10 Awesome Places to Visit in Arizona
The ghost towns and prehistoric ruins of the Grand Canyon State are juxtaposed with forests of cacti, Joshua trees, and petrified logs. Here are 10 interesting places to check out in Arizona
1. Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Headquarters 3 miles east of Chinle on Rte 7
Of all the spectacular canyons in Arizona, Canyon de Chelly is, in the eyes of many, the most breathtakingly beautiful. Two scenic roadways lead to overlooks offering magnificent views of deep vertical-walled canyons, towering sandstone spires, the Rio de Chelly flowing through the valley floor, and the dwellings of the ancient Puebloans snugly sheltered along the face of the cliffs.
Since Navajos live within the monument, visitors are allowed in some areas only when accompanied by an authorized guide. An exception is the White House Trail, which zigzags down the cliff to the canyon floor 600 feet below. Impossible though it seems from above, the path is perfectly safe, provided you are wearing appropriate shoes.
For a close-up view of the ancient cliff dwellings, wade across the Rio de Chelly and follow a path along the river. You’ll find some ruins at the base of the cliff. Overhead you’ll see the White House ruins, perched on a deep ledge in the towering wall of sandstone. The climb back up the cliff is a little arduous, but the entire adventure is memorable. Check at the visitors center for flash-flood warnings beforehand. Additional hiking trips and four-wheel-drive excursions can be arranged, but advance reservations are needed.
Open daily year-round.
More info: nps.gov/cach; (928) 674-5500
2. Hopi Cultural Center
The Hopis are believed to be descendants of a farming people who first settled in the Southwest some 1,500 to 1,600 years ago. Today, the Hopi villages, a fascinating mixture of modern technology and ancient architecture, are centred on three towering desert mesas.
The Hopi Cultural Center at Second Mesa has a museum that also serves as an informal visitors center for the entire reservation. The displays recount the tribe’s long history, from the earliest times through the Navajo, Spanish, and American invasions of its homeland.
One of the most popular exhibits concerns the kachinas, deities central to the Hopi religion. Exquisite craft displays include examples of Hopi bridal clothes and finely wrought jewelry pieces, pottery, and basketry. Both the museum and the bnearby Hopi Arts and Crafts Guild offer opportunities to observe various craftsmen at work.
Museum open daily, but schedule may be erratic from Nov to Jan. Admission charged.
More info: hopiculturalcenter.com; (928) 734-2401
3. Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site
Rte 264, Ganado
A visit to the trading post on this 160-acre homestead evokes its heyday, when the post was the social center for Navajos.
Established in the late 1870s by John Lorenzo Hubbell, it is the oldest continuously active trading post in Navajo Nation. Now owned by the National Park Service, it sells groceries and Navajo, Zuni, and Hopi crafts-turquoise and silver jewelry, rugs, blankets, and baskets. English and Navajo are spoken.
Guided tours are given of the Hubbell home, which looks as much as it did 100 years ago. It has rough-hewn timbered ceilings and is filled with excellent Native American craftwork. Then stroll around the farm, which the park is restoring with a vegetable garden, terraced fields, Navajo-Churro sheep, angora goats, and other animals.
Admission charged. Open daily except winter holidays.
More info: nps.gov/hutr; (928) 755-3475
4. Hualapai Valley Joshua Trees
Turn east off Rte 93 onto Pearce Ferry Rd for Dolan Springs
Believe it or not, these odd-looking prickly trees here in the desert are members of the lily family. They can grow to 40 feet, and they bear beautiful greenish yellow or cream- colored flowers in spring. According to legend, the Mormons gave the tree its biblical name because its form, with upraised branches, suggested the prophet Joshua at prayer.
You’ll spot the first Joshua trees slightly beyond Dolan Springs. As you continue, the trees become larger and more frequent until finally, some 20 miles down the road, you’ll find yourself in a forest.
The strangeness of the scene is enhanced by the spectacular backdrop of the Grand Wash Cliffs. There are facilities here, but otherwise you are on your own amid the desert’s solitude. The elevation is about 4,000 feet, so the heat is not oppressive.
More info: americansouthwest.net/arizona/pearce_ferry; (928) 767-4473
5. Colorado River Indian Tribes Museum
Second Ave and Mojave Rd, Parker
Four different tribes live on the Colorado River Indian Reservation, which spreads into California. The Mojaves, Navajos, Hopis, and the southern Paiutes, known here as Chemehuevis, share a tract of nearly 300,000 acres. The purpose of the museum is to depict the characteristic lifestyles, histories, and cultural attributes that distinguish the varied heritages of these four tribes.
Costumes and models of the traditional homes of each tribe are shown, along with historic artifacts. The nearby ghost town of La Paz has contributed some pieces from long ago. Among the outstanding crafts displayed are Mojave beadwork, Hopi kachina dolls, Navajo rugs, and Chemehuevi baskets. Many crafts are for sale.
Open Mon to Fri except holidays. Admission free but donations encouraged.
More info: critonline.com; (928) 669-7037
6. Petrified Forest National Park
I-40, Exit 311, Petrified Forest
The park’s geological story began over 200 million years ago, when pinelike tress were carried by waterways here and buried in the silt of a huge floodplain. The silica-rich waters slowly penetrated the logs’ tissue. Eventually the silica crystallized, turning the logs into a stone aglow with a rainbow of colors. Millions of years of erosion created the area’s magnificent mesas, badlands, and buttes and exposed the logs.
Rainbow Forest Museum, at the southern end of the 28-mile road traversing the park, has exhibits explaining the area’s paleontology. Extraordinary specimens of petrified logs may be seen along the half-mile Giant Logs Trail, just behind the museum. Trails lead to Agate House, the colourful ruins of a pueblo built from petrified wood, and Long Logs, where the ancient timbers have remained intact.
One of the most beautiful areas is Blue Mesa, 10 miles north of Rainbow Forest on the park road. Here erosion has left the petrified logs resting on stone pedestals. A mile-long trail leads from the mesa top to the badlands below.
Open daily except Christmas. Admission charged.
More info: nps.gov/pefo; (928) 524-6228
7. Tonto Natural Bridge State Park
Off Hwy 87, on NF-583A, 10 miles north of Payson
A fluke of nature created by millennia of rock melting, shifting, settling, and finally eroding away, Tonto Natural Bridge is a 400-foot-long tunnel cut through by burbling Pine Creek. It is the world’s largest bridge formed of travertine (calcareous rock deposited by mineral springs), measuring 183 feet tall and up to 150 feet wide and looming over a picturesque canyon.
On the River Trail-one of three trails to the canyon floor-you’ll see stalactite-like formations hanging from the bridge and along the canyon wall. The Waterfall Trail leads you to a grotto with greenery hanging from the ceiling.
The canyon and its star attraction were discovered in 1877 by a Scottish prospector named David Gowan, who hid in one of the area’s many caves while on the run from Apaches; he later moved his family here. Today visitors take in the canyon and bridge from lookouts as well as the trails.
Open year-round. Entrance fee.
More info: azstateparks.com/Parks/TONA; (928) 476-4202
8. Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park
Hwy 60, west of Superior
This collection of cacti and other hot-climate plants was started in the 1920s by William Boyce Thompson, a mining magnate. The 323-acre living museum has become an outstanding botanical garden and research center with over 3,000 species of plants from around the world. It is Arizona’s oldest and largest botanical garden.
More than two miles of intersecting paths, most of them level and easy, wind through the gardens, and the scenery changes dramatically as you walk. Desert plants, including yuccas, palo-verdes, chollas, and a towering 200-year-old saguaro cactus, seem almost out of place when you encounter the lush vegetation around tiny Ayer Lake or the pomegranate, olive, and Chinese pistachio trees clustered along a stream.
The plants are delightfully fragrant, and at practically any time of year, some of them are in bloom. The best time to visit, however, is from Oct. – May. In summer the temperature here can reach a sizzling 110°F.
Open daily except Christmas. Admission charged.
More info: arboretum.ag.arizona.edu; (520) 689-2811
9. Castle Dome Mines Museum
Castle Dome Rd, Castle Dome City
The ghost town-forlorn buildings and dusty streets once teeming with people who lived hard and dreamed of striking it rich-is intrinsic to Wild West history and legend. Allen and Stephanie Armstrong have devoted themselves to bringing one ghost town back to life.
In the 1870s Castle Dome City was bigger than Yuma and a key part of the Castle dome silver and lead mining region, but by 1990, when mining ceased, the town was a tumbledown ghost of its former self. The Armstrongs purchased what remained and have rescued or re-created more than two dozen buildings, including a hotel, church, blacksmith shop, saloon, dentist’s office, and assay office. Each is stocked with period furnishings, artifacts, and equipment mostly recovered onsite and in the mines. The result is a colourful history of mining in its heyday. One modern touch has been added: solar power.
Open Tues to Sun, mid May to Sept. Admission charged.
More info: (928) 920-3062
10. Kartchner Caverns State Park
State Hwy 90, Exit 302, Benson
In 1974 two young cavers exploring the abundant limestone hills at the base of the Whetstone Mountains followed the trail of a narrow crack. To their amazement they uncovered an extraordinary “living” cave – with formations in a dazzling array of sizes, shapes, and colors, dropping down thousands of feet and still growing.
Visitors can walk through this amazing underworld and revel at its impressive speleothems. Kartchner Caverns is home to many unique formations, from the tiny and delicate to the massive. Within its walls explorers will glimpse the first cave sighting of the “bird’s nest” needle quartz formation, the tallest and widest column in the state of Arizona, and the longest soda-straw formation in the United States, measuring 21 feet, 2 inches. In addition to pointing out the cave’s distinctive features, tour guides share highlights from its prehistoric past and active present. Paleontologists have declared the cave a treasure trove of local fossil history, thanks to finds including the skeletons of an 80,000-year-old Shasta ground sloth, a 14,000-year-old horse, and an 11,000-year-old bear. Today the cave serves as a nursery roost for over 1,000 female cave myotis bats.
Once outside the cave, visitors can stretch their legs on a scenic trail. The park also offers food vendors, picnic areas, and camping sites.
Open year-round. Admission charged.
More info: azstateparks.com/Parks/KACA; (520) 586-2283