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

Saguaro National Park: Two Parks in One

Saguaro National Park protects America’s largest cacti species, the saguaro, and features hiking trails for every level

The giant saguaro is the universal symbol of the American Southwest. These majestic plants found only in a small portion of the United States are protected by Saguaro National Park. Here you have a chance to see these enormous cacti silhouetted by the beauty of a magnificent desert sunset.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

America’s largest cactus, the saguaro’s imposing stature, and uplifted arms give it a regal presence. Perhaps that’s why this burly giant whose only bits of exuberance are seasonal blossoms and fig-like fruits at the tip of its limbs has been dubbed the “desert monarch.”

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park is composed of two distinct districts: The Rincon Mountain District and the Tucson Mountain District. The Tucson Mountain District lies on the west side of Tucson, Arizona, while the Rincon Mountain District lies on the east side of town. Both districts were formed to protect and exhibit forests of their namesake plant: the saguaro cactus.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While you can enter the Tucson Mountain District on other roads, it’s best to go in from Speedway Boulevard over the dramatic Gates’ Pass which is part of the Tucson Mountains. Like its counterpart on the east side of town, it offers a variety of trails that range from a leisurely meander around the visitor’s center to full-day treks. The west park is near two other attractions, as well: The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, a regional showcase for native plants and animals, and Old Tucson, the one-time movie set where the street scenes of many old westerns were filmed.

Related: Mind Blowing National Monuments in the Southwest

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park’s east district is about 20 miles away on the opposite side of the city where it wraps itself around the foothills of the Rincon Mountains. It’s also about 500 feet higher in elevation, larger, and boasts both numerous hiking options and a paved 8-mile driving loop.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Start your visit at the visitor center of either one of the Saguaro National Park two districts. Here, you can view museum exhibits, informational slide shows, cactus gardens, and shop at the bookstore and gift shop. The visitor centers are also the starting point for numerous hiking trails and scenic drives. Guided walks led by visitor center staff are also available—giving you the best close-up experience with some of the most notable areas of the park.

Related: A Southern Gem: 14 Reasons to Visit Tucson

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although Saguaro National Park is open every day of the year except Christmas, the busiest time is from November to March. During the winter months, temperatures are cooler and range from the high 50s to the mid-70s. Starting in late February and March, a variety of cactus and wildflowers begin to bloom. In late April the iconic saguaro begins to bloom. Come June the fruits are beginning to ripen. In August the lush Sonoran desert starts its monsoon season so be aware of possible flash floods.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are many activities to partake in at Saguaro National Park no matter the season. There is a multitude of short hikes to choose from or for the adventurous hiker, wilderness hikes, and backcountry camping.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro is offering a number of ranger-guided hikes during February. Two hikes are described below. Contact the park for updates on the day of the program. If you reserve a spot but then cannot make the scheduled hike, call to cancel your reservations by 9 a.m. the day of the hike. 

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

February 14, 4 p.m. Sunset Hike Hike: 4 hours, 3-½ miles roundtrip 

This hike gains 700 feet with most of the elevation change in switchbacks near the ridgeline where hikers will watch the sunset before descending under the moonlight. This hike is restricted to ages 10 and older. Reservations are required. 

Related: Saguaro National Park: 11 Planning Tips

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

February 15, 4:15 p.m. Trailing Shadows Hike: 3 hours, 2-½ miles roundtrip 

This walk bridges sunset into moonlight letting hikers experience the desert in both the glow of twilight and the light of the waxing moon. The hike is considered easy to moderate, with an elevation gain of roughly 200 feet. The trail begins and ends on a small stretch of dirt road, proceeding to traverse in and out of a winding dry river bed along with fields of mighty Saguaros. This hike is restricted to ages 8 and older. Reservations are required.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro supports other activities as well. Bicycling around the east district’s Cactus Forest Loop Drive is a popular road bike route as is mountain biking on the Hope Camp Trail and Cactus Forest Trail.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park’s two districts offer more than 165 miles of hiking trails. A hike at Saguaro can be a stroll on a short interpretive nature trail or a day-long wilderness trek.

The best place to view the sunset on the east side is either the Tanque Verde Ridge trail (.5 mile hike) or the Javelina Rocks pull-out. The driving loop does not close until 8:00 p.m. so you have plenty of time to leave the loop after sunset.

Related: Reach for the Sky: Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the west side, Gates Pass (the end of Speedway Blvd to the west) is the ideal spot for a sunset. There is a parking lot at the top of the winding road with Tucson Mountain Park but this closes just after sunset.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Larry Cheek, Cheek, Born Survivor

Saguaro National Park: 11 Planning Tips

Some planning tips for visiting Saguaro National Park

To make the most of your visit to Saguaro National Park, we’ve compiled these 10 tips, in no particular order. The park is open 24 hours a day via walking or bicycling and 7 a.m. to sunset in the Tucson Mountain District (West) and 7 a.m. to sunset in the Rincon Mountain District, 364 days a year (closed Christmas Day).

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Plan Ahead: Since the park is open year-round and located in a desert it’s important to consider weather conditions. While daytime temperatures in the winter range from the low-50s to the high-70s, summertime temperatures rise to the mid-80s to low-100s. The busiest times in the park are November through March.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Two parks in One: Saguaro National Park is composed of two distinct districts: The Rincon Mountain District and the Tucson Mountain District. The Tucson Mountain District lies on the west side of Tucson, Arizona, while the Rincon Mountain District lies on the east side of town. Both districts were formed to protect and exhibit forests of their namesake plant: the saguaro cactus.

Related: Reach for the Sky: Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Drink Up: The Sonoran Desert climate is dry whatever season and it’s important to stay hydrated. Be sure to bring along plenty of water when Saguaro. Park rangers suggest one quart of water per hour of hiking during hot weather. Water refilling stations are found at both visitor centers. Also, bring along some sports drinks and salty snacks with you to replenish your electrolytes.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Go for a Hike: With more than 165 miles of hiking trails in the park’s two districts, there are ample opportunities for hiking. Numerous hiking trailheads are located along the Cactus Forest Scenic Loop Drive in the Rincon Mountain District and throughout the Tucson Mountain District. Stop at a visitor center and map out your hike before setting off on the trails.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Go for a Drive: In the Rincon Mountain District the eight-mile Cactus Forest Scenic Loop Drive features several trailheads, pullouts, and incredible views along the way. The unpaved, graded dirt/gravel Scenic Bajada Loop Drive takes you into the Tucson Mountain District’s foothills with scenic pullouts, picnic areas, and trailheads along its six-mile loop.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Go for a Ride: The same loop drives that are great for driving are also terrific for biking. In addition, two trails in the Rincon Mountain District are open to bicycles—the new 2.8-mile Hope Camp Trail and the 2.5-mile Cactus Forest Trail. All trails in the Tucson Mountain District are off-limits for bicycling.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Mount Up: Horseback riding is possible within Saguaro National Park and if you don’t have your own horse, there are a few local outfitters who can take you to experience the park from the saddle. A guided ride will also help make sure that you stay on the trails where horses are permitted.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Watch for Wildlife: The varied landscapes of Saguaro National Park provide ideal homes to numerous species of mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles. Watch for roadrunners (beep beep!), cactus wrens, Gila woodpeckers, desert tortoise, horned lizards, Gila monsters, kangaroo rats, coyotes, collared peccaries, and much more.

Related: A Southern Gem: 14 Reasons to Visit Tucson

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Ancient Artwork: Ancient petroglyphs are found throughout the American Southwest including Saguaro National Park. Take a walk along the Signal Hill Trail in the Tucson Mountain District and you’ll find a hill covered with dozens of petroglyphs that date 800 years. And of course, look but don’t touch to help preserve these ancient pieces of art.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Live the Nightlife: When the sun goes down, the park’s nightlife comes alive. The park rangers offer numerous evening programs to experience it all. Reservations advised.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Spend a Day at the Museum: Just outside the park (Tucson Mountain District), the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a terrific place to learn all about the area. A regional showcase for native plants and animals, the museum’s 98 acres includes a zoo, botanical garden, art gallery, natural history museum, and aquarium—and 85 percent of the experience is outside. The park’s hours vary seasonally.

Read Next: Now is the Time to Explore Southern Arizona’s Gorgeous State Parks

Worth Pondering…

This was as the desert should be, this was the desert of the picture books, with the land unrolled to the farthest distant horizon hills, with saguaros standing sentinel in their strange chessboard pattern, towering supinely above the fans of ocotillo and brushy mesquite.

—Dorothy B. Hughes

Three Southwest Towns You Need To Visit This Winter

Instead of driving on snowy and dangerous icy roads this winter, take your RV south for the season.

These towns in Arizona and New Mexico have some amazing attractions as well as RV nearby RV parks and campgrounds.

Quartsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Quartzsite, Arizona

Travel through this dusty outpost between April and November and you might wonder why this wide spot along Interstate 10 is such a popular snowbird destination for RVers. But visit in January and you’ll quickly see why: it morphs into a non-stop social event for RVing snowbirds.

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dozens of inexpensive Quartzsite RV parks have room for seasonal guests and short-term visitors alike. Tens of thousands of snowbirds boondock at one of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) designed visitor areas that surround Quartzsite. A long-term permit allows snowbirds to stay at a BLM-designated Long Term Visitor Area for $180 between September 15 and April 15 (a total of 7 months), or for any length of time between those two dates.

Quartzsite RV Show © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The LTVA short-visit permit ($40) allows the use of BLM-designated LTVAs for any 14-consecutive-day period from September 15th to April 15th The only caveat? You’ll go without hookups. The only “amenities” are beautiful desert sunsets with wide-open views of the surrounding area.

Related Article: Most Beautiful Towns in the Southwest

Quartzsite RV Show © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Quartzsite RV Show is the largest gathering of RVs and RVers on Earth. 2022 dates are January 22-30. Endless flea market shopping opportunities and RV club social events galore give you plenty to do.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carlsbad, New Mexico

Not to be confused with the California city of the same name, Carlsbad in southeastern New Mexico is a peaceful city along the Pecos River. This town is the gateway to Carlsbad Caverns National Park with more than 100 underground caves.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park consists of a network of cave passages filled with stalagmites, stalactites, and other formations. The largest chamber, “The Big Room” is 8.2 acres and the largest accessible cave chamber in North America.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most people like to explore at their own pace on the Self-Guided Tours, but if you prefer having a guide with more information, consider taking one of their ranger-led tours. You can enter the caves by hiking down the steep 1.25-mile Natural Entrance Trail, or by simply taking an elevator down into the caves.

Related Article: The Ultimate Guide to Camping in the Southwest

The national park doesn’t allow overnight camping, but there are lots of RV parks and campgrounds in the area.

Las Cruces and the Organ Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Las Cruces is less than an hour from the Texas border in southeastern New Mexico. The town sits in the shadow of the Organ Mountains and is a short drive from the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.

Las Cruces Farmers and Craft Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Organ Mountains are a steep, angular mountain range with rocky spires that jut majestically above the Chihuahuan Desert floor to an elevation of 9,000 feet. This picturesque area of rocky peaks, narrow canyons, and open woodlands ranges from Chihuahuan Desert habitat to ponderosa pine in the highest elevations.  Located adjacent to and on the east side of Las Cruces, this area provides opportunities for photography, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, camping, and wildlife viewing.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dripping Springs Natural Area is also close to Las Cruces with easy hiking trails among huge rock spires. White Sands National Monument is less than an hour away with huge sand dunes that you can hike or sled down.

Related Article: Five National Parks to Visit on the Ultimate Southwestern Desert Road Trip

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Step back in time and visit Old Mesilla, one of the oldest and most unique settlements of southern New Mexico. Pancho Villa and Billy the Kid walked the streets. The famous trial of Billy the Kid was held here. Today Mesilla is a part of living history. Great care has been given to preserving the original adobe buildings and the beautiful plaza. People from all over the world stop to experience the history, art, architecture, quaint shopping, and unique dining that Mesilla has to offer.

Las Cruces Mainstreet Downtown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll also want to stop and browse the town’s huge year-round Farmers and Crafts Market. Their famous downtown market includes over 300 local farmers, artists, bakers, and vendors selling fresh produce and handmade artisan goods.

Related Article: Stay Warm This Winter in these Unique Towns in the American Southwest

You’ll find numerous RV parks and campgrounds are in the area including a nearby state park and a BLM campground.

Worth Pondering…

May the joy of today, bring forth happiness for tomorrow—and may the cold northern air stay up north!

Now is the Time to Explore Southern Arizona’s Gorgeous State Parks

A southern Arizona State Parks road trip

Southern Arizona is not only about saguaro cacti and desert sunsets. Somewhat unexpectedly, the arid region also features several lakes and wetland areas teeming with fish and migratory birds. Add in majestic mountain ranges and fascinating historic sites and you have the makings of a wonderful southern Arizona state parks road trip.

In all, Arizona has 31 state park units. While much of the attention centers on high-profile parks including Red Rock and Slide Rock near Sedona and the Phoenix-area Lost Dutchman, the parks near the southern Arizona community of Tucson along with those in the southwestern corner of the state shine brightly as well. A number of southern park beauties seemed to be fairly unknown to the rest of the state.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia Lake State Park

Beaches in Arizona are admittedly few and far between and for a sandy swimming beach less than a half-hour drive northeast of the Arizona/Mexico border town of Nogales locals flock to Patagonia Lake State Park. 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.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along with swimming which is popular throughout the warm-weather months, Patagonia Lake offers boating, fishing, waterskiing, a picnic area with ramadas, tables, and grills, a creek trail, boat ramps, a marina, and bird-watching. Its unique arched bridge that rises over a lake channel is a great place to spot birds in the reeds along the shoreline or just enjoy the warm breeze. 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 Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a unique place to stay in the area, the park features a campground and 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.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Arizona State Parks

Park Entrance Fee: $15-$20 per vehicle; camping fee $27-$30 per night

Sonoita Creek Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sonoita Creek State Natural Area

Located downstream from Patagonia Lake along the lower Sonoita Creek, the Sonoita Creek State Natural Area is its own entity within the Arizona State Parks system and has an identity of its own as a world-class birding area. The lower Sonoita Creek, a perennial tributary of the Santa Cruz River has a well-developed riparian forest that fosters a great diversity of birds and other wildlife. The Sonoita Creek State Natural Area consists of thousands of acres and includes a trail easement that connects it to Patagonia Lake State Park.

Sonoita Creek Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Twenty miles of trails are available for hiking and eight miles of trails are shared with equestrians.  A 1.5-mile hike of moderate difficulty called the “Overlook Trail” is close to Patagonia Lake State Park and is a great way to see 360 degrees of spectacular scenery. Most of the trails are more remote and the shortest round trip hike to the creek is three miles on the Sonoita Creek Trail. At all times of the year, boots with good traction, sun protection, food, and water are recommended. The minimum elevation change on any route is 300 feet.

Sonoita Creek Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Sonoita Creek State Natural Area has been designated an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society. During the spring migration from late January through early April, a guided bird walk could yield sightings of more than 60 species and the complete bird list consists of more than 300 species. One of the most sought-after birds is the elegant trogon which might be seen between November and March. Ducks, rails, raptors, and flycatchers are commonly sighted. Other animals in the area include creek squirrels, coatis, raccoons, skunks, deer, snakes, javelina, jackrabbits, and an occasional bobcat or mountain lion.

The Sonoita Creek State Natural Area’s visitor center is located within Patagonia Lake State Park and entry fees for the lake include the use of the natural area.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park

With the Santa Catalina Mountains beckoning in the distance and canyons and seasonal streams dotting the landscape, Catalina State Park provides a delightful respite in the Tucson area. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The park’s 5,500 acres provide miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails that wind through the park and into the nearby Coronado National Forest. More than 150 species of birds call the park home. This scenic desert park also offers equestrian trails and an equestrian center provides a staging area for trail riders with plenty of trailer parking.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located within minutes of the Tucson metro area, Catalina State Park makes a convenient place to camp while exploring the city and its iconic national park, Saguaro National Park. The state park offers 120 campsites with electric and water utilities suitable for RVs of all lengths. The campground is located in the shadow of the Santa Catalina Mountains and offers birding opportunities and spectacular dusk and dawn views.

Related: The Most (and least) Popular Arizona State Parks

Park Entrance Fee: $7 per vehicle; camping fee $30 per night

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park

From military conquests to ranching endeavors to mining claims, the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park runs the gamut of early Arizona history. The story of New Spain’s presidios (forts) is a unique one and Tubac’s primary purpose is to preserve the ruins of the oldest Spanish presidio in Arizona—San Ignacio de Tubac established in 1752. Tubac is one of few such sites that remain and its historic significance is heightened by the rarity of presidio sites.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, a walk through the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park includes not just the history of the New Spain fort but also of the people who came afterward to live and work in the region. Along with the ruins of the fort the park preserves the 1885 Territorial Schoolhouse, the second oldest schoolhouse in Arizona.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Tubac Presidio Museum houses interpretive exhibits with many original artifacts and the original Washington Printing Press that printed Arizona’s first newspaper in 1859. The Visitor Center contains Spanish/Mexican-influenced furnishings and an artist mural of the Presidio, a model of the Presidio, historic maps, and a seven-minute video presentation that gives a brief history of the village of Tuba.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A variety of birds can be spotted on the grounds, including roadrunners. Although large mammal sightings at the park during park hours are rare, the Anza Trail passes through the park, and visitors can catch glimpses of javelinas, deer, and coyotes.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Tubac Presidio State Historic Park is just one aspect of the artsy community of Tubac. The village of about 1,500 people has over 100 galleries, studios, and shops, all within easy walking distance of each other. You’ll find an eclectic and high-quality selection of art and artisan works that include paintings, sculpture, pottery, metalwork, hand-painted tiles, photography, jewelry, weaving, and hand-carved wooden furniture.

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you are interested in exploring more of the area around Tubac, Tumacácori National Historic Park preserves the ruins of three Spanish mission communities and is less than five miles from Tubac. These abandoned ruins include San José de Tumacácori, Los Santos Ángeles de Guevavi, and San Cayetano de Calabazas.

Related: Focus on Birding in Arizona State Parks

Park Entrance Fee: $7 per vehicle; no overnight parking is permitted

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

Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park

For most, the name Tombstone conjures up images of the Wild West and the gunfights that occurred there. Certainly, Tombstone is known as the site of a bloody gunfight that occurred at the O.K. Corral Livery & Feed in 1881 that killed three and wounded three others. The legend of the shootout has lasted through the centuries and spawned numerous Hollywood movies.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But a deeper understanding of the town and the region is available at the Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park. The two-story courthouse designed in the Victorian style was constructed of red brick in 1882. The courthouse, a splendid example of territorial architecture, continued to serve as a county facility until 1931 when the county seat was moved to Bisbee.

Boothill, Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, the old courthouse houses information on the gunfight at the O.K. Corral along with artifacts from Tombstone’s mining past including a saloon and gaming room, a period sheriff’s office, and a period lawyer’s office and courtroom. Outside in the courtyard is a reproduction gallows—the site where many convicted murderers met their fate.

Boothill, Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Schieffelin Monument is the last resting place of Ed Schieffelin, the prospector who discovered the mineral deposits that triggered the Tombstone silver boom in 1877. Located in the beautiful high desert 3 miles northwest of Tombstone, the Monument is now part of the Tombstone Courthouse State Park. It is a place where you can feel a direct connection to the Old West days of Tombstone, “the town too tough to die.”

Park Entrance Fee: $7 per vehicle; no overnight parking is permitted

Colorado River State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colorado River State Historic Park

Located in the far southwestern corner of the state, the Colorado River State Historic Park (formerly Yuma Crossing State Historic Park) sits on the bank of the Colorado where river captains once sailed from the Gulf of California to unload supplies then kick up their heels in the bustling port of Yuma. Ocean vessels brought supplies around the Baja Peninsula from California to Port Isabel, near the mouth of the Colorado. From there, the cargo was loaded onto smaller steamships and brought upstream to Yuma. The purpose of the depot was to store six months’ worth of supplies for the forts in the area. The depot operated from 1864 until 1883 when the arrival of the railroad made the long steamship route unnecessary.

Colorado River State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many of the original structures from that time are still standing. Made of adobe, essentially mud and plant material, they have survived well in Yuma’s dry climate. In fact, since their original construction, the buildings have been used by the Weather Service, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Signal Corps, the Border Survey, and the Yuma County Water Users Association as recently as the late 1980s.

Colorado River State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, Colorado River State Historic Park preserves the history of the facility while providing additional information about Yuma as a Colorado River community and the engineering behind one of its impressive canal systems. The park’s visitor center features an exhibit on the military history of the Yuma Quartermaster Depot and includes a model depicting the depot’s appearance in 1872. The park is closed Monday and Tuesday.

Related: Winter Hiking in Arizona State Parks

Park Entrance Fee: $6 per vehicle; no overnight parking is permitted

Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park

Sitting on a bluff overlooking the Colorado River, 3 miles west of the confluence of the Colorado and the historic Gila River, stand the ruins of Arizona’s famous Territorial Prison.

Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fans of Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures know it as “Hell Hole Prison” for the dark and twisted tales which linger long after the last inmates occupied this first prison of the Arizona Territory. For many others, the 1957 and 2007 films “3:10 to Yuma” are what bring this “Hell Hole Prison” to mind.

Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park is open, welcoming convicts of another kind —those guilty of having a curiosity for what it was like to work and live inside the prison walls. The cells, main gate, and guard tower are still standing providing visitors with a glimpse of convict life in the Southwest over a century ago. Turn yourself in for a fascinating experience, which includes a look into “The Dark Cell” and a look back at the men AND women who served hard times in Yuma.

Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And, you don’t have to wait until 3:10; the park is open from 9 am -5 pm so stop in and take a walk through a big slice of the history of the Old West. The park is closed Tuesday and Wednesday.

Park Entrance Fee: $8 per vehicle; no overnight parking is permitted

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