21 Wonders of Arizona
Prepare to have your mind blown!
Ok so I have been building this article over the course of about a week. I've compiled every single attraction that I can recall from growing up here in my great home state of Arizona. Most native Arizonans don't even know about many of these. In fact you may be surprised at how many people never even get out of Phoenix... So if you are thinking of visiting Arizona in the future, or even if you already live here, but never get out, read on for a very, very large list of hot spots that will surely have you bragging to your friends back home. I'll start with the most popular attractions, and towards the end I'll even give you a peak at some of the more exclusive and lesser known spots that I have stumbled on during my lifetime. Enjoy!
The Grand Canyon
Everyone should know this place. It is one of the seven Natural Wonders of the World. Carved by the Colorado river over the course of millions of years, molded by the force of volcanic eruptions, and shaken by seismic activity, the Grand Canyon is 277 miles of pure "whoa!" In some areas it can reach 1 mile in depth, and 18 miles in width. It's not just a big crack in the ground though. Along the different stops on the grand canyon, you can see historic buildings, waterfalls, and even test your nerves on the famous skywalk. You can join bus tours that go through the canyon, you can try to hike it with your friends, or you can do a 2 day mule trek. Expect to pay $25-100 depending on how many people you go with and what all you plan on doing. Visit in early spring or late fall to avoid the heavy crowds.
The London Bridge
Located in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, is the original London bridge. Taken down brick by brick from London, brought overseas, and reassembled in the middle of the desert, the London Bridge is a nice slice of Europe sitting in our backyard. Lake Havasu has a reputation for being somewhat of a party city, especially during spring break and summer, so unfortunately there is not much else to do here except snap a couple of quick shots of you and a genuine piece of London!
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
Located south of Ajo, Arizona, this "desert forest" is a great way to spend a western sunset. The total area covers 516 square miles. It is a national monument, so entry into the park itself is about 8 dollars per vehicle (not bad at all), and the visitor's center is usually open daily from 8AM-5PM. These cacti are spectacles that you won't find anywhere else in the world, some of them weighing over 2-3 tons! There are campsites if you choose to stay the night, it was free when I was a kid, but they might charge a small fee to rent a campsite now. Come in spring to avoid crowds and to avoid the heat!
Hoover Dam holds back Lake Mead, making it the largest man-made lake in the United States. The dam itself is 726 feet high and 1,244 feet long. Crossing the Dam takes you into Nevada, and Lake Mead Recreational Area is technically in Boulder City, Nevada. You can get a tour of the actual dam, or enjoy the benefits of Lake Mead, including boating, sailing, fishing, snorkeling, camping, and hiking. Admission is $5 per vehicle and is good for 5 days. The recreational area is open 24/7, the dam can be pretty crowded in summer, but Lake Mead spans pretty far and usually has plenty of space for everyone.
Montezuma Castle National Monument
Just an hour south of Flagstaff, in Camp Verde, AZ, is where you will find one of the COOLEST relics of ancient Native-American civilization. What's known as "Montezuma Castle" was once a dwelling of the "Sinagua" culture, built in the side of a cliff, 100 feet off the ground. Inside are 20 rooms on 5 levels. Cost for admission is $5 per adult, children 16 and under are free. There is not much else to do here except look though, so this might be a nice stop to wrap up the day.
Tuzigoot National Monument
Located about 7 miles from Montezuma Castle, is another set of ancient ruins built by the Sinagua tribe as well. Tuzigoot is considerably larger than Montezuma, it is a 100 room pueblo with several exhibits that display the lifestyles of the Sinagua Indians. Admissions to this park is $5 for ages 16 and over, under 16 are free. You can also get a discounted pass for both Montezuma and Tuzigoot, for $8 per person. This stop shouldn't take you more than about an hour.
Tourist's Inside the Copper Queen Mine
Bisbee, Arizona, the sister mining town of Tombstone. The whole town is basically built around one giant surface mine that you can see down into when driving through the town, (it's pretty cool). Bisbee is home to the "Copper Queen Mine," which is an hour long tour that takes you deep inside the depths of the famous mine. It is a nice tour, but also a little bit pricey. Tickets start at $5.50 for kids age 12 and under, and $13 for everyone else (under 4 is free). Even in the middle of a scorching summer, the temperature inside the mine is always very cold and drafty, so dress warm if you are planning a visit. This will make a nice stop on a road trip, but don't expect to take too much time in Bisbee. Let's move right along shall we?
Located 9 miles south of the town of Benson, Arizona, Kartchner Caverns had been one of Arizona's best kept secrets until 1999, when it was finally opened to the public. The park is one gigantic cave filled with Palaeozoic rock formations. Containing what are called "stalactites" and "moonmilk," the cave is truly a unique sight to be seen. Unfortunately, nothing of great value comes without a price. General admission into the park is $5, and the two different tours (which are the only reason for going really) known as the "Throne Tour" and the "Big Room Tour," cost $22.95 for adults 14 and older, and $12.95 for kids age 7-13 (under 7 is free). Kartchner Caverns is truly one of a kind, there is nothing else like it in the entire continental United States.
Chiricahua National Monument
Also known as "The Wonderland of Rocks," the Chiricahua Mountains are about 36 miles southeast of the town of Willcox, Arizona. The unique rock formations are the result of a massive volcanic eruption over 27 million years ago. This is one of those national parks that doesn't get much attention, due to it's location in the "lesser-populated" area of Arizona. This is a place that my family and I visited often when I was a child, at least once a year. You will rarely ever find a crowd here, the atmosphere is beautiful and serene, and the sights to be seen are amazing. You can go on an 8 mile paved scenic drive around the park, or walk along the 17 miles of cleared trails to explore the park. It is also a great camping ground, with hundreds of different choices to set up camp. Creeks run generously through the park during the summer monsoons, and make for great little swimming stops. $5 will get you a 7 day pass to the park, and the campsite fee is 12 dollars per night, but just between you and me, you don't have to camp at the designated campsites, in which case it's free! :)
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
Located north of Flagstaff, Arizona, this crater was formed through a series of eruptions that took place between 1040 and 1100 A.D. Given that the eruption was only about 900 years ago, the path of the molten rocks looks as though it's still kind of fresh, they have not had the millions of years needed to petrify and look like stone. The hike for this park is cool, you get to "Walk the Lava Flow Trail." You walk alongside the original path of the lava flowing down from the mountain, which can be made out clearly. Admission is $5 per person and is good for 7 days, PLUS this one-time admission fee also gets you into the next park that I'm going to talk about. :)
Wupatki National Monument
Also north of Flagstaff, just passed the Sunset Crater park, you will find the remains of a pueblo used by the Anasazi and Sinagua tribes less than 800 years ago. This structure is believed to have housed over 100 people, making it more of a "pueblo mansion" really. These ruins are the largest in northern Arizona, and and there is a lot of historical information to be found at the visitor's center, plus many neat activities for the kids. As stated above, the fee for this park is shared with Sunset Crater, one admissions fee will get you into both parks ($5). I went in early summer and it was not crowded at all, although it does get very hot, so don't forget the water if you go in summer.
Walnut Canyon National Monument
About 7 miles East of Flagstaff, you will find another dwelling of the Sinagua tribe. These members of the Sinagua were cliff dwellers though, and if you have never seen the remains of a cliff dwelling civilization before, I will be the first to tell you that it is nothing short of amazing. If you plan to hike the trails here though, just be warned that they can be pretty difficult. The "Island Trail" is a one mile round trip, and descends 185 feet into the canyon (through steep stairs, that you also have to climb back up.) The fee for entrance here is $5 per person, good for 7 days. However, you can also pay $25 for a pass to Walnut Canyon, Sunset Crater, and Wupatki which is good for one year, and admits you plus 3 other adults. There are also "fee-free" days that you can find at the park's website.
Lava River Cave
Also called the largest "Natural Refrigerator" in northern Arizona, this cave is an absolute must for all you fellow spelunkers out there. It's about 14 miles north of Flagstaff, but be warned, the road to get there is kind of rough. When I went there, we took my friend's Toyota Camry, and she wasn't very happy about it, the road is dirt most of the way and can get pretty nasty in some spots. There is no fee for entry to this place, it is free to check out, if you can find it :) If you are planning to visit this cave, there are some important things you need to know. First, bring plenty of light, flashlights, headlamps, whatever you can, you will need lots of light. Second, dress warm! Even if it is 115 degrees outside, as soon as you step into that cave, the temperature shoots down to 35 degrees. Third, wear good shoes. There is no paved trail or anything of the sort inside the cave, you will want a good pair of sturdy shoes that you can climb in.
Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Some call this "The Other Grand Canyon," and for a very good reason. This canyon is located in Chinle, Arizona, and the thing that makes this canyon great is that it is free to enter. You can take a scenic drive around the rim, and there is even a public trail called the "White House Trail" that is free as well. If you don't plan to purchase a guided tour down into the canyon, then be sure to bring binoculars so that you can see the cliff dwellings towards the bottom of the canyon. This area is still populated by the Navajo tribe, and you can purchase guided tours from the locals, both on horse and on foot. The prices vary for the different private tours, but I highly recommend "Justin's Horse Tours" if you visit this canyon. Most of the staff are local Navajo and have extensive knowledge of the history and folklore of the people that lived there hundreds of years ago.
Another lesser-known Arizona Wonder. This canyon is located outside of Winkelman, Arizona. The canyon is 11 miles long, and the hike is at a low elevation, covered in the shade of the cliff walls. You need to plan ahead if you want to visit this place, as you need a permit to enter, and only 50 people are allowed in the canyon at one time. Permits are $5 per person, and you should try to get them reserved about a month or two in advance. You can find out how to buy permits here. Each party is only allowed 3 days in the canyon, but it is well worth all the trouble, because this hike is definitely one of the best in the entire state. I went with a church group a couple of years ago, and we only stayed for a day, but we managed to conquer a good chunk of the canyon, about 3 miles or so.
Saguaro National Park
An Arizona Wonder in the purest sense of the word, Saguaro National Park is one of a kind. Located outside of Tucson, this park has the largest number of Saguaro forests in the world. There are two districts to this park that are 30 miles apart (East and West), the West district tends to be more popular from what I hear. There are guided tours, scheduled special events, and fun activities for the kids. To be honest though, you really want to make sure you visit this place at dusk. Having the red sky backdrop on a hundred saguaro cacti is a scene that you will never see anywhere else in the world. The entrance fee for the park is $10 per vehicle, and is good for 7 days.
Petrified Forest National Park
East of Holbrook, Arizona, lies a sea of petrified wood, painted rocks, and 200 million year old fossils. The park spans pretty far, and has several individual attractions, you can easily spend a whole day here. There is the Rainbow Forest, Blue Mesa Road, Kachina Point, and the Painted Desert Visitor's Center. There are also scheduled events that take place in and around the park that you can participate in throughout the year. Be advised though, if you visit here in the summer, it will be extremely hot and there is no protection from the sun, so bring plenty of water and sunscreen. Admission is only $10 per vehicle and is good for 7 days.
Besh Ba Gowah
This is one that I have probably driven by over a hundred times, but never knew it existed until my friend told me about it about a year ago. It is located in Globe, Arizona, and it is the restored ruins of a 700 year old Native American civilization. It is conveniently just a couple of miles off the main road, and would make a great stop for a few pictures. There is also a very spectacular botanical garden in the back of the ruins, and several nearby gift shops that sell hand crafted Native American souvenirs.
No this is not a fake, these dinosaur tracks are 100% legit. Another one of Arizona's lesser-known treasures lies a few miles north of Tuba City. You can stop off and see the area for free, although there is an option to leave a donation. Since this attraction is run by the locals, hiring a private Navajo tour guide will vary depending on the day. Some say they have negotiated 15 dollars for a tour, others say they have paid over $40. The private tour takes you down further to where you can see not only dinosaur tracks, but some fossilized remains as well. When touring with Native American guides, please be respectful and considerate, always ask before taking a picture or touching anything, as some Indian cultures do not like photographs.
Coal Mine Canyon
Located 15 miles south of Tuba City, on the Navajo Reservation, out in the middle of nowhere, you'll find the Coal Mine Canyon. Described by many as Arizona's Hidden Treasure, the small canyon is a beautiful sight to be seen during the day, assuming that you can find it. Apparently, there are no signs or directions on the road to it's location, there are only two landmarks used to identify the correct road; a windmill and a water tank. This canyon is never crowded because, no joke, most people can't find the right road that leads to it. It is in a very remote spot, and if you plan on hiking the canyon you should know that there are no cleared paths, though there are rough trails forged by other hikers that can be seen. The hike is fairly difficult, but can easily be made in a few hours at most. Navajo folklore states that under the full moonlight, you can see the ghosts of Coalmine Canyon dancing on the pink walls, so just keep that in mind if you intend to set up camp for the night! You need a permit to enter the Navajo Reservation, which can be purchased for $5 per day.
The Cochise Stronghold
One of the many amazing hiking areas in the Dragoon Mountains, the Stronghold is located near Pearce, Arizona, and is yet another area that doesn't get the attention that it deserves. This is another place that my family visited frequently when I was growing up. When I was a child, entrance into the Stronghold was free, but I hear now that they are charging a $5 per day fee. Even with the fee though, it is still totally worth it. The Dragoon Mountains are beautiful, there are several camp grounds and picnic grounds throughout, and foot-trodden hiking trails that lead to neat little "secret" spots like waterfalls, hot springs, and old dwellings (probably from the Cochise Indians who inhabited the area several years ago). There is a lot of neat history to the area as well, involving the warring tribes of the Cochise and the Chiricauha. With many trails to choose from, and views you won't soon forget, be sure to make the Cochise Stronghold a mandatory stop on your trip to Arizona.
I'll bring this article to a close with this one last hidden gem in the Coconino National Forest. An oasis in the desert, Fossil Creek is located about 30 miles southeast of Camp Verde, and doesn't get much attention for a couple of reasons. First, there are many javelina throughout the area (wild pigs, aggressive in large groups), and second because the road to get there is mostly gravel and dirt towards the end, most city cars don't feel comfortable going down this road. It is a very beautiful place though, and while I was there I did see a couple of javelinas, although they didn't seem aggressive at all, and I don't believe that there has ever been a reported incident of javelina violence either. Birdwatchers and riparian enthusiasts will go bonkers in this area. There are several different varieties of vegetation, and many different species of bird. You can hike, swim, fish, sunbathe, bird-watch, and picnic in this area. The springs pump an endless supply of clean drinking water, and there are many of them throughout Fossil Creek.
America the Beautiful Park Pass
If you are someone that enjoys visiting the national parks of the United States, and does it on a regular basis, you probably already know about this pass, but if not, let me tell you about it. This pass can be purchased for $80. It is good for one year, and grants access to ALL of the national parks and monuments in the entire continental United States. It is valid for parks that charge "per vehicle." And for the parks that charge "per person," it is good for you plus 3 other adults. If you love traveling, and plan to do a lot of it, $80 is a great deal for an all access pass to any national park that you might stumble upon throughout your journeys.You can find out more about how to get it here. (And remember, this is only good for National parks, not State or City parks.) I hope you enjoyed this article, and I hope that you get a chance to come see the many amazing wonders of Arizona!