High Country Adventure: Tailor Made Activities for the Summer of 2020

An Arizona bucket list of adventure in the high country for the summer of 2020

If there’s one thing we’ve learned in 2020, it’s just how quickly things can change. Usually when summer rolls around, the vacation options seem endless. But due to the new coronavirus pandemic, many popular getaways are off-limits.

Yet with a little careful planning, high-country escapes—with social distancing—are still an option. So here’s an Arizona bucket list of adventure appropriate for the summer of 2020. Remember to travel with caution, follow good health practices, and behave responsibly when outdoors or around other people. Also, get the latest information about your destination before proceeding. Check for fire restrictions and other closures. We know how quickly things can change.

Hiking Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hiking Sedona

Like every other corner of Arizona, the Red Rock Country of Sedona undergoes a remarkable transformation during summer monsoon season. Towering clouds fill the sky. The light turns wild, and colors grow even more vivid. The haunting scent of moisture in the air floats through desert and forest. Each shallow dip and trough fills with water like brimming ponds. Dusty washes turn into creeks while water gushes down from high cliffs.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While there is no bad time to be hiking in Sedona, monsoons add a splash of magic. Here is a Sedona trail I enjoyed on our last visit to Red Rock Country.Just be safe out there. Carry snacks and plenty of water. Don’t hit the trail if thunder or lightning are present. Keep your distance from fellow hikers.

Bell Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bell Rock is one of the first identifiable red rock formations you see when entering Sedona from Highway 179. It is quite clear how it received its name; it looks like a giant red bell melting into the landscape. There are a few trails that go around and near the base of Bell Rock as well as one that leads you onto the rock itself. The trails around Bell Rock are short in distance and provide moderate hiking for visitors who want to take their time and enjoy the excellent views.

Bell Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bell Rock is said to be one of the larger vortex sites in Sedona. Vortexes are said to be sites with heavy concentrations of energy spiraling upward from the Earth. Many people believe that vortex sites have physical, emotional, and spiritual healing properties. If you are open to the idea, go and feel it out for yourself.

Granite Dells along Constellation Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hiking Prescott

With close to 200 established trails, Prescott is a hiker’s paradise. The Constellation Trail is a tangled web of pathways around the stunning Granite Dells. Near the trailhead is a commemorative plaque honoring the five crewmen of the Air Force Lockheed C-121G Super Constellation who perished when their plane crashed nearby in 1959. Cause of the crash is still unknown. Signs with maps are posted at each junction and all trail segments together total less than 2.5 miles as they wind their way through the Dells. Brutish boulders rise in sudden thrusts while others lay about in jumbled heaps.

Granite Dells © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is a land of dramatic textures. The trail slithers among rocky clusters and gains just enough elevation to offer wide-ranging views. Small grottoes and narrow passageways make this a fun hike for kids. If you do it after some monsoon rains you will be rewarded with some lush riparian vegetation as well as some chaparral and many rocky granite outcroppings.

Arizona Highway 89A as it climbs Mingus Mountain © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Drive

Everyone has a favorite road, often some less-traveled stretch of curvy blacktop through an area of scenic countryside. What I consider to be one of the greatest drives in Arizona fits that bill and beats the heat is a federally recognized scenic byway that climbs tall mountains, traverses sweeping grasslands, encounters the grandest of vistas, and passes through historic towns along the way. 

Arizona Highway 89A as it approaches Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Leaving Prescott, drive north on Highway 89 until you hit the intersection with 89A in the direction of Jerome. This piece of roadway was constructed in the 1920s as something of a shortcut over the crest of Mingus Mountain between Prescott and Jerome which was then a thriving copper-mining town. Again, it can be challenging, but in a good way.

Arizona Highway 89 with the red rocks of Sedona in the distance © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A beautiful and satisfying drive, Arizona 89A passes through tall-pine forest. The road twists through canyons and over crests with impressive climbs, dazzling drop-offs, and views that make you want to stop the car to get out and stare. Look far ahead for a sighting of the red rocks of Sedona in the distance.  You’ll want to stop to bask in the glory of the view.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The entrance to Jerome happens suddenly; one moment, you’re on this mountain road and the next you are on a narrow stretch of village streets. Small homes perch above you on the left and below you on the right with ancient concrete walls and curbs lining the road. Go slowly through here as there are homes and businesses packed close to the street and usually bands of tourists wandering around aimlessly. I’ve seen RVs navigate this narrow, twisty stretch but it’s not my idea of a fun time.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome has a boom-to-bust ghost-town history that builds on its charm. From the 1890s through the 1920s, Jerome was a copper-mining boom town, fading through the Depression of the 1930s, coming back as copper demand grew during the war years, and then shriveling up in the 1950s from a peak population of about 4,400 to a low of fewer than 100. 

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yet Jerome’s rugged historic beauty cast its spell on artists and offbeat souls who repopulated the town restoring its homes and its downtown as well a regular destination for a steady flow of tourists and shoppers.

Tuzigoot National Monument with Cottonwood in the distance © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you leave Jerome, the town of Cottonwood is in the broad valley below the mountain range.  There’s also an incredible prehistoric pueblo ruin called Tuzigoot National Monument just to the east. For more incredible beauty continue on 89A into Sedona with its towering red rock formations and popular downtown, then through lush Oak Creek Canyon up an amazing set of switchbacks to the surface of the Mogollon Rim and on to Flagstaff which sits at 7,000 feet altitude. 

Arizona Highway 89A from Cottonwood to Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

None of this trip on Arizona 89A will be in the least bit tedious especially newbies who will be enthralled by the continuous and ever-changing array of remarkable scenery. I’ve been on this route many times and never tire of it.

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

Discover Arizona’s Extraordinary Verde Valley

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. Yet, in the central part of the state, approximately 90 miles north of Phoenix, lies Verde Valley with nearly 80 percent of its land set aside as national forest. The valley encompasses about 714 square miles of red rock formations and lush canyons fed by the Verde River.

In the Verde Valley © 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.

Wine tasting in Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cornville/Page Springs offers wineries, tasting rooms, and a relaxed take on some of Arizona’s most pristine high-desert scenery. Camp Verde, located in the geographic center of Arizona, is rich in history and offers a variety of recreation and outdoor activities to experience and enjoy.

Looking toward Mingus Mountain and Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With so much to see and do, where do you start? Here are five attractions that are a sure thing. And, here’s a quick tip: The word “verde” is pronounced so that it rhymes with “birdie.”

Verde Canyon Railroad, Clarkdale

Verde Canyon Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park the RV and board the train as you embark on a spectacular journey accessible only by rail. Keep your eyes on the scenery as the engineer takes you on a four-hour, 40-mile round-trip excursion between two national forests, through a 680-foot tunnel, and past ancient ruins and towering red rock buttes.

Verde Canyon Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gaze at the remote wilderness through large windows as you sit comfortably in climate-controlled passenger cars complete with rest rooms. Or choose to enjoy the open-air viewing car for fresh canyon air and an amazing 360-degree panorama.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Cottonwood

Dead Horse Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Ranch State Park is located adjacent to and across the Verde River from the community of Cottonwood. Offering over 100 spacious sites, the campgrounds give access to the park features like trails, playground, lakes, and the Verde River. The campground consists of four loops that each have varying numbers of spots available for you to stay.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most campsites are RV accessible with hookups. Many of the pull through sites can accommodate RVs up to 65 feet in length. There are three lagoons within the park that offer great fishing and a place to watch the area aquatic wildlife and birds. Dead Horse Ranch is a great place to stay while you explore the natural beauty and rich history of this popular Arizona region.

Tuzigoot National Monument, Clarkdale

Tuzigoot National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Sinagua people began building the limestone and sandstone hilltop pueblo around the year A.D. 1000. They expanded the settlement over the next 400 years to involve 110 rooms housing more than 200 people. Then, in the late 1300s, the inhabitants began to abandon the pueblo. By the time the first Europeans arrived, Tuzigoot had been empty for nearly 100 years. It’s believed the citizens joined what are now the modern Hopi and Zuni tribes or stayed nearby and became the ancestors of people now belonging to the Yavapai-Apache Nation.

Montezuma Castle National Monument, Camp Verde

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The name of this incredible settlement really is a misnomer. Montezuma Castle was named in the 1860s by people who mistakenly thought the Aztec emperor was somehow affiliated with it. Truth is it was built by the Sinagua people who lived in it and then abandoned it before Montezuma was born. Montezuma Castle, built directly into the side of a cliff, rests 50 feet above the valley floor. Standing five stories tall, the castle has 20 rooms and covers 3,500 square feet.

Montezuma Well, Camp Verde

Montezuma Well © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And as they say, wait—there’s more. A second, detached part of the park, known as Montezuma Well, is about 11 miles northeast of Montezuma Castle and has its own extraordinary features. First, Montezuma Well is not actually a well. The water in it is continuously refreshed by subterranean springs in an enormous limestone sinkhole measuring 368 feet across.

Montezuma Well © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An astounding 1.5 million gallons of water per day flow here. Even more amazing, the water fell as rain on the nearby Mogollon Rim between 10,000 and 13,000 years ago. For years, the water has been slowly seeping through the rock until it reaches an impenetrable layer of rock and then is forced back to the surface.

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

Least-Visited National Park Service Sites and Why Each Is Worth a Visit

Celebrate the beauty and natural wonders of America’s National Park Service sites at these lesser-known locations

Among America’s 418 National Park Service (NPS) sites, some stand out as must-sees for most RV travelers: Blue Ridge Parkway, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, and Natchez Trace Parkway all come to mind as bucket-list sites.

And indeed, these and other parks welcome millions of visitors each year. Yet there are many other lesser-known parks equally worth your time—parks with extraordinary wildlife and unique natural features that mere thousands of visitors experience annually.

Here, we’ve rounded up ten of the least-visited national parks and make a case for why each one is worth a visit. Some are little-known, others are obscurely located, but all celebrate the beauty and power of America’s natural wonders—and, as a bonus, can be enjoyed with fewer crowds.

Cowpens National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Cowpens National Battlefield

2018 visitor count: 189,410

Cowpens National Battlefield commemorates a decisive battle that helped turn the tide of war in the Southern Campaign of the American Revolution. On this field on January 17, 1781, Daniel Morgan led his army of tough Continentals, militia, and cavalry to a brilliant victory over Banastre Tarleton’s force of British regulars.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

El Malpais National Monument

2018 visitor count: 154,368

The richly diverse volcanic landscape of El Malpais offers solitude, recreation, and discovery. Explore cinder cones, lava tube caves, sandstone bluffs, and hiking trails.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Coronado National Memorial

2018 visitor count: 103,218

In the Coronado National Forest bordering Mexico, Coronado National Memorial celebrates the achievements of Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, who led the first recorded European expedition to America, in 1540. The attraction for most visitors is the rugged and scenic terrain, which is crossed by several hiking trails.

Tuzigoot National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Tuzigoot National Monument

2018 visitor count: 98,090

Tuzigoot is a small national monument that preserves the remains of dwellings of the 12th century Sinagua Indians. Tuzigoot comprises a cluster of buildings, on top of a small sandstone ridge close to the Verde River valley.

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

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

2018 visitor count: 62,995

The Hohokam people built these structures when they were near the height of their power some 700 years ago. The monument preserves 60 prehistoric sites, including a four-story earthen structure. Interpretive walking tours and exhibits are available.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Cumberland Island National Seashore

2018 visitor count: 55.650

Cumberland Island is Georgia’s largest and southernmost barrier island, full of pristine maritime forests, undeveloped beaches, and wide marshes. Walk in the footsteps of early natives, explorers, and wealthy industrialists.

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

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

2018 visitor count: 260,375

With its multiple stems the organ pipe cactus resembles an old-fashioned pipe organ.

The remote Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a gem tucked away in southern Arizona’s vast Sonoran Desert.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Hovenweep National Monument

2018 visitor count: 40,574

Hovenweep is one of those out of the way destinations that are easy to miss. Hovenweep preserves six villages once inhabited by the ancestors of today’s Pueblo people. These structures at Hovenweep are numerous and varied.

Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site

2018 visitor count: 39,361

Founded in 1876 by John Lorenzo Hubbell, this is the oldest continuously operating trading post on the Navajo Reservation. This site in Ganado is part museum, part art gallery and still a functioning trading post, virtually unchanged since its early days.

Worth Pondering…
The national parks in the U.S. are destinations unto themselves with recreation, activities, history, and culture.

—Jimmy Im