpoint awaits where you can gaze over the rolling hills, Sedona, and the scenic byways that connect the two.

Jeep Tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jeep Tours

Walking at a slow pace is the best way to take in the intricate details of the local landscape. But as we all know, hiking is tiring. But when the legs give out, that doesn’t mean the adventures have to end. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

Jeep Tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona’s rocky geography lends itself perfectly to off-roading and many families will find the famous Pink Jeep Tours and other providers in town offer a great way to see as much of the local scenery as possible. Jeeps wind up impossibly steep rock faces and through narrow gullies, perching on top of gigantic boulders or slabs of rock for more terrific photo ops.

The terrain in places is so precarious that riders sometimes feel like they might fall right out of the Jeep. But not to worry, everyone is securely strapped in. It makes great fun for the kids who may feel like they’re on a roller coaster.

Bell Rock Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bell Rock Trail

Standing ominously above Highway 179 (Red Rock Scenic Byway), Bell Rock is a dramatic sight. The noticeably bell-shaped rock formation is clear from the road creating yet another memorable sight to admire.

Bell Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are multiple ways to get close to the gigantic Bell Rock. You can even begin to scramble up its side and bag the summit. There are also mountain bike trails to use. The number of trails means you can make it up as you go along, choosing to go left and right as you explore the beautiful landscape.

Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But the main loop trail that circumnavigates the iconic sight is one of the best things to do in Sedona. You can begin your hike at two different locations, the South and North lots. The latter being the better place to start as you avoid hiking up the steep side of Bell Rock, turning that section into a downhill stroll.

In addition to Bell Rock, you’ll find Courthouse Butte right behind. It’s another beguiling site to add to your days’ adventures.

Airport Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Airport Mesa Loop

Some will argue that a sunset over the Pacific Ocean is the best there is. But for me, nothing quite compares to a desert sunset. The dry air, dusty valleys, and clear skies help to create a mesmerizing mix of warm colors splashed across the landscape like paint to canvass. Plus, the oxidized sandstone rock loves to reflect the low-hanging sun creating an ever-changing scenery of light and shade.

Airport Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are several top-notch locations to see the sun go down in Sedona including Red Rock Crossing home to the Crescent Moon picnic site. But no spot for golden hour tops Airport Mesa, which you can reach on the Airport Mesa Trail.

Airport Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The tabletop mountain looks over the entire town. Across the mesa is where you’ll find the local airport, hence the name, plus views further afield towards Thunder Mountain.

To reach the summit views, you’ll need to venture along the 3.5-mile hiking trail that meanders along the edge of the plateau. The openness of the scenery lets you take it all in, leaving an uninhibited spot to watch the falling sun.

Related Article: Flagstaff to Sedona…and Beyond

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. The 6.1-mile return Boynton Canyon trail will take you beneath towering sandstone walls towards a swath of pine trees.

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.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Verde Valley Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From there you can venture through the valley named after the surging Verde River, stopping at whatever winery piques your interest.

To get you started, here are some of the top wineries along the trail:

  • Page Spring Cellars: Come here for top-notch wines, walking trails, and sheltered patios that offer beautiful views
  • Burning Tree Cellars: When the historic settlement of Cottonwood this vineyard slings boutique wines on their spacious outdoor patio.
  • Alcantara Vineyard: It’s only appropriate to stop by one winery with views of the Verde River. Plus, they have ample testing on offer.
Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Montezuma Castle

One hour south of Sedona, the Montezuma Castle National Monument was home to a community of Sinagua people from the 12th to 15th century.

The castle features five stories cut into the limestone cliffs that rise out of Beaver Creek. From your vantage point, you’ll see that the startling creation begins 100 feet off the valley floor.

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If the ingenuity and will of the Sinagua community weren’t already clear, it will be once you learn how each of the 20 rooms is held together by clay and mortar.

Sadly, it is no longer possible to explore the inside of Montezuma Castle. However, the striking valley views, interpretive signs, and the invaluable visitor center help to paint the full picture.

Montezuma Well © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drive 11 miles north to see the Montezuma Well which is part of the national monument. Along with the limestone sinkhole, cliff dwellings, and irrigation channels are characteristic of the prehistoric people who have lived in the area dating back to 11,000 BC. The water in the well which is 386 feet across has high levels of arsenic and other chemicals but it still supports endemic species such as water scorpions, snails, mud turtles, and leeches.

Distant Drums RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Conclusion

Here are some additional ideas of what to do and see in this magnificent Red Rock Country:

  • Devil’s Bridge Trail
  • Soldier Pass Trail
  • Palatki Heritage Site
  • Honanki Cliff Dwellings
  • V Bar V Heritage Site
  • Slide Rock State Park
  • Mountain biking
  • Hot-Air Balloon Ride
  • Sedona Arts Center
Rain Spirit RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Places to Camp near Sedona

With so much to explore, you may want to book a campground or RV park. Here are some recommendations for places to rest your weary heads:

  • Distant Drum RV Resort, Camp Verde
  • Verde Ranch RV Resort, Camp Verde
  • Verde River RV Resort and Cottages, Camp Verde
  • Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Cottonwood
  • Verde Valley RV and Camping Resort, Cottonwood
  • Rain Spirit RV Resort, Clarkdale

Worth Pondering…

There are only two places in the world

I want to live—in Sedona and Paris.

—Max Ernst, Surrealist painter

10 Authentic Arizona Small Towns to Visit

Ghost towns, artist enclaves, and wilderness havens—see why these 10 Arizona towns are luring visitors eager for adventure

Arizona just isn’t like any place on the planet. Where you have downright classic cowboy towns on one corner of the state, you’ll stumble upon magical small towns that are sprinkled with natural wonders and sunlit canyons dying to be explored on the other.

Check out our list of the best Arizona small towns to visit.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cave Creek, Arizona

Located in Maricopa County, Cave Creek is conveniently located 27 miles northeast of Phoenix so you’ll never be too far away from a big city even if you’d never know it by the relaxed pace of life here. Not to be confused with the Cave Creek town that is tucked away in the Chiricahua Mountains, this one is said to have been the original town of Cave Creek and therefore has a true claim to the charm of the name.

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be sure to bring your walking shoes so you can hike at Cave Creek Regional Park or head out to Bartlett Lake. Be sure to pack a picnic lunch and fishing gear for Bartlett. Enjoy getting back to nature without feeling like you’ve spent forever in travel.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Holbrook, Arizona

Located at the convergence of Interstate 40, U.S. Highway 180, and State Highway 77, this roadside town feels more like a real place than a ghost town like other destinations on the Mother Road. Wander out to the nearby Petrified Forest National Park for some gorgeous hiking and check out the Agate House, a ruin that demonstrates the ancient Puebloan practice of using the petrified wood as a building material.

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

Wigwam Motel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spend the night in the very cool Wigwam Motel. The motel is composed of fifteen individual concrete teepees. A big attraction is the gorgeous vintage cars that decorate the grounds.

Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prescott, Arizona

The former territorial capital of Arizona, Prescott is one of those little out-the-way places that are one third resort town, one third hipster getaway, and one third small town Americana. Cozy yet adventurous, Prescott offers coffee shops and eateries, arts and crafts, and abundant nature you might not expect in Arizona. The desert atmosphere remains, but things are green and growing.

Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Modern Prescott has the advantage of not really being very modern. Banners proclaim Prescott as “Everyone’s Home Town.” You won’t find high rises, but the downtown businesses clustered around the 1916 Yavapai County Courthouse and its plaza are thriving.

Patagonia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia, Arizona

At an elevation of over 4,000 feet between the Santa Rita Mountains and the Patagonia Mountains, lies the small town of Patagonia. Here, the South Pacific Railroad once hummed with cattle ranchers and prospectors who worked the nearby silver mine. Ranches still dot the hills and historic ghost towns have replaced thriving mining outposts.

Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At first glance, Patagonia is a town that you pass through on the way to somewhere else. However, a second glance reveals a growing community of artists and craftspeople that have decided that this is a very desirable area to live and work in.

Related: Most Beautiful Towns in the Southwest

Distant Drums RV Resort, Camp Verde © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camp Verde, Arizona

Located in Yavapai County, Camp Verde is a small town known for its many annual festivals and the Fort Verde State Historic Park. This park preserves parts of the Fort Verde, an Apache-Wars era fort that is now on the National Register of Historic Places. The fort provided protection to the former mining town and surrounding settlers from the local Native American raids. While need for the fort is now long past, what is left remains for those history lovers out there.

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t forget to visit the Montezuma Castle National Monument and the Out of Africa Wildlife Park.

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Willcox, Arizona

This southeastern Arizona town attracts visitors who come for its wineries and tasting rooms, to hike in Chiricahua National Monument, and to see the sandhill cranes. The majestic birds winter in the Sulphur Springs area.

Whitewater Draw © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thousands of cranes roost in Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, a shallow lake that is a flurry activity at sunup and sundown when birds depart and return in a swirling cloud of feathers.

Related: Must-See under the Radar Small Towns to Seek Out this Spring

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

Globe, Arizona

In the foothills of the Pinal Mountains, sits the former mining camp known as Globe. Founded in 1876 and incorporated in 1907, this lovely town is brimming with century-old buildings, cottages, and hillside houses. The Besh-ba-Gowah Archeological Park features stunning partially restored ruins of a Salado pueblo along with an accompanying museum.

Globe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The historic downtown area is perfect for strolls and shopping for antiques while the Cobre Valley Center for the Arts is a great spot to explore and experience the talent of some incredible artists.

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

Page, Arizona

A small town in northern Arizona, Page is located on the southern shores of magnificent Lake Powell in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The location is ideal for exploring many of the American Southwest’s national parks and monuments and discovering the unique culture of the Navajo Nation.

Lake Powell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Marvel at the beauty of the slot canyons as you hike with a Navajo guide in Antelope Canyon. Enjoy the majesty of the lake and surrounding red rock desert. Explore hundreds of miles of shoreline by houseboat powerboat, or kayak.

Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cottonwood, Arizona

Part river town, part wine trail, and part historic hub: Cottonwood 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.

Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

They start with the quaint Old Town district and branch out to the banks of the lushly green Verde River. 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.

Ajo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ajo, Arizona

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

Worth Pondering…

This is not another place.

It is THE place.

—Charles Bowden

Family-friendly Road Trips Through Arizona: The Old West

To help you plan your family-friendly road trip through Arizona, I’ve put together this list of awesome road trip stops. Keep reading to learn about my favorite spots and campgrounds along the route.

With its vast landscapes and colorful topography, the American Southwest is one of the best regions in the country to take an old-fashioned road trip—in fact, that’s the only way to see most of it. Arizona, specifically, is home to the only Natural Wonder of the World in the U. S., numerous national parks, picturesque state parks, and 21 American Indian tribes. So, what better way to spend spring break this year than packing up the kids for four family-friendly road trips through Arizona?

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since the possibilities for an Arizona road trip are endless, I’ve organized these family-friendly road trips into four paths. Each of these road trip routes includes a selection of my favorite stops. I’ve traveled along each of these paths—most more than once. There is truly something for every member of the family to be enjoyed in each of these road trips.

Earlier articles highlighted Northern Arizona and the Grand Canyon, Sedona and the Verde Valley, and Phoenix and Tucson. Today is a short drive to our final destination in the state’s southeastern part.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Exploring Arizona’s Old West

This was the land of copper mines, silver mines, gold mines, Army forts, Indian wars, cowboys, cattle rustlers, gamblers, the Earp brothers and the Clantons and Doc Holiday. Southeastern Arizona was the quintessential Wild West. This place oozes with tales and legends and beauty. And it is all still here for you to enjoy.

Benson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Settlers were first attracted to Arizona’s deserts in the 1800s by the lure of mining and pioneers on the wagon trail soon followed as settlers sought a new life as cattle ranchers, treasure hunters and more. In more recent history, Arizona’s authentic Old West is the backdrop for many Western movies.

Benson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Railroad heritage

Your Old West adventure begins in Benson. Amid picturesque river-valley views, agreeable weather, and the Home of Kartchner Caverns State Park, the City of Benson is ideally situated along Interstate-10 as the Gateway to Southeastern Arizona. Founded in 1880 prior to Arizona’s mining boom, Benson developed as a stopping point for the Butterfield Overland Stage mail delivery route. Soon thereafter, the Southern Pacific Railroad came into Benson and continued to serve the area until 1997 when the line was purchased by Union Pacific Railroad.

Related Article: Your Cochise Adventure

Benson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The City of Benson’s culture is ingrained with the Old West and its traditional Railroad heritage. The Benson Visitor Center—Train Depot, located at 249 East Fourth Street in the heart of Benson’s historic downtown, is a beautiful replica railroad depot using many of the same architectural features as the original depot that was built over a century ago. Learn all about the city’s rich railroad heritage and the many area attractions.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Town Too Tough To Die

Tombstone, the site of the shootout at the O.K. Corral, is justifiably the most famous of Arizona’s Old Western towns. Starring in dozens of films, Tombstone is very well preserved and visitor-friendly, and most of the attractions here are authentic. Daily reenactments of the shootout are staged at the O.K. Corral. The entire town is a National Historic Landmark and much of the original buildings are still intact. There is something for every member of the family in Tombstone, the Town Too Tough To Die.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop in at the Bird Cage Theater, chock-full of Western artifacts and home to the longest-running poker game in Arizona history. The Crystal Palace Saloon (which has been around since 1879) offers an authentic saloon and dance hall experience plus a tasty lunch menu.

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

Tombstone is also the home of Arizona’s oldest continuously published newspaper, the delightfully named Tombstone Epitaph with a small museum behind the Crystal Palace Saloon. Read the original 1881 reports of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral and learn how the Epitaph’s editor, John Clum, captured the Apache warrior Geronimo.

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

Boothill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Finish your visit to Tombstone at Boothill Graveyard. Tombstone’s first city cemetery, Boothill was established in 1879 as the final resting place of law-abiding citizens as well as thieves, murderers, and rustlers alike.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Queen of the Copper Camps

From Tombstone drive south 25 minutes to the delightful and beautifully preserved mining boomtown of Bisbee. Temperatures are cooler in the scenic Mule Mountains where it even snows in the winter.

One of Bisbee’s most magnificent architectural achievements is the countless concrete stairs that cling to the steep canyon sides. You can find these stairs all over town. While you’re at it, explore the heritage and culture along Subway Street and enjoy some shopping as you take a self-guided tour.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Bisbee Tour Company offers multiple golf cart tour options to enjoy the town from an entirely different perspective. If you’re interested in the Bisbee’s eerie past, an evening walking tour with Old Bisbee Ghost Tour will show you the town and introduce you to some ghostly members of society.

Queen Mine, Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Both the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum and the Bisbee Restoration Museum chronicle the city’s copper-mining past as the “Queen of the Copper Camps.” During almost a century of mining, 8 billion pounds of copper, 102 million ounces of silver, and 2.8 million ounces of gold—along with millions of pounds of zinc, lead, and manganese—were pulled out of the ground here.

Queen Mine, Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re not claustrophobic, take the underground tour of the vast Queen Mine. Here you’ll learn how generations of miners bored tunnels, laid dynamite, blew open veins of ore, and trundled it back out.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

First International Airport of the Americas

Next take in the ambiance of Douglas—home to the first international airport—as you enjoy the Border Air Museum and Art Car Museum. The museum includes photos, newspaper articles, original airplane photos, the official letter of President of United States Roosevelt declaring the airport “The First International Airport of the Americas,” a Trojan airplane that was built in Douglas, American Airlines memorabilia, and more.

Related Article: Most Beautiful Towns in the Southwest

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Gadsden Hotel opened for business in November 1907. The hotel soon became a meeting place for cattlemen, ranchers, miners, and businessmen. This grand hotel was named after the historically significant Gadsden Purchase; a purchase of 30,000 square miles from Mexico made in 1853 for 10 million dollars, negotiated by James Gadsden who was then the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. The land purchase was to ensure territorial rights for a practical southern railroad route to the pacific coast.

We can now only imagine how Arizona was before it was a state and at a time when Wyatt Earp, Geronimo, and Pancho Villa rode roughshod over the West.

Butterfield RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Places to stay along this route

With so much to explore, you may want to book a campground or RV park along the route. Here are some recommendations for places to rest your weary heads:

  • Quail Ridge RV Resort, Huachuca City
  • Tombstone Territories RV Resort, Huachuca City
  • Butterfield RV Resort and Observatory, Benson
  • Cochise Terrace RV Resort, Benson
  • Tombstone RV Park and Campground, Tombstone
Cochise Terrace RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bottom line

One of Arizona’s advantages is a nearly year-round panorama staged with excellent weather. Visitors can see Arizona by car pretty much any time of the year, so the most difficult thing about planning a family road trip is determining the best path to match everyone’s interests. Regardless of which itinerary is chosen, a family road trip through this fascinating state will take in some of our country’s most interesting history and impressive natural wonders.

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

Bartlett Lake: A Sonoran Desert Oasis

There’s an oasis in the desert and it’s called Bartlett Lake

Bartlett Lake is a Verde Valley River Reservoir Lake located 30 miles northeast of Phoenix.

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When exploring Arizona, it is always an amazing experience to come upon a lake. With the desert landscape surrounding the water, the lake jumps out as the sapphire hues of the water sparkle against the rugged desert terrain.

There’s an oasis in the desert and it’s called Bartlett Lake. Located in the mountains northeast of Phoenix, Bartlett Lake is one of those Arizona lakes. A man-made reservoir, Bartlett Lake was formed by the damming of the Verde (Spanish for “green”) River.

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pristine waters of the Verde River was spoken of descriptively in legends of the Indians of the valley who called the water “sweet waters”. The lake is framed by Sonoran desert scenery, with gentle sloping beaches on the west side and the rugged Mazatzal Mountains on the east side, studded with saguaro, cholla cacti, mesquite, and ocotillo.

Located in the Tonto National Forest, Bartlett Lake is less than an hour from downtown Phoenix.

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The primary inflow of Bartlett Lake is the Verde River. A 7,500 square mile watershed, fed by melted snow and runoff. The Verde River flows into Horseshoe Lake and then into Bartlett Lake. When full, Bartlett Lake covers 2,815 acres—more than Canyon Lake and Saguaro Lake, combined.

Related: Arizona Lakes: 6 Sonoran Desert Oases

Bartlett Lake is a water recreation wonderland that includes water skiing, jet skiing, wakeboarding, kayaking, swimming, and shoreline camping.

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bartlett Lake has been a favorite with fishermen since Bartlett Dam was constructed in 1939. Anglers can catch largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, flathead catfish, crappie, carp, sunfish, and bluegill. Several state-record fish have been caught there. The 1977 smallmouth bass state record tipped the scales at seven pounds. Flathead catfish weighing up to 60 pounds lurk in the depths.

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Forest Service camping is available at Bartlett Lake. However, there are no designated campsites or hookups.

Bartlett Lake is open all year. It is most crowded during the hot summer months as visitors swarm to the cool refreshing waters and tranquil nights under the brilliant stars.

Related: Top 10 Day Trips From Phoenix

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The only approach by road is from the west, starting from the dispersed communities of Cave Creek and Carefree. The newly engineered, fully paved, scenic Bartlett Lake Road combined with the expanding Phoenix freeway system offers easy access from the entire Valley of the Sun. Bartlett Lake is 20 miles east of Carefree. From Carefree, take the Cave Creek Road/FR 24 to the Bartlett Road/FR 19 junction. Turn right on this paved highway; it is 13 miles to the lake.

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cacti, desert shrubs, and rocky terrain gradually give way to grassy plains as the road climbs to a plateau at 3,300 feet, where a side road forks off north, leading to the more remote Horseshoe Lake. From the junction it is nine more miles downhill to Bartlett Lake, where the grasslands are replaced once more by cacti as the road descends.

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This scenic drive through the Sonoran Desert is worth the trip by itself. It was particularly gorgeous on our recent drive to Bartlett in late March when wildflowers and agave blooms colored the landscape. As we approached Bartlett Lake, the hills were a mass of yellow brittlebush along with globemellow, chuparosa, desert primrose, fairy duster, and ocotillo. What a sight!

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And when we arrived at the lake we were rewarded with even more spectacular views of the surrounding mountains.

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Approaching the lake the road forks and the two branches follow the shoreline north and south, passing various sites for picnics, boat launching, and camping. For day use, the best area is Rattlesnake Cove with shaded tables, fire rings, and showers above a wide, clean, sandy beach. A short walk in either direction along the water’s edge leads to quiet, private coves with interesting rock formations and saguaro near the water. Further north is the main camping area of Bartlett Flats—here the road splits into a number of sandy tracks that end at sites on beaches close to the water.

Related: 7 Serene Arizona Lakes for Water-related Activities

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors to Bartlett Lake find a blend of warm desert landscapes with a cool lake oasis, providing visitors the best of both land and water activities.  To the first time visitor who thinks of Arizona as a barren wasteland of sand, think again! There’s just something about the water and the desert and the bright blue sky that makes Bartlett Lake so beautiful.

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Remember, there’s no cost to go to Bartlett Lake so take the drive, marvel at the view and enjoy lunch on the water.

Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Arizona Public Lands

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

Family-friendly Road Trips Through Arizona: Phoenix and Tucson

To help you plan your family-friendly road trip through Arizona, I’ve put together this list of awesome road trip stops. Keep reading to learn about my favorite spots and campgrounds along the route.

With its vast landscapes and colorful topography, the American Southwest is one of the best regions in the country to take an old-fashioned road trip—in fact, that’s the only way to see most of it. Arizona, specifically, is home to the only Natural Wonder of the World in the U. S., numerous national parks, picturesque state parks, and 21 American Indian tribes. So, what better way to spend spring break this year than packing up the kids for a four family-friendly road trips through Arizona?

Phoenix from Hole in the Rock at Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since the possibilities for an Arizona road trip are endless, I’ve organized these family-friendly road trips into four paths. Each of these road trip routes includes a selection of my favorite stops. I’ve traveled along each of these paths—most more than once. There is truly something for every member of the family to be enjoyed in each of these road trips.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Earlier articles highlighted Northern Arizona and the Grand Canyon and Sedona and the Verde Valley. Today we drive 115 miles south to Phoenix.

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Food and culture trails through Phoenix

The capital of Arizona, Phoenix is known for its resorts, golf courses, great food and wine, and fantastic desert views. While road-tripping through Arizona, stop here for some culture and tasty morsels.

Desert Botanical Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take in the art of Native Americans at the Heard Museum. Let the kids loose at the Arizona Science Center where STEM exhibits both teach and entertain. Race fans will love the Penske Racing Museum with its amazing collection of cars, trophies, and racing memorabilia chronicling the career of the Penske family one of the most successful race dynasties.

Related Article: Amazing Places to Discover in Phoenix’s East Valley

Ring-necked duck at Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then, drive about 30 miles northeast of town to visit Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s desert sanctuary and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s a stunning museum celebrating the genius of Wright’s architecture and design.

White Tank Mountains Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After taking in all those amazing places, visitors will have worked up an appetite. Phoenix’s dining scene is rich and varied with something for every taste.

Fountain Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Housed inside a 1950s bank building, the midcentury gem Federal Pizza serves up delicious wood-fired pizza in a relaxed atmosphere that’s perfect for families. Or try modern Mexican fare made with fresh local ingredients at Joyride Taco House with misters on the patio to keep you cool in the hot summer months.

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Right across the street is Churn, a nostalgic candy and ice cream shop that will make all your kids’ dreams come true with shelves of retro toys and candy, artisan ice cream, and fresh-baked treats. Check out the Instagrammable wall of cassette tapes in the back (and have fun explaining what cassettes are to your kids).

Desert Botanical Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Filled with sandstone buttes that provide gentle but stimulating hiking trails and photogenic spots like the Hole in the Rock, Papago Park is a scenic wonder only 10 minutes from downtown Phoenix. Home of the Phoenix Zoo and the Desert Botanical Garden, the park also offers many activities including an archery range, golf course, fishing lagoons, and an orienteering course. That little pyramid you’ll see is the tomb of Gov. George Wiley Paul Hunt.

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are several good reasons for paying a visit to the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, a 110-acre park in Gilbert. The astounding variety of cacti, probably varieties than you ever knew existed, is itself worth stopping by for. But there are also many other species of plant and animal life in and around this artificial wetland created with reclaimed water. You can view fish, birds, reptiles, and mammals of many different kinds on a pleasant little hiking trail. It’s an especially excellent place for bird watching. The picnic and playground areas are imaginatively and artistically designed and laid out.

Related Article: Top 10 Day Trips From Phoenix

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another family-friendly adventure is Schnepf Farms, an organic farm where you can pick your own fruits and vegetables. With 300 acres, Schnepf Farms is the perfect place to enjoy fresh air and naturally grown, pesticide-free produce (peppers, cucumbers, kale, and green onions, among others). They are especially known for their peaches with picking season usually in May.

Queen Creek Olive Mill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re into clean eating, check out the Queen Creek Olive Mill. You can tour the grounds and learn how to make extra virgin olive oil, the best uses for it in the kitchen and why it’s so healthy.

Presidio-Old Pima County Courthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eat your way through Tucson plus a dose of nature

Tucson is another Arizona destination worth repeat visits with history, culture, and outdoor activities galore. Plus, its food game is beyond your wildest expectations. Tucson is a UNESCO City of Gastronomy, named in 2015 (the first in the U.S.). Tucson gave us the Sonoran dog—a bacon-wrapped street dog forged in nearby Sonora and packed into a bun filled with burrito toppings.

Old Presidio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucson’s designation acknowledges that the chefs and residents of Tucson value the role food has historically played in the city. Many local chefs use ingredients that the Indigenous people of the area have used for thousands of years.

Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whatever else is on the agenda, save time to explore an area the city has designated “The Best 23 Miles of Mexican Food.” Start along Tucson’s 12th Avenue for an authentic taste of the Best 23 Miles and work your way from there. From street food to taquerias to fine dining, the Mexican food scene in Tucson is often described as the best outside of Mexico.

Related Article: A Southern Gem: 14 Reasons to Visit Tucson

Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Laying claim to being the oldest Mexican restaurant in the U.S. is El Charro, with a menu offering a mix of traditional dishes and Mexican favorites. This colorful eatery was established in 1922 by Monica Flin (credited with inventing the chimichanga) and has been in continuous operation by the same family ever since.

Tucson Mountain Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the historic Hotel Congress, the more than 100-year-old lobby restaurant Cup Cafe is something of a local legend. The food here is dependable and tasty — from French dip sandwiches with an interesting Southwest flavor twist to gargantuan breakfast-for-lunch omelets. For dessert, an old-fashioned spiraling glass display case shows guests a variety of sweet, homemade treats.

But this funky little town is chockablock with art, drawing from indigenous cultures, trippy desert landscape, and the fact that heat and desolation can really bring out the weirdness in people.

Tucson Museum of Art © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Home to the University of Arizona, the city nurtures a vibrant downtown arts scene with the contemporary Tucson Museum of Art forming the backbone of a flourishing community of painters, glass-blowers, and jewelers. When the heat drops at night, that same downtown comes alive with bars, breweries, and upscale restaurants embracing the uniquely Tucson convergence of Mexican and Arizona influences, a dose of green chiles, open-faced quesadillas (cheese crisps), and those exquisite hot dogs.

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucson also happens to host one of the country’s biggest annual gem and mineral shows each winter when the city is taken over by rockhounds from around the world.

Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

View a great variety of plants and animals of the Sonoran Desert at Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum. Two miles of paths lead through 21 acres of displays. Live demonstrations and tours daily. The museum is a zoo, natural history museum, and botanical garden all rolled into one.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A desert oasis, Sabino Canyon Recreation Area is a hiker’s paradise. Tucked in a canyon in the Santa Catalina Mountains in the Coronado Forest, it is easily accessible from Tucson. Ride the narrated shuttle bus and you can get off and back on at any of the stops for a picnic, hike, or a walk back. Trails off the main road explore the canyon or lead into the high country.

Related Article: Why Tucson Is Your Next Great Outdoor Adventure

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The West is full of beautiful national parks but one of the most iconic symbols of the Old West is the saguaro cactus—and Saguaro National Park is full of them. These majestic plants are only found in this part of the U.S. and can live to be as much as 200 years old and grow up to 60 feet tall. Learn about cacti in the gardens on the east and west sides of the visitor center and take in beautiful sunsets on the Tanque Verde Ridge Trail (a half-mile hike) from the Javelina Rocks pullout on the east or from the Gates Pass on the west side.

Tucson/Lazydays KOA © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Places to stay along this route

With so much to explore, you may want to book a campground or RV park along the route. Here are some recommendations for places to rest your weary heads:

Worth Pondering…

The saguaro cactus is the Sonoran Desert’s singular icon, the largest native living thing that exists here, and it appears to be a stunningly robust presence in a harsh land.

—Larry Cheek, Cheek, Born Survivor