Tombstone: The Town Too Tough To Die

Stagecoach rides, Old West saloons, trading posts, dance hall girls, and shootouts enhance any visit to Tombstone

Tombstone invites visitors to walk in the footsteps of the West’s most famous outlaws and good guys, the Clantons and the Earps. During its 1880s heyday, Tombstone, the “Town Too Tough to Die,” boasted 10,000 gunslingers, gamblers, prospectors, and prostitutes.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sparked by Edward Schieffelin’s silver strike (skeptics warned he’d only find his own tombstone), the raucous town boasted more than 60 saloons. Tombstone is known for the famous street fight near the OK Corral between Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday vs. Frank and Tom McLaury, and Billy and Ike Clanton.

The fierce gunfight was quick and when the bullets stopped flying, Billy Clanton, Tom McLaury and Frank McLaury lay dead. Billy’s brother, Ike Clanton, kept his life that day but was eventually murdered near Springerville, Arizona. Virgil and Morgan Earp needed weeks to recover from serious wounds but Doc Holliday was barely grazed by a bullet. Surprisingly, Wyatt Earp was unscathed.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The OK Corral still stands and gunfights are re-enacted as visitors are thrown back to a time when life was bold and uncompromising. Tourists can visit the many historical buildings dating back to the 1880s. Stagecoach rides, Old West saloons, museums, trading posts, dance hall girls, cowboys, and unique photo opportunities also add to the adventure.

In 1889, the New York Times referred to Tombstone as the “wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and Barbary Coast”. And while the American West had many of these old Western towns at one time, most of them have crumbled away to nothing or been torn down for the creation of modern buildings.

Boothill Graveyard, Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It was probably the extreme violence that played up in dime-store novels that gave Tombstone its special mystique and allowed it to survive. Home of the fabled Boot Hill Graveyard, Tombstone is not a recreated town, but contains the actual buildings that existed in the 1880s when it grew up around the rich silver mines in the area. Western movies by the dozens have depicted the wild tales of Tombstone and, even though its heyday lasted only seven or eight years, this small town south of Tucson has come to epitomize the essence of the Old West.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Called “The Queen of the Boom Towns”, Tombstone is an especially popular vacation spot for vacationing families as well as snowbirds wintering in Arizona.

Cowboys and outlaws, frock coats flapping and six-guns ready, prowl the streets looking for a fight. Gunfire erupts and smoke drifts through town while marshals try to keep order. Ladies of the evening lounge on street corners in their colorful and daring outfits, while proper ladies in long gowns and parasols stroll the boardwalk.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone isn’t hard to explore by foot—being all of three blocks long and two blocks wide­—but it’s more fun to do in style by riding a stagecoach through town and listening to the colorful history unfold around the various buildings as you ride past.

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

Other buildings worth exploring include the Tombstone Courthouse where much of Tombstone’s history is displayed, and the Bird Cage Theatre (6th and Allen, you can’t miss it), where ladies of the night entertained their male callers in small cage-like compartments suspended from the ceiling. Anyone who remembers the song, “She was only a bird in a gilded cage,” can relate to this. The song, highly popular in its day, was inspired by the Bird Cage Theatre.

Boothill Graveyard, Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Among the many attractions of Tombstone is Boot Hill Cemetery on the northwest edge of town off Highway 80. Surviving a day in Tombstone was a victory as its famous Boot Hill Cemetery overflowed with those shot during poker games, killed in drunken-induced gunfights, and even hung for simply becoming a public nuisance. Undertaking was no doubt a lucrative profession. The cemetery takes its name from the fact that many of the people buried there died quickly and violently and were buried with their boots on.

OK Corral, Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As might be expected, the arid desert around Tombstone also boasts a number of towns that went bust—leaving in their wake skeletal remains of buildings and mines. For Old West enthusiasts, these ghost towns are well worth searching out. They include Charleston and Millville (nine miles southwest of Tombstone on Charleston Road, Fairbank (nine miles west of Tombstone on State Highway 82), Courtland (21 miles north of Douglas, off US Highway 191, Gleeson (16 miles east of Tombstone on Gleeson Road), Hilltop (36 miles southeast of Wilcox on the east side of the Chiricahuas), and Pearce (28 miles south of Wilcox on State Highway 186.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Fast is fine but accuracy is final. You must learn to be slow in a hurry.

—Wyatt Earp

Where It All Began: My Love Affair with the Southwest

Usery Mountain Regional Park is a staggeringly beautiful place. It’s as “Arizona” as it gets.

The Spanish found the desert to be very inhospitable. On their maps, central Arizona was labeled as “deplobado” meaning, “desolate wilderness.” My initial reaction was not that different!

Usery Mountain is where my love of and discovery of The Southwest began. That would be early April 1987 when we spent a week in site 48.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At that time, I wrote in my journal: “The spectacular desert mountain scenery here is breathtaking. When we first arrived in Arizona our reaction was why would anyone winter in this dreary, harsh, unforgiving desert environment, let alone live here. The Sonoran Desert grows on you with a beauty all its own. And the beauty of Usery Mountain is absolutely stunning.”

And we have enjoyed camping here numerous times since.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located on the Valley’s east side, this 3,648-acre park became part of Maricopa County’s regional park system in 1961. The park is set at the western end of the Goldfield Mountains, adjacent to the Tonto National Forest. The park contains a large variety of plants and animals that call the lower Sonoran Desert home. Along the most popular features of the park, the Wind Cave Trail, water seeps from the roof of the alcove to support hanging gardens of Rock Daisy. The Wind Cave is formed at the boundary between the volcanic tuff and granite on Pass Mountain. Breathtaking views from this 2,840-foot elevation are offered to all visitors.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain History

The traditional account of settlement of the Salt River Valley credits a former Confederate Officer and gold seeker, Jack Swilling, with the beginning of the modern irrigation in central Arizona. Swilling came into the Valley in 1867 and noted the presence of ancient canal systems of the early Native Americans who had irrigated the same lands.

Gambel’s quail at Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If Swilling traveled between John Y.T. Smith’s hay camp a few miles east of downtown Phoenix and Fort McDowell, as he presumably did in the summer of 1867, he came within sight of Usery Mountain Park and even closer to the ruins of an old canal system and an ancient Native American village situated between the park and the Salt River. The first Swilling canal brought water to fields east of the present Arizona State Hospital near Phoenix and inspired the beginning of other canal building.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain Regional Park became a park in 1967. Pass Mountain, also known as “Scarface” to the local folks, is the geological focal point of the park. The mountain itself was named for King Usery (sometimes spelled Ussery). “King” was his first name, rather than a title. He was a cattleman who was running stock in the area in the late 1870s and early 1880s. He had a tough struggle to survive and, apparently losing ground, moved up into the Tonto Basin country where his activities, unorthodox, provided him a kind of unwanted security…behind bars.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On January 5, 1892, the Globe-Florence stage was held up by two highwaymen and two bars of silver bullion valued at $2,000 were stolen. The driver identified the highwaymen as King Usery and Henry Blevins. Posses took the field, soon learning that Usery had been riding a black horse stolen from the Webb Ranch on Tonto Creek. At the George Middleton Ranch, the sheriff and his deputies were told that Usery had been seen burying something in swampy ground near the Salt River. One of the bars was quickly recovered. Surrounded at his ranch, Usery surrendered but a search revealed he had hidden two pistols inside his pants legs, suspending them from his belt with rawhide thongs. For this crime, Usery was sentenced to a term of seven years in the Territorial Prison in Yuma. Despite a successful plea for a new trial, the conviction stood. After two years, he was pardoned.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery wandered from the legal path a second time and was convicted of stealing cattle. He received a light sentence in Gila County and upon his release, he disappeared.

Usery Mountain Park is on the border of a mountain region. Nearby ranges are the Superstitions on the east, the Goldfields on the north and northeast, the Usery Mountains immediately northwest, and the McDowell Mountains across the Salt River to the northwest. A broad basin lies west and south of the area.

Hedgehog cactus in bloom at Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Pass was also known for being a major sheep trail leading from the high country north of Mt. Baldy south to the Salt River Valley. Flocks of sheep, led by Mexican and Basque shepherds with their dogs, presented a picturesque sight in the spring and fall as they moved into or out of the Coconino plateau region.​

Hiking at Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain Hiking Trails

Usery Mountain Regional Park offers over 29 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Park trails range in length from 0.2 miles to over 7 miles and range in difficulty from easy to difficult. If you are looking for an easy, relatively short hike, the Merkle Trail is barrier-free. If you are looking for a long more difficult hike, try the 7.1-mile Pass Mountain Trail. Another visitor favorite is the Wind Cave Trail that reaches high onto the mountain side and allows hikers onto the adjacent Tonto National Forest.

Guilded flicker at Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The trails within the Usery Mountain Regional Park are very popular because they have enough elevation to offer spectacular vistas of surrounding plains. All trails are multi-use unless otherwise designated. All trail users are encouraged to practice proper trail etiquette. Always remember to carry plenty of water and let someone know where you are going.​ Heavy sole shoes are a must as well as sunscreen and a large-brimmed hat (I recommend a Tilley hat).

Sunset at Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

​Usery Mountain Picnic Areas

Usery Mountain Regional Park offers a Day-Use Picnic Area and a Group Picnic Area. The Day Use Picnic Area provides a table, barbecue grill, drinking water, and restrooms for each site. These sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. For large groups wanting to picnic together, weddings, or office parties, consider renting a ramada area. Usery Mountain has two group areas that offer two large ramadas with picnic tables and patio, barbecue grills, drinking water, electrical outlets, campfire pits, flood lights, and a nearby playground.

Camping at Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping at Usery Mountain

Usery Mountain Regional Park offers a campground with 73 individual sites. Each site has a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45 foot RV and offers water and electrical hook-ups, dump station, a picnic table, barbecue grill, and fire ring. Usery Mountain provides restrooms with flush toilets and hot water showers. All sites in the campground may be reserved online at maricopacountyparks.org.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain Regional Park

From central Phoenix, take I-10 east to US 60 east. Exit Ellsworth Road north to the Usery Mountain Regional Park entrance.

Admission: $7 per vehicle.

Usery Mountain Regional Park in spring © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

10 RV Parks in the Southwest that Snowbirds Love

Stay warm this winter at one of these RV parks across the southwestern U.S.

Many RVers head south for the winter to bask in year-round sunshine.  Having the freedom of a home-on-wheels makes it easy to avoid icy roads and freezing temperatures and instead spend the season near a coastal area or exploring the Sonoran Desert.

RVing with Rex selected this list of RV parks and campgrounds from parks personally visited. Now go forth and be safe.

Palm Canyon Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Borrego Palm Canyon Campground, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Borrego Springs, California

Located within Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Borrego Palm Canyon campground has approximately 120 campsites and six group campsites. There are 51 RV campsites with full hookups. Each campsite has a table, fire ring, and grill. Several campsites also have shade structures. Campground amenities include drinking water, flush toilets, showers, RV dump station, group camping, and hike/biking camping. Borrego Palm Canyon campground is just a few miles from the town of Borrego Springs. It is also located next to popular hiking trails (including the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail) and about a mile from the Visitor Center. Outdoor activities include biking, hiking, photography, picnicking, exploring historic sites, OHVing, and wild flower and wildlife viewing.

Indian Waters RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Indian Waters RV Resort and Cottages, Indio, California

Indian Waters RV Resort is located in the Coachella Valley City of Indio, an area that includes the desert cities of Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, and La Quinta. Recently renovated, this beautiful property has added cottages, a second pool, lighted pickleball courts, 50-amp electric and city sewer service to all sites, resurfacing of roads and sites, and enhanced Wi-Fi. Today, Indian Waters with its desirable location and numerous amenities is one of the best and most affordable, state-of-the-art RV resorts in the Coachella Valley. With 274 full service sites, Indian Waters RV Resort offers two distinct landscaping themes for its concrete level sites: grass and desert landscape. The typical RV site is approximately 35 feet wide and 60 feet deep with two concrete pads, one for your RV and one for your toad/tow vehicle.

Eagle View RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eagle View RV Resort, Fort McDowell, Arizona

Eagle View RV Resort is far enough away from the hustle of Phoenix and Scottsdale but still close to numerous attractions. The resort has 150 full hookup sites with beautiful views of Four Peaks, part of the Mazatzal mountain range. Amenities include a swimming pool, dog run, fitness center, complimentary pastries and coffee in the mornings and a clubhouse with an HDTV, pool table, computer room, and library. If you feel like trying your hand at blackjack or poker, Fort McDowell Casino is less than a mile up the road. The park is also a short drive from the city of Fountain Hills which is home to golf courses and one of the largest fountains in the world.

Rincon West RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rincon West RV Resort, Tucson, Arizona

Situated near the beautiful Tucson Mountains, Rincon Country West has 1100 spaces, including deluxe, pull-through RV sites, and a train depot. Amenities include full hookups with 30/50 amp electric, cable TV, free Wi-Fi, gated entry, private mailboxes, gated entry, laundry, showers, heated pool and spas, exercise room, woodworking shop, pottery room, lapidary room, card room, arts and crafts and sewing rooms, billiard room, tennis, pickleball, shuffleboard, and bocce ball.

Casa Grande RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Casa Grande RV Resort, Casa Grande, Arizona

Big-rig friendly, Casa Grande RV Resort features two swimming pools including a new aerobics/volleyball pool, two pickle ball courts, Bark Park, spa with full power jets, Wi-Fi, Internet Phones (free for calls to Canada and US), computer lounge with free printing, barbeque area, fitness center, billiard room, spacious clubhouse, card room, kitchen area, and exchange library.

La Quintas Oasis RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

La Quintas Oasis RV Resort, Yuma, Arizona

Big-rig friendly, La Quintas Oasis RV Resort is a 55+ park with 460 full-service sites. Easy-on easy-off (I-8; Exit 12 on North Frontage Road) the park has wide paved streets. Pull-through sites are in the 70 foot range with ample space. Back-in sites are 60+ feet in length and 35 feet wide. La Quintas Oasis has a heated pool, hot tub, horseshoes, recreation hall, game room, planned activities, shuffleboard, exercise room, pickle ball courts, and mini golf.

Arizona Oasis RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona Oasis RV Resort, Ehrenburg, Arizona

Located on the Colorado River in Ehrenberg, Arizona Oasis RV Resort is a perfect RV park getaway spot. Just across the state line from Blythe, California, Arizona Oasis is just 20 minutes from Quartzsite. Big-rig friendly the resort has over 150 RV sites on or near the Colorado River. The gated resort offers 50/30 amp service, water and sewer hookups, full-through and back-in sites, 1,000 feet of Colorado River beach, boat launch, heated pools and a spa, dog park, free Wi-Fi, and clubhouse. 

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park, Oro Valley, Arizona

Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invites camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. The park provides miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails which wind through the park and into the Coronado National Forest at elevations near 3,000 feet. The camping area offers 120 electric and water sites with a picnic table and BBQ grill. Amenities include modern flush restrooms with hot showers and RV dump stations. There is no limit on the length of RVs at this park

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain Regional Park, Mesa, Arizona

Usery Mountain Regional Park is set at the western end of the Goldfield Mountains adjacent to the Tonto National Forest. The park contains a large variety of plants and animals that call the lower Sonoran Desert home. Along the most popular feature of the park, the Wind Cave Trail, water seeps from the roof of the alcove to support hanging gardens of Rock Daisy. The Wind Cave is formed at the boundary between the volcanic tuff and granite on Pass Mountain. Breathtaking views from this 2,840-foot elevation are offered to all visitors. The park offers a campground with 73 individual sites. Each site has a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45-foot RV and is a developed site with water and electric service, dump station, a picnic table, barbecue grill, and fire ring. The park provides restrooms with flush toilets and hot water showers.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park, Apache Junction, Arizona

Lost Dutchman State Park is your gateway to amazing Sonoran Desert experiences and memories. Named after the fabled lost gold mine, Lost Dutchman State Park is located at the base of the Superstition Mountains on Apache Trail (SR-88), 5 miles northeast of Apache Junction. The campground has 138 sites: 68 sites with electric (50/30/20 amp service) and water and the remainder non-hookup sites on paved roads for tents or RVs. Every site has a picnic table and a fire pit with an adjustable grill gate. There are no size restrictions on RVs. Well-mannered pets on leashes are welcome.Five camping cabins are situated perfectly so visitors can take advantage of both the sunrise and sunset right from the porch.

Worth Pondering…

Surely it is the right wish that draws us to the right place.
Nothing of importance happens accidentally in our life.

—Lama Anagarika Govinda, The Way of the White Clouds

The Ultimate Guide to Saguaro National Park

And this winter, you can have it mostly to yourself

It’s almost cliché to say the Sonoran Desert looks like the background of a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. But hiking through forests of towering saguaro feels nothing short of cartoonish. These green giants with arms pointed in all directions look like they’re about to break into a musical number at any second.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is no symbol more emblematic of the American Southwest than the saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea)—standing tall with arms reaching out from the trunk toward the sky. The saguaro (pronounced sah-WHAH-ro) is rare, found only in southern Arizona and western Sonora, Mexico. And if you want to spend the day with these goofy, prickly characters, Saguaro is one of the easiest national parks to visit.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The saguaro is the largest cactus in North America. They may look like loving characters from a child’s storybook but these are some serious tree-like cacti. Saguaros are covered with protective spines, white flowers in the late spring, and red fruit in summer. They can weigh up to nearly 5,000 pounds and live up to 200 years.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I’ve spent a lot of time looking for “the perfect specimen” and determined that there is a saguaro for everyone. Maybe you like the perfect-looking two-armed saguaro or the saguaro with many wrangled arms reaching out in all directions. These arms generally bend upward and can number over 25 although some never grow arms. Their differences make them fun to photograph, characterize, and admire. 

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Long overshadowed by Arizona’s marquee national park, the Grand Canyon, Saguaro is a 92,000-acre desert wonderland. And if you go anytime other than summer you’ll find it hits that perfect national park threesome of ideal weather, unusual landscape, and minimal crowds. 

Prime time in southern Arizona is spring or fall when daytime highs rarely get over a dry 90 degrees and the mornings are pleasantly cool. Winter is also fantastic if you want to hike during the day—morning and night can be chilly but nothing a light jacket can’t fix.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll find few parks as accessible from major cities as Saguaro which sits less than half an hour from Tucson. It’s separated into two sections, each of which can be easily tackled in a day: East (also called the Rincon Mountain District) and West (aka the Tucson Mountain District). In between are I-10 and the city of Tucson so getting here by interstate is pretty straightforward.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While the two sides of the park bare the same name and share likeness in desert landscape, there are subtle differences. The Tucson Mountain District is home to dense saguaro forests that rise from the hillside. Here you will find low-desert grasslands, shrubs, and densely populated saguaro forests. The Rincon Mountain District is the area of parkland originally preserved by Herbert Hoover when he dedicated it as a monument in 1933. It is the jumping off point to the backcountry. Here you will find high-elevation conifer forests in addition to saguaros and desert mainstays such as Teddybear cholla cactus and desert wildflowers.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though the mountainous desert topography might look intimidating, Saguaro National Park is one of the easier national parks to hike. The crown jewel for hikers is the trek to Wasson Peak (4,687-feet) in the more-mountainous western section. There are several options for reaching the top of Wasson Peak. High Norris Trailhead is favored by many experienced hikers. The entire hike is about eight miles long. For something easier on the west side, take the 0.8-mile Valley View Trail which as the name suggests also boasts phenomenal views of the valley on a much shorter walk.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A popular hike on the east side is the 1-mile Freeman Homestead Trail. Wander down this path to the site of an old homestead foundation, a grove of large saguaros, and a cool desert wash. Great horned owls can often be seen in the cliff above this wash. A more strenuous hike is the combined Garwood, Carrillo, and Wildhorse trails accessed from the Douglas Spring trail head. You’ll enter the kind of cactus forest that inspired the creation of this park in 1933. Little Wildhorse Tank is one of the only perennial areas of water in the park.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you prefer to see national parks from the air-conditioned comfort of your car, Saguaro makes that easy too. The most popular scenic drive is the Cactus Forest Loop in the east. The paved, one-way, 8-mile paved road with pull offs that overlook the valley offers the best scenery of any route in the park. On the west side, take the Bajada Loop Road which is 6 miles and partially unpaved.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Backcountry camping is available by permit. There are about 20 campsites TOTAL, all of which are only accessible through backcountry hiking. There are no accommodations for RV camping in Saguaro. So unless you’re looking to rough it in the desert you’ll need a RV park for overnight camping and they are numerous in this snowbird hotspot.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is puzzling that Saguaro doesn’t get more love. But its relative obscurity is also a great strength—it’s a national park where you can still feel like you’re lost in nature without delving into the backcountry. Its unusual landscape and ideal weather combine to create the experience many look for during a winter getaway. And as a bonus, you just might feel like you’re walking around the cartoon set of a childhood memory.

This is a go-back park. I can’t wait to go back!

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fact Box

Size: 91,445 acres

Established: October 14, 1994

Location: Southeast Arizona on both the west—and east side of Tucson

How the park got its name: Saguaro National Park is named after the Saguaro cactus that rises from the desert floor.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Iconic site in the park: The Saguaro cactus is the undisputed champion of the American southwest so it is only fitting that it should stand as the most iconic site in the park. They grow slowly, spouting their arms at around 75 years of age. They live long for a cactus, up to 200 years. They stand large—as high as 80 feet tall and weighing up to nearly 5,000 pounds. There are 1.6 million Saguaro cactus decorating the desert flat, ridges, and skyline—1.6 million reasons to visit this beautiful park near Tucson. 

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Did you know? 

The state flower of Arizona is the saguaro cactus bloom.

The saguaro cactus bares fibrous fruit that looks like small red flowers. It is said to be crunchy and taste sweet. 

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Tohono O’odham Nation of American Indians lived in the region for thousands of years. Tohono O’odham translates to “Desert People.”

More than 1,162 species of plants can be found in the park.

Worth Pondering…

Stand tall.
Reach for the sky.
Be patient through dry spells.
Conserve your resources.
Think long term.
Wait for your time to bloom.
Stay sharp!

—Advice from a Saguaro

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

Every destination has a story, no matter how small

When compared to lush tropical forests or sweeping grasslands, deserts may not seem like the most welcoming habitat to plan a trip around. However, a closer study of these vast expanses of earth and sand reveals a world of boundless opportunity with activities to suit any traveler. For those who wish to trek amidst remarkable rock formations, observe some of nature’s hardiest creatures, and gaze skyward towards a brilliant mosaic of stars and planets, the vast deserts of the southwestern U.S. are a paradise on earth.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park is located in the remote reaches of southern Utah near the town of Bryce (convenient, eh?). Weather-wise, Bryce Canyon makes the mercury mercurial, with big temp shifts from season to season and even day to day. This is due to Bryce’s dizzying elevation—a cool 8,000–9,000 feet—and makes it a much cooler park than nearby Zion.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In spite of the name, there’s no single canyon in Bryce “Canyon”—the region is actually made up of multiple natural amphitheatres, many of which are rife with thin stone spires referred to as “hoodoos”. The park is packed with trails suited for amateur and experienced hikers alike. Even if you’re not keen on exploring the great outdoors, make sure to stop at Sunrise Point—this overlook provides an all-encompassing view of the park in all its glory.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

Roughly 250 million years ago, the state we now know as New Mexico was covered in a shallow expanse of water known as the Permian Sea with layer upon layer of dissolved gypsum sinking to the sea floor over the years. Fast-forward to the modern era and this prehistoric sea has dried up leaving the largest gypsum dunefield on earth in its wake.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though the 145,000-acre expanse of pillowy sand is the main attraction around here, be sure to make a pitstop at the park’s visitor center for an introduction to the inner workings of the harsh desert ecosystem. A surprising amount of nocturnal insects, reptiles, and mammals call the park home today, but some of the most fascinating beasts in the area died out millions of years ago. Though you can’t see them in person, keep a close eye on the sand around you—fossilized footprints of giant ground sloths, dire wolves, and saber-toothed cats have been discovered buried just below the earth.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

While many national parks around the country are home to vast forests this particular preserve in eastern Arizona comes with a twist—the trees here have all been dead for hundreds of millions of years transmuted into colorful slabs of stone through a process called “permineralization”. Jasper Forest and Crystal Forest are two popular sites for encountering masses of petrified wood, but the park has more to offer than just former trees.

Painted Desert in Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A broad region of rocky badlands encompassing more than 93,500 acres, the Painted Desert is a vast landscape that features rocks in every hue—from deep lavenders and rich grays to reds, oranges, and pinks. It’s like you’ve been transported into a painting. The park is also a fascinating destination for archeology buffs with multiple sites containing relics from bygone indigenous civilizations that once thrived here.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Encompassing portions of both the Colorado and Mojave deserts, this world-famous preserve consists of over 790,000 acres making it larger than the state of Rhode Island. While the park earned its name thanks to an abundance of spiky Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia), there are hundreds of desert species that call the area home ranging from tiny toads to roadrunners to bobcats.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is home to a wide array of hiking trails for daytime visitors but overnight campers are in for a special treat—Joshua Tree’s location in the remote reaches of interior California ensures an incredible view of the stars on a clear night.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Yearning to see towering, giant saguaros in their native environment? Saguaro National Park protects and preserves a giant saguaro cactus forest that stretches across the valley floor near Tucson. Unique to the Sonoran Desert, the park’s giant saguaros reach as high as 50 feet and can live longer than 200 years.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to a broad expanse of desert, Saguaro National Park features mountainous regions—some reaching more than 8,000 feet above sea level. These varied landscapes provide ideal habitats for a wide range of flora and fauna including wildlife such as javelina, coyote, quail, and desert tortoise in the lower elevations and black bear, deer, and Mexican spotted owl in the upper elevations

Worth Pondering…

We use the word wilderness, but perhaps we mean wildness. Isn’t that why I’ve come here? In wilderness I seek the wildness in myself and in so doing come on the wildness everywhere around me. Because, after all, being part of nature I’m cut from the same cloth.

—Gretel Ehrlich in Waterfall

The Ultimate Guide for Your Next RV Road Trip

A complete roadmap to explore the American Southwest

When John Steinbeck first loaded up his camper back in 1960 and set off on a cross-country trip with his black French poodle, Charley, recreational vehicles were an unusual sight. As he traversed America engaging the bemused people he encountered along the way, Steinbeck found a kinship. “I saw in their eyes something I was to see over and over in every part of the nation—a burning desire to go, to move, to get under way, anyplace, away from any Here,” he later wrote in Travels with Charley.

Organ Pipe National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“They spoke quietly of how they wanted to go someday, to move about, free and unanchored, not toward something but away from something. I saw this look and heard this yearning everywhere in every state I visited. Nearly every American hungers to move.”

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That deep yearning would ultimately make RVs nearly as common as 18-wheelers on US highways. In recent years, however, these rolling embodiments of American wanderlust had developed a reputation as a bit passé. Who can forget the image of Cousin Eddie in his dilapidated RV to get Clark Griswold the perfect present in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation?

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That may not have been the look everybody was going for at the start of 2020. But cabin fever–stricken folks across the country having spent months in public-health quarantine became desperate for ways to get out of the house while staying safe from COVID-19—and they found an outlet in recreational vehicles. The trend has continued as we have all struggled to find ways to handle life—and vacations—in the midst of a pandemic. And it makes sense.

That’s right: the RV is back with families piling into camper vans, trailers, and motor coaches “to look for America,” as Paul Simon has aptly described it.

And, one of the best place in the country to do just that is the American Southwest with its vast expanses of canyons, mountains, forests, lakes, and rivers that are unrivaled in their majesty and variety. 

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re itching to get on board yourself we offer this RV guide to some of the most beautiful natural wonders in the Southwest. In it we’ve got you covered with all the places to go and the attractions that you simply must see along the way. The most beautiful places in America include some little-known yet bucket-list-worthy natural wonders that include lush forests and towering mountains—and are sure to inspire your travels.

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

You don’t need to go very far to find stunning natural beauty in the United States but some places are just magical. The country is approximately 3.8 million square miles in size, so it should come as no surprise that its home to some spectacular scenery but sights like the Grand Canyon, the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon, and the soaring peaks of Zion and Capitol Reef never fail to meet even the highest expectations.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Few landscapes warp the mind quite like Joshua Tree National Park, a lumpy, Seussian dreamscape that beguiles the imagination. There are a couple of ways to best explore the park and both take place on foot: hiking to points of interest and climbing.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park, Utah

Located in southwest Utah, Zion National Park is full of chasms, canyons, waterfalls, and red cliffs. What better way to cool off after a long day of hiking than dipping your feet at the base of a three-tier waterfall?

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock State Park, Arizona

Red Rock State Park offers a classic Southwestern outdoor experience for visitors to Sedona and Red Rock Country. The beautiful red rocks and local wildlife can be viewed and enjoyed as you hike the 5-mile trail network around this 286-acre park.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

White Sands National Park is the largest gypsum dune field in the world. Gypsum is rarely seen as sand since it dissolves in water but New Mexico’s dry climate has preserved the dunes. The pure white sand mounds stretch for 275 square miles near Alamogordo.

Organ Pipe National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona

The remote Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a gem tucked away in southern Arizona’s vast Sonoran Desert. Thanks to its unique crossroads locale, the monument is home to a wide range of specialized plants and animals, including its namesake.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Unusual, elaborate cliffs and canyons shape the landscape of Capitol Reef. The Waterpocket Fold, the second largest monocline in North America, extends for nearly 100 miles and appears as a bizarre “wrinkle” in the Earth’s crust. Red-rock canyons, ridges, buttes, and sandstone monoliths create an outdoor retreat for hikers, campers, photographers, and rock climbers.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park, Arizona

See just how lush the desert can be at this oasis of more than 3,000 types of Sonoran Desert vegetation. At 392 acres, Boyce Thompson is Arizona’s largest and oldest botanical garden founded in the 1920s. There are 3 miles of trails and the most popular is the 1.5-mile main loop that offers a perfect overview. 

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

Bosque del Apache stands out as one of the country’s most accessible and popular national wildlife preserves—for wildlife and human visitors alike—providing a seasonal home, November through March, for up to 12,000 sandhill cranes, 32,000 snow geese, and nearly 40,000 ducks.

Natural Bridge National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah

Meandering streams cut through pinyon and juniper covered mesas forming three large multi-colored natural bridges with Hopi Indian names—Sipapu (the place of emergence), Kachina (dancer), and Owachomu (rock mounds). A nine mile one-way loop drive connects pull-outs and overlooks with views of the three natural bridges.

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

Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona

Canyon de Chelly 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. From the mesa east of Chinle, Canyon de Chelly is invisible. Then as one approaches, suddenly the world falls away—1,000 feet down a series of vertical red walls.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley, Arizona and Utah

Providing a dramatic craggy backdrop for many a cinematic Western movie, Monument Valley runs along the border of Utah and Arizona within the 26,000-square miles of the Navajo Tribal Park. U.S. Highway 163 scenic byway barrels through red rock buttes and spires.

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Madera Canyon, Arizona

Madera Canyon is nestled in the northwest face of the Santa Rita Mountains 30 miles southeast of Tucson. A three mile paved road winds up the lower reaches of the canyon beside Madera Creek ending at a fork in the stream just before the land rises much more steeply. Along the way are three picnic areas, a side road to a campground, and five trailheads.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Eroded by wind and water over millions of years, the thousand-foot limestone and sandstone columns at Bryce Canyon are striped with orange, pink, red, and white layers. Rather than being an actual canyon, the odd-shaped spires are a geologic formation called hoodoos.

Painted Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

While many national parks around the country are home to vast forests this preserve comes with a twist—the trees here have all been dead for hundreds of millions of years transformed into colorful slabs of stone. A broad region of rocky badlands, the Painted Desert is a vast landscape that features rocks in every hue—from deep lavenders and rich grays to reds, oranges, and pinks.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A word to the wise, though: Pandemic safety precautions shift as the virus numbers go up and down in specific regions; check the frequently changing schedules and policies at parks, restaurants, and campgrounds before setting out. From there, just remember, once you’re on the open road, where it leads is entirely up to you. Yes, there will be surprises once you set out, but, as 2020 has continually reminded us, that’s life—so get out and enjoy it.

Worth Pondering…

In every walk with nature, one receives more than he seeks.

—John Muir

Most Beautiful Towns in Arizona

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

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

Tubac

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Sedona

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Williams

Williams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Tombstone

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Globe

Globe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the foothills of the Pinal Mountains, sits the former mining camp known as Globe. Founded in 1876 and incorporated in 1907, this lovely town is brimming with century-old buildings, cottages, and hillside houses. The Besh-ba-Gowah Archeological Park features stunning partially restored ruins of a Salado pueblo, along with an accompanying museum. The historic downtown area is perfect for leisurely strolls and shopping for antiques, while the Cobre Valley Center for the Arts is a great spot to explore and experience the talent of some incredible artists.

Jerome

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Page

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

A small town in northern Arizona, Page is located on the southern shores of magnificent Lake Powell in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The location is ideal for exploring many of the American Southwest’s national parks and monuments and discovering the unique culture of the Navajo Nation. Marvel at the beauty of the slot canyons as you hike with a Navajo guide in Antelope Canyon. Enjoy the majesty of the lake and surrounding red rock desert. Explore hundreds of miles of shoreline by houseboat power boat, or kayak.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Joyce Woodson

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

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

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

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

Visitors to Southern Arizona are often struck by these vast mountain ranges rising suddenly out of the desert and grasslands. Saguaro, prickly pear, and ocotillo rapidly give way to a coniferous  forest, and a much cooler climate. Usually 6,000–8,000 feet in elevation—sometimes exceeding 10,000—these majestic mountains emerge from a sea of desert scrub and provide an oasis for an abundance of wildlife. These Sky Islands encompass some of the most rugged and remote lands in the Southwest and feature some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world.

Hiking Madera Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Sky Island is defined as a mountain that is separated from other mountains by distance and by surrounding lowlands of a dramatically different environment. The result is a habitat island, such as a forest surrounded by desert. As the mountain goes up in elevation, ecosystem zones change at different elevations.

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

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

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

Arizona’s Sky Island ranges include the Chiricahua Mountains, Whetstone Mountains, Huachuca Mountains, Galiuro Mountans, Dragoon Mountains, Pinaleño Mountains, Santa Catalina Mountains, Rincon Mountains, and Santa Rita Mountains. The tallest of these areas are the Pinaleño Mountains, rising to 10,720 feet above the Gila River near the town of Safford.

Mount Lemmon Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Mount Lemmon Ski Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worth Pondering…

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

—Aldo Leopold, 1937

Old Mesilla: Where Time Stood Still

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

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

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

Double Eagle, Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

La Posta, Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Worth Pondering…

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

—Georgia O’Keeffe

Stunningly Beautiful Places in the Southwest

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

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

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Sedona, Arizona

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Springdale and Rockville, Utah

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Mexican Hat, Utah

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Ajo, Arizona

Ajo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With its rich tradition as a former copper mining hub, Ajo is a casual town with relaxed charm. Enjoy its mild climate, low humidity, and clear skies. Take in the historic Spanish Colonial Revival architecture in the Downtown Historic District, Sonoran Desert flora and fauna, and panoramic views. Ajo is surrounded by 12 million acres of public and tribal land waiting to be explored. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge offer expansive hiking, camping, and birding places.

Moab, Utah

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Cortez, Colorado

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Twentynine Palms, California

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Worth Pondering…

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

—Joyce Woodson