15 Fascinating Historic Sites in the American Southwest 

The American Southwest blends nature and history in a beautiful way. Coyotes, canyons, and brilliant sun-kissed rock formations mark the region’s desert terrain. It’s also home to hundreds of national parks and monuments including the Grand Canyon. While there are a number of places you will want to see on your trip, be sure to stop and check out these Historic Sites in the Southwest.

The stories of the American Southwest extend well beyond the history of the United States. From the Indigenous peoples who built cliffside castles to the Spanish explorers who established missions and the cowboys of the Wild West—the history of this region is incredibly diverse.

To learn more about what makes the Southwest so captivating, check out 15 of the region’s best historic sites and the fascinating stories behind them.

Montezuma Castle © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Montezuma Castle, Camp Verde, Arizona

Embedded into the side of a sheer limestone cliff, Montezuma Castle dates back to around 1100 BC and was established as a national monument in 1906. The cliffside abode was named incorrectly by settlers who believed it to be of Aztec origin. In reality, the Sinagua peoples who inhabited the Verde Valley of Arizona for thousands of years, built and occupied the castle. Naturally warm in the winter and cool in the summer, the site of the cliff dwellings was chosen due to preexisting caves and nearby water resources; inhabitants used wooden ladders to move throughout the settlement’s five levels.

To see the historic monument, start at the Visitor Center before walking up to the base of Montezuma Castle on a 0.3-mile loop trail. Then, you can drive to Montezuma Well, a naturally occurring sinkhole and the site of more cliff dwellings. The land around the well was home to prehistoric groups of people approximately 1,000 years ago before being settled by Anglo-Americans in the late 19th century.

Check this out to learn more: Apartment House of the Ancients: Montezuma Castle National Monument

Montezuma Well © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Four Corners Monument, Teec Nos Pos, Arizona

Located in Navajo Tribal Park, the Four Corners Monument is the only point in the country where four states meet. Marking the point where the Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah state lines coalesce, the historic landmark also marks the boundary between the Navajo Nation and Ute Mountain Tribe Reservation. 

However, the monument’s history goes further back than just statehood. During the Civil War, Congress created several new territories—including Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico—to discourage residents from joining the Confederacy. In 1861, Congress voted for a marker to be placed in the monument’s exact location to demonstrate the southwest corner of the Colorado territory.

Palace of the Governors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Palace of the Governors, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Dating to 1610, the Palace of the Governors is the oldest public building in the contiguous U.S. still in continuous use. For nearly three centuries, the building was home to a rotating roster of Spanish, Mexican, and American governors as control over the New Mexico territory shifted and changed. Additionally, the native Pueblo peoples took over the palace during the Pueblo Revolt of the 17th century while the Confederacy occupied it during the Civil War.

Today, the Palace of the Governors is part of the New Mexico History Museum with interpretive galleries displaying its history and a palatial courtyard that connects to the rest of the museum. For visitors to Santa Fe, the palace features a block-long portal where Native American vendors sell their artisan wares and crafts.

Plan your next trip to Santa Fe with these resources:

Whiskey Row © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Whiskey Row, Prescott, Arizona

This legendary block in Arizona earned its moniker in the late 19th century when the street consisted of whiskey saloons favored by the local cowboys and miners. After a lit candle burned most of the downtown area in 1900, a group of locals famously rescued the actual bar from the Palace Saloon and began drinking their sorrows away. A year later, a new downtown was erected in a more fire-safe brick and the same bar was installed inside the new Palace Restaurant and Saloon.

Today, visitors can belly up at the historic bar or visit myriad other notable sites located on the city block. Rumored to be haunted by a lady in white, Hotel St. Michael has housed a number of famous guests over the past century including the likes of Teddy Roosevelt and Doc Holiday. And while galleries and shops now decorate the historic square, famed establishments like the Jersey Lilly Saloon still embody the historic spirit of Whiskey Row.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas

Before it became the site of perhaps the most infamous battle in the Southwest, the Alamo was known as the San Antonio de Valero Mission. In 1724, Spanish colonizers established the church to convert the area’s Native American peoples.

It wasn’t until the 1835 Texas Revolution that the former mission became a war fortress and battle site. Stationed in the Alamo in 1836, Texas revolutionaries fought against Mexico in the Battle of the Alamo, a bloody 13-day squirmish that resulted in the deaths of all the defenders. Although they lost the battle, Texas later won independence from Mexico and would eventually become an American state nine years later.

Today, the Alamo is open and free to visitors although reservations must be made in advance. With guided and self-guided tours available, the Alamo is also part of the San Antonio Missions Trail giving cyclists easy access to the city’s network of historic missions.

If you need ideas, check out:

Besh Ba Gowah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Besh Ba Gowah Archaeological Park and Museum, Globe, Arizona

One mile southwest of the City of Globe, Arizona, stand the remains of a large pueblo village constructed by the Salado culture who occupied the region between 1225 and 1450.

The pueblo is known today as Besh Ba Gowah, a term originally given by the Apache people to the early mining settlement of Globe. Roughly translated, the term means place of metal

The partially reconstructed pueblo structures along with the adjacent museum provide a fascinating glimpse at the lifestyle of the people who thrived in the ancient Southwest.

Besh-Ba-Gowah had about 400 rooms of these about 250 were ground floor rooms. Precise numbers are impossible due to modern destruction of sections. Entrance to the pueblo was via a long narrow ground level corridor covered by the second level. The corridor opened onto the main plaza. This may have had a defensive purpose.

Check this out to learn more: Exploring a Remarkable Pueblo: Besh Ba Gowah Archaeological Park

Mesa Verde © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Mesa Verde National Park, Mancos, Colorado

Mesa Verde National Park’s cliff dwellings are just one wonder to be found at this national park in Colorado which also includes protected wilderness.

Located in Southwestern Colorado, Mesa Verde, Green Table in Spanish, National Park offers an unparalleled opportunity to see and experience a unique cultural and physical landscape. Including more than 4,000 known archeological sites dating back to A.D. 550, this national treasure protects the cliff dwellings and mesa top sites of pit houses, pueblos, masonry towers, and farming structures of the Ancestral Pueblo peoples who lived here for more than 700 years. This national park gives us a glimpse into the places and stories of America’s diverse cultural heritage.

The cliff dwellings are some of the most notable and best preserved sites in the United States. After living primarily on the mesa top for 600 years, the Ancestral Pueblo peoples began building structure under the overhanging cliffs of Mesa Verde—anything from one-room storage units to villages of over 150 rooms. Decades of excavation and analysis still leave many unanswered questions, but have shown us that the Ancient Pueblans were skillful survivors and artistic craftsmen.

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

Canyon de Chelly © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Chinle, Arizona

For nearly 5,000 years, people have lived in these canyons—longer than anyone has lived uninterrupted anywhere on the Colorado Plateau. In the place called Tsegi, their homes and images tell us their stories. Today, Dine’ families make their homes, raise livestock, and farm the lands in the canyons. A place like no other, the park and Navajo Nation work together to manage the land’s resources.

Canyon de Chelly sustains a living community of Navajo people who are connected to a landscape of great historical and spiritual significance—a landscape composed of places infused with collective memory. NPS works in partnership with the Navajo Nation to manage park resources and sustain the Navajo community.

Explore a 900-year old ancestral Pueblo Great House of over 400 masonry rooms. Look up and see the original timbers holding up the roof. Search for the fingerprints of ancient workers in the mortar. Listen for an echo of ritual drums in the reconstructed Great Kiva.

Here are some helpful resources:

Aztec Ruins © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Aztec Ruins National Monument, Aztec, New Mexico

Aztec Ruins National Monument is the largest Ancestral Pueblo community in the Animas River Valley. In use for over 200 years, the site contains several multi-story buildings called great houses, each with a great kiva—a circular ceremonial chamber—as well as many smaller structures. Excavation of the West Ruin in the 1900s uncovered thousands of well-preserved artifacts that provide a glimpse into the life of Ancestral Pueblo people connecting people of the past with people and traditions of today. 

Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Aztec Ruins National Monument

Casa Grande Ruins © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, Coolidge, Arizona

Casa Grande Ruins, the nation’s first archeological preserve, protects the Casa Grande and other archeological sites within its boundaries.

For over a thousand years, prehistoric farmers inhabited much of the present-day state of Arizona. When the first Europeans arrived, all that remained of this ancient culture were the ruins of villages, irrigation canals, and various artifacts. Among these ruins is the Casa Grande, or Big House, one of the largest and most mysterious prehistoric structures ever built in North America. See the Casa Grande and hear the story of the ancient ones the Akimel O’otham call the Hohokam, those who are gone.

Check this out to learn more: The Mystique of the Casa Grande Ruins

Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Petroglyph National Monument, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Petroglyph National Monument protects one of the largest petroglyph sites and features volcanic rock carved by Native American and Spanish settlers.

Petroglyph National Monument protects a variety of cultural and natural resources including five volcanic cones, hundreds of archeological sites, and an estimated 25,000 images carved by native peoples and early Spanish settlers.

Many of the images are recognizable as animals, people, brands, and crosses; others are more complex. Their meaning, possibly, may have been understood only by the carver. These images are inseparable from the greater cultural landscape, from the spirits of the people who created them, and from all who appreciate them.

If you need ideas, check out: Adventure in Albuquerque: Petroglyph National Monument

12. Coronado Historic Site, Bernalillo, New Mexico

Home to the partially reconstructed ruins of the ancient Pueblos of Kuaua, this historic site dates back to 1300 DC. Inhabited by the ancestral Puebloans, Kuaua was the largest Pueblo complex in the region with roughly 1,200 ground-floor rooms and 10 to 20 large kivas. Each kiva (underground ceremonial room) is painted with layers of intricate murals revealing stories of the Pueblo peoples and representing some of the best examples of pre-Columbian art in the U.S.

Today, the village is known as the Coronado Historic Site named for Spanish explorer Francisco Vásquez de Coronado who discovered the village in 1540 during his search for the fabled Seven Cities of Gold. The Puebloans were gracious toward their guests at first although their hospitality eventually faded and Coronado and his troops moved on. History buffs can visit these reconstructed kivas to see the well-preserved murals, as well as walk the site’s interpretive trails, complete with views of the Sandia Mountains and the Rio Grande.

Hovenweep © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Hovenweep National Monument, Utah and Colorado

Noted for its solitude and undeveloped, natural character, Hovenweep National Monument was once home to more than 2,500 people in 900 A.D. In 1923, Hovenweep was proclaimed by President Warren G. Harding a unit of the national park system. The name Hovenweep is a Paiute/Ute word meaning deserted valley.

A group of five well-preserved village ruins over a 20-mile radius of mesa tops and canyons, these ancient Pueblo ruins include towers that remind visitors of European castles. Straddling the Utah-Colorado border, the ruins were built about the same time as medieval fortresses.

The largest and most accessible of the six units of ruins is Square Tower where several well-preserved structures are located. The area was home for several prehistoric farming villages. Throughout the ruins, visitors may find castles, towers, check dams (for irrigation), cliff dwellings, pueblos, and houses. Petroglyphs (rock art) can also be found in the area.

Here are some helpful resources:

Tuzigoot Ruins © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Tuzigoot National Monument, Arizona

The Southern Sinagua built a ridge-top pueblo at Tuzigoot around 1100 AD and continued to add new rooms until the 1400s. This pueblo housed about 50 people. The Sinagua would often use a large pueblo as a dwelling and community center surrounded by additional smaller dwellings and outbuildings connected to agriculture.

While the region has a mostly arid climate, the marsh and river provide a source of fresh water, wild game, fish, and turtles to the Sinagua. Although summers are hot, a very long growing season allowed for the organized cultivation of crops as a supplement to food taken from the marsh and the river.

Despite the comfortable natural setting, the Sinagua left the pueblo at Tuzigoot for unknown reasons around the year 1450. Possibly the valley became overcrowded and the Southern Sinagua moved to different locations or were absorbed by other tribes. When the Sinagua abandoned Tuzigoot, they left behind many artifacts, some of which are on display in the visitor center.

Today, much of the ruin at Tuzigoot has been reconstructed to provide a safe and stable environment for visitors; however, the main tower is mostly original and is open to the public. The pueblo is accessible as part of a short loop trail. An additional trail leads out to a viewing area overlooking the marsh that was so important to the Sinagua.

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

Tumacacori © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Tumacácori National Historic Park, Tumacácori, Arizona

Tumacácori sits at a cultural crossroads in the Santa Cruz River valley and is where O’odham, Yaqui, and Apache people mixed with Europeans.

From his arrival in the Pimería Alta in 1687 until he died in 1711, Padre Kino established over twenty missions. The Jesuit missionaries administered them until the time of their expulsion in 1767. From 1768 until after Mexico got her independence in 1821 the missions were operated by the Franciscan missionaries. Some are still in use today while others have fallen into ruin.

Tumacácori National Historical Park in the upper Santa Cruz River Valley of southern Arizona is comprised of the abandoned ruins of three of these ancient Spanish colonial missions. San Jos de Tumacácori and Los Santos Angeles de Guevavi, established in 1691, are the two oldest missions in Arizona. San Cayetano de Calabazas, was established in 1756.

Check this out to learn more: Tumacácori National Historic Park: More Than Just Adobe, Plaster & Wood

Worth Pondering…

Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.

—Miriam Beard

The Ultimate RV Lifestyle Destinations Guide: RV Trip Ideas Based on Location

Looking for exciting RV trip ideas and travel suggestions?

This ultimate guide brings all of my destination resources to one place! Browse LOTS of RV road trip ideas based on location or interests.

We have been living the RV Snowbird Lifestyle for over two decades, cataloging our trips from year to year. I’ve shared countless articles and resources to help fellow RVers enjoy similar travels. Now, I’m bringing it all together in this ultimate destinations guide filled with many great RV trip ideas.

You can use this guide as an index to discover new ideas or dig deeper into places or things you’ve always wanted to see. I’ve organized it into two parts: location and activities/interests.

So, whether you’re interested in Arizona or scenic drives, Texas or birding, Georgia or hiking, you’ll find excellent resources to help with planning your next adventure!

RV trip ideas based on location

In this section, I organize my many location-based articles and resources into an easy-to-scan index. You’ll see helpful articles and links to useful resources.

When something catches your interest, click through to the links to learn more!

SOUTHWEST

The Southwest has stunning and unique landscapes you can’t see anywhere else in the world. We have fallen in love with the Southwest—Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and California.  From red and orange rock formations in the desert to green and lush mountains, there’s so much to see in this one area of the country and hiking and birding that can’t be beat. Then there is the beautiful national parks, state parks, and regional/county parks—and, of course, the Grand Canyon.

Cathedral Rock, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona

Visit Arizona for the iconic red rock formations of Sedona to the majestic Grand Canyon. Or for the vibrant cities such as Phoenix and Tucson which offer a range of shopping, dining, and entertainment options.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Mexico

New Mexico is a great destination for RVers due to its diverse landscapes and rich cultural heritage. From deserts to mountains, RVers can enjoy a range of scenic drives and outdoor activities. The state is also home to a number of historic Native American pueblos as well as Spanish colonial missions which provide a unique cultural experience.

New Mexican cuisine is a fusion of Spanish, Native American, and Mexican ingredients and techniques. While familiar items like corn, beans, and squash are often used, the defining ingredient is chile, a spicy chile pepper that is a staple in many New Mexican dishes. Chile comes in two varieties, red or green, depending on the stage of ripeness in which they were picked.

D. H. Lawrence, writing in 1928, pretty much summed it up: “The moment I saw the brilliant, proud morning shine high up over the deserts of Santa Fe, something stood still in my soul.”

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah

Every state thinks its fun. Every state claims to have something for everyone. But not every state has five national parks (The Mighty Five), 46 state parks, five national historic sites and trails, and a dozen national monuments and recreation areas. While it’s mathematically impossible to finish your Utah bucket list, I’ll help you plan the trip you’ll be talking about forever!

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California

What is the quintessential wine experience in the Golden State? Where are the must-see natural wonders? Which beach is best? How do you decide which theme park to visit? Where best to spend the winter? Scroll through my favorite places to go and things to do and start dreaming about your next California adventure today. 

SOUTHEAST

Over the last decade, the United States’ southeastern portion has become the ultimate place to visit for people who love outdoor activities and sports. You will find plenty to do from whitewater rafting to camping and hiking the trails when you visit the area. The twelve states located in the Southeast include Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and Kentucky.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgia

From the mountains down to the coast and everything in between, Georgia offers well-known and off-the-beaten-path experiences in cities both big and small. From ghost tours and island resorts to hidden gems here are a few can’t miss attractions, stays and towns when visiting Georgia.  

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Carolina

South Carolina is a state of variety with beautiful beaches, remote islands, charming cities and towns, watery wilderness, great golf, interesting history, rolling hills and mountains, and much more. From the Upcountry mountains through the vibrant Midlands and to the Lowcountry coast, the Palmetto State amazes.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama

From the foothills of the Appalachians through countless river valleys to the sugar white beaches of the Gulf, natural wonders abound. The 22 state parks which encompass 48,000 acres of land and water provide opportunities to fish, camp, canoe, hike, and enjoy the great outdoors.

Bayou Teche at Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Louisiana

Break away from the Interstate and take a road trip down one of Louisiana’s 19 scenic byways. From historic treasures and music festivals, to country kitchens and coastal wetlands teeming with wildlife, each drive offers you an authentic taste of Louisiana food, music, culture, and natural beauty. Start planning your trip here.

Bardstown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky

With everything from world-class horse racing to world-class bourbon, the list of things to do in the Bluegrass State seems almost endless. But with so many options, where do you even start? Here are a few experiences that stand above the rest.

Kennedy Space Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Florida

The Sunshine State connects you to natural landscapes, vibrant wildlife, and a host of outdoor activities and interactions.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas

Mention Texas to someone from another state and they might picture cowboys herding longhorn cattle across the open range or scheming, wealthy oil barons a la TV’s Dallas. The Lone Star State which was admitted to the United States after winning its own independence from Mexico still sometimes seems—as the state tourism slogan goes—like a whole other country. And, boy, do we have a LOT of helpful articles on this popular RV destination!

MIDWEST

The Midwest, also known as America’s Heartland, lies midway between the Appalachians and the Rocky Mountains and north of the Ohio River. The Midwest is generally considered to comprise the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

Holmes County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ohio

Ohio is home to a wide range of attractions from sprawling parks with stunning waterfalls to bustling cities and college towns. 

Shipshewanna © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Indiana

Appreciate a slower pace of life in a state known for its rural charms, Amish communities, and architecturally impressive cities.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North Dakota

North Dakota has uncrowded, wide-open spaces, and amazing vistas that take your breath away at must-see national and state parks, and recreational areas.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Dakota

An often overlooked travel destination, South Dakota is a land of breathtaking scenic beauty.

Here’s the thing, visit South Dakota once and the place SELLS ITSELF. Much more than just the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park, and the Badlands, SoDak is the most scenic places you knew nothing about. Until now!

Worth Pondering…

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.

—Gandalf the Wizard, Lord of the Rings

70 Degree Road Trip #1: The Coastal Adventure

A clever climatologist routed a 70 degree road trip around the U.S. where you can enjoy 70-degree weather all year long

In 2015, a climatologist named Brian B. created a 70 degree Road Trip map that has been shared over 10 million times over various platforms. That map was a hypothetical trip through the U.S. with the route tracking where the normal daily high temperature was approximately 70 degrees Fehrenheit (21 degrees Celsius). 

The map was based on the 1981-2010 climate normals produced by the National Center for Environmental Information (NCEI). Every 10 years, new climate normals are produced. In May 2021, the 1991-2020 normals were released by NCEI.

It might surprise people that the shift in 70-degree temperatures between 1981-2010 and 1991-2020 was very slight. Instead of updating the map to reflect temperature changes he came up with new routes. The original route was interesting but it left out a lot of options. This time around, there are multiple routes to choose from.

The map consists of three different routes that chase 70-degree weather all year long. You can now choose a Coastal Route, Interior Route, or United States and Canada Route. 

In this article, I will focus on what Brian B. calls the Coastal Route. I’ll cover the other two routes in upcoming articles.

Keep in mind you don’t have to do this entire route. You can simply use it as a guide to plan trips using segments at different times of the year. But, if you have the time and resources, it sure would be an epic journey to do the entire route!

Route 1: The Coastal Adventure

The coastal route starts in Tampa, Florida, and ends in San Diego, California. It’s an extraordinary 7,468-mile journey through diverse landscapes and coastal views.

Brian calls it the coastal route because it takes you along the east coast follows the shores of some of the great lakes and finishes off on the southern coast of sunny California. However, this route may be better designated as the exterior or perimeter route.

It has a long stretch across the northern states and a detour inland once you get out west. That’s what is required to stay within the 69-71 degree window.

But, even though it doesn’t take you entirely down the Oregon and California coastline, you’ll still see amazing landscapes every mile of the journey.

I’ll walk you through the journey and link to helpful articles to help you plan your trip.

Myakka River State Park, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

January

Set off from Tampa, Florida, and make your way east toward Orlando. Enjoy the warm weather, sandy beaches, and vibrant attractions including theme parks, shopping, and dining experiences. 

Mileage: 151 miles

Mount Dora, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

February

Head up the east coast of Florida to Jacksonville taking in the pristine coastal views and visiting historic landmarks such as the Fort Caroline National Memorial. 

Mileage: 81 miles

Savannah, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

March

Continue northward along I-95, stopping by the charming cities of Savannah and Charleston. Reach the North Carolina border where delicious Carolina BBQ awaits. 

Mileage: 341 miles

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

April

Continue traveling up the I-95 corridor to explore the vibrant cities of Richmond, Washington D.C., Baltimore, and Philadelphia while soaking in the East Coast’s rich history. 

There are so many museums and historical sites in this part of the country. It’s worth looking for reciprocal memberships to use at museums, botanical gardens, zoos, and more.

Mileage: 447 miles

Boston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

May

Take in the scenic beauty of the northeast as you drive from Philadelphia through New York City and all the way to Boston. Revel in the flourishing spring atmosphere as you explore cosmopolitan cities and quaint towns. 

Mileage: 300 miles

Custer State Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

June

Buckle up and get ready to cover a lot of ground this month. In this stretch, you go all the way from Boston, Massachusetts to central Montana. This long stretch rewards you with natural wonders such as Niagara Falls and the vast wilderness of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. 

While 2,388 miles seems like a lot, that’s only 80 miles a day. So, you can still spend time seeing plenty of sights along the way.

Mileage: 2,388 miles

Mount St. Helens, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

July

Traverse through the stunning terrain of western Montana, Idaho, and Washington on I-90. End your month in the lush surroundings of coastal Washington. 

Mileage: 965 miles

Applegate River Valley, Oregon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

August

Journey south along breathtaking coastal highways making your way to Newport, Oregon. Marvel at the Pacific Ocean’s rugged beauty and discover charming coastal towns. 

Mileage: 289 miles

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

September

Thread your way through eastern Oregon on lesser-traveled mountain highways. Conquer I-84 in Idaho and I-15 in Utah, soaking in the picturesque landscapes. 

Mileage: 962 miles

White Sands National Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

October

Explore the enchanting rural highways of the Southwest, driving southeast from Utah to Santa Fe and Albuquerque, New Mexico. Immerse yourself in the region’s rich culture and natural splendors. 

Mileage: 546 miles

Sedona, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

November

Venture west on I-40 from Albuquerque to Flagstaff, then head south on I-17 to Sedona and Phoenix. Witness the mesmerizing Arizona landscape including the iconic Grand Canyon.

Mileage: 467 miles

Coachella Valley Preserve, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

December

Conclude your coastal adventure taking I-10 from Phoenix to Los Angeles, followed by I-5 to San Diego. Celebrate your journey’s end while basking in the warmth of California’s sun-kissed beaches. 

Mileage: 531 miles

Make It Round-Trip!

As you see, this 70-degree road trip takes you three-quarters of the way around the United States. You can continue your road trip through the southern states to complete your loop around the United States.

You’ll lose your 70-degree weather but you won’t have to deal with the Southern heat as it’ll be December or January when you start heading back to Florida.

And don’t forget, I’ll be back with two more routes that chase 70-degree weather through the interior United States and all the way through the U.S. and Canada.

Worth Pondering…

Shoot for the moon, Even if you miss it you will land among the stars.

—Les Brown

How Best to Road-Trip across the Southwest? Icons and Hidden Gems!

Favorite ways to see this region’s geological wonders, surreal sunsets, and wide-open spaces

Edward Abbey who immortalized the Southwest in his writing would be turning over in his grave in Cabeza Prieta Wilderness west of Tucson, Arizona if he knew that Arches National Park had to temporarily close its gates in mid-October because capacity was maxed out. The famous monkey wrencher saved a special venomous wrath for the kind of tourist who drove from one viewpoint to the next only to snap a photo and move on.

But Abbey who was a ranger at Arches in Utah for two summers in the 1950s (when it was still a monument) also understood that there’s no better region than the Southwest, a place of mind-bending geology, impossibly living fauna, ferocious wide-open spaces, a sublime light, and millennia of human history to clear the mind and make peace with the soul.

Cabeza Prieta Wilderness © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I have spent 10 winters in the Southwest and believe everyone can benefit from the solace and adventure these majestic landscapes provide. We all, however, need to grapple with how to responsibly recreate within them. If you choose to wander this wide-ranging southwestern road trip starts in Tucson and ends at Big Bend National Park and hits icons and off-the-beaten-path places providing an itinerary to the best of the region. It’s ridiculous how much jaw-dropping splendor there is on this trip.

In the words of Abbey: “For god sake folks… take off those fucking sunglasses and unpeel both eyeballs, look around; throw away those goddamn idiotic cameras… stand up straight like men! Like women! Like human beings! And walk—walk—walk upon our sweet and blessed land!”

Might I politely add: leave no trace, BYO water, and respect those who came before you?

On the road to Patagonia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Route: Tucson, Arizona to Patagonia, Arizona

Distance: 64.8 miles

Your base camp: Patagonia

Patagonia, a no-frills mining and ranching town 20 miles north of the Mexican border cropped up in the middle of Pima, Tohono O’odham, and Apache territory in the late 19th century. It has been a beloved destination for birders almost ever since.

Mount Wrightson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Adventures in Patagonia

Hikers and trail runners have easy access to the summits of 9,456-foot Mount Wrightson and the historical fire lookout station at the top of 6,373-foot Red Mountain.

Hummingbird at Patton Center for Hummingbirds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What has more recently put Patagonia on the map is its mountain bike and gravel cycling with 30 miles of new singletrack right from downtown on the Temporal Gulch Trail and endless miles of dirt roads in the San Rafael Valley. Take note: the Spirit World 100 gravel road race takes place the first weekend of November and sells out fast.

Vermillion flycatcher at Patton Center for Hummingbirds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Paton Center for Hummingbirds is a place to explore and experience the special birds of southeast Arizona. It is dedicated to the celebration and conservation of hummingbirds—and all of southeast Arizona’s astounding biodiversity. Two hundred twelve bird species have been reported for this cozy home lot on the outskirts of Patagonia including Violet-crowned hummingbirds, gray hawks, varied buntings, thick-billed kingbirds, and many more local specialties.

Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Considered a hidden treasure of southeastern Arizona, Patagonia Lake is a manmade body of water created by the damming of Sonoita Creek. The 265-acre lake cuts a vivid blue swath through the region’s brown and amber hills. Hikers can also stroll along the creek trail and see birds such as the canyon towhee, Inca dove, vermilion flycatcher, black vulture, and several species of hummingbirds. 

Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay

The Gravel House is built for small groups of cyclists with a straw-bale house that sleeps six and a wood-framed studio that sleeps two. Both have kitchens and share outdoor space to wrench on bikes or celebrate post-ride with a cocktail.

For a unique place to camp in the area, Patagonia Lake State Park features seven camping cabins with beautiful views of the lake. The 105 developed campsites offer a picnic table, a fire ring/grill, and parking for two vehicles. Select sites also have a ramada. Sites have 20/30 amp and 50 amp voltage. Campsite lengths vary but most can accommodate any size RV.

Road to Patagonia State Park

Where to Eat and Drink

Chef Hilda at the Patagonia Lumber Company serves a delicious menu filled with Sonoran specialties like fresh tamales, Carne adovada tacos, and barbacoa.

The new Queen of Cups restaurant and winery offers fresh pasta dishes and three house-made wines on the menu.

Raptor Free Flights demonstration at Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Best Detour

Tucson’s Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a must-stop destination for travelers who want to learn more about the fragile yet resilient ecosystem they are traveling through. A highlight includes daily Raptor Free Flights where birds only native to the Sonoran Desert like the Chihuahuan raven, Harris’s hawk, and great horned owl fly free while an expert describes their attributes, habitats, and behaviors.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Route: Patagonia, Arizona to Big Bend National Park, Texas

Distance: 624 miles

Your base camp: Terlingua, Texas

It might take you a few days to get to Terlingua because there are a lot of fun detours along the way (see below). But the wait is worth it. This town, once 2,000 inhabitants were strong and rich with cinnabar from which miners extracted mercury in the late 19th century now stands by its claim as one of the most popular ghost towns in Texas with 110 residents. It is now known for its charming assortment of gift shops, earthy hotels, and its famous chili cook-off in early November. Check out the Terlingua Trading Company for handmade gifts and grab a bite of chips and guacamole and catch live honky-tonk music at the old Starlight Theater Restaurant and Saloon.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Adventures in Terlingua

Sitting six miles west of the entrance of Big Bend National Park, Terlingua offers easy access to the 801,163-acre park’s offerings including rafting or kayaking the Rio Grande River, hiking the Chisos Mountains, or road cycling its low-traffic paved highways.

Big Bend Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just west of Terlingua is the storied mountain biking in Big Bend Ranch State Park including the challenging 59-mile Fresno-Sauceda IMBA Epic route known for long, steep, technical, and rocky climbs and descents. Heavy rains have washed out much of the park’s trails so check in with Desert Sports whose owners Mike Long and Jim Carrico (a former superintendent of Big Bend) provide a wealth of knowledge about where and where not to go and offer shuttles, guides, and equipment.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay

There are four campgrounds inside Big Bend National Park—three park-operated camping areas with various services and one by an outside company. The three park-run campgrounds are Chisos Basin Campground, Rio Grande Village Campground, and Cottonwood Campground. All require advance reservations booked (up to 6 months in advance) through recreation.gov.

Where to Eat and Drink

Stop at the Starlight Theatre Restaurant and Saloon, sit on the front porch, and sip a beer then head inside for tequila-marinated Texas quail, a Scorpion margarita, and a rollicking night of live music.

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Best Detour

Chiricahua National Monument is 131 miles northeast of Patagonia. Stretch your legs on the 7.3-mile-long Heart of Rocks Loop that surpasses the most unusual formations in the monument including the aptly named Pinnacle Balanced Rock which looks like it might topple over any second.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Three hundred eighty-two miles east of Chiricahaua is New Mexico’s White Sands National Park home of the world’s largest gypsum sand dunes. Take a ranger-guided hike to Lake Lucero to understand how the dunes are formed. Bring a tent and grab a backcountry permit at the visitor’s center (available the day of camping only) to sleep among the dunes preferably under a full moon.

Worth Pondering…

We must also be in touch with the wonders of life. They are within us and all around us, everywhere, anytime.

—Thích Nhất Hạnh

Dust Storms and Haboobs: Safety Tips for RVers

Do you know what to do during a dust storm?

Don’t drive into a DUST STORM! Pull aside and stay safe. Stay Alive!

Dust storms (also called Haboobs) are unexpected, unpredictable, and can sweep across the desert landscape at any time. Dust storms can be miles long and thousands of feet high. You can endure these brief but powerful windstorms if you know how to react. 

Dust storms can occur anywhere at anytime © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dust storms can occur anywhere in the United States but are most common in the Southwest.

In Arizona, dust storms most frequently occur during monsoon season (June-September) but they can pop up at any time of the year. If you’re in a vehicle and a dust storm is approaching, the most important thing to do is to not drive into the dust storm. That’s because visibility can drop to zero, leaving you and others driving blind and making for a dangerous situation.

If you encounter a dust storm and don’t have time to exit the highway, Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) has developed these “Pull Aside, Stay Alive” tips to help you know what to do.

More on severe weather: Lightning and Thunderstorms: Safety Tips for RVers

Dust storms can occur anywhere at anytime © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

BEFORE

Know Your Risk and Be Informed:

  • Dust storms are more common near agricultural areas and near Willcox Playa in Cochise County
  • Dust storms are more frequent in July and August and between 4:00 pm. and 6:00 pm
  • Dust storms can reduce visibility to near zero in seconds resulting in deadly, multi-vehicle accidents on roadways
  • Drivers of high-profile recreation vehicles should be especially aware of changing weather conditions and travel at reduced speeds
Dust storms can occur anywhere at anytime © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Familiarize yourself with these terms to help identify a dust storm hazard:

  • Dust Storm Watch: Tells you when and where dust storms are likely to occur. Watch the sky and stay tuned to NOAA Weather Radio or commercial radio for information.
  • Dust Storm Warning: Issued when visibility is ½-mile or less due to blowing dust or sand and wind speeds of 30 miles an hour or more.
Dust storms can occur anywhere at anytime © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

DURING

Take action in a vehicle:

  • DO NOT drive into or through a dust storm. PULL ASIDE. STAY ALIVE.
  • Immediately check traffic around your vehicle (front, back, and to the side) and begin slowing down.
  • Do not wait until poor visibility makes it difficult to safely pull off the roadway—do it as soon as possible. Completely exit the highway if you can.
  • Do not stop in a travel lane or in the emergency lane. Look for a safe place to pull completely off the paved portion of the roadway.
  • Turn off all vehicle lights including your emergency flashers. You do not want other vehicles approaching from behind to use your lights as a guide possibly crashing into your parked vehicle.
  • Set your emergency brake and take your foot off the brake.
  • Stay in the vehicle with your seatbelts buckled and wait for the storm to pass.

More on severe weather: Severe Weather: Tornado Safety Tips for RVers

Dust storms can be scary but they usually pass fairly quickly and you can be on your way again.

Dust storms can occur anywhere at anytime © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

PULL OFF! LIGHTS OFF! FOOT OFF!

Take action indoors:

  • Close your doors and windows.
  • Consider turning off air conditioning until the dust storm passes.
  • Check your camping site for chairs, tables, toys, BBQs, and other objects that can become projectiles in high winds. Bring them inside, tie them down, or secure them in some other way.
  • Make sure your outside storage doors are closed and locked.
  • Retract any awnings and ensure they’re securely fastened.
  • Bring pets indoors.
Dust storms can occur anywhere at anytime © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take action outdoors:

  • Get as low to the ground as possible far away from roads and freeways
  • Dust Storms often accompany severe winds and thunderstorms which could lead to flash flooding
  • Avoid trees and low lying areas
  • Protect your face and any exposed skin
  • Cover your nose and mouth.
Dust storms can occur anywhere at anytime © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

AFTER 

Stay safe, healthy, and alert:

  • If you are pulled over in a vehicle, check traffic, and carefully return to the roadway
  • Drive with caution
  • Anticipate traffic light outages and obstacles on the road
  • Report broken utility lines and damaged roadways/railways to appropriate authorities as soon as possible
  • Follow instructions from the National Weather Service about additional hazardous conditions that may be expected

Worth Pondering…

On the fourteenth day of April in 1935
There struck the worst of dust storms that ever filled the sky…
From Oklahoma City to the Arizona Line
Dakota and Nebraska to the lazy Rio Grande
It fell across our city like a curtain of black rolled down,
We thought it was our judgment, we thought it was our doom…

—Woody Guthrie, from his song, The Great Dust Storm

Touring Apache Country

Land of Geronimo and Cochise

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

Apache Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Apache Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

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

Apache Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Apache

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

Apache Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Related Article: All Aboard & Bound For Benson

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

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chiricahua National Monument

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

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone

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

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

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

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bisbee

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

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Other Places to Visit in Southeastern Arizona

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

Related Article: Your Cochise Adventure

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

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

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

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

This is Apache Country!

Worth Pondering…

To my mind these live oak-dotted hills fat with side oats grama, these pine-clad mesas spangled with flowers, these lazy trout streams burbling along under great sycamores and cottonwoods, come near to being the cream of creation.

—Aldo Leopold, 1937

Family-friendly Road Trips Through Arizona: The Old West

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

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

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Exploring Arizona’s Old West

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

Benson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Benson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Railroad heritage

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

Related Article: Your Cochise Adventure

Benson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Town Too Tough To Die

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

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

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

Boothill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Queen of the Copper Camps

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

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

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Queen Mine, Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Queen Mine, Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

First International Airport of the Americas

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

Related Article: Most Beautiful Towns in the Southwest

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Butterfield RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Places to stay along this route

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

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

Bottom line

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

Worth Pondering…

To my mind these live oak-dotted hills fat with side oats grama, these pine-clad mesas spangled with flowers, these lazy trout streams burbling along under great sycamores and cottonwoods, come near to being the cream of creation.

—Aldo Leopold, 1937

Bartlett Lake: A Sonoran Desert Oasis

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

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

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Related: Arizona Lakes: 6 Sonoran Desert Oases

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

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Related: Top 10 Day Trips From Phoenix

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Related: 7 Serene Arizona Lakes for Water-related Activities

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Arizona Public Lands

Worth Pondering…

The trip across Arizona is just one oasis after another. You can just throw anything out and it will grow there.

—Will Rogers

Family-friendly Road Trips Through Arizona

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

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

Lead Mead back of Hoover Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Hoover Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Northern Arizona and the Grand Canyon

There’s a lot to see in the northwest corner of Arizona where temperatures can be cooler than in the south. Start this tour from the border between Arizona and Nevada which is a short drive from Las Vegas.

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

Lake Mead and Hoover Dam

Lake Mead was created in the 1930s by the construction of the 700-foot Hoover Dam which is worth a tour of its own to see how the massive construction was accomplished and its inner workings. Lake Mead National Recreation Area offers plenty of boating, kayaking, swimming, and fishing.

Related Article: Spotlight on Arizona: Most Beautiful Places to Visit

Birdwatchers take note: More than 240 bird species have been recorded here including bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and burrowing owls.

Historic Route 66 near Kingman on the route to Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Route 66 is a trip through history

Any road trip through Arizona must pay homage to the Mother Road—Route 66. It runs right through small towns (just like in the song) which have plenty to see and explore.

Arizona Route 66 Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The shiny new Arizona Route 66 Museum, located in Kingman’s historic Powerhouse, traces the evolution of travel along the 35th parallel that became Route 66 and the journeys of all who traveled the route over time—including American Indian tribes, members of the military, and Dust Bowl migrants.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once a gold-mining boomtown, Oatman hunkers in a craggy gulch of the Black Mountains, 28 miles southwest of Kingman along Route 66. Rising above the town is the jagged peak of white quartz known as Elephant’s Tooth. Often described as a ghost town, Oatman comes close to fitting the category considering that it once boasted nearly 20,000 people and now supports just a little over 100 people year-round.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though Oatman is only a shadow of its former self, it is well worth a visit to this living ghost town that provides not only a handful of historic buildings and photo opportunities but costumed gunfighters and 1890s style ladies as well as the sights of burros walking the streets.

Related Article: The Ultimate Guide to Arizona Public Lands

For old-school nostalgia, make a stop in Seligman, “the Birthplace of Historic Route 66,” which inspired the look of Radiator Springs in the Pixar movie “Cars.”

Wigwam Motel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Holbrook, also on Route 66 is a small town with plenty of classic vintage Route 66 motels and many historical landmarks like the famous Wigwam Motel and Petrified Forest National Park (see below).

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore natural wonders

There’s no way you can drive through Arizona without paying a visit to one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World—the Grand Canyon. Over 4 million (4.5 million in 2021) people come from around the world every year to see the mile-deep, 18-mile wide canyon. It’s even more impressive in person than in photos.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The idea of gazing over an old forest might pale in comparison to overlooking the vast Grand Canyon. However, this semi-arid grassland is a sight to behold too! In the Petrified Forest National Park, a variety of paleontological exhibits and petroglyphs awaits you. Visitors can choose to experience the park through hiking trails such as the Giant Logs Trail and the Painted Desert Rim or opt for a 28-mile drive.

Painted Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just south of the Arizona-Utah state line is Vermilion Cliffs National Monument with some of the most spectacular trails and views in the world. The swirls of colors in the rocks make for some eye-popping photographs.

Related Article: The Ultimate Arizona Road Trip: 16 Places to See & Things to Do

Colorado River from Navajo Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The two beautiful Navajo Bridges that span the Colorado River’s Marble Canyon may look identical but they were built more than 65 years apart. The first bridge opened to traffic in 1929 and was, at the time, the highest steel arch bridge in the world. However, it was not designed to carry modern-day traffic and its replacement was more than twice as wide opened in 1995. Rather than dismantling the original bridge, they left it in place to allow pedestrians to enjoy the spectacular view of the river 467 feet below.

Canyon de Chelly © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A comparatively little-known canyon, Canyon de Chelly (National Monument) has sandstone walls rising up to 1,000 feet, scenic overlooks, well-preserved Anasazi ruins, and an insight into the present-day life of the Navajo who still inhabit and cultivate the valley floor. The northernmost and southernmost edges are accessible from paved roads. The South Rim Drive offers the most dramatic vistas ending at the most spectacular viewpoint, the overlook of Spider Rocks—twin 800-foot towers of rock isolated from the canyon walls.

Related Article: Why Arizona is the Ultimate Road Trip Destination

Blake Ranch RV Park near Kingman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Campgrounds and RV parks along this route

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

  • Blake Ranch RV Park and Horse Motel, Kingman
  • Grand Canyon Railway RV Park, Williams
  • OK RV Park, Holbrook
  • Cottonwood Campground, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Chinle

Worth Pondering…

The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail.

—Major John Wesley Powell, Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons

Yuma: Gateway to the Great Southwest

Plan for sunny and warm in Yuma, Arizona

The true Southwest awaits in Yuma. Immerse yourself in rich culture and heritage rooted in centuries of history. Soak in blue skies and sun that shines 310 days a year—perfect for outdoor excursions.

Yuma is the winter lettuce capital of America © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Yuma is known as the Winter Lettuce Capital—thanks to its abundant vegetable production—and it holds a Guinness World Record as the “Sunniest City in the World.” With a prime location overlooking the Colorado River and home to the well-preserved Wild West-era Yuma Territorial Prison, this destination is an ideal place to explore.

A river runs through it at Colorado River State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Your first stops should be the Yuma Visitor Center and the Colorado River State Historic Park, the former site of the Army Quartermaster Depot established in 1864. Stock up on brochures and maps and find the latest info on Visit Yuma’s food tours and specialty dinners which are a great way to experience the region’s agritourism.

The Yuma Quartermaster Depot was a U.S. Army supply distribution point for forts throughout the American Southwest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Park includes a visitor center, the office of the Depot Quartermaster, the officer’s quarters, the corral house, the storehouse, a passenger train car, and more. Visitors can learn about how supplies delivered by ship from the Sea of Cortez were distributed to Army forts throughout the Southwest.

Related Article: I Was Wrong About Yuma

Serving hard time in Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sitting on a bluff overlooking the Colorado River are the remains of Arizona’s famous Yuma Territorial Prison. On July 1, 1876, the first seven inmates entered the Territorial Prison at Yuma and were locked into the new cells they had built themselves. A total of 3,069 prisoners including 29 women lived within the walls during the prison’s 33 years of operation. You can tour the original cell blocks, guard tower, and solitary chamber. In the museum, browse prison artifacts and exhibits that tell the story of the prison staff and the notorious convicts.

Yuma as a Colorado River community © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore Yuma’s lush parks and perhaps spot a LeConte’s thrasher or the elusive black rail. Be sure to pick up a copy of Finding Birds in Yuma County AZ by local birder Henry Detwiler available at the Visitor Information Center. East Wetlands Park offers 400 acres of wetlands at the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area; it’s part of an environmental restoration effort that’s doubled the bird population and increased species diversity. There are paved pathways suitable for all abilities.

The old steam locomotive at Pivot Point Plaza © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

See a 1907 Baldwin steam locomotive, hear a “ghost train” travel along the original railroad alignment, and learn about the historic importance of the Yuma Crossing. The outdoor exhibit area opened in 2010 where Madison Avenue meets the river―the exact site where the first railroad train entered Arizona in 1877.

Yuma Territorial Prison is a living museum of the Old West © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Toast the survivors of the Territorial Prison at the Prison Hill Brewing Company with a craft beer and conversation. Then, continue a few blocks to Lutes Casino, a historic establishment dating back to 1901. Despite the name, there are no card tables or slot machines; however, you can shoot some pool, order food, shop, or eye the quirky décor: retro signage, vintage photos, and posters of iconic Hollywood stars.

Related Article: The Beating Heart of Yuma

The Yuma area is one of the largest date producing areas outside of the Middle East © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Never had a date shake? Now is your chance. You’re in date country after all. At Martha’s Gardens sip on a Medjool shake, a sweet and creamy concoction made from Medjool dates grown right on-property. While indulging take a tour of the grounds to find out how these dates are cultivated in the desert (offered November–March only).

The Peanut Patch is nuts for you. Stop for a visit. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Converted from a vaudeville house, the Yuma Art Center features a pottery studio, an artists’ gift shop, four visual-art galleries, and a 1912 theater. Before you leave, pick up a map for a self-guided tour of Yuma’s public murals and sculptures. Don’t forget to snap some photos!

Yuma’s historic downtown offers a wide variety of shopping, dining, and old-fashioned street fairs and festivals © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now it’s time to stroll Yuma’s downtown center. Stretch your legs without stretching your wallet as you shop for handmade wares and agri-centric souvenirs at Brocket Farms, Colorado River Pottery, and Desert Olive Farms.

E.F. Sanguinetti helped transform the economy of Yuma heading into and through the start of the 20th century © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Round out the day with a stop at the historic Sanguinetti House Museum and Gardens and Jack Mellon Mercantile. Named after the “Merchant Prince of Yuma” and a riverboat captain, respectively, these charming abodes are full of memorabilia and antiques, and frequently offer events such as tea time and haunted ghost tours.

Related Article: Yuman Nature

The Sanguinetti House Museum is a stop not to be missed © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now an Arizona Historical Society museum, Sanguinetti House Museum chronicles E. F. Sanguinetti’s (1867-1945) life as the Merchant Prince of Yuma. Visit the museum and hear stories of how Sanguinetti came to Yuma as a penniless young man at just 15 years old. He quickly grew to become a civic-minded businessman whose various enterprises—electricity, ice house, ranching, farming, merchandising, banking, and real estate—advanced his own well-being and that of the community he loved.

Related Article: Of Yuman Interest: Top 7 Attractions In and Around Yuma

Gateway Park is Yuma’s downtown riverfront park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Three national wildlife refuges in the Yuma area—Cibola, Imperial, and Kofa—make up one of the country’s largest contiguous protected areas for wildlife. With more than 1,000 square miles between them, their ecosystems include desert, desert upland, riparian, grasslands, and forest.

Worth Pondering…

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

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

—Everett Ruess