Memorial Day 2024: Best Arizona Road Trips for the Long Holiday Weekend

Each year, the summer road trip season kicks off with Memorial Day weekend

Memorial Day weekend changes things. The calendar claims that weeks of spring still remain on the books. But for all intents and purposes, it’s hello, summer. The holiday also provides a chance to get out of town for a wonderful stretch. 

While backyard barbecues and pool parties are great, there’s a whole lot of Arizona just waiting for you. Take this opportunity to head someplace cool or wet or both. For a few glorious days, you can refresh and recharge. Now you’re ready to face the summer. At least until the July 4 break.

Here are some of Arizona’s best Memorial Day getaways. 

Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Verde Valley adventure: Tigers, a zip line and a historic train ride

Cottonwood and the Verde Valley are your destinations for an action-packed holiday weekend.

Nestled in the high desert of Camp Verde, Out of Africa Wildlife Park provides sanctuary for hundreds of exotic animals and features dozens of large predators. The preserve spreads across 100 acres of rolling terrain. Tiger Splash is the signature show. There is no training and no tricks.

The daily program is spontaneous, just animals frolicking with their caretakers. Visitors can also take a narrated African Bush Safari and attend the Giant Snake Show.

Outside the park is Predator Zip Line which offers a two- to three-hour zip line tour across five lines and a suspension bridge high above the animals. Tours are $99.95; you can save $10 by booking online. 

For a ground-based journey, climb aboard the Verde Canyon Railroad and rumble into scenic backcountry. The train departs from the station in Clarkdale and travels into a high-walled canyon carved by the Verde River and lined by cottonwood trees. Such a rich riparian habitat lures a variety of wildlife, notably eagle, hawk, heron, mule deer, javelina, coyote, and beaver.

By the way, I have a series of posts on the Verde Valley:

Verde Canyon Railroad © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Celebrate Wupatki National Monument’s centennial

On the quiet prairie northeast of Flagstaff the pueblos of Wupatki National Monument rise like red-boned ghosts above swaying grasses.

The eruption of Sunset Crater in 1085 covered the dry basin with volcanic ash and cinders creating arable terrain. Soon afterward, Ancestral Puebloans moved in and built the freestanding dwellings that appear almost as natural rock formations.

This year Wupatki celebrates its centennial as a national monument. Short pathways lead to up-close encounters with a handful of these ancient structures. Behind the visitor center, a paved trail leads to Wupatki Pueblo, the largest dwelling in the park. The sprawling three-story ruin contains nearly 100 rooms and straddles an outcropping of sandstone.

Admission is $25 per vehicle and covers both Wupatki and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, connected by a scenic road.

Tackle the Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course

After your visit to Wupatki and Sunset Crater, you’ll have the rest of the weekend to experience Arizona’s summer capital. Why not sample the tree-top thrills of Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course at Fort Tuthill County Park?

Conquer rope swings, climbing walls, hanging nets, wobbly bridges, and ziplines. There are multiple circuits on the adult playground plus a course designed for children ages 7-11. Adult course costs $60 as does the zipline adventure or combine the two for $99. Children’s course is $30.

Ax throwing and laser tag in Flagstaff

If you prefer indoor activities, FlagTagAZ offers ax and knife throwing, laser tag, darts, arcade games, and more. They also serve beer, wine, and mead in their pizza café.

Flagstaff Brewery Trail

Speaking of beer, there’s something supremely satisfying about a day spent walking around Flagstaff’s historic downtown and Southside neighborhoods with their eclectic collections of shops, galleries, restaurants and, yes, craft breweries.

There are eight breweries to be exact, all waiting to quench your thirst with a cold craft beer. You can download a digital passport and score a free commemorative pint glass.

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

You really should see Canyon de Chelly. Here’s how.

At Canyon de Chelly National Monument in northeastern Arizona, sheer cliffs plunge hundreds of feet to lush bottomlands lined with crops, pastures, and cottonwood trees.

It’s a staggering blend of high drama and pastoral beauty. The scenic canyon shelters thousands of archaeological sites while dozens of Navajo families still live and farm there during warmer months.

Take one day to travel the rim drives for the stunning vistas. The North Rim Drive is 17 miles with three overlooks at prominent cliff dwellings and is best in the morning. The South Rim Drive is 19 miles with seven viewpoints is even more spectacular and is especially exquisite when afternoon light floods the canyon. 

Then take another day to explore the inner canyon with a Navajo guide. Private operators offer jeep, horseback, or hiking outings. Park admission is free; there are fees for tours.

Tours also leave daily from Thunderbird Lodge within the park.

Navajo Nation Parks & Recreation also manages Cottonwood Campground near the Canyon de Chelly visitor center. The campground has grills, picnic tables, and restrooms. No showers or hookups are available. Maximum RV length is 40 feet.

Here are some helpful resources:

Fool Hollow Lake: Fish, hike, or take a swim 

Nestled in the pines outside of Show Low, 149-acre Fool Hollow Lake Recreation Area contains one of the loveliest bodies of water in the White Mountains which is high praise indeed. There’s big open water and isolated coves, quiet marshes, and long channels.

This is the kind of lake that makes you want to jump in a kayak and go exploring. Fortunately, you can. Canoe, kayak, and paddleboard rentals are available from J&T’s WildLife Outdoors at the east boat launch ramp. They also offer a guided pontoon boat tour. You can learn about Adair, the town submerged beneath the water.

Landlubbers can hike the 1.5-mile trail running along the edge of the lake. Anglers try their luck landing rainbow trout, bass, walleye, northern pike, and more. And yes, swimming is permitted. Fool Hollow also has campsites for tents and RVs. Park admission is $7 per vehicle Mondays-Thursdays and $10 per vehicle Fridays-Sundays and on holidays.

Prescott Courthouse Plaza © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore art shows in Prescott

When artists display their work on the big grassy lawn of Prescott’s Courthouse Plaza, you know summer has arrived. Spend a day browsing, listening to music, and enjoying the mild temperatures.

The Phippen Museum holds its popular Western Art Show and Sale on the plaza May 25-27. More than 100 artists will have booths set up beneath the big elm trees. Hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday. A Quick Draw Challenge will happen on the north steps of the courthouse from 2-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

With a little planning, you can double your art show fun in Prescott. The Prescott OffStreet Festival is May 25-26 at its new home, Pine Ridge Marketplace, formerly the Gateway Mall. There will be fine art, photography, handmade crafts, and food. The fun starts at 9 a.m. both days and ends at 5 p.m. on Saturday, and 4 p.m. on Sunday.

Scenic drive: Traverse more than 460 curves on the Coronado Trail

A segment of U.S. 191, the Coronado Trail National Scenic Byway twists and turns for 123 miles between Morenci and Springerville in eastern Arizona. The road parallels the New Mexico state line and is the nation’s curviest and least-traveled federal highway.

Expect a 6,000-foot elevation change as the Coronado Trail climbs from cactus-strewn desert to lush alpine meadows and aspen-clad mountains with more than 460 curves along the way. Francisco Vasquez de Coronado is thought to have followed this route centuries ago as he searched for the Seven Cities of Gold.

The road passes the mining towns of Clifton and Morenci and curves around one of the world’s largest open pit mines. It snakes its way up narrow Chase Canyon and switchbacks through scrubby woodland that gives way to dense pine forests as you climb.

The Coronado Trail skirts the edge of the Blue Range Primitive Area where Mexican gray wolves roam. Stop at the high perch of Blue Vista Point for incredible views and to breathe the cool mountain air. Oxygen at 9,100 feet just seems to have a fragrance all its own.

Beyond Hannagan Meadow Lodge, the road softens its tone. The curves are lazier as it winds through forest to alpine ringed by mountains. From here, continue past brush-covered plateaus and the shimmering waters of Nelson Reservoir to the towns of Springerville and Eagar nestled in Round Valley, an idyllic spot to land on Memorial Day weekend.

Queen Mine © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bisbee Queen Mine Tour

Back in the days when copper flowed like a river from the hills of Bisbee, the Queen Mine was one of the richest producers in town. The mine operated for nearly a century before closing in 1975.

Today, retired miners lead tours 1,500 feet deep into the dark cool tunnels gouged from the Mule Mountains. Visitors outfitted in yellow slickers and hard hats with headlamps get an up-close look at mining conditions, techniques and dangers. You’ll emerge from the Queen Mine Tour with a whole new appreciation of your current job.

Tours depart several times throughout the day and reservations are required.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Old Bisbee Ghost Tour

When you’re above ground again in this mile-high town, sign up for an Old Bisbee Ghost Tour.

The city’s rowdy past led to some hard deaths among the citizenry and Bisbee maintains a healthy population of lingering ghosts. You’ll learn about them all on this tour that departs at 7 p.m. each evening and lasts about an hour and 45 minutes.

Guides dress in period garb and spin sinister tales of the restless spirits as you roam the twilight streets of Bisbee. Even ghostly skeptics will enjoy the great history and fascinating stories.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3 ways to see Monument Valley: Hike, drive, guided tour

Straddling the Arizona-Utah border, Monument Valley draws visitors from around the world.

Within the tribal park are a restaurant, gift shop, campground, and the Navajo-owned View Hotel. The rooms with private balconies are a great place to watch one of Monument Valley’s lavish sunrises.

Historic Goulding’s Lodge sits just outside the park and also offers a full range of services including guided tours.

The scenic 17-mile drive that winds through the heart of the valley reveals stunning views of the buttes. If you want more of an outdoor experience, hike the 3.2-mile Wildcat Trail that loops around the West Mitten butte.

Yet the best way to experience the beauty of this iconic western landscape and learn about the culture and history of the people who inhabit it is by signing up for a Navajo-led tour. Tours leave daily from the View Hotel and Goulding’s Lodge.

If you need ideas, check out:

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

Happy Memorial Day

Take a moment to learn the true meaning of Memorial Day

Happy Memorial Day! In addition to its associations with white pants, barbecues, parades, and the unofficial start to the summer season, this annual holiday observed on the last Monday of May honors the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military.

Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day when it was first celebrated in the mid-late 1800s. After the Civil War ended in 1865, Americans began holding yearly tributes to fallen soldiers which included decorating their graves with flowers. It wasn’t until more than a century later, though, that it became an official federal holiday in 1971.

Many Americans observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries or memorials, holding family gatherings, and participating in parades.

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The birthplace of Memorial Day and early observances 

The Civil War which ended in the spring of 1865 claimed more lives than any conflict in U.S. history and required the establishment of the country’s first national cemeteries.

By the late 1860s, Americans in various towns and cities had begun holding springtime tributes to these countless fallen soldiers decorating their graves with flowers and reciting prayers.

Did you know? Each year on Memorial Day a national moment of remembrance takes place at 3:00 p.m. local time.

National D-Day Memorial, Bedford, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is unclear where exactly this tradition originated; numerous different communities may have independently initiated the memorial gatherings. And some records show that one of the earliest Memorial Day commemorations was organized by a group of formerly enslaved people in Charleston, South Carolina less than a month after the Confederacy surrendered in 1865. Nevertheless, in 1966 the federal government declared Waterloo, New York, the official birthplace of Memorial Day.

Waterloo—which first celebrated the day on May 5, 1866—was chosen because it hosted an annual, community-wide event during which businesses closed and residents decorated the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags.

Cowpens National Battlefield, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Decoration Day

On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance later that month. “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed.

The date of Decoration Day, as he called it, was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery and 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Civil War soldiers buried there.

Many Northern states held similar commemorative events and reprised the tradition in subsequent years; by 1890 each one had made Decoration Day an official state holiday. Southern states, on the other hand, continued to honor the dead on separate days until after World War I.

Saratoga National Historic Park, New York © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History of Memorial Day

Memorial Day, as Decoration Day gradually came to be known, originally honored only those lost while fighting in the Civil War. But during World War I the United States found itself embroiled in another major conflict and the holiday evolved to commemorate American military personnel who died in all wars including World War II, The Vietnam War, The Korean War, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For decades, Memorial Day continued to be observed on May 30, the date General Logan had selected for the first Decoration Day. But in 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May in order to create a three-day weekend for federal employees. The change went into effect in 1971. The same law also declared Memorial Day a federal holiday.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga Military Park, Georgia and Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Memorial Day Traditions and Rituals 

Cities and towns across the United States host Memorial Day parades each year, often incorporating military personnel and members of veterans’ organizations. Some of the largest parades take place in Chicago, New York, and Washington, D.C.

Americans also observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries and memorials. Some people wear a red poppy in remembrance of those fallen in war—a tradition that began with a World War I poem (In Flanders Fields by John McCrae).

National Museum of the Pacific War, Fredericksburg, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On a less somber note, many people take weekend trips or throw parties and barbecues on the holiday, perhaps because Memorial Day weekend—the long weekend comprising the Saturday and Sunday before Memorial Day and Memorial Day itself—unofficially marks the beginning of summer.

Worth Pondering…

I think of a hero as someone who understands the degree of responsibility that comes with his freedom.

—Bob Dylan

The Best and Worst Times to Travel This Memorial Day Weekend + Top Destinations

Expert advice for your long weekend travel

Roughly 42.3 million people will travel 50 or more miles from home this Memorial Day weekend, a 7 percent increase over 2022. This year, 2.7 million more people will travel for the unofficial start of summer compared to last year, a sign of what’s to come in the months ahead.  

“This is expected to be the third busiest Memorial Day weekend since 2000 when AAA started tracking holiday travel,” said Paula Twidale, Senior Vice President of AAA Travel. “More Americans are planning trips and booking them earlier despite inflation. This summer travel season could be one for the record books especially at airports.”  

Savannah, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Memorial Day road trips are up 6 percent over last year. 37.1 million Americans will drive to their destinations, an increase of more than 2 million. Fuel prices are lower this holiday compared to last year when the national average was more than $4 a gallon. Despite the lower prices at the pump, car and RV travel travel this holiday will be shy of pre-pandemic numbers by about 500,000 travelers. 

Nearly 3.4 million travelers are expected to fly to their destinations this Memorial Day, that’s an increase of 11 percent over last year. Air travel over the holiday weekend is projected to exceed pre-pandemic levels with 170,000 more passengers—or 5.4 percent more—than in 2019. Despite high ticket prices, demand for flights is skyrocketing. This Memorial Day weekend could be the busiest at airports since 2005. 

More people this holiday are taking other modes of transportation like buses and trains. These travelers are expected to total 1.85 million, an increase of 20.6 percent over 2022. 

Santa Fe, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best/worst times to travel and peak congestion by metro  

INRIX, a provider of transportation data and insights expects Friday, May 26 to be the busiest day on the roads during the long Memorial Day weekend. The best times to travel by car or RV are in the morning or evening after 6 p.m. The lightest traffic days will be Saturday and Sunday. Major metro areas like Boston, New York, Seattle, and Tampa will likely see travel times double compared to normal. 

Boston Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top destinations

AAA booking data for the Memorial Day weekend shows tourist hotspots like Orlando, New York City, and Las Vegas are top domestic destinations. Cruise port cities in Florida and Alaska as well as Seattle are high on the list given the 50 percent increase in domestic cruise bookings compared to last year. Other popular U.S. cities this Memorial Day include Denver, Boston, Anaheim, and Canton (Ohio), home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

For purposes of this forecast, the Memorial Day holiday travel period is defined as the five-day period from Thursday, May 25 to Monday, May 29. The five-day holiday length is consistent with previous holiday periods. 

Corpus Christi, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Welcome summer with a Memorial Day getaway

As the weather warms up and the days get longer, the urge to book vacations is heating up too. And what better way to start the summer than with an easy-to-get-to destination in the United States—but where to go for Memorial Day 2023? Experts suggest that the ideal roadtrip would take place within three hours of your home.

I’ve rounded up some of the best spots in the country that either have opportunities to celebrate America’s heroes with parades or special events or have great ways to kick off the summer with outdoor adventures.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Immerse yourselves in the performing arts in Charleston

Beginning over Memorial Day weekend, Spoleto Festival USA brings two weeks of theater, opera, jazz, and symphonic and choral music performances to charming Charleston, South Carolina. The festival fills Charleston’s historic theaters, churches, and outdoor spaces with performances by renowned artists such as Yo-Yo Ma and Esperanza Spalding as well as emerging performers.

Local highlights include:

  • Walk along Charleston Waterfront Park for lovely views of the Cooper River
  • Stroll along King Street
  • Dine on Southern cuisine

Get your motor running in Indianapolis

“Gentlemen, start your engines.” Who hasn’t heard the immortal words that launch the Indy 500 race every year? So why not take a trip to Indianapolis to spend Memorial Day weekend finding out what all the excitement is about? Other than the actual race, Motor Speedway mania will be revved up with 500 Festival celebrations that include road races, parades, and activities for kids.

Local highlights include:

  • Wander through the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum
  • Chase after your kids at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis
Fort Adams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walk in the steps of heroes in Newport

Newport, Rhode Island, will host the dramatic and acclaimed Boots on the Ground for Heroes Memorial which is on display for the public during Memorial Day at Fort Adams. The moving memorial features nearly 7,000 military boots each affixed with an American flag and bearing the name of an American service member killed in action in the Global War on Terror. The historic fort that dates back to 1799 is also open for self-guided tours for visitors looking to explore one of the most complex fortresses in the country.

Local highlights include:

  • Visit The Breakers and other historic mansions
  • Take a sailboat along the Atlantic Coast
  • Explore the Newport Cliff Walk
Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore the Secret Coast of Mississippi

Bursting with southern hospitality and charm, Mississippi’s Secret Coast boasts 62 miles of scenic shoreline and welcomes families and visitors with warm weather and sunny skies. Another draw: the annual Sounds by the Sea, an open-air Memorial Day concert featuring patriotic selections and fireworks presented by the Gulf Coast Symphony Orchestra. Bring your picnic basket, blanket, and lounge chairs and enjoy the music and show, all overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.

Local highlights include:

  • Visit the Biloxi Lighthouse
  • Dine on Gulf seafood, including oysters
  • Tour Bay St. Louis, a historic beach community with a quaint and funky Old Town
Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keep your eye on the sky in Palm Springs

On May 29, Palm Springs Air Museum in California hosts Flower Drop & Air Fair, an annual Memorial Day ceremony. Throughout the day, visitors can watch air shows, visit flight exhibitions, and see a World War II reenactment. The ceremony culminates with the Flower Drop Memorial Service, a fly-by with planes in “missing man formation” (a salute to fallen military members) followed by a B-25 Mitchell Bomber that drops 3,000 red and white carnations on spectators below.

Local highlights include:

  • Take a detour to Joshua Tree National Park
  • Ride the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, the longest rotating tram in the world
  • Play golf and tennis
  • Hike the Indian Canyons

Worth Pondering…

And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free. And I won’t forget the men who died, who gave that right to me.

—Lee Greenwood

The Summer Travel Season Begins with Memorial Day

Memorial Day kicks off the summer travel season that will surely test American’s resilience for inflation

Observed on the last Monday in May, Memorial Day is a major remembrance day that deserves our attention. It is a day where we come together to remember the sacrifice of many for the freedom all of us enjoy today. Many will attend events to commemorate the men and women of our armed forces who made the ultimate sacrifice to secure our freedom.

The National D-Day Memorial, Bedford, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Memorial Day was originally referred to as Decoration Day. Shortly after the Civil War, General John A. Logan called for a “Decoration Day” to honor those who died during the bloody struggle by decorating the graves of comrades who were lost in defense of their country.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over time, Decoration Day became known as Memorial Day. For a long time it was observed on May 30. It wasn’t until Congress passed the Uniform Holiday Act in 1968 that Memorial Day was officially recognized on the last Monday in May. This law went into effect in 1971.

Related Article: Honoring Memorial Day the Revolutionary Way

The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red poppies are traditionally worn on Memorial Day, inspired by the poem In Flanders Fields:

We cherish too, the Poppy red

That grows on fields where valor led,

It seems to signal to the skies

That blood of heroes never dies.

Fort Davis National Historic Site, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Memorial Day is also the official beginning of the summer season and that includes camping, picnics, and parades. With many celebrating the holiday out of town, the roads are typically filled with people traveling. According to USA Today, Memorial Day is one of the 10 most traveled days of the year.

Nearly 60 percent of American adults shared that they have plans to travel during Memorial Day Weekend versus 27 percent in 2021, according to a recent survey by The Vacationer.

Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“This is a clear indicator that summer travel is going to be up significantly. In a general summer travel survey not related to Memorial Day, we saw more than 42 percent—180 million people—said they intended to travel more this year than last year so it’s not surprising that there is a significant increase in Memorial Day travel,” said Eric Jones, co-founder of The Vacationer.

Related Article: Memorial Day: Honoring Those Who Served Their Country

“People said that last year was gonna be the revenge travel year, but now that everyone’s much more comfortable with COVID and restrictions have loosened, this’ll really be that year.”

Saratoga National Historic Park, New York © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than half of the survey’s respondents confirmed that they would be traveling by car (or RV) this Memorial Weekend. And despite nearly 54 percent confirming that high fuel prices will affect their travel plans in one way or another this Memorial Day, almost 57 percent said they were still going to take some sort of road trip, a form of domestic travel that has grown in popularity during the pandemic.

Cowpens National Battlefield, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amongst road trip types, traveling somewhere closest to home was, naturally, most popular. Thirty-two percent of respondents said they would be going to a destination within 100 miles of their home, 13 percent said they were going to a destination within a 250 mile radius, and nearly 11 percent are headed somewhere within or over 500 miles from their home.

Fort Adams State Park, Rhode Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These numbers follow several reports of American travelers saying that they are planning to spend more on travel this summer than that of last year. While higher fuel prices may fail to deter many from still traveling, it will most likely force travelers to spend less elsewhere in their travel expenses.

Related Article: Remembering D-Day

Boston Freedom Trail, Massachusetts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Memorial Day Weekend of 2022 will be a “test run” of sorts as the first US holiday of this summer which is already recording tremendous leaps in the travel industry since the start of the pandemic. Travelers will be testing the waters and looking to see whether these long-awaited travels are worth the higher fuel prices they’re paying for. 

Old Ironside (USS Constitution) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is the beginning of summer, so travelers will have to watch their money. There are still a lot of people out there who are still cautious—they might travel for the first time, say Memorial Day, and then realize “Okay, inflation and fuel prices are still going up, maybe we’ll reconsider for Fourth of July.”

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If gas prices go down, people who were on the fence and leaning towards no might say yes, which could also increase overall travel.

Related Article: Memorial Day 2021: Best Arizona Road Trips for the Long Holiday Weekend

We wish all of you a Memorial Day weekend filled with peace and remembrance and safe travel.

Worth Pondering…

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.

—John F. Kennedy

Memorial Day 2021: Escapes in Kentucky for Bourbon, Horses & History

Experience the flavors, sights, and traditions that define the Bluegrass State—bourbon, horses, and history

COVID fatigue and the cabin fever it has produced will surely boil over Memorial Day weekend. This year, 37 million Americans are expected to hit the road and travel 50 miles or more from home, according to AAA. That number is about 60 percent more people than traveled last year when only 23 million traveled, the lowest on record since AAA began recording in 2000.

Bluegrass Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“As more destinations open and vaccines are administered we’re seeing an increase in consumers who are ready to get out and enjoy the unofficial start of the summer travel season,” says Bevi Powell, senior vice president, AAA East Central. “The pent-up demand for travel could also be a sign of things to come this summer as more people feel comfortable hitting the road.”  

If you’re looking to get out of town for a much-needed vacation, Kentucky has plenty to offer. Outdoor adventure, history, horse farms, mouthwatering eats, bourbon, culture, arts, and the sweet sounds of bluegrass music (all with some Southern hospitality!) make the Bluegrass State the perfect place for a Memorial Day weekend road trip.

From the world’s longest known cave system and thundering waterfalls to impressive sandstone arches and the “Grand Canyon of the South,” there’s a lot to discover across Kentucky.

Bluegrass Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“The tourism and hospitality industry plays a critical role in helping generate revenue for Kentucky’s economy,” Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear. “As our nation continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of safe vacations and travel has become critically important.  Kentucky is fortunate to have an immense landscape of outdoor recreation and beauty which has positioned our tourism industry at advantage to recover from these unprecedented times.”

With that in mind, here are a few places to visit in Kentucky as you plan your Memorial Day getaway starting with a short and picturesque drive to Lexington. 

Bluegrass Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Horse Farms in Lexington

There are many reasons to make Lexington your warm-weather Memorial Day weekend getaway destination. The second-largest city in Kentucky, Lexington is known as the “Horse Capital of the World.” For starters, the folks at visitLEX.com have created country/bluegrass, hip-hop/R&B, and rock playlists for you to listen to as you explore the city and beyond.

If you’ve never toured a horse farm, now is the weekend to do it and Lexington is the place. Explore Horse Country by touring the homes of champions, seeing new foals frolic in their pastures, and learning about the care of Kentucky’s signature athletes. There are more than 400 horse farms in the area with over 25 offer tours (by reservation). 

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Or take the self-guided tour of Keeneland Racecourse’s historic grounds. A historic racecourse Keenland is the world’s largest and most prominent Thoroughbred auction house. Morning Work tours and Backstretch tours are also available by reservation. Because of concerns surrounding COVID, Keeneland continues to limit the number of guests in each tour.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Trot over to the Kentucky Horse Park for an enjoyable, educational experience for horse fans of all ages and disciplines. Take in a show, wander the grounds to visit horses in the barns, and be sure to stop in at the International Museum of the Horse which catalogs the history of the Thoroughbred industry.

Just north of the crossroads of I-75 and I-64, the city of Georgetown is home to one of the most picturesque Victorian downtown areas in the state, retired racehorses, Toyota Motor Manufacturing, a Japanese friendship garden, and Ward Hall—one of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture in the South.

Old Friends © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In a little more than a decade Old Friends, the Thoroughbred Retirement Facility in Georgetown has put a new face on the concept of equine aftercare.  Founded in 2003 by former Boston Globe film critic Michael Blowen, the organization has grown from a leased paddock and one horse to a 236-acre farm with a herd of over 200 rescued and retired horses. A variety of tours are available; due to public health COVID guidelines reservations are required.

Old Talbott Tavern, Bardstown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bourbon Capital of the World

Bardstown, known as the Bourbon Capital of the World is one of the most beautiful small towns in the U.S. Bardstown offers small-town charm paired with delicious bourbon. Serving as an Official Gateway to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail the town is the perfect spot for a bourbon excursion. Consider starting at the Bourbon Heritage Center at Heaven Hill Distillery to learn about the story of bourbon in the area then continue the journey at Barton’s 1792 Distillery, the oldest fully operating distillery in town, as well as Willett Distillery.

Maker’s Mark © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Bardstown you’ll head 25 miles southeast to Lebanon and Maker’s Mark. Maker’s Mark is quite possibly one of the most recognizable whiskey brands in the world thanks to the six-generation Samuels family recipe and its distinctive wax seal on every bottle. On the tour, you’ll have the option of sealing your very own bottle in wax which is a unique experience you can’t find anywhere else.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Travel back in time at My Old Kentucky Home State Park, a 19th-century estate with costumed tour guides that was the inspiration for Stephen Collins Foster’s song which later became the state anthem. The three-story portion of Federal Hill was commissioned by the Rowan family in 1812 and completed in 1818. Visitors can tour the home and learn about the Rowan family history. The state park also offers 39 RV camping sites.

State Capitol © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

State Capitol + history + Bourbon + Bourbon Balls in Frankfort

Perfectly positioned on the shores of the Kentucky River between Louisville and Lexington, Frankfort is the capital city of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The State Capitol building rises above the city and overlooks the river as the waterway ambles to the north making a unique S shape through the historic downtown. The Capitol is on the National Register of Historic Places and is noted as one of the most impressive Capitols in the nation. Then, explore the grounds and find the Floral Clock located on the West Lawn of the Capitol Grounds. The face of the clock is 34 feet across and planted with thousands of plants that are changed out seasonally.

Rebecca Ruth © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For more Kentucky history, go downtown and visit the Old State Capitol building and the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History, a museum and educational complex operated by the Kentucky Historical Society. While downtown, take a tour at Rebecca Ruth Candy Tours & Museum honoring Ruth Hanly Booe, the “Mother of Bourbon Balls” then venture over to Buffalo Trace Distillery, the oldest continuously operating distillery in America that offers free tours.

Floral Clock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Looking for More Kentucky Getaways?

Looking for more getaway ideas for Memorial Day and beyond?  Right this way!

Worth Pondering…

Heaven must be a Kentucky kind of place.

―Daniel Boone

Memorial Day 2021: Best Arizona Road Trips for the Long Holiday Weekend

Here are a few places to visit in Arizona as you plan your Memorial Day getaway

Memorial Day weekend kicks off the traditional summer travel season. This year there is even more pent-up yearning than normal. Everyone is eager to get out of town. Road trips are the hot new summer accessory.

Fortunately, Arizona is a road trip nirvana. The nation’s sixth-largest state by area, Arizona covers nearly 114,000 square miles. Most population centers are found in clustered bunches leaving vast tracts of backcountry for exploring. A number of small towns add character and keep travelers gassed up and well-fed.

Here are a few getaways to get you going on Memorial Day weekend and into the summer months.

Painted Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park

Vibrant badlands of the Painted Desert spread across the northern portion of the park while trees turned to stone—trees that once shaded dinosaurs—lay undisturbed amid the hills and hoodoos of the southern half. Welcome to Triassic Park.

Crystal Forest Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The fossils of the plants and animals unearthed here tell the story of a time when the world was young. Just as important to the casual visitor this area is set amid rolling plains and brilliantly colored badlands beneath a vast blue sky.

During the Triassic period, this was a humid forested basin. Crocodile-like reptiles, giant amphibians, and small dinosaurs roamed among towering trees and leafy ferns. As the trees died they were washed into the swamps and buried beneath volcanic ash where the woody tissue was replaced by dissolved silica eventually forming petrified wood.

Petrified Forest lies a short distance east of Holbrook and can be accessed from Interstate 40 or U.S. 180. Take the 28-mile scenic drive that cuts north to south connecting park highlights from roadside vistas to historic sites to hiking trails. Don’t miss Blue Mesa, a short loop trail skirting colorful badlands. Some of the best displays of petrified logs can be seen along the short Crystal Forest Trail.

Grand Canyon, South Rim © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon North Rim

Make this the summer you visit the other side of the Big Ditch. The North Rim reopened on May 15 for its summer season. This isn’t your typical high country getaway. The North Rim is defined not just by elevation but by isolation. This is an alpine outback of sun-dappled forests of ponderosa pines, blue spruce, Douglas firs, and aspens interrupted by lush meadows and wildflowers.

If you’ve only visited the South Rim you may be surprised by the lack of crowds at the North Rim. A quiet serenity is normal on this side of the trench. It rises 1,000 feet higher than its southern counterpart and you’ll likely see more elk and deer than tour groups. There are no helicopter rides, no shuttle buses, and no bustling village. Of the millions of people who visit Grand Canyon National Park each year less than 10 percent make it to the North Rim.

Even the journey is part of the adventure. State Route 67 from Jacob Lake to the park entrance is a National Scenic Byway as it traverses a stunning mix of broad forests and lush meadows. During your visit enjoy hiking trails, scenic drives, and forested solitude.

Montezuma Castle © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot national monuments

Follow ancient paths when you visit the national monuments of the Verde Valley amid remnants of Sinagua culture. The Sinagua were Ancestral Puebloan people who flourished in central Arizona from about 600 to 1425. They left behind art, artifacts, and architecture.

Built into a high limestone balcony, the 20-room Montezuma Castle near Camp Verde is one of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in the U.S. A paved trail meanders beneath the shade of graceful sycamore trees and leads to scenic viewpoints of the towering abode.

It was inhabited from about 1100 to 1425 with occupation peaking around 1300. The people farmed the rich floodplain nearby. Many of the original ceiling beams are still intact even though they were installed more than 800 years ago. Early settlers believed the castle was built by Aztec emperor Montezuma and the name stuck.

Montezuma Well © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be sure to visit Montezuma Well, a detached unit of the national monument 11 miles away. The natural limestone sinkhole pumps out 1.5 million gallons of water each day from an underground spring. Several cliff dwellings perch along the rocky rim of the well and the remnants of a prehistoric canal can still be seen.

Tuzigoot © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tuzigoot National Monument is a more interactive experience since you can walk around the village. Situated between Clarkdale and Cottonwood the remnants of this Sinagua pueblo crown a hilltop overlooking the Verde River. The terraced 110-room village was built between 1125 and 1400.

Walk the loop trail to savor wraparound views of the lush Verde Valley framed by rising mountains. The National Park Service has restored a two-story room at Tuzigoot (Apache for “crooked water”) so visitors can admire the building techniques and materials.

Santa Rita Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sky Islands

Arizona truly is a land of extremes. Temperatures vary from place to place and even day tonight. Few geographic formations in the world illustrate this stark climactic contrast better than Sky Islands. Visitors to Southern Arizona are often struck by these vast mountain ranges rising suddenly out of the desert and grasslands. Saguaro, prickly pear, and ocotillo rapidly give way to a coniferous forest and a much cooler climate. Usually 6,000–8,000 feet in elevation these majestic mountains emerge from a sea of desert scrub.

Chirichua Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Sky Island is defined as a mountain that is separated from other mountains by distance and by surrounding lowlands of a dramatically different environment. As the mountain increases in elevation, ecosystem zones change at different elevations. Coronado National Forest protects the twelve Sky Islands of Southwestern Arizona. These Sky Island ranges include the Chiricahua Mountains, Whetstone Mountains, Huachuca Mountains, Galiuro Mountans, Dragoon Mountains, Pinaleño Mountains, Santa Catalina Mountains, Rincon Mountains, and Santa Rita Mountains. The tallest of these areas are the Pinaleño Mountains rising to 10,720 feet above the Gila River near the town of Safford.

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

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