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

In many ways the beauty of Arizona is embodied by its most famous natural landmark, the Grand Canyon but there is so much more. Discover the endless possibilities now.

Arizona is well-known for its beautiful landscapes and scenery. These beautiful, must-experience places are bucket-list worthy; some are well-known while others are hidden gems you might not have known about. From national landmarks to historical towns and breathtaking outdoor landscapes, here are 16 places to visit on your next Arizona road trip.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon

The most obvious landmark and Arizona road trip (and the most breathtaking of them all) is the Grand Canyon. If you have never experienced the sight of this outstanding view, you absolutely have to add this to your bucket list. The hiking trails will leave you speechless. Plus many photo opportunities! Check out the El Tovar Hotel, a historic property that opened its doors in 1905 and has entertained celebrities and presidents for over 100 years. Just steps away from the Grand Canyon’s edge, the dining room is as close to the canyon as you can get as well.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bisbee

One of Arizona’s best-kept secrets is the historic town of Bisbee. The former mining town is a small, unique community that sits high in the mountains in the far southeast corner of Arizona. With plenty of things to do, activities, events and festivals, shops, and galleries plus hiking, birding, gallery-gazing, or dining, Bisbee offers a plethora of choices to keep you entertained.

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

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Home to Lake Powell, The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is a stunning region of blue water with desert landscape and dramatic stone walls. One of the largest manmade lakes in the United States, this area is known for both land-based and water-based recreational activities. You can enjoy a summer’s day with perfect weather, cool water, amazing scenery, and endless sunshine. This is the perfect place to escape to and rent a houseboat, stay at a campground, or enjoy lodging.

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Montezuma Castle National Monument

Montezuma Castle, near Camp Verde, has nothing to do with Montezuma, nor is it a castle. The Sinagua built the five-story, 20-room pueblo about 1150 but abandoned it in the early 1400s, almost a century before Montezuma was born. 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 served as the floor of the room built on top.

Hoover Dan © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hoover Dam

Linking Arizona and Nevada, Hoover Dam is one of America’s great engineering marvels and a fantastic Arizona road trip. Completed in 1935, this massive and hard-to-miss structure crosses the Colorado River and sits at a total of 726 feet high and 1,244 feet long. You are able to walk across the dam or take a tour. The visitor center provides information on the tours and has a café where you can stop for some basic grub.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome

An old mining town-turned ghost town-turned tourist attraction, Jerome sits on a mountainside just above the desert floor. Jerome is unique and quirky, to say the least, with the Sliding Jail in Jerome that was originally built around 1928. While you’re there, you can visit the town’s most appreciated historical landmarks including the Gold King Mine Museum and the Jerome State Historic Park.

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Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley

Along a 17-mile one-way gravel road, you will find the heart of the valley, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. While visiting this area, which straddles the border between Arizona and Utah, you’ll experience the true Arizona desert feel with miles and miles of beautiful landscape and scenery of mesas and buttes, shrubs and trees, and windblown sand, creating all the wonderful and majestic colors of the Valley.

Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prescott

With its small-city feel and defined seasons, Prescott has tall Ponderosa pine trees, lakes, and the occasional sprinkle of snow. This charming town has many things to offer, including the old courthouse, Whiskey Row, Elks Theatre, and numerous other tourist attractions. You can grab a bite to eat at one of the downtown restaurants.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park

One of Tucson’s most popular attractions is Saguaro National Park which is a great place to experience the desert landscape around this well-known town and see the famous saguaro cacti up close. With an east and west portion, the park has two sections, approximately 30 minutes apart. Both sections of the park offer great opportunities to experience the desert and enjoy hiking trails.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park

Jutting out of the Sonoran Desert some 1,500 feet, you can’t help but see Picacho Peak for miles as you drive along Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Tucson. Travelers have used the peak for centuries as a landmark and continue to enjoy the state park’s 3,747 acres for hiking, rock climbing, spring wildflowers, and camping

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone

After getting its start as a silver mining claim in the late-1870s, Tombstone 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 after a long shift underground. 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.

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Papago Park

Just minutes from downtown Phoenix, Papago Park offers great hiking and a wide array of recreational facilities. Comprised primarily of sandstone, the range is known for its massive buttes that rise and fall throughout the park. Papago is home to two of the region’s most visited attractions, the Phoenix Zoo and Desert Botanical Garden.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona

Sedona is a well-known hotbed of energy—one that’s conducive to both meditation and healing—and this is one of the reasons 4.5 million travelers flock here annually. That and the region’s red rocks: stunning sandstone formations that jut upward thousands of feet and change colors from orange to rust to crimson as the sun passes through the sky.

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

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

A comparatively little-known canyon, 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 in the Navajo Nation, Canyon de Chelly is invisible. Then as one approaches suddenly the world falls away—1,000 feet down a series of vertical red walls.

Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucson

Surrounded by mountains, Tucson is a beautiful city set in the Sonoran Desert and is the second-largest city in Arizona. With many historic sites and cultural attractions, Tucson is a place to unwind and explore. Highlights include the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Saguaro National Park, Sabino Canyon, El Presidio Historic District, and Old Tucson Studios. You will also discover hiking trails, and afterward, you can find a bite to eat at one of the many wonderful restaurants Tucson has to offer.

Organ Pipe National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

The remote Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a gem tucked away in southern Arizona’s vast the Sonoran Desert. Thanks to its unique crossroads locale, the park is home to a wide range of specialized plants and animals, including its namesake. The organ pipe cactus can live to over 150 years in age, have up to 100 arms, reach 25 feet in height, and will only produce its first flower near the age of 35.

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

Why Arizona is the Ultimate Road Trip Destination

Busy cities and desolate washes, low deserts to high pine-filled mountains, black lava flows to red rocks and pastel deserts, ancient ruins to thriving modern Native American communities

Driving around Arizona, the sixth largest state in the US, it’s easy to feel like you’ve been transported into the middle of nowhere, or even onto another planet—in one moment you’re surrounded by rocky red buttes, the next saguaro-speckled desert-scapes and then, ponderosa forests.

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

Arizona is what road-trip daydreams are made of. But this is a destination that also richly rewards those who linger a little and set off on foot to explore spectacular hiking trails and quirky desert towns.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A trip to the Grand Canyon in the northwest of the state is an adventure no traveler can forget. The Colorado River snakes through a vast gorge that plummets to depths of more than 5,200 feet and is 18 miles across at its widest.

Related: 7 Serene Arizona Lakes for Water-related Activities

Navajos herding sheep in Canyon de Chelly © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sheer cliffs rise on either side of a flat-bottomed, sandy ravine, an area created much the way uplift and water formed the Grand Canyon. Though only a fraction of the Grand Canyon’s size and majesty, Canyon de Chelly offers more than a rugged landscape. Native Americans have worked and lived there for thousands of years and today Navajo people still call it home. Canyon de Chelly’s blend of landscape and cultural heritage allows a glimpse at an area originally inhabited 4,000 years ago and which still sustains people today.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park is a surprising land of scenic wonders and fascinating science. The park contains one of the world’s largest and most colorful concentrations of petrified wood, multi-hued badlands of the Chinle Formation, portions of the Painted Desert, historic structures, archeological sites, and displays of 225-million-year-old fossils.

Verde Valley between Cottonwood and Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in the ‘heart’ of Arizona, the Verde Valley is ideally situated above the heat of the desert and below the cold of Arizona’s high country. The Spanish word verde means “green” so the name may seem like a misnomer for arid Arizona. The valley encompasses red rock formations and lush canyons fed by the Verde River.

Related: What Makes Arizona Such a Hotspot for Snowbirds?

Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the shadows of Mingus Mountain and in the heart of the Verde Valley, Cottonwood offers a distinctive historic district lined with shops and restaurants on its Main Street. History is alive in nearby Clarkdale whose homes and buildings still reflect its early copper smelting heritage. Four specialized museums focus on Native American cultures, international copper art, and local railroad and town history.

Peralta Canyon trail head © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ninety minutes south explore the Superstitions Wilderness Area with dramatic views along the Peralta Canyon Trail and the Pass Mountain Trail. The Peralta Canyon Trail is one of the most popular hikes in the Superstition Wilderness outside of Phoenix and for good reason. This hike is one of the gateways into the 160,000-acre wilderness and offers spectacular scenery for the day hiker.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucson is home to the nation’s largest cacti. The giant saguaro is the universal symbol of the American West. These majestic plants found only in a small portion of the United States are protected by Saguaro National Park to the east and west of Tucson. Here you have an opportunity to see these enormous cacti silhouetted by the beauty of a magnificent desert sunset.

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

Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although it’s called a museum, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum—about 15 miles west of downtown Tucson—is more of a zoo. In fact, 85 percent of what you’ll experience is outdoors (so dress accordingly). The facility’s 98 acres host 230 animal species—including prairie dogs, coyotes, and a mountain lion—and 1,200 local plant species (totaling 56,000 individual plants). Walking through the museum’s trails, visitors get acquainted with desert life.

Presidio Old Town Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And as well as the outdoor splendors, Arizona has many ways to reward you for a day’s adventure, with luxurious resorts/ spas, top restaurants, and an increasingly exciting wine scene.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Arizona State Parks

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

10 Towns Older Than America

America’s oldest cities offer more than just a history lesson. Some are still small towns compared to other areas. Others have grown into thriving world focal points.

For history lovers, nothing beats the old-time charm and architectural wonder of America’s oldest towns. These settlements are hundreds of years old dating back before the founding of the United States in 1776. Whether you’re looking for a quaint place to tour, planning a weekend getaway, or studying up on U.S. history, you’ll enjoy this glimpse into our nation’s past through 10 of the oldest towns in America.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Williamsburg, Virginia (Then)

Williamsburg was founded as the capital of the Virginia Colony in 1699. The original capital, Jamestown was the first permanent English-speaking settlement in the New World founded in 1607. Colonial leaders petitioned the Virginia Assembly to relocate the capital from Jamestown to Middle Plantation, five miles inland between the James and the York Rivers. The new city was renamed Williamsburg in honor of England’s reigning monarch, King William III.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Williamsburg, Virginia (Now)

Experience the story of America in the place where it all began. As you travel through the Greater Williamsburg Area—Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown—you’re witnessing more than four centuries of history. Discover what John Smith’s Virginia colony was like while you visit Jamestown Settlement’s museum exhibits and re-created settings. Explore Colonial Williamsburg where historical interpreters and actors re-create life on the eve of the Revolutionary War. Travel to the Yorktown Battlefield where the British surrender allowed the United States to gain its independence.

Palace of the Governors, Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Fe, New Mexico (Then)

The history of Santa Fe is a long and rich one. Occupied for many centuries by Pueblo Indians, the Spanish conquistador Coronado claimed this land for Spain in 1540. Nestled in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Santa Fe was originally colonized by Spanish settlers in 1607. The United States gained possession through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, and the desert city now serves as the capital of New Mexico.

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Fe, New Mexico (Now)

Santa Fe remains famous for its Pueblo-style architecture which is showcased in the San Miguel Mission and the entire Barrio de Analco Historic District. The area’s natural beauty has long attracted artists of all stripes making it a multicultural creative hotbed. Nestled into the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Canyon Road is a magical half-mile of over a hundred galleries, artist studios, clothing boutiques, jewelry stores, and gourmet restaurants.

The Riverwalk, San Antonio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Antonio, Texas (Then)

On June 13, 1691, Spanish missionaries named an area of south-central Texas for St. Anthony of Padua, a Portuguese Catholic priest, and friar. San Antonio was officially settled 25 years later. Then, in 1836, Mexican troops initiated a 13-day siege at the Alamo Mission, and the settlers were brutally slaughtered. While San Antonio was further decimated by the Mexican-American War, it rebounded as the center of the cattle industry after the Civil War.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Antonio, Texas (Now)

With a population of around 1.3 million people, San Antonio is now the second-largest city in Texas. Visitors flock to the Alamo historic site and the popular River Walk which is lined with shops, restaurants, and public art.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Charleston, South Carolina (Then)

Originally named Charles Town for England’s King Charles II, Charleston adopted its current moniker after the American Revolution. The first shots of the Civil War rang out at Fort Sumter in Charleston, but despite the ravages of war—not to mention a massive earthquake in 1886—the city still abounds with elegant antebellum houses.

Charleston© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Charleston, South Carolina (Now)

Today, cruise ships come and go from the Port of Charleston, and a harbor-deepening project is underway to advance business. Charleston’s downtown neighborhoods display a spectrum of classic Georgian, Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, and Victorian homes.

The Breakers, Newport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newport, Rhode Island (Then)

Settled by a group of former Puritans, the harbor city of Newport became the center of the whaling industry by the mid-18th century. One hundred years later, America’s wealthiest families began building summer homes there. But while the rich came to Newport to escape the heat, the U.S. Navy was, and continues to be, a full-time presence, although the closing of a naval base in 1973 caused the local economy to plummet.

Ocean Drive, Newport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newport, Rhode Island (Now)

Recent years have seen the construction of new malls, condos, and upscale hotels in downtown Newport. The town’s lovely beaches, mansions turned museums (including an Italian Renaissance home of the Vanderbilts and a Gothic Revival masterpiece called Kingscote), and events like the Newport Jazz Festival make it an ever-popular vacation destination.

Madison Square, Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah, Georgia (Then)

Savannah‘s recorded history begins in 1733. That’s the year General James Oglethorpe and the 120 passengers of the good ship “Anne” landed on a bluff high along the Savannah River in February. Oglethorpe named the 13th and final American colony “Georgia” after England’s King George II. Savannah became its first city. Upon Oglethorpe’s foresight, the city of Savannah was laid out in a series of grids allowing for wide streets and public squares. Considered America’s first planned city, Savannah had 24 original squares with 22 still in existence today.

City Market, Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah, Georgia (Now)

Walk down the cobblestone streets of Georgia’s first city, a place filled with southern charm. Steeped in history and architectural treasures, Savannah begs to be explored by trolley and on foot. Much of Savannah’s charm lies in meandering through the Historic District’s lovely shaded squares draped in feathery Spanish moss—all 22 of them.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mobile, Alabama (Then)

The French established a permanent presence in the Mobile Bay Area in 1702 and by 1706 there were at least four permanently established sites in the area including the current site of the City of Mobile. Mobile is the oldest permanent settlement in the original Colony of French Louisiana and was its first capitol. The first five governors of Louisiana resided in Mobile and governed an area twice the size of the thirteen English colonies extending from Canada to the Gulf and from the Appalachians to the Rockies. 

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mobile, Alabama (Now)

Mobile has a rich past spanning centuries. French, Spanish, British, Creole, Catholic, Greek, and African legacies have influenced everything from architecture to cuisine. No matter where you turn, history is right around the corner. Visit the History Museum of Mobile, explore the battlegrounds of Forts Morgan, Gaines, and Condé or simply walk the streets of historic downtown.

Ashton Villa, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston, Texas (Then)

The first inhabitants in Galveston history were the Karankawa Indians in the 16th century. Galveston Island’s first noted visitor was Cabeza de Vaca, the Spanish explorer who landed in 1528. Its first European settler was French “privateer” Jean Lafitte. The city was chartered in 1839.

Bishop’s Palace, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston, Texas (Now)

Galveston encompasses more history and stories than cities 20 times its size. At 32 miles long and two-and-a-half miles wide, the island is surrounded with incredible history and unique beauty. Having one of the largest and well-preserved concentrations of Victorian architecture in the country, visitors can tour its popular historic mansions.

Presidio, Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucson, Arizona (Then)

First occupied by ancient Paleo-Indians as far back as 12,000 years ago, Tucson, known as the Old Pueblo, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in America. The ancients were followed by the Hohokam, then the Pima and Tohono ‘O’odham tribes. Next the Spanish came in search of gold. Missionaries followed in the early 1600s in search of natives to convert to Christianity. Tucson dates its official beginning to 1775 when an Irishman named Hugh O’Connor established the Presidio de San Agustin near present-day downtown Tucson.

Prisidio Park, Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucson, Arizona (Now)

Tucson is diverse in its geography as well as its history. While the area is well-known for its abundant saguaro cacti, a drive to the top of nearby Mount Lemmon offers a snow-covered peak with a pine forest. The giant saguaros have lent their name to Saguaro National Park. Sabino Canyon is a desert oasis supporting riparian habitat. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is as much zoo and botanical garden as it is natural history museum.

Freedom Trail, Boston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boston, Massachusetts (Then)

One of America’s most historically rich cities, the story of America is evident on nearly every corner in Boston. Officially founded in 1630 by English Puritans who fled to the new land to pursue religious freedom, Boston is considered by many to be the birthplace of the American Revolution. It was here that the Sons of Liberty led by Samuel Adams inspired colonists to fight for their freedom against the domination of British Rule.

Old State House, Boston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boston, Massachusetts (Now)

Walk the 2.5-mile Freedom Trail to explore 16 historic sites in the heart of the city including the site of the Boston Massacre, Paul Revere’s house, the Old North Church, and the Bunker Hill Monument—all icons of the American Revolution. In addition, visitors can see the U.S.S. Constitution, one of the first ships in the U.S. Navy, commissioned by President George Washington in 1797.

Worth Pondering…

History, although sometimes made up of the few acts of the great, is more often shaped by the many acts of the small.

—Mark Yost

Ribbon of Green: Sabino Canyon Offers Desert Beauty

The wonders of the desert foothills and rocky gorges of the Santa Catalina Mountains are marvelous and accessible

Hello again. I am really glad to see you and just want to say: thank you for being here.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the northeast edge of Tucson along Sabino Creek lies Tucson’s worst-hidden secret! Sabino Canyon is a premiere place to hike, picnic, or just take in Mother Nature at her finest. The saguaro-draped foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson offer numerous scenic ravines but two of the most scenic are Sabino Canyon and Bear Canyon, ten miles northeast of the city center. Both feature a stream that forms seasonal pools and waterfalls, steep-sided slopes bearing many saguaro, and other Sonoran Desert cacti and plants with rocky peaks rising high above.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The soaring mountains, deep canyons, and the unique plants and animals of the Sonoran Desert found here draw over a million visitors a year to the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area. Of the two, Sabino is more developed and more visited, having a paved road running 3.8 miles up the lower section along which are various picnic sites, trailheads, and viewpoints.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sabino is believed to have formed some 12 million years ago. Then, an earthquake in 1887 dislodged massive boulders lining the canyon walls which crashed down to the valley below. Sabino Canyon was carved out by Sabino Creek which flows with water intermittently during the year including across the roadway in several locations. Water features that can be accessed in the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area include Seven Falls, Hutches Pool, Sabino Dam, and Lake Sycamore Reservoir.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another paved road reaches the mouth of Bear Canyon then a trail continues upstream and although the landscape in both is similar, Sabino Canyon receives more water so is generally a greener, cooler place as the streamway is more shaded and the pools persist longer. The single most impressive feature in Bear Canyon is Seven Falls where the waters cascade down a steep ravine creating an enchanting sequence of waterfalls and pools. Both canyons are usually dry by mid-summer.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Feel the magic of nature as you ride the Sabino Canyon Crawler, a convenient, narrated shuttle through the wonders of Sabino Canyon. The electric shuttle journey begins at the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area Visitor Center and carries passengers on a one-hour round trip allowing them to exit the shuttle at Stops 1 through 9 to soak in the grandeur of the canyon at their own pace. The tram turns around at Stop 9 and heads back down to the Visitor’s Center at which point riders may remain on board or hike back down. Several restroom facilities are located near Sabino Creek. Sabino Canyon also features a dozen picnic areas including at the Visitor Center, Lower Sabino Canyon, Sabino Dam East, Cactus Picnic Area, and Bear Canyon Overlook.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bear Canyon leads to the gorgeous Seven Falls, an intermittent series of waterfalls just east of Sabino Canyon. The hike (moderate to difficult) to Seven Falls is 8.4 miles round trip from the Visitor Center. Hop on the tram to shorten the hike.

Sabino Canyon Tours’ Bear Canyon Trail tram is a non-narrated 2 mile ride that travels to the trailhead of Seven Fall. The 30-minute shuttle round trip in Bear Canyon currently has three stops where hikers can access a myriad of trails including the popular Seven Falls Trail. Visitors may get off the tram at any of the stops and re-board later. Trams arrive on average every hour.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If riding the tram does not stir your sense of adventure, there are miles of hiking trails that wander throughout the area and lead deeper into the Santa Catalina backcountry. Admire towering saguaros, listen for the trickle of Sabino Creek, enjoy the many wildflowers, or watch for glimpses of wildlife activity from coyotes to mountain lions, hawks to rattlesnakes, and hummingbirds to lizards.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The trailhead for numerous trails in Sabino Canyon and Bear Canyon are accessible by riding the shuttle. Once you hop off the shuttle to explore the canyon you can hike back to the Visitor Center or simply show your ticket to the driver at any stop to get back on board any shuttle with available seats for a comfortable ride to the drop-off area.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of the various trails in the area, one starts next to the parking area—a short, self-guided Desert Nature Trail with informative signage about local plants and animals. Other trails are found along the Sabino Canyon Road. The Phoneline Trail (#27) is perhaps the most popular; starting 1.4 miles from the visitor center it climbs up the south side of the canyon then follows it for several miles before descending to the far end of the road where it intersects the Sabino Canyon Trail (#23), a route that continues further north into the mountains. Another short path, the Sabino Lake Trail (#30), leads to a seasonal reservoir along Sabino Creek, a good location for bird watching.

Sabino Canyon © 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

Explore Tucson Naturally

A southern Arizona city, Tucson spreads across the Sonoran Desert in a valley surrounded by jagged mountain ranges that provide ample scenic backdrops

In Tucson, there’s plenty to do, naturally. You will find outdoor adventures for all ages and abilities. Hike or bike in Saguaro National Park, Catalina State Park, or Tucson Mountain Park. Experience the dramatic Sonoran Desert up close at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, or explore another galaxy at a world-renowned observatory. Venture out on a four-wheel-drive tour, or take a horseback ride into the Santa Catalina Foothills.

Tucson Mountain Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The city of Tucson is surrounded by five mountain ranges—the Santa Catalinas and Tortolitas to the north, the Rincons to the east, the Santa Ritas to the south and the Tucson Mountains to the west—which feature a wide variety of hiking trails for all skill levels. Ranging from nearly flat strolls through the cacti to steep scrambles up forest trails, Tucson’s hiking opportunities have something for everyone.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The giant saguaro cacti grows nowhere else. Growing very slowly, it may take 50 years or more for branching to begin. These symbols of the Southwest have lent their name to Saguaro National Park, its two units bracketing Tucson on the east and the west. The Rincon Mountain District is located to the East of Tucson and the Tucson Mountain District is located to the West. Both districts have their own visitor center, scenic drives, and hiking trail systems.

Tucson Mountain Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 20,000 acre Tucson Mountain Park is a cacti-lovers wonderland with its sprawling forest of saguaro. An icon of the Sonoran Desert, the saguaro cactus can grow 60 feet tall and has an average life span of 150 years. There are other species of cactus here as well including fishhook barrel cactus, staghorn cactus, pink flowering hedgehog cactus, Engelman’s prickly pear cactus, teddy bear cholla, and chain-link cactus.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North of Saguaro Park’s East Unit and part of Coronado National Forest, Sabino Canyon is a popular recreation area. Carved into the Santa Catalina Mountains by its namesake stream, the canyon is a desert oasis supporting riparian habitat including willow, ash, oak, and Arizona sycamore. A paved road runs 3.8 miles into the canyon, crossing nine stone bridges over Sabino Creek. It begins at an altitude of 2,800 feet and rises to 3,300 feet at its end.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sabino Canyon Tours offers two tram routes that provide access to Sabino and Bear Canyons. Along both routes riders are free to get off at any of the stops along the way. Sabino Canyon tram is a narrated, educational 45-minute, 3.8 mile tour into the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. The trams have nine stops along the tour with several restroom facilities and picnic grounds located near Sabino Creek.

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The extensive Santa Rita Mountains trail system is easily accessed from Madera Canyon’s campground and picnic areas. Detailed trail information and maps are available at the trailheads. Hiking trails vary from paved, handicap-accessible nature trails, and gentle walking paths in the lower canyon, to steep, expert trails leading to the top of 9,453-foot Mt. Wrightson.

Old Baldy Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The challenging and popular Old Baldy Trail is a 10-mile trek (round trip) leads to the summit and climbs more than 4,000 vertical feet topping out on one of the most spectacular summits in the state. The views from the summit are, to say the least, breathtaking. The Super Trail is longer but has a more moderate gradient. The trails form a figure eight making it possible to put together a number of different loops using different portions of each.

Sky Island Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Climbing more than 6,000 feet, the Sky Island Scenic Byway begins with forests of saguaro cacti in the Sonoran Desert and ends in a cool, coniferous forest in the Santa Catalina Mountains. Prepare yourself for breathtaking views and a climate change that would be similar to driving from Southern Arizona to Canada in a mere 27 miles. One of the most scenic drives in southern Arizona, the byway provides access to a fascinating land of great vistas, natural rock sculptures, cool mountain forests and deep canyons spilling out onto broad deserts.

Sky Island Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Forest Service has done a great job with the road and attractions along the route including campgrounds, picnic areas, trailheads, pullouts, vista points, and interpretive overlooks. Dozens of hiking trails offer access to the mountain’s backcountry canyons and ridges.

Worth Pondering…

Newcomers to Arizona are often struck by Desert Fever. Desert Fever is caused by the spectacular natural beauty and serenity of the area. Early symptoms include a burning desire to make plans for the next trip “south”. There is no apparent cure for snowbirds.

Most Scenic Towns in Arizona

Use this guide for a scenic road trip that will surely leave you amazed

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

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bisbee

Established in 1880, Bisbee is a charming town with a mining history located in the Mule Mountains. Once known as “The Queen of the Copper Camps”, the town is home to artists and retired folk. Neighborhoods with Victorian and European-style homes sit on the steep hillsides, while many unique shops, art galleries, and cafés reside in redesigned former saloons. Attractions include the Queen Mine Tour and Old Bisbee Ghost Tour.

Courthouse Plaza, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prescott

Nestled at an elevation of 5,200 feet amongst a large stand of ponderosa pine, Prescott’s perfect weather provides an average temperature of 70 degrees, with four distinct seasons, and breathtaking landscapes with mountains, lakes, streams, and meadows. Popular activities include horseback riding, golfing, kayaking, fishing, hiking, camping, mountain biking, local breweries, restaurants, shopping, and a hometown feel.Once the territorial capital of the state, Prescott is rich with history embodied in its world famous Whiskey Row and abundant historical landmarks.

Old Presido, Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucson

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.

Ajo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ajo

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.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Holbrook

Several miles west of Petrified Forest National Park, Holbrook boasts pretty epic scenery. Backcountry hikes take you through the eponymous petrified logs and other archeological wonders. Park guides will show you the daylight sights, but you can also join a night adventure in the newly designated International Dark Sky Park.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome

Located near the top of Cleopatra Hill is the historic copper mining town of Jerome. Once known as the wickedest town in the west, Jerome was born a copper mining camp, growing from a settlement of tents into a roaring mining community. Today Jerome is a thriving tourist and artist hub with a population of around 450 people. Jerome resides above what was once the largest copper mine in Arizona which was producing an astonishing 3 million pounds of copper per month. Once a thriving mining camp full of miners, bootleggers, gamblers, and prostitutes, now a bustling tourist destination full of artists, musicians, and gift shop proprietors.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keneta

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.

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

Patagonia

Spectacular scenery, Old West culture, mining history, and ghost towns meet art galleries and Arizona’s Wine Country vineyards. Patagonia is a renowned destination for birders attracted by the area’s spectacular array of exotic and unusual birds. The Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve and Patagonia Lake State Park are known for the 300 species of birds that migrate through or nest along their creeks and waterways. The Paton’s house is well known for its hospitality to hummingbirds and the people who like to watch them.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Joyce Woodson

Catalina State Park: Sky Island Gem

The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros

Neighboring the Coronado National Forest, Catalina State Park is located at the foot of the Santa Catalina Mountains and offers a variety of hiking trails available for on-foot travelers, bicyclists, and horse riders alike. 

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of southern Arizona’s numerous Sky Islands, the Santa Catalina Mountains dominate Tucson’s northern skyline. These Sky Islands are small mountain ranges that rise steeply from the desert floor and often feature a cool and relatively moist climate at their highest reaches. Their wooded slopes offer desert dwellers a respite from the summer heat. Conversely, the adjacent desert canyons and foothills offer spectacular scenery and excellent recreation during the cooler months of the year.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park protects a choice section of desert on the western base of the Santa Catalinas. The environment at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains offers great camping, hiking, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. An equestrian center provides a staging area for trail riders and ample trailer parking is also available.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Miles of equestrian, birding, and hiking trails wind through the park and the adjoining Coronado National Forest, as well as an interpretive trail to a prehistoric village. Each trail offers a showcase of the region’s varied qualities, ranging from the footsteps of a myriad of animals known to inhabit this mountainous area such as the javelina and mountain lion on the scenic Nature Trail, to the archeological wonder of the Romero Ruins — the remains of a Hohokam village — on the aptly-named Romero Ruin Interpretive Trail. Elsewhere, the Upper 50-Year Trail will offer a rockier climb while the Birding Trail provides a scenic walk with a small flight of stairs.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

 Where the values of each trail converge, however, is when it comes to the sheer value of appreciating nature. Expect to be bombarded by the sheer vastness of local flora and wildlife on natural display on the park’s 5,500 acres of prairies, foothills, mountainsides, and washes.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The locale was first inhabited by the Hohokam people, Native American agriculturists who disappeared mysteriously around AD 1450. Remains of their village site are still evident in the park. In the late 1800s, prospectors worked claims along the banks of a wash called Canada del Oro, translated from the Spanish into “wash of gold”. Cattle ranching also became prominent around 1850 and continued until the early 1980s when the park was established.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The most common plants include mesquite, palo verde, and acacia trees; crucifixion thorn, ocotillo, cholla, prickly pear, and saguaro cactus. Desert willow, Arizona sycamore, Arizona ash, and native walnut grow along the washes.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the special features at Catalina State Park is an amazing population of saguaros. There are about a half-dozen large stands within the park, each numbering close to 500 plants. Along with hundreds of scattered individuals, these stands account for an estimated saguaro population of close to 5,000 plants.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than 300 types of flowers are cataloged at the park. A binder in the visitor center has a picture of each type of flower in the park, the common name, when it blooms, and where it can be found. They are sorted by color so if you find a flower in the park you can identify it.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are 120 campsites available, 95 with water and 50/30 amp electric service. Most sites are spacious and level easily accommodating the largest of RVs. A dump station is available. Campsites have picnic tables and grills. Restrooms are handicapped accessible with showers. Reservations are recommended during the busy snowbird season.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Please note: Catalina has NO overflow area. When all sites are occupied, you will be turned away.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This scenic park is located on Oracle Road which becomes State Route 77, just minutes from the bustling city of Tucson. Watch for the signed entrance to Catalina State Park at Milepost 81.

Worth Pondering…

The vast emptiness and overpowering silence of the desert and surrounding mountains sharpens your senses, enhancing self-contemplation, and stimulates creativity.

On the Road to Mount Lemmon

Approximately an hour drive from Tucson’s city center, Mount Lemmon is a favorite day trip and camping spot

Climbing more than 6,000 feet, the Sky Island Scenic Byway begins with forests of saguaro cacti in the Sonoran Desert and ends in a cool, coniferous forest in the Santa Catalina Mountains.

On the road to Mount leaving Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prepare yourself for breathtaking views and a climate change that would be similar to driving from Southern Arizona to Canada in a mere 27 miles. Each thousand feet up is like driving 600 miles north offering a unique opportunity to experience four seasons in one trip.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Often referred to as Mount Lemmon Highway or General Hitchcock Highway, Sky Island Scenic Byway drive begins at the northeastern edge of Tucson.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the road climbs among the giant saguaro cactus and brittlebush, enjoy hairpin curves as you arrive at the Babad Do’ag Viewpoint which overlooks the desert cacti studded Tucson Valley and the Rincon Mountains. There are interpretive signs at the lookout and if you’re up for a longer hike—try the moderate 5-mile round trip Babad Do’ag Trail. Incredible desert vistas of saguaro, wildflowers, and mountains await.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continuing up the road, you’ll enter Molino Canyon. The road hugs the canyon’s cliff until the Molino Canyon Overlook. The overlook offers a short hike to a creek and series of waterfalls. Towards the center of the canyon is the Molino Basin, home to a campground and trailheads for a variety of hikes. Hiking here is especially fascinating due to the transition from desert to a forest dominated by cottonwood, oak, sycamore, and willow trees.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each turn of the road reveals a new perspective. Entering Bear Canyon, the forest transforms once again into a lush, cool environment with cypress, juniper, pine, sycamore, and walnut trees. Granite pinnacles soar into the sky, and with rocky outcroppings and stony hoodoos, some of Arizona’s best rock climbing is found here.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Next stop, Windy Point offers the most amazing views along the entire scenic drive. Wind-sculpted rock formations, views of the Huachuca, Patagonia, and Santa Rita Mountains, and the Tucson Basin await at 6,400 feet elevation.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Geology Point Vista, offers another spectacular viewpoint. Sweeping panoramas and precariously perched rocks create a surreal and photogenic landscape.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From here, you climb through forests of ponderosa pine, fir, and spruce. Rose Canyon Lake is stocked with trout and surrounded by absolute beauty; this seven-acre lake is a perfect stop for fishing, picnics, and camping in the Rose Canyon Campground.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shortly afterwards, you arrive at the San Pedro Vista which overlooks the San Pedro River Valley. From this stop, enjoy the 4-mile hike around Green Mountain to the General Hitchcock Campground.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shortly after the viewpoint is the Palisade Visitor Center. Self-guided displays inform about the Coronado National Forest and it’s a great location to get more information about hikes. Two of the most popular are the Butterfly Trail and Crystal Springs Trail with trailheads one mile from the center. Both trails are long, but you need not do the entire trail to enjoy the shaded, dense forests. Butterfly Trail features such a diverse biology, it has been designated a Research Natural Area. If you are up for a challenge, the medium-to-difficult Crystal Springs Trail will bring you to Mount Lemmon’s summit.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience the sky up close at the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter. There are daytime and after-dark programs using their 32-inch Schulman Telescope. Reservations are required. The SkyCenter is at an elevation of 9,157 feet.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This scenic drive officially ends in a small town mostly filled with summer chalets, appropriately named Summerhaven. A great retreat for people to escape the summer desert heat.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While here, consider a few short side trips. For spectacular views in every season, Mount Lemmon Ski Valley, the southernmost ski area in the country, can be reached via East Ski Run Road. The ski hill offers an opportunity to ride the ski lift for breathtaking vistas at 9,100 feet. Continue a few miles further and turn onto Summit Road. At the road end is the actual summit of Mount Lemmon, an amazing way to end this scenic drive.

The Forest Service has done a great job with the road and attractions along the route including campgrounds, picnic areas, trailheads, pullouts, vista points, and interpretive overlooks.

Worth Pondering…

Stay close to nature, it will never fail you.

—Frank Lloyd Wright

Mission San Xavier del Bac: White Dove of the Desert

Fondly known as the “White Dove of the Desert”, San Xavier is a striking sight

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.

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

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. It is truly an awesome experience. The sheer size and bright color against a blue sky and the tan colors of the desert make San Xavier Mission a striking sight.

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

A treasure of southwestern history, San Xavier del Bac is an 18th century religious beacon that calls all to experience. The oldest intact European structure in Arizona, the church interior is filled with marvelous original statuary and mural paintings. It is a place where visitors can truly step back in time and enter an authentic 18th Century space.

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

San Xavier del Bac is a magnet to those that appreciate art, statues, sculptures, and paintings of its original times. The interior is filled with brightly painted carvings of apostles and saints and ornate décor statues that are actually draped in real clothing.

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

A National Historic Landmark, San Xavier Mission is a mixture of Moorish, Spanish, and American Indian art and architecture. Its brick walls are six feet thick in some places and is coated with a limestone-based plaster with a formula that includes the juice from prickly pear cactus pads.

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

Mission San Xavier is on the Tohono O’odham Reservation. Tohono O’odham means “Desert People”. The Tohono O’odham were farming along the Santa Cruz River when Spanish Jesuit priest Eusebio Francisco Kino established the original mission here in 1692.

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

Father Kino named the mission in honor of his chosen patron saint, St Francis Xavier. The San Xavier surname of “del Bac” means place where water appears”. Hence, its entire name: Mission San Xavier del Bac.

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

Religious control of the mission was transferred from the Jesuits to the Franciscans in 1768. Shortly thereafter, the mission was destroyed by less friendly Indian tribes. The current San Xavier Mission was rebuilt under the direction of Franciscan Fathers Juan Bautista Velderrain and Juan Bautista Llorenz in 1783 and was completed in 1797, when Southern Arizona was part of New Spain.

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

No one can say with certainty who the San Xavier architect was, who provided the construction labor, or who the artisans were, but most believe most, if not all, roles were fulfilled by the Tohono O’odham Indians. However, all agree that the architecture was the most profound of the early Spanish missions and the brilliantly colorful artistic embellishments are spectacular.

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

Following Mexican independence in 1821, San Xavier became part of Mexico. The last resident Franciscan of the 19th Century departed in 1837. With the Gadsden Purchase of 1854, the Mission became part of the United States.

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

In 1859 San Xavier became part of the Diocese of Santa Fe. In 1866 Tucson became an incipient diocese and regular services were held at the Mission once again. Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet opened a school at the Mission in 1872. Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity now teach at the school and reside in the convent.

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

Recently, Mission San Xavier became a separate nonprofit entity. It remains a testament to the endurance of culture throughout history. The church retains its original purpose of ministering to the religious needs of its parishioners. It’s a destination of Catholic pilgrimage where locals and visitors pray to Saint Francis for intercessory prayer to God.

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

Whether your interests lie in religion, history, or art, San Xavier del Bac is an attraction you don’t want to miss when visiting Tucson and Southern Arizona.

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

Located nine miles southwest of downtown Tucson, San Xavier del Bac is on San Xavier Road, just three miles southwest of Mission View RV Resort, our home base for exploring Tucson and regions south. San Xavier is open to the public 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., except during church services.

Worth Pondering…

History, although sometimes made up of the few acts of the great, is more often shaped by the many acts of the small.

—Mark Yost

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