Most Beautiful Towns in Arizona

From former mining town gems, to desert beauties and mountain charmers, here are seven of the most beautiful towns in Arizona

Located in the Southwest, Arizona is steeped in history and beautifully diverse landscapes found throughout the state in the form of historical, scenic towns that truly impress. With special attention to the reigning favorites and a few of our own sprinkled in, here are the most beautiful towns in Arizona.

Tubac

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colorful architecture and mountain backdrops define Tubac’s Southwest scenery. See both at Tumacácori National Historical Park, where O’odham, Yaqui, and Apache people once dwelled. Tubac Presidio State Historic Park offers a glimpse at 2,000 years of Arizona history. Tubac features over 100 eclectic shops and world class galleries situated along meandering streets with hidden courtyards and sparkling fountains.

Sedona

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of all the places to visit in the Southwest, Sedona may be the most beautiful. The Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive climbs 4,500 feet from Sedona, but before you begin stop at the stunning Oak Creek Vista. Along the way, you’ll see evergreens, red rocks, and wildlife. Red Rock State Park features a range of trails, from flat walks near Oak Creek to ascending paths with impressive views.

Williams

Williams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A small town nestled in the Ponderosa pine of northern Arizona, Williams offers outdoor adventures including fishing and hiking to horseback riding and camping. Route 66 history buffs can explore more than six blocks of historic buildings and shops. After a 59-mile drive north, the Grand Canyon will lie before your eyes. Once there, you’ll grasp why this 277 river miles long, one-mile deep, and up to 18 miles wide canyon is hailed as one of the world’s seven natural wonders. The Grand Canyon Railway offers daily trips to the Grand Canyon aboard vintage diesel powered trains and historic steam engines.

Tombstone

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The spirits of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the Clanton Brothers live on in the authentic old west town of Tombstone, home of Boothill Graveyard, the Birdcage Theatre, and the O.K. Corral. After getting its start as a silver mining claim in the late-1870s, the settlement grew along with its Tough Nut Mine, becoming a bustling boomtown of the Wild West. From opera and theater to dance halls and brothels, Tombstone offered much-needed entertainment to the miners. The “Town Too Tough to Die” town contains many preserved buildings from the 1870s and 80s.

Globe

Globe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. The historic downtown area is perfect for leisurely 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.

Jerome

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A charming National Historic Landmark on Cleopatra Hill, Jerome is a former mining town. Meandering around the hilly, winding streets, visitors will discover galleries and art studios. Not forgetting its past, Jerome offers history buffs a wealth of experience through the Mine Museum, displaying artifacts representing the town’s past and present, and the Jerome State Historic Park, home to the Douglas Mansion.

Page

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

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. 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 power boat, or kayak.

Worth Pondering…

Oh, I could have lived anywhere in the world, if I hadn’t seen the West.

—Joyce Woodson

Mountain Island in a Desert Sea: Exploring Southern Arizona Sky Islands

A sky island is an isolated mountain range that rises up out of the surrounding desert “sea”

Arizona truly is a land of extremes. Temperatures vary from place to place and even day to night. Few geographic formations in the world illustrate this stark climactic contrast—and its importance to biodiversity—better than Sky Islands.

Mount Wrightson in the Santa Rita Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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—sometimes exceeding 10,000—these majestic mountains emerge from a sea of desert scrub and provide an oasis for an abundance of wildlife. These Sky Islands encompass some of the most rugged and remote lands in the Southwest and feature some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world.

Hiking Madera Canyon in the Santa Rita 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. The result is a habitat island, such as a forest surrounded by desert. As the mountain goes up in elevation, ecosystem zones change at different elevations.

Catalina State Park in the Santa Catalina Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Coronado National Forest protects the twelve Sky Islands of Southwestern Arizona which are the real treasure houses of the region.

Coronado National Monument in the Huachuca Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona’s 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.

Mount Lemmon Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 in the Santa Catalina mountains offers respite to overheated fauna (including the human variety) with temperatures that rarely exceed 80 degrees.

Mount Lemmon Ski Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the winter, Mount Lemmon is the southernmost downhill ski area in the country. One of the most scenic drives in southern Arizona, the Sky Island Scenic Byway provides access to a fascinating land of great vistas, natural rock sculptures, cool mountain forests and deep canyons spilling out onto broad deserts.

Ramsey Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the meeting point between desert and forest, Sky Islands provide a variance of climate zones, including tropical and temperate climates, that supports a vast range of wildlife. The lower temperatures of the high elevations allow snow to accumulate, which melt into summer streams that feed to other riparian areas. The diversity of the region exceeds anywhere else in the U.S., supporting well over half the bird species of North America and 104 species of mammals.

Chiricahua National Monument in the Chirachua Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beginning at the valley floor one is surrounded by typical Sonoran desert—saguaro and cholla cactus, and ocotillo. Traveling toward the peak, one travels through eight distinct zones: desert, arid grassland, chaparral, pinyon-juniper woodland, Madrean evergreen oak woodland, Ponderosa pine forest, mixed conifer stands of Douglas fir and white pine, and eventually a true spruce-fir forest with burbling creeks and quaking aspens. 

Saguaro National Park in the Santa Catalina Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Sky Island idea was first published in 1943, in an article in Arizona Highways magazine called “Monument in the Mountain.” In the article, writer Natt N. Dodge referred to the Chiricahua Mountains in southeastern Arizona as a “mountain island in a desert sea.” 

Coronado National Monument in the Huachuca Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The term was later made popular by nature writer Weldon Heald, a resident of southeastern Arizona. In his 1967 book, Sky Island, he demonstrated the concept by describing a drive from the town of Rodeo, New Mexico, to a peak in the Chiricahua Mountains, 35 miles away and 5,600 feet higher in elevation. Ascending from the hot, arid desert, the environment transitions to grassland, then to oak-pine woodland, pine forest, and finally to spruce-fir-aspen forest.

Chiricahua National Monument in the Chirachua Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Around the same time, the idea of mountains as islands of habitat took hold with scientists, and the idea was included in the study of island biogeography.  Although the name may have originated in Southern Arizona, Sky Islands are not limited to mountains of the Southwest, but can be applied to any geographic location where mountains are isolated from each other by lowland habitats.

Saguaro National Park in the Santa Catalina Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On your next visit to a Sky Island, note how the vegetation changes from cactus to thornscrub to oak forest, pine forest, and mixed conifer forest as you ascend the slope.

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

Old Mesilla: Where Time Stood Still

A stroll through Old Mesilla will take you back in time to the 1800s

No visit to Las Cruces is complete without a stroll through Old Mesilla. This little town, just two miles southwest of Las Cruces, is steeped in history. Mesilla (“Little Tableland”) is the best-known and most visited historical community in Southern New Mexico.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesilla is a small town by today’s standards but 150 years ago it was the largest city between San Antonio and San Diego. By the 1870s, it was the county seat and the Mesilla Valley’s leading center of trade. In addition to El Camino Real, the town’s trade connections were maintained through a variety of stage, freight, and mail routes, including the Butterfield Overland Mail, San Antonio Mail, and Wells Fargo Express. Mesilla hasn’t changed much over the years, allowing visitors to see what a 1800s border town looked like.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the sixteenth century Apaches and other tribes regularly camped in Mesilla, but it wasn’t until after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the Mexican-American War in 1848 that the first permanent settlers came to Mesilla to call it their home. By 1850, Mesilla was firmly established as an outpost of Mexico, but with the signing of the Gadsden Purchase in 1854, the village officially became part of the U.S. Since its beginning, Mesilla has had a major influence on the economic, cultural, historical, and political life of the Mesilla Valley. 

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the Gadsden Purchase to the Civil War to the El Camino Real and Butterfield Stage Coach route to the trial of Billy the Kid to being a lively social center in the 1880s—Mesilla has been a prominent part of the rich history of the Southwest. Mesilla was the Old West with outlaws frequenting many of the bars and dances. 

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From its origins as a simple dirt lot, the plaza has developed through time with paving, landscaping and a replica 1930s-era bandstand, creating a more modern, but no less inviting, social center. The commercial and residential buildings that border the plaza reflect Mesilla’s maturing as a prime location on El Camino Real and on the southern route to California, where gold was discovered in 1849.

Basilica of San Albino, Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the north end of the Plaza is the Basilica of San Albino, one of the oldest missions in the Mesilla Valley. Originally built of adobe in 1855, that church was replaced in 1906 by today’s San Albino church, a yellow-brick building whose facade is dominated by square belfries with pyramid towers and soaring, arched stain-glass windows.

Double Eagle, Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the plaza’s primary anchor, San Albino continues to reflect the prominent role of religion in the community’s history. Outside the church is a memorial to parishioners who died in combat. In 2008, the church’s historical importance was recognized as it was designated as one of two basilicas in New Mexico. 

La Posta, Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, Mesilla offers a wide range of events as well as shopping and dining on the town’s plaza. Enjoy a meal at the famous La Posta or Double Eagle, where patrons can enjoy authentic local cuisine while they visit one of the most historical locations in New Mexico.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many cultural and historical activities are held in the plaza, the Cinco de Mayo fiesta, the 16th de Septiembre Fiesta, and the Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead). On Christmas Eve, the Plaza comes alive with hundreds of luminarias lining streets, sidewalks, and buildings. Every Thursday and Sunday the local Farmer’s and Craft’s market is held on the Plaza.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, many of Mesilla’s population of nearly 2,200 residents are direct descendents of Mesilla’s early settlers. Mesilla has a rich and diverse heritage with the integration of Indian, Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo-American cultures. The traditional adobe structures and architectural features modified through time still remain as a reminder of the long and significant history of the town.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So, come stroll the streets Billy-the-Kid and Pancho Villa once walked, check out the shops and find unique Southwestern gifts to take back home. Step inside one of the most historical cantinas in the area, El Patio. Then stop for lunch or dinner at one of the many cafes and restaurants. But, don’t just concentrate on the plaza, drive or walk around the town taking in all the shops and sights the average visitor misses.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesilla is located south of Las Cruces on Avenida de Mesilla.

Worth Pondering…

If you ever go to New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life.

—Georgia O’Keeffe

Stunningly Beautiful Places in the Southwest

The sheer variety of the Southwest makes it a fascinating and awe-inspiring place to explore

The land in the Southwest is so utterly different and strange to the East Coast of small hills, cities, and humid summers that it can feel like an entirely separate country at times.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While the stereotype of the area is that it’s all barren desert—which isn’t entirely inaccurate—there’s a lot more variation and personality in the Southwest than the backdrops of Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoons would suggest.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With special attention to the reigning favorites and a few of our own sprinkled in, here are the most beautiful places in the Southwest.

Sedona, Arizona

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of all the places to visit in the Southwest, Sedona may be the most beautiful. The Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive climbs 4,500 feet from Sedona, but before you begin stop at the stunning Oak Creek Vista. Along the way, you’ll see evergreens, red rocks, and wildlife. Red Rock State Park features a range of trails, from flat walks near Oak Creek to ascending paths with impressive views.

Springdale and Rockville, Utah

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These two towns are practically in Zion National Park, which is one of the most scenic places to visit in the Southwest. Ever hiked in a river? Now’s your chance in the Narrows, a gorge surrounded by thousand-feet-tall walls. Don’t forget your camera for the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, 57 miles of mountainous magnificence. For an unforgettable journey, put it on your list immediately!

Mexican Hat, Utah

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As synonymous with cinema Westerns as John Wayne, Monument Valley embodies the westward expansion more than any other American landscape. The noble spires, dusty red and orange, jut upward toward wide-open skies, which morph into fiery swaths of color come sunset. If you’ve ever had dreams of taking to open land on horseback, this beautiful Southwest spot is a must. Be sure to stay for sunset.

Ajo, Arizona

Ajo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 in the Downtown Historic District, Sonoran Desert flora and fauna, and panoramic views. Ajo is surrounded by 12 million acres of public and tribal land waiting to be explored. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge offer expansive hiking, camping, and birding places.

Moab, Utah

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moab is known for its natural beauty and fun escapes for adventure lovers. Moab is a quick drive from two national parks and home to the most popular state park in Utah (hint: you won’t find better views anywhere). Just five miles from Moab is Arches National Park, so named due to its natural sandstone arches and rock formations. “The Island in the Sky” is an elevated piece of Canyonlands, the largest national park in Utah. Dead Horse State Park features a famous point with amazing views.

Cortez, Colorado

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The southwestern Colorado town of Cortez, one of America’s richest archaeological centers, lies between the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park and Ute Mountain Tribal Park. After you visit these sites, you’ll leave steeped in the history of the Ancestral Puebloan people, from the places they lived to the tools they used in everyday life. The expertly carved cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde—from Cliff Palace to Spruce Tree house—take you back 700 years to the Ancestral Puebloans who shaped them, and have been preserved by rock that was deposited around 78 million years ago.

Twentynine Palms, California

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Twentynine Palms is the home of Joshua Tree National Park headquarters and north entrance and the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, the world’s largest Marine Corps training base. The city is known for its clear skies, brilliant star-filled nights, desert and mountain vistas, wide open spaces, murals, and gateway to Mojave National Preserve.

Worth Pondering…

Oh, I could have lived anywhere in the world, if I hadn’t seen the West.

—Joyce Woodson

Discover Arizona in Uncommon and Unique Ways

From touring ancient dwellings and rafting adventures to Wild West shootouts, here are 10 must-do uncommon and unique experiences in the Grand Canyon State

We previously took a look at facts of Arizona you didn’t know—from burros running Oatman and altitude meeting attitude to hummers and more hummers. Now, we bring you even more ways to discover the state in uncommon and unique ways.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Explore the Grand Canyon in Winter

No matter how many photos you’ve seen, nothing compares to actually perching on the rim of the Grand Canyon and taking in the immense view before you. Summer crowds can be formidable but during winter, fewer visitors, snow-covered trees, and a quiet hush that falls over the canyon make the trip downright magical.

Skiing Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Ski above the Saguaros

Skiing in Arizona? Yep, down south and up north. Tucson’s Mount Lemmon in the Santa Catalina Mountains is home to the southernmost ski runs in the U.S. And north of Flagstaff the Arizona Snowbowl offers 700 acres of slopes and runs in the San Francisco Peaks.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Gaze at the Milky Way

Arizona is a premier destination for studying the skies. The International Dark-Sky Association has its worldwide headquarters in Tucson for good reason. Clear air and low light pollution provide out-of-this-world stargazing. See the celestial sights from the state’s certified Dark-Sky Parks including as Kartchner Caverns, Sunset Crater, and Petrified Forest.

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

4. Tour Ancient Ruins with a Tribal Guide

In Canyon De Chelly National Monument, cottonwoods grow tall and horses roam free. One of the longest continuously inhabited places in North America this stunning network of gorges, sandstone cliffs, petroglyphs, and ancient cliff dwellings has been called home to generations of Navajo, Hopi, and others. There are trails in and out of the canyon, but to access the deeper reaches join a tour with a Navajo guide.

O.K. Corral © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Witness a Shootout at the O.K. Corral

A visit to this National Historic Landmark wouldn’t be complete without watching a heart-racing, Wild West shootout at the O.K. Corral. The streets of Tombstone offer daily reenactments of the famous 30-second gunfight. Afterward, take pictures with the gunfighters, visit haunted landmarks, or the historic courthouse.

6. Raft the Colorado River

Raft the Colorado

See the world-famous Grand Canyon from a new perspective as you float along the Colorado River. On a one-day rafting tour or a two-day paddle-rafting trip enjoy a riverside lunch while taking in the scenery, wildlife, and history of the canyon.

7. Historic Destination for the Arts

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Tubac” is the English spelling of the original Tohono O’odham name “Cuwak,” which translates as “rotten.” But the town is anything but. Tubac has a rich history dating back to Spanish colonization of the land in the 18th century. The Tumacácori National Historic Park is home to the ruins of three Spanish mission communities. Tubac features over 100 eclectic shops and world class galleries situated along meandering streets with hidden courtyards, and sparkling fountains.

8. Meander Oak Creek Canyon

Oak Creek Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This gorgeous gash in the landscape has a spectacular feature: you can drive through it! The forested canyon floor ranges from a mile wide at the top end to 2.5 miles at the mouth and up to 2,000 feet deep from the creek to the tops of the highest sheer red cliffs. A wonderful road built in 1929 it runs the entire 13-mile length of the canyon.

9. Explore a Thriving Hilltop Pueblo

Tuzigoot National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visit Tuzigoot National Monument and witness the incredible legacy of a people who lived in the Verde Valley 1,000 years ago. The pueblo was built by the Sinagua people who thrived in this arid region for nearly 10 centuries. Built in AD 1125, Tuzigoot was a communal home occupied by Sinagua farmers for close to 300 years.

10. Madera Canyon

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Madera Canyon is a north-facing valley in the Santa Rita Mountains with riparian woodland along an intermittent stream, bordered by mesquite, juniper-oak woodlands, and pine forests. The canyon offers hiking trails that vary from walking paths in the lower canyon, to steep, expert trails leading to the top of 9,453-foot Mt. Wrightson. The creekside trail that begins at Whitehouse Picnic Area is fantastic for spotting birds—more than 250 species have been documented.

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

Most Beautiful Cities in the Southwest

The American southwest is a place of mind-boggling beauty

With an amazing variety of landscapes, the Southwest is a fascinating and awe-inspiring area to explore.

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Known as the City Different, Santa Fe embodies a rich history, melding Hispanic, Anglo, and Native American cultures whose influences are apparent in everything from the architecture and art to the food. For 400+ years, Santa Fe has improved with age. In addition to more art galleries than you could imagine, Santa Fe boasts a long list of museums and a full calendar of art exhibits and festivals. In addition to these visual experiences, you will want to experience authentic New Mexican cuisine. Make sure to try green chili in as many forms as possible, as well as a variety of moles.

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Historic Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Outdoor recreation in and around Las Cruces is as scenic as it is sporty. Hiking the Dona Ana Mountains provides plenty of places to scan the scenery, and you can tackle both by mountain bike or horseback. One of the area’s most scenic destinations is White Sands National Monument, where sugary dunes stand in contrast to colorful sunsets and varied desert hues. Be sure to wander the streets of historic Mesilla.

Las Vegas, Nevada

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Las Vegas needs no introduction, but many people don’t know it’s one of the best places to visit in the Southwest for more than the glittery Strip. Outside the city, the scenery unfolds endlessly. Nearby Valley of Fire State Park houses such awe-inspiring spots as the towers at Rainbow Vista to the colorful White Domes. The 13-mile scenic drive in Red Rock Canyon is among the cluster of great Southwest road trip ideas, and hiking, camping, and geological exploration deliver all the wonders of the desert.

Tucson, Arizona

Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucson is located in the Sonoran Desert, the only place in the world the majestic saguaro cactus grows. Saguaro National Park is situated on either side of the city. These tall and ancient cacti stand like silent sentinels in the shadows of the five mountain ranges which cradle the Tucson valley and are showered with sunshine over 300 days a year. The average winter temperature is 70.

Lake Havasu, Arizona

Colorado River south of Lake Havasu © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With over 400 miles of shoreline and more than 300 days of sunshine and lots to see and do year-round, Lake Havasu is the boating Mecca of the Southwest and a popular Arizona getaway.Lake Havasu City is the off-roading, ultralight-flying, boating, and rock climbing capitol of the Southwest. One of the most interesting—and surprising—attractions in Lake Havasu is the London Bridge. It’s also one of the must-see places to see in Arizona to relax by a sparkling lake in Arizona’s warm desert.

Carlsbad, New Mexico

Near Carlsbad Caverns looking south © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The famed Carlsbad Caverns are one of the biggest Southwest tourist attractions and lend this region an air of beauty and mystery. Plan to stay late and see the bats as they take flight for the night. Take to the hiking trails in Guadalupe Mountains National Park a short distance south of the Caverns to experience the wonders of Chihuahuan Desert backcountry, cool off in the swimming hole at Sitting Bull Falls, or take the whole family to the scenic Living Desert Zoo & Gardens State Park.

Williams, Arizona

Williams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A small town nestled in the Ponderosa pine of northern Arizona, Williams offers outdoor adventures including fishing and hiking to horseback riding and camping. Route 66 history buffs can explore more than six blocks of historic buildings and shops. After a 59-mile drive north, the Grand Canyon will lie before your eyes. Once there, you’ll grasp why this 277 river miles long, one-mile deep, and up to 18 miles wide canyon is hailed as one of the world’s seven natural wonders. The Grand Canyon Railway offers daily trips to the Grand Canyon aboard vintage diesel powered trains and historic steam engines.

Worth Pondering…

Oh, I could have lived anywhere in the world, if I hadn’t seen the West.

—Joyce Woodson

Why Tucson Is Your Next Great Outdoor Adventure

With 350 sunny days each year, Tucson is one of the sunniest cities in America. It’s also a superb desert to take in the great outdoors.

From cactus-spotting in Saguaro National Park and biking down Mount Lemmon to mountains on all four sides and southwestern sunsets that seemingly last forever, Tucson is brimming with outdoor adventures—even skiing!

Here’s what you can expect before planning your first (or next) visit.

The cactus capital of the world

Forest of saguaros © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucson is known for its “friendly green giants,” a.k.a. saguaro (pronounced “suh-wah-roe”) cacti that dominate the landscape. Whether you travel to the nearby national park or not, you will encounter them everywhere you turn, and you’ll be sure to admire both their height (up to 50 feet tall) and wondrous presence.

Saguaro in bloom © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can drive, hike, or bike among them and when seen at sunset or sunrise, they take on a timeless presence. In fact, they can live for over 200 years in ideal conditions.

Two national parks (sort of)

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the turn of the century, National Geographic endeavored to rank every national park in America. Much to the chagrin of the Grand Canyon, Saguaro National Park took the number one ranking.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why? Navigating through towering green cacti that appear alive and guardian-like is a surreal experience. You’ll never see one move, but their stature suggests they’re about ready to step across the horizon. The park is split into two districts, each with its own unique activities and topography. For more dense cacti, head to West Unit. For paved scenic drives closer to the mountains, head to Saguaro East.

Die-hard desert museum

Hawk demonstration at Arizona-Senora Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Due to the extreme temperatures and lack of water, it takes one tough cookie to survive the Sonora Desert. That fight for survival is on full display at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, a 98-acre outdoor zoo, indoor aquarium, botanical garden, and natural history museum not far from the west entrance of Saguaro National Park.

Gila monster at Arizona-Senora Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With two miles of designated trails, shade cover, and ice cream on site, it’s an enlightening way to soak in both state and Tucson history.

Old West sunsets

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You know those postcard photos of silhouetted cacti and palms in the foreground of a radiant pink-orange sky? That’s everyday life in Tucson with the mountains off to the west. For ideal views, head to Sabino Canyon on the northeast edge of Tucson. Simply put, the clementine and purple sunsets here are amazing—some of the best we’ve ever seen.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tram routes provide access to Sabino and Bear Canyons. Along the Sabino route riders are free to get off at one of the nine shuttle stops, do a little birding, have a picnic, or spend time along one of the many pools and cascades that grace Sabino Creek.

Magnificent hiking

Hiking at Catalina State Park northwest of Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ringed by four mountain ranges with magical names—the Santa Catalina to the north, the Santa Rita to the south, the Rincon to the east, and the Tucson to the west—the city of Tucson is surrounded by trails. Each one winds through the rugged and sometimes otherworldly landscape of the Sonoran Desert, where saguaro cacti stand like sentinels in the sand and ancient canyons await exploration.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are many trails from which to choose, but the ones most beloved by Tucsonians are those that run through Sabino Canyon. Nestled in the foothills of the Santa Catalinas, Sabino has long been an oasis in the desert.

A striking sight

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

In the vast Sonoran Desert on an Indian reservation just nine miles southwest of Tucson, one would not expect to find a beautiful church. Mission San Xavier del Bac is a place both historical and sacred that no visitor to Southern Arizona should miss. Fondly known as the “White Dove of the Desert”, San Xavier is one of the finest examples of Spanish colonial architecture in the United States.

Beating the heat

Driving Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When the temperatures start to rise, head to Mount Lemmon which is about an hour’s drive north of downtown. From there you can enjoy 9,000 feet hiking elevations and temperatures up to 30 degrees cooler than the valley.

Mount Lemmon Ski Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In winter, you can also enjoy budget-friendly skiing at the well-rated but small Mount Lemmon Ski Valley. With nearly 200 inches of annual snowfall and regular snowstorms, you can always find fresh powder stashes and light traffic.

Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Arizona Lakes: 6 Sonoran Desert Oases

Oases in the Sonoran Desert

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.

Bartlett Lake

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. 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”.

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Saguaro Lake

Saguaro Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This reservoir on the Salt River offers plenty to do. The Saguaro del Norte recreation site is near Stewart Mountain Dam and has a restaurant, picnic tables, restrooms, boat ramps, and a marina with boat rentals. Board the Desert Belle for a sightseeing cruise. A camping site with 30 spaces is accessible only by boat and is open year-round. The Arizona Game and Fish Department keeps the lake stocked with a rainbow trout, largemouth bass, and channel catfish, to name a few.

Canyon Lake

Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The most scenic of the Salt River-fed lakes, Canyon abounds with the steep walls and cliffs its name suggests. The beauty more than makes up for its comparatively small size. Tuck into a secluded cove and fish for bass, trout, and many other kinds of fish, or take a leisurely cruise and marvel at the scenery.

Saguaro Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Idyllic year-round weather makes Canyon Lake a great destination for all watersports and camping enthusiasts. When ready for a break, pick a spot along the 28 miles of shoreline and enjoy a picnic, or stop at the Lakeside Restaurant and Cantina for a casual meal.

Watson Lake

Watson Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perhaps you prefer your water with a view. It’s hard to beat the rocky sentinels standing guard along Watson Lake. A Prescott-area gem, the Granite Dells consist of exposed bedrock and large boulders of granite that have eroded into an unusual lumpy, rippled appearance. Worn smooth by the elements, the Dells provide a scenic backdrop as you kayak or canoe along the calm surface of the lake. And when the light is right and the surface is mirror-like, it’s a photo op like no other.

Lynx Lake

Lynx Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in the cool pines just outside of Prescott, Lynx Lake Recreation Area offers a wide variety of recreational opportunities that includes hiking, mountain biking, camping, fishing, boating, and picnicking. If you’re looking for a cool, calm, and relaxing day, this small body of water offers some of the best fishing in the area.

Lynx Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled amid ponderosa pines and claiming temperatures 10 to 15 degrees below those in the desert, Lynx Lake holds rainbow trout, largemouth bass, crappie, and more. Even better, its waters are limited to electronic—or people-powered watercraft, perfect for fishing or napping.

Patagonia Lake

Patagonia Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucked away in the rolling hills of southeastern Arizona is a hidden treasure. The campground overlooks a 265-acre man-made lake where anglers catch crappie, bass, bluegill, trout, and catfish. At an elevation of 3,750 feet and adjacent to the Sonoita Creek Natural Area, the park becomes a year-round haven with 105 campsites with a picnic table, a fire ring/grill, water, and 20/30/50-amp electric service; select sites also have a ramada. A dump station is centrally located in the park.

Patagonia Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A paradise for wildlife and outdoor enthusiasts Patagonia Lake State Park is an ideal place to find whitetail deer roaming the hills and great blue herons walking the shoreline. Hikers can stroll along the beautiful creek trail and see a variety of birds such as the canyon towhee, Inca dove, vermilion flycatcher, elegant trogon, black vulture, and several species of hummingbirds.

Worth Pondering…

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.

—John Muir

The Real Sunbelt Lives Here

Here is where you’ll find sunshine this winter

Can’t stand the gloom of the Pacific Northwest? Winters in the Northeast? Bone-chilling temperatures and blizzards of the Midwest? Then pack the RV and head to Arizona, California, Nevada, or Texas.

According to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the following U.S. cities get sunshine more than 84 percent of the time (or more than 300 days a year, if you do the math based on those percentages)—far more than most places in the U.S.

The sunny Southwest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before we get started with the list, let’s give out the four honorable mentions to round out a top 10—Fresno, California and Reno, Nevada with 79 percent annual sunshine and Flagstaff, Arizona and Sacramento, California with 76 percent.

The sunny Southwest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although omitted from the NOAA analysis, Las Cruces, New Mexico (45 miles northwest of El Paso) boasts similar percent of sunshiny days with the West Texas city.

Now, grab your sunscreen and take a look at the six U.S. cities that get the sunniest days.

El Paso, Texas (84% Sunshine)

Franklin Mountains State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’d be pretty cool to live on Sunshine Court in El Paso. It’s a short, aptly-named street in the eastern part of the city. The El Paso area is home to Franklin Mountains State Park, Chamizal National Memorial, Hueco Tanks State Park, and numerous other scenic and historic places that are best observed on sunny days, of which there are plenty.

Las Cruces, New Mexico (84% Sunshine)

Mesilla Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Las Cruces (pop 75,000) is the largest city in southwestern New Mexico and has been a popular resting stop along traditional trade routes for centuries. Las Cruces is located in the Mesilla Valley close to the Rio Grande River and is framed dramatically by the Organ Mountains to its east, allowing for a variety of recreational adventures within a short drive of town.

Tucson, Arizona (85% Sunshine)

Tucson Mountain Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With Saguaro National Park just outside of city limits to the east and west, Tucson is another great spot to soak up the sun in nature. It was also a great place to film Westerns, including Tombstone, the hit starring Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp.

Phoenix, Arizona (85% Sunshine)

Bush Highway near Phoenix © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another Arizona city with lots to do, Phoenix is the state’s capital and the home of the aptly-named NBA team the Phoenix Suns. A giraffe at the Phoenix Zoo is even named Sunshine. Snowbirds can take advantage of all that sunshine by enjoying a visit to the Desert Botanical Garden, driving the Apache Trail, or hiking Usery Mountain.

Las Vegas, Nevada (85% Sunshine)

Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Viva Las Sunshine. If you head to Vegas, you’re not taking too much of a gamble on the weather. Odds are, it’s plenty of sun (and plenty of overwhelming heat in the summertime). So be sure to get out of the casinos and enjoy it. The region offers Red Rock National Conservation Area, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Valley of the Fire State Park, and so many more opportunities to get off of the Strip.

Redding, California (88% Sunshine)

Sundial Bridge, Redding © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I was surprised this NorCal city edged out Vegas, Phoenix, and Tucson on the list, but alas, it did—clocking a whopping 321 or so days of sunshine each year. The Sundial Bridge at Turtle Bay is a Redding icon and acts as a massive sundial—perfect for this sunny city.

Yuma, Arizona (90% Sunshine)

Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With nearly 330 days of sunshine a year (4,300 sunny hours), Yuma actually holds the world record for most recorded annual sunshine, according to Current Results. Reporters at the aptly-named Yuma Sun will tell you that rain is an actual news story there. Not just downpours, but any rain.

Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All that sun comes at a price in the summertime though, because guess what? Yuma is also the hottest city in the nation. But you sure can’t beat that sunshine in the winter. Ask any snowbird who winters here!

Worth Pondering…

One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.

—Henry Miller

5 Surprising Facts about Arizona you didn’t know (But Now You Do)

All sorts of intriguing tidbits of information define Arizona. Everyone knows they’ve got sun. How many of these other Arizona facts do you know?

Arizona is endlessly amazing. There are all sorts of intriguing tidbits of information that define the state. Take its special relationship with the sun, for example. Florida calls itself the Sunshine State but that’s only because they’re playing fast and loose with the truth.

Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona is actually the sunniest state. In fact, Yuma, tucked away in the southwestern corner of the state is the sunniest place on Earth. That’s according to the World Meteorological Association. No wonder Yuma’s agricultural business booms with crops basking in more hours of sunshine than anywhere else.

As for Florida, let them keep their little motto. Grand Canyon State sounds catchier anyway. Here are nine cool, fun, weird facts about Arizona.

The National Monuments Rock

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

Grand Canyon is an iconic national park. Slightly lower than national parks in the pecking order are the national monuments. Those can be created by a presidential decree, not an act of Congress. Arizona has 18 national monuments, more than any other state, and they protect some of the most spectacular scenery and cultural treasures.

Organ Pipe National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona national monuments include such gems as Canyon de Chelly, Organ Pipe Cactus, Montezuma Castle, Vermilion Cliffs, Ironwood Forest, Agua Fria, and Walnut Canyon. And Chiricahua, known as the “Wonderland of Rocks,” is a place of staggering beauty and should be on your travel list.

Burros Run Oatman

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This former gold mining town is most famous for its four-legged ambassadors. Burros loiter in the middle of the street and collect handouts from travelers. Here’s the thing, though: This wasn’t some scheme concocted by the Oatman Chamber of Commerce, Arizona Office of Tourism, or any other agency. The burros initiated the program.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The burros are descendants of animals used by miners and abandoned when the ore played out. At some point, they said the heck with foraging. Now they wander into town each day and stand around blocking traffic while people feed them alfalfa cubes and carrots sold in every store. (Please don’t feed them anything else.) In late afternoon, just before shops close, the burros mosey back into the hills. They repeat the scenario every day. Where else do critters organize a union and execute a business plan?

Lousy with Hummers

Hummingbird © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re going to be overrun by something, what’s cuter than an abundance of hummingbirds? More species of the colorful little winged jewels have been recorded in Arizona than any other state. That’s a lot of the wee flyers buzzing around feeders and flowerbeds.

Hummingbird © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While some live in the state year-round, hummingbird migration accounts for the numerous types of hummingbirds flashing among the flowers of the state. At least 13 species have been recorded in southeastern Arizona alone. The source of much hummingbird migration is in Central and South America.

Arizona is the Wild West

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What a cast of characters rode across the Arizona Territory and shot their way into the history books. Billy the Kid killed his first man at Fort Grant. The Earps and Clantons swapped lead in a legendary gunfight in a vacant lot near the O.K. Corral. Cochise is buried here. Geronimo surrendered here.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

America’s bloodiest range war raged across the high grazing lands below the Mogollon Rim. The ironically named Pleasant Valley War began as a dispute between the Grahams and the Tewksburys and eventually ensnared friends, neighbors, and hired guns. Every attack seemed to prompt a bloodier response.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The war finally ended, not through any truce but because nobody was left to kill. In 1892 Ed Tewksbury gunned down Tom Graham on the streets of Tempe. Ed Tewksbury was not convicted but there were no more Grahams to come after him. The Pleasant Valley War claimed between 20 and 50 lives depending on whose account you believe.

Altitude with an Attitude

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The desert is celebrated in Arizona in a surprisingly vertical way. Tall, lanky saguaros are the state symbol. Saguaros grow very slowly. A 10 year old plant might only be 1.5 inches tall. Saguaro can grow to be between 40-60 feet tall. When rain is plentiful and the saguaro is fully hydrated it can weigh between 3,200-4,800 pounds.

Saguaro in bloom © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The mean elevation of Arizona is 4,100 feet above sea level. The state has 26 mountain peaks soaring above 10,000 feet. That’s a lot of high country.

Superstition Wilderness © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With more than half the state sitting at 4,000 feet—mountains and desert in such close proximity it’s never hard to locate the season your heart desires all year round. That may be the sweetest fact of all.

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