Discover Arizona in Uncommon and Unique Ways

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

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

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Explore the Grand Canyon in Winter

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

Skiing Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Ski above the Saguaros

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

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Gaze at the Milky Way

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

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

4. Tour Ancient Ruins with a Tribal Guide

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

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

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

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

6. Raft the Colorado River

Raft the Colorado

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

7. Historic Destination for the Arts

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

8. Meander Oak Creek Canyon

Oak Creek Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

9. Explore a Thriving Hilltop Pueblo

Tuzigoot National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

10. Madera Canyon

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Worth Pondering…

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

—Aldo Leopold, 1937

Most Beautiful Cities in the Southwest

The American southwest is a place of mind-boggling beauty

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

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Historic Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Las Vegas, Nevada

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

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

Tucson, Arizona

Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Lake Havasu, Arizona

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

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

Carlsbad, New Mexico

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

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

Williams, Arizona

Williams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Worth Pondering…

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

—Joyce Woodson

Why Tucson Is Your Next Great Outdoor Adventure

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

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

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

The cactus capital of the world

Forest of saguaros © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Saguaro in bloom © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Two national parks (sort of)

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Die-hard desert museum

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

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

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

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

Old West sunsets

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Magnificent hiking

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

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

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

A striking sight

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

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

Beating the heat

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

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

Mount Lemmon Ski Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Tucson had opened my eyes to the world and given me… a taste for the sensory extravagance of red hot chiles and five-alarm sunsets.

—Barbara Kingsolver

Arizona Lakes: 6 Sonoran Desert Oases

Oases in the Sonoran Desert

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

Bartlett Lake

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in the mountains northeast of Phoenix, Bartlett Lake is one of those Arizona lakes. A man-made reservoir, Bartlett Lake was formed by the damming of the Verde (Spanish for “green”) River. The pristine waters of the Verde River was spoken of descriptively in legends of the Indians of the valley who called the water “sweet waters”.

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The lake is framed by Sonoran desert scenery, with gentle sloping beaches on the west side and the rugged Mazatzal Mountains on the east side, studded with saguaro, cholla cacti, mesquite, and ocotillo.

Saguaro Lake

Saguaro Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Canyon Lake

Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Saguaro Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Watson Lake

Watson Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Lynx Lake

Lynx Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Lynx Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Patagonia Lake

Patagonia Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Patagonia Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Worth Pondering…

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

—John Muir

The Real Sunbelt Lives Here

Here is where you’ll find sunshine this winter

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

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

The sunny Southwest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

The sunny Southwest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

El Paso, Texas (84% Sunshine)

Franklin Mountains State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Las Cruces, New Mexico (84% Sunshine)

Mesilla Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Tucson, Arizona (85% Sunshine)

Tucson Mountain Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Phoenix, Arizona (85% Sunshine)

Bush Highway near Phoenix © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Las Vegas, Nevada (85% Sunshine)

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

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

Redding, California (88% Sunshine)

Sundial Bridge, Redding © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Yuma, Arizona (90% Sunshine)

Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Worth Pondering…

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

—Henry Miller

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

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

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

Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

The National Monuments Rock

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

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

Organ Pipe National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Burros Run Oatman

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Lousy with Hummers

Hummingbird © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Hummingbird © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Arizona is the Wild West

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Altitude with an Attitude

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Saguaro in bloom © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Superstition Wilderness © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Worth Pondering…

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

—Will Rogers

Reach for the Sky: Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park is more than just 6-ton gigantic cacti (though it has those, too)

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, Arizona.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unique to the Sonoran Desert the park’s giant saguaro has a slow growth cycle and long lifespan. The cactus grows between 1 and 1.5 inches in the first eight years, flowers begin production at 35 years of age and branches, or arms, normally appear at 50 to 70 years of age. An adult saguaro is considered to be about 125 years of age and may weigh 6 tons or more and be as tall as 50 feet. A saguaro’s lifespan can be up to 250 years.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But the saguaro is merely the headliner for a roster of desert vegetation to be seen as you hike or drive through the park. You’ll also spot spiny ocotillo, huge clumps of prickly pear, and the tiny hedgehog and stubby barrel cactus, as well as spiky mesquite and palo verde trees.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

First designated as Saguaro National Monument in 1933, the area received national park status in 1994. It is also the ancestral home of the Tohono O’odham people who today continue to play a role in the park’s culture visiting every year in the early summer to pick saguaro fruit.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For many, the giant saguaro cactus silhouetted by the setting sun is the universal symbol of the American Southwest. And yet, these majestic plants are only found in a small portion of the U.S. Saguaro National Park protects some of the most impressive forests of these sub-tropical giants. Saguaro is actually two parks separated by a metropolis of 1 million residents: the Tucson Mountain District and the Rincon Mountain District. In 2018, the park drew 1,229,594 recreational visitors.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park is located within a desert but contrary to what you might expect there is an abundance of life. Plants here are adapted to drought, so during long dry periods they are able to go dormant conserving their water. At these times many plants appear lifeless but shortly after a rainfall they’re able to come to life sprouting new green leaves. Within just 48 hours after a rainfall, the ocotillo plant is able to change from what appeared to be a handful of dead sticks into a cheerful shrub with tall green branches, covered in new leaves.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to a broad expanse of desert, Saguaro National Park features mountainous regions. These varied landscapes provide ideal habitats for a wide range of flora and fauna. Current research indicates there are approximately 400 species in the Tucson Mountain District and approximately 1,200 species in the Rincon Mountain District.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Tucson Mountain District ranges from an elevation of 2,180 feet to 4,687 feet and contains two biotic communities—desert scrub and desert grassland. Average annual precipitation is approximately 10.27 inches. Common wildlife include Gambel’s quail, cactus wren, greater roadrunner, Gila woodpeckers, desert tortoise, and coyote.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Rincon Mountain District of Saguaro National Park ranges from an elevation of 2,670 feet to 8,666 feet and contains six biotic communities. The biotic communities (starting from the lowest elevation) include desert scrub, desert grassland, oak woodland, pine-oak woodland, pine forest, and mixed conifer forest. Average annual precipitation is approximately 12.30 inches.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Rincon Mountains peak at a considerably higher elevation than the Tucson Mountains, therefore there are more biotic communities and increased plant and wildlife diversity. Because of the higher elevation in the Rincons, animals like the black bear, Mexican spotted owl, Arizona mountain king snake, and white-tailed deer live in this district.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While each season has its draw, spring, when the desert blooms with yellow, orange, and purple wildflowers, is hands-down its most beautiful and busiest time of year. Fall is similarly temperate and winter offers the chance to see the water flowing in the washes. Arizona’s merciless heat makes summer significantly less popular.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park: Badlands, Canyons, Mountain Peaks and More

The Anza-Borrego Desert with its incredible beauty, its mystery and legends is a major lure

The park’s name was derived from that of an early Spanish explorer, Juan Bautista de Anza, who came through in 1774 in search of a land route from Sonora, Mexico, to Spanish settlements along the California coast. The explorer’s name is combined with Borrego, the Spanish word for bighorn sheep that live in the rocky hillsides of this desert.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Covering more than 600,000 acres, Anza-Borrego is the largest state parks in the contiguous United States. From a distance, its mountains and valleys look dry and barren—yet amidst the arid, sandy landscape you can find regions rich in vegetation and animal life.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lush oases with graceful palm trees lie hidden in valleys where water bubbles close to the surface. A multitude of birds shelter beneath the long frond skirts hanging from the palms, and a few rare desert bighorn sheep roam the rocky mountain slopes. Coyotes fill the night with their laughing song and mountain lions prowl the high country. Two-thirds of Anza-Borrego remain pristine wilderness.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Early American history holds a prominent place in the Anza-Borrego story; between the years 1848 and 1880, a steady stream of California-bound travelers crossed the Anza-Borrego Desert along the Southern Immigrant Trail or by way of the Butterfield Stage Line on their way west from Missouri. This was the only all-weather road overland route across the American continent at that time. Thousands of sheep and cattle also made the arduous journey as Arizona ranchers drove their herds across the desert to feed the hungry miners in California gold fields.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Situated northeast of San Diego and due south of the Palm Springs/Indio area, Anza-Borrego is easily accessible from anywhere in Southern California. Our own journey took us along Interstate 10, then south on State Highway 86 (which skirts the western shore of the Salton Sea) before we veered west on County Highway 22, which dissects the park. A few miles down the road, we encountered thick stands of ocotillo, with their graceful wands richly tipped in deep scarlet-red blossoms.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Driving to the state park visitor center we were momentarily confused. Walking up the trail there were no buildings in sight. Then we realized that the visitor center had been built underground with a desert garden covering it. The 7,000 square-foot building houses exhibits, a small theater, and bookstore. Park rangers were helpful in answering our queries and directing us to interesting scenic drives and hikes.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Later in the day we drove our four-wheel-drive dinghy up the sandy wash to Fonts Point, where the Borrego Badlands spread out to the southeast. Deep chocolate ridges twisted and turned in convoluted patterns of crumbling sandstone where thick layers of fossilized shellfish and coral told the story of an ancient sea that covered the area millions of years ago.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Driving southwest of Borrego Springs to Ocotillo Wells we drove south on Split Mountain Road to Split Mountain where tremendous geological pressure had rolled a sandstone cliff into a spectacular, spiral rock face. The road wound through the middle of a sandy wash, and we held our breath a couple of time when our tires started to spin in the deep sand.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Farther along Split Mountain Road we parked and hiked back to see rare elephant trees with their thick, stubby trunks, free-form limbs and peeling yellowish bark. Early Native Americans used the reddish-colored sap of the tree as a dye. Near the end of the road we hiked the steep but easy trail up to the wind caves which as strange sandstone formations from an ancient seabed. From there, we had a splendid view out over the Carrizo Badlands and the unique Elephant Knees formation.

Palm Canyon Campground in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yet another dinghy side trip, this time following County Highway 2 took us southeast along the Old Southern Immigrant Trail as it wound in and out of the park boundary. Reaching the Blair Valley area, we pulled off and hiked the short 0.25-mile Morteros Trail to a boulder-strewn area where a Kumeyaay village stood centuries ago, leaving their story behind in the agave cooking pits and metates that are still found there. Unique pictographs tell more of their story to those who may have any idea how to decipher them.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Anza-Borrego Desert with its incredible beauty, its mystery and legends is quite a lure. And there’s so much more to discover on our next visit.

Roadrunner in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.

— John Muir

Mind Blowing National Monuments in the Southwest

The American southwest is a place of mind-boggling beauty

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

With special attention to National Monuments, here are 12 of the most beautiful places in the Southwest. We think that you should definitely add these National Park Service sites to your next road trip to the Southwest.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona

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

You can drive along the rim and take in the views from above, but the best way to experience Canyon de Chelly is to take a guided tour of the canyon. You’ll learn the history of the canyon, from the Anasazi who left behind cliff dwellings to the current Navajo residents who still farm there.

El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The richly diverse volcanic landscape of El Malpais offers solitude, recreation, and discovery. Explore cinder cones, lava tube caves, sandstone bluffs, and hiking trails. While some may see a desolate environment, people have been adapting to and living in this extraordinary terrain for generations. Come discover the land of fire and ice!

Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Crowning the grand staircase, Cedar Breaks sits at over 10,000 feet and looks down into a half-mile deep geologic amphitheater. Wander among ancient bristlecone pines and meadows of wildflower.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Organ Pipe Cactus celebrates the life and landscape of the Sonoran Desert. This is a showcase for creatures who have adapted themselves to the extreme temperatures, intense sunlight, and little rainfall that characterize this Southwest region. Twenty-six species of cactus live here including the giant saguaro and the park’s namesake. This is the only place in the U. S. where the organ pipe cactus grows wild.

Aztec Ruins National Monument, New Mexico

Aztec Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pueblo people describe this site as part of their migration journey. Today you can follow their ancient passageways to a distant time. Explore a 900-year old ancestral Pueblo Great House of over 400 masonry rooms. See original timbers holding up the roof.

Montezuma Castle National Monument, Arizona

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Montezuma Castle is built into a deep alcove with masonry rooms added in phases. A thick, substantial roof of sycamore beams, reeds, grasses, and clay often served as the floor of the next room built on top.

Petroglyph National Monument, New Mexico

Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petroglyph National Monument protects one of the largest petroglyph sites in North America featuring designs and symbols carved onto volcanic rocks by Native Americans and Spanish settlers 400 to 700 years ago.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, Arizona

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Hohokam people built these structures when they were near the height of their power some 700 years ago. They created villages that extended from the site of modern-day Phoenix to southern Arizona. The monument preserves 60 prehistoric sites including a four-story earthen structure.

Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Three majestic natural bridges invite you to ponder the power of water in a landscape usually defined by its absence. View them from an overlook, or hit the trails and experience their grandeur from below. The bridges are named Kachina, Owachomo, and Sipapu in honor of the ancestral Puebloans who once made this place their home

El Morro National Monument, New Mexico

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Discover an oasis in the desert at El Morro National Monument. A natural watering hole is tucked at the base of colorful sandstone cliffs. Walk the Inscription Trail to see thousands of petroglyphs and inscriptions that bear witness to the visitors who sought refreshment there throughout the centuries.

Hovenweep National Monument, Utah and Colorado

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once home to over 2,500 people, Hovenweep includes six prehistoric villages built between A.D. 1200 and 1300. Explore a variety of structures, including multistory towers perched on canyon rims and balanced on boulders.

Tuzigoot National Monument, Arizona

Tuzigoot National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Crowning a desert hilltop is an ancient pueblo built by the Sinagua people. The riparian, upland, and marsh habitats in the monument are used by a large number of bird species.

Worth Pondering…

Beauty is before me, beauty is behind me, beauty is below me, beauty is above me. I walk in beauty.

—ancient Navajo poem

Southwest Destinations with Awe-Inspiring Scenery

The Southwest is a fascinating and awe-inspiring place to explore

America’s southwest is home to lots of jaw-dropping scenery—how do you decide where to go and what to see? If you’re thinking about an RV vacation in this majestic region, you may want to consider one or more of these especially spectacular destinations.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona, Arizona

It’s no secret that Sedona is home to some of the most jaw dropping scenery in the country. Known as Red Rock Country for the colorful red rock formations that dominate the landscape, Sedona is a popular destination for photographers, nature lovers, hikers, and mountain bikers. Sedona is home to hundreds of miles of trails, some easy, some difficult, yet all loaded with magnificent views of the surrounding million year old ancient rocks.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

Carlabad Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you pass through the Chihuahuan Desert and Guadalupe Mountains of southeastern New Mexico and west Texas, filled with prickly pear, chollas, sotols, and agaves, you might never guess there are more than 300 known caves beneath the surface. The park contains 113 of these caves, formed when sulfuric acid dissolved the surrounding limestone. This includes Lechuguilla Cave, the nation’s deepest and fourth longest limestone cave at 1,567 feet

Monument Valley, Arizona and Utah

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley is one of the most enduring and definitive images of the American West. Eons of wind and rain carved the gargantuan red-sandstone monoliths into fascinating formations, many of which jut hundreds of feet above the desert floor in a scene that’s remained untouched for centuries. The isolated red mesas and buttes surrounded by a vast, sandy desert have been filmed countless times for movies with nostalgic images that are sure to be familiar for John Wayne fans.

Bisbee, Arizona

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bisbee’s beauty is at least in part due to its quirky character, charm, and street art. This colorful, historic mining town, nestled a mile high in southeastern Arizona’s Mule Mountains, is a funky artists’ haven filled with Victorian homes that are perched precariously on steep hillsides. Many of its eclectic bungalows can only be reached by climbing steep stairways built into the picturesque mountainside. 

Lake Powell, Utah and Arizona

Lake Powell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One hundred fifty years ago, John Wesley Powell described Glen Canyon as a “land of beauty and glory” and named it for its many glens and alcoves near the river. About 100 years later the canyon was flooded by the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River forming a lake named for the one-armed explorer. With 2,000 miles of shoreline, Lake Powell offers boating, kayaking, and fishing amid rugged red rock canyons and mesas.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona

Canyon de Chelly © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Step back in time at Canyon de Chelly National Monument. Steep canyon walls cradle hundreds of ancient pueblo ruins. A Navajo Indian community still inhabits the canyon floor herding sheep during the summer. Two self-guided drives follow the rims of the canyon. At the end of the South Rim Drive, take in the sights from the popular Spider Rock overlook, featuring the park’s signature geological formation.

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Mesa Verde © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors to Mesa Verde can retrace the ancient footsteps of the ancestral Puebloans who once lived in the park’s magnificent cliff dwellings. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to some of the best preserved archaeological sites in the U.S., with more than 4,500 found within its boundaries, including Cliff Palace which contains 150 rooms.

Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Discover a landscape of contrasting colors, land forms, and textures unlike any other in the world. The park has over 2,000 natural stone arches, in addition to hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive fins, and giant balanced rocks. This red-rock wonderland will amaze you with its formations, refresh you with its trails, and inspire you with its sunsets.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many come to the southwest to visit the Grand Canyon, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Brilliant colors and unforgettable panoramas make it one of the most popular attractions in the U.S. Unique combinations of geologic color and erosional forms decorate a canyon that is 277 river miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and a mile deep.

Zion National Park, Utah

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah’s Zion National Park offers some of the most beautiful vistas and hiking opportunities in the Southwest with spectacular rock formations, towering cliffs, magnificent waterfalls, valleys, and deserts. The Narrows, a gorge with walls a thousand feet tall and the river, sometimes 20 to 30 feet wide, is one of the park’s highlights. The Narrows can be viewed by hiking the easy, paved Riverside Walk for a mile from the Temple of Sinawava.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Water and wind over millions of years have carved the plateau into the park’s distinctive red rock pillars, called hoodoos, into the park’s series of natural amphitheaters. Bryce Canyon National Park awes visitors with spectacular geological formations and brilliant colors. The towering hoodoos, narrow fins, and natural bridges seem to deny all reason or explanation. Hiking is the best way to immerse yourself in the amazing geography. Day hikes range from easy 1-mile loops to challenging 11-mile round-trip adventures.

Worth Pondering…

The West is color. Its colors are animal rather than vegetable, the colors of earth and sunlight and ripeness.

—Jessamyn West