Home to the Grand Canyon and mountainous pine forests in the north, and cactus-filled deserts in the south, Arizona has a varied natural landscape unlike any other state. Yet as tough and rugged as the landscape might look on the outside, destinations throughout the state have been tamed with creature comforts complete with golf courses, spas, and shopping. See both sides of the state with a long-haul trip to Arizona running north from the Grand Canyon and traveling south to Tucson and Tombstone.
Getting down in the Grand Canyon
Arizona’s nickname is “The Grand Canyon” state, and for good reason. The natural wonder stretches across 277 miles and reaches over 6,000 feet deep in spots, created by the Colorado River carving its way through.
Most visitors enter the canyon at the South Rim, where the park headquarters are located along with a number of hotels and restaurants. Experienced campers can start at the less crowded North Rim from mid-May to mid-October where campsites can be booked online up to six months in advance. The entrance fee for both entry points costs $25 for vehicles and $12 for visitors traveling by foot, bicycle, or motorcycle.
Park rangers offer programs on the natural and cultural history of the Grand Canyon throughout the day, or visitors can use their cell phone for a free audio tour along different points of interest on the South Rim.
To see the Grand Canyon from another perspective, book a raft trip through Arizona Raft Adventures or one of the many other outfitters that operate in the area. Or, book a mule tour through Xanterra Parks and Resorts. The three-hour trip and the overnight ride both book up quickly, so reservations are accepted up to a year in advance.
Cultural capital in Phoenix and Scottsdale
With low temperatures in December only getting down to 45 degrees, Phoenix attracts its fair share of residents and visitors alike looking to escape winter weather. On a cooler day, visit the Desert Botanical Garden, the only botanical garden in the world to focus entirely on desert plants. The 145-acre garden showcases more than 21,000 plants like cactus, agave, and aloe. The garden is open Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. October through April, and 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. May through September. Admission for adults costs $18, and $15 for children 12 and under.
On a hot day (Phoenix has plenty, even in early spring), head to one of the city’s museums. The Heard Museum on Central Avenue in downtown Phoenix celebrates the history and culture of American indigenous people, and in particular, the tribes of the Southwest. The galleries are open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, and admission costs $18 for adults and $7.50 for children 12 and under. Admission for American Indians remains free.
As a suburban neighbor to the east, Scottsdale specializes in the golf and resort scene. Play 18 holes at the top-ranked Troon Golf Course, where courses run through natural ravines and giant boulders border the greens. Tee time rates start at $95 for four players.
Kick back after a long day in the sun at one of Scottsdale’s many spas. Book the Havasupai Body Oasis Experience at the 40,000-square foot Willow Stream spa, where warm waterfalls envelop the body mimicking the Havasu falls in the Grand Canyon.
Walking back in time in Tombstone
Picture the Arizona old west in its heyday by paying a visit to the tiny town of Tombstone. Seventy miles southeast of Tucson and 30 miles north of the Mexico border, Tombstone took off when a prospector found silver. The town soon attracted prospectors, prostitutes, and others seeking a fortune, all of whom caused their fair share of trouble in town.
The town’s most famous event, the Gunfight at the OK Corral between Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and the McLaurys and Clantons, is recreated at 2 p.m. Monday through Sunday. The OK Corral stays open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. with historical shows and an exhibit on The Tombstone Epitaph, the newspaper that documented the stranger-than-fiction happenings in this Arizona town.