The road trip capital of the USA, Arizona, is best experienced under a set of tires. Along the dry and desolate routes, travelers will find marvels of nature and signs of life.
Amongst the barren landscape is show-stopping features like the Grand Canyon, Cathedral Rock, and Monument Valley. Warm and welcoming smiles await in cities like Phoenix and Tucson.
In these places, travelers will uncover Arizona’s heart and soul. Long hours in the car are rewarded with unbelievable views of both the land and sky. Plus, there’s nothing like taking a drive and digging deep to find your roots. Sure, the Grand Canyon looks epic from above. Up close, you will be drawn to the state’s flora, fauna, and wildlife.
Intimate views of the landscape will help you unlock its past as you view ancient deserts, rock formations, and raging rivers. Once openly roamed by Native Americans and now dotted with urban centers, Arizona demonstrates that nature is the true winner.
Whether you’re under the arms of a saguaro cactus or deep in the depths of a canyon, nature will engulf and mesmerize you.
A Brief History
Once a part of Mexico, the country, and New Mexico’s territory, Arizona became the 48th state of the United States in 1912. Unsurprisingly, Arizona wasn’t a very popular destination because of the dry and harsh landscape. However, the California Gold Rush changed the state’s future as people began migrating through the state further West.
In 1849 alone, it is estimated that up to 50,000 miners moved through Arizona. This influx helped create boomtowns in Arizona that catered to the travelers. By the late 1800s, Arizona’s riches were discovered, and mines were established, looking for copper, silver, and gold.
The arrival of newcomers drove out the Native American population and led to Arizona being labeled as a part of the Wild West. What were once boom towns are now ghost towns. Though, the famous history of the state and its mining has made places like Tombstone tourist attractions.
The Wild West attitude and Southwestern comfort that Arizona provides continues to make the state a major destination. Gone are the days of Wyatt Earp; however, tourists can still live out their Wild West fantasies by seeing Tombstone and watching a recreation of the gunfight at the OK Corral.
Immortalized on film, Arizona’s history has also become a popular tale in Hollywood. With iconic landscapes, many of the state’s most visited areas have been turned into movie sets as directors try to recreate the world of outlaws and gunslingers.
In modern history, Arizona has been known to conjure up a few controversies. Gun control and immigration have become hot-button topics that have nabbed headlines and divided the people.
While the state has been traditionally conservative, waves of newcomers have helped shift the politics to make Arizona more liberal. This has only upped the tourism to the state, as more people feel welcome to explore Arizona’s Southwestern charm.
Having switched its capital between a few different cities, Phoenix became Arizona’s permanent capital in 1889. Located further south, Phoenix is most loved for its warm climate and year-round sun. Temperatures are mild in Phoenix the majority of the year, though summer can bring extreme heat that melts plastic and metal.
Aptly named the Valley of the Sun, the city’s metropolitan area has a population of just over 1.6 million people. Highlights in the metro area include the Phoenix Zoo, Papago Park, Heard Museum, and Phoenix Art Museum.
The downtown area is flooded with dozens of establishments, so you can enjoy a little TLC. Boutique shops, hip restaurants, and upbeat cafes are all options to explore when you’re in Phoenix. Exceptional resorts attract visitors because of their luxury rooms and world-class golf courses.
Just outside of the city and overlooking its urban sprawl is Camelback Mountain. Shaped similarly to a camel’s back, the mountain is a great place to get out and enjoy nature. A few different trails will lead you around and up the mountain so you can get the best view of Phoenix.
Sports enthusiasts also love visiting Phoenix because of the annual spring training for popular baseball teams. Held annually in Scottsdale, a city just east of Phoenix, visitors can buy tickets to enjoy the Spring Training games.
For partying crowds, Tucson is the place to go. Home of the University of Arizona, Tucson is a lively college city that boasts a vibrant cultural scene and laidback lifestyle. Art, nightlife, and outdoor adventures are all a part of life in Tucson.
However, Tucson isn’t geared only towards the younger generations. Posh resorts are tucked away in the city’s hills, and they are often host to championship golf tournaments. With lavish guest ranches and luxury spas, Tucson is an idyllic place to get away from the big city and enjoy a little pampering.
Just a little way from Tucson, nature awaits. Saguaro National Park is one of Tucson’s most visited areas. People are often eager to view the famous cacti up close and see just how big they really are. With a beautiful mountain backdrop and lush vegetation, the park can’t be missed.
Entirely unique to Arizona and unlike any other museum in the world, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum has a little bit of every wrapped into one. Featuring a zoo, aquarium, botanic garden, history museum, and art gallery, you can learn and experience a lot in this unique place.
Designed to be accessible to everyone, regardless of age or mobility, the museum features a 2-mile-long walking path that winds through Arizona’s desert landscape. Along the way, you can see some of Arizona’s iconic inhabitants, including cacti, mountain lions, birds of prey, and javelinas.
Nature at Its Finest
While it’s always fun to explore new cities, outside of Phoenix and Tucson, the most recognized parts of Arizona are its National Parks and Monuments. We already mentioned Saguaro National Park. Two other parks that get a lot of fame are Grand Canyon National Park and Vermillion Cliffs National Monument.
Everyone knows that the Grand Canyon is big, though the size truly can’t be scaled until you’ve seen it from your own eyes, standing atop the rim. Various designated viewpoints along the rim give you the best glimpse into the canyon below, and with a few observation decks, you won’t have to risk life or limb to get the perfect picture.
Visitors can also enter the canyon by taking a hike down to the floor. Trails traverse their way down the steep walls, and many hikers enjoy being able to experience the canyon up close. If hiking isn’t your favorite activity, you can take a tour by rafting down the Colorado River, which runs through the Grand Canyon.
Much smaller in size, the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument might actually beat the Grand Canyon visually. While epic scales are always impressive, the unique rock formations in the Vermillion Cliffs have become a tourist highlight because of the vibrant color and unique lines.
Made of sandstone, the cliffs are very red in color, and the unique layers in the rock turn the cliffs into a mesmerizing landscape. Called the Wave, this rock formation sits in the Coyote Buttes and is the monument’s most iconic feature.
Visitors to the Wave should be prepared for a strenuous 6-mile long hike and an even harder to obtain a permit. Not open to the public, you will have to obtain a permit from the US Bureau of Land Management. Only 20 permits are issued per day for Coyote Buttes, and it is based on a lottery system.
A slot canyon, this is every photographer’s dream location. With light streaming down and the red rocks cut and carved around you, the canyon is absolutely stunning.
Visitors can visit the canyon by booking a tour with a guide. You will need to purchase a park permit for entry. You may not choose a self-guided tour or enter the canyon without seeking permission. Daytime tours are the most affordable, though experience photographers may decide to book the more expensive night tour instead.
In tune with Arizona’s mining past, the state is also dotted with almost 300 ghost towns. Once booming with business and active mines, these towns died out as the metals dried up. Some ghost towns have been forgotten. Others have such notorious history that their past has helped them stay alive.
Whether you’re there for the history or looking for the supernatural, Arizona’s ghost towns continue to draw visitors, even today. Jerome is one of the most visited ghost towns and argued to be one of the most haunted. Nicknamed the “Wickedest Town in the West,” Jerome functions are a tourist attraction these days.
Tombstone is perhaps Arizona’s most famous ghost town, which is where the OK Corral was established. Once the site of a shootout, the towns often recreates the town’s turbulent history in live shows for tourists.
With mines that are open to the public through a guided tour, Vulture City is the third most popular ghost town in Arizona. The mines are privately owned and will require a guide to enter. The town of Vulture City is freely open to the public for guided or self-guided tours.
These towns have lived on because of their notorious reputations. Though, visiting one of Arizona’s ghost towns is a great way to see how people lived in the past. Truly the Wild West, these towns are almost forgotten, but not quite.
Arizona Come to Life
Most people associate Arizona with being dry, desolate, and lifeless. While this does ring true for remote parts of the state, visitors may be surprised when they fall in love with the state. Amongst the dry Sonoran Desert, there is life, and it thrives in the canyons, valleys, cities, and towns of Arizona. With natural icons and fun cities, Arizona will bewitch and satisfy your wanderlust.