The Grandest Drive in Arizona

Follow Highway 89A and hold on tight

Everyone has a favorite road, often some less-traveled stretch of curvy blacktop through an area of scenic countryside. What I consider to be one of the grandest drives in Arizona fits that bill and beats the heat is a federally recognized scenic byway that climbs tall mountains, traverses sweeping grasslands, encounters the grandest of vistas, and passes through historic towns along the way. 

Courthouse Plaza, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Remember to travel with caution, follow good health practices, and behave responsibly when outdoors or around other people. Also, get the latest information about your destination before proceeding. Check for fire restrictions and other closures.

Watson Lake and Granite Dells, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Leaving Prescott, drive north on Highway 89 until you hit the intersection with 89A in the direction of Jerome. This piece of roadway was constructed in the 1920s as something of a shortcut over the crest of Mingus Mountain between Prescott and Jerome which was then a thriving copper-mining town. Again, it can be challenging, but in a good way.

Highway 89A climbing Mingus Mountain © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Peaking at 7,000 feet, the 34-mile trek at higher elevations passes through tall-pine forest. The road twists through canyons and over crests with impressive climbs, dazzling drop-offs, and views that make you want to stop the car to get out and stare. There actually are quite a few pullouts for parking and enjoying the ambience with several of them in the narrow and absolutely stunning valley that you encounter while approaching Jerome. Look far ahead for a sighting of the red rocks of Sedona in the distance.  You’ll want to stop to bask in the glory of the view.

Highway 89A descending Mingus Mountain to Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The descent proves just as steep and curving as the climb up the mountain. But since you’re not hemmed in by a canyon the views are more dramatic. Take advantage of the pullouts to stop and marvel at the details. You’ll see evidence of mining activity as you get lower. Pass through a rocky cleft then wind around a few more curves and you’ll be pulling into Jerome. Now you can relax. 

Highway 89A through Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The entrance to Jerome happens suddenly; one moment you’re on this mountain road and the next you are on a narrow stretch of village streets. Small homes perch above you on the left and below you on the right with ancient concrete walls and curbs lining the road. Go slowly through here as there are homes and businesses packed close to the street and usually bands of tourists wandering around aimlessly. 

Highway 89A through Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One final curve to the right and you’re in downtown Jerome with its reclaimed century-old buildings, shops, art galleries, cafes, and bars including the Spirit Room, a longtime favorite for locals, out-of-town visitors, and bikers of the Harley-Davidson variety. 

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome has a boom-to-bust ghost-town history that builds on its charm. From the 1890s through the 1920s, Jerome was a copper-mining boom town fading through the Depression of the 1930s, coming back as copper demand grew during the war years, and then shriveling up in the 1950s from a peak population of about 4,400 to a low of fewer than 100. 

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To make things worse, soil subsidence on the town’s precarious incline on the side of Cleopatra Hill caused by deforestation, fires, and mine blasting made major buildings collapse and some homes slide down the hill. 

Cleopatra Hill, Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yet Jerome’s rugged historic beauty cast its spell on artists and offbeat souls who repopulated the town restoring its homes and its downtown as well a regular destination for a steady flow of tourists and shoppers.

Tuzigoot National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you leave Jerome, be aware that the town of Cottonwood in the broad valley below the mountain range is a nice place to stop. There’s also an incredible prehistoric pueblo ruin called Tuzigoot National Monument just to the east.

Highway 89A traveling from Cottonwood to Sedona Arizona 89A © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you are still enticed, continue on 89A into Sedona with its towering red rock formations and popular downtown then through lush Oak Creek Canyon up an amazing set of switchbacks to the surface of Mogollon Rim above and on to Flagstaff which sits at 7,000 feet elevation. 

Highway 89A through Oak Creek Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

None of this lengthy trip on Arizona 89A will be in the least bit tedious, especially newbies who will be enthralled by the continuous and ever-changing array of remarkable scenery. I’ve been on this route many times and never tire of it.

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

3 Arizona Destinations to Explore During Spring Training

In Phoenix for Spring Training! Spend some downtime exploring the Arizona outfield with these incredible day trips.

If you’ve come to Phoenix for spring training, or simply to escape the winter, you may not have thought about exploring the rest of Arizona.

If you return home after seeing seven games in seven days, but nothing of Arizona you’ll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of the season!

But even the most diehard of spectators will find pockets of downtime. So it’d be a big swing and miss if you didn’t sneak off and explore the surrounding area: Seriously, the unreal landscapes, cultural riches, and award-winning eats add up to a stellar bonus vacation.

Here are some of Arizona’s can’t-miss destinations, and what you can do there in just a day.

Jerome

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Back in the day, men went where the precious ore was, no matter how precarious the landscape. Today, Jerome still clings for dear life to Cleopatra Hill, having successfully transitioned from mining town to tourist-friendly destination with restaurants, galleries and, best of all, a great view at every hairpin turn.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Must see: Imagine a dark and stormy night where a bolt of lightning illuminates a large building looming over a small town! That’s the Jerome Grand Hotel, a former hospital now home to guests (and a few spirits, if legends are to be believed).

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Cliched tourist activity actually worth doing: Jerome is supposedly among Arizona’s most haunted towns (its largest public venue is called Spook Hall). Take a tour and learn all about those who are living the afterlife.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Insider tip: One of the best views also comes with a burger and a beer. Head to Haunted Hamburger and take a seat on the back porch.

How much time to allot: It’s a four-hour round trip, so six hours should do (seven if you eat, eight if you take a ghost tour).

Prescott

Courthouse Plaza, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

If Arizona has a classic small town, this is it. From historic bars and hotels to a downtown centered round a formidable courthouse, Prescott is a casting agent’s dream with it comes to finding a charming village.

Whiskey Row, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Must see: Stroll along Whiskey Row (Montezuma Street), which earned its moniker at the turn of the 20th century. There may be fewer bars, but the historic charm remains, particularly at the Palace Restaurant and Saloon. In July 1900, as flames approached in a massive fire that would destroy much of Prescott, patrons dragged the bar to safety, and then returned for the liquor.

Sharlott Museum, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Cliched tourist activity actually worth doing: As you enter the Palace Saloon and smile at workers in 1880s costumes, belly up to the historic bar and order a shot of whiskey, as countless cowboys have done.

Watson Lake and Granite Dells, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Insider tip: Duck into Matt’s Saloon and see if you can find the photo of Bruce Springsteen. The bartenders have an interesting tale of how The Boss stopped by September 29, 1989, and left a huge tip for a server in need.

How much time to allot: Six hours. Half of that time will be spent driving there and back.

Cottonwood

Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Long ago this once-sleepy town was regarded as the gateway to, well, just about anywhere else. But thanks to its thriving wine scene and quaint Old Town packed with tasting rooms, Cottonwood has become the darling of the wine set.

Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Must see (and drink): The best wine tour in the area is right along Main Street. Five winery tasting rooms are within a block of one another. Each offers unique, locally made wines. You may be surprised how well “Arizona” and “fine wines” go together.

Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Cliched tourist activity actually worth doing: Climb aboard a steed (well, a very gentle horse) for a ride along the Verde River in Dead Horse Ranch State Park. It is best if you experience this authentic old-west trek before you hit the tasting rooms.

Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Insider tip: If you have a designated driver (or you can pace yourself) take a ride to sample the offerings of nearby winemakers. Page Springs Cellars and Alcantara Vineyards have indoor and outdoor seating with views of the vines. The Southwest Wine Center, in a sleek, modern space on the Yavapai College campus, pours wines made entirely by students, right down to the labels.

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

How much time to allot: That depends. Are you drinking and driving? Stay overnight. If you’re bringing along a designated driver, plan on seven or eight hours. With a 3½-hour round-trip drive, you’ll have plenty of time to sample all your favorite vintages.

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