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The Best Arizona Road Trips

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  • by Noel Ballon|
  • March 27, 2019 |
  • Lifestyle

Have you tried these Arizona road trips?

That's right, not only are these road trips the best, and in Arizona, but they're the best in Arizona! Arizona has so much to see and do, it's worth mentioning twice in the article title alone. So, after you read our Phoenix summer car maintenance checklist and get your vehicle up to par - It's time to hit the road! 

We bet you're expecting us to open with the Grand Canyon.

Well you're right. Let's face it, the Grand Canyon is no mere state attraction. It's a World Heritage site, and a destination for many eco tourists from across the globe. You know what they say about the Grand Canyon: 'There's no hole in the ground like it.'

The Grand Canyon

The history of the Grand Canyon dates back to when the entire area was a relative level place with the Colorado River running through it. IN those days, of course, it wasn't called the Colorado River. It actually wasn't called anything. But the soft and loose soil was susceptible to the River's constant pressure and over the course of many days...and months...and years...and centuries...millennia...eons...ages...epochs... 

One day a dinosaur was minding his own business, yet not paying attention to where he was going. Suddenly he fell into a hole, and it took him days to get back out again. Well, that's the working theory, anyway. We're not scientists. What we do know is that The Grand Canyon National Park is one of the most amazing sights to behold on this entire planet, and if you vacation in Arizona, you really do owe it to yourself to view the astonishing five thousand foot vistas afforded from the rim of the canyon.

Your first trip to the Grand Canyon should start with the National Park; Take state highway 64 north out of Williams on I-40 and just drive until you get there. If you fall into a giant hole, then you've driven too far.

Many folks don't like the touristy atmosphere of Grand Canyon Village just outside the southern border of the park, but there is lots to see and do here, even before you head in. Of particular note is the IMAX Theater which showcases a documentary on the history of the Park as well as the Canyon itself. It's a way to see all the things you might not get to see on that first trip, especially those hard to reach places. We recommend seeing the documentary before you go into the park. This is a classic case of film not doing justice to the real thing, even in the IMAX format, but it will give you an increased appreciation when you stand at the rim and the incredible sights just stretch away before you.

Williams, Arizona

In the surrounding area, the town of Williams - about an hour south of the Canyon - has a quaint downtown area, and if you're into trains, they have a classic railway that goes into the park itself. It's a great way to park the car and forget about the hassle of finding a space.

Southeast is the town of Flagstaff, with a historical downtown area and plenty of history museums recounting life in Old Arizona. Flagstaff is also on I-40 and the drive up to the Canyon - about an hour and twenty minutes - includes mountain vistas and plenty of chances to see wildlife such as deer or the occasional roadrunner. Yes they're real; they're just smaller than the cartoon version.

Monument Valley

Elsewhere among the great Arizona road trips is Monument Valley, a couple of hours northeast of the Grand Canyon. From Flagstaff, travel north on US hwy 89 to US 160 and head east. You'll know when you get there. Monument Valley is a place of both natural wonder, and the site of some of the greatest western films ever produced, such as The Searchers, Forrest Gump, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, How the West was Won, Easy Rider, National Lampoon's Vacation (you know the scene where Clark inadvertently jumps the family Truckster over a gorge? Yeah, that was filmed here), Back to the Future Part 2 and about half of John Wayne's movies. 

There are differing theories as to how the Valley came to have its unique appearance, but you will never forget having been there. If possible, stay until sunset when the light begins to do interesting things as it plays across the rock monoliths. 

Four Corners

Continue east on US 160 to get to Four Corners, the only place in the United States where you can stand in four states (Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah) at once.

The Petrified Forest National Monument

If getting off the Interstate is your thing, try the drive south on state route 70. Start with the Petrified Forest National Monument to view downed trees that were 'frozen' in time when the wood was meticulously replaced naturally by hardened minerals (commonly called rocks). A tree shaped rock might not seem like a thrill (and it really isn't), but it is fascinating, especially when viewed through the knowledge one can absorb at the visitor's center. After you've enjoyed your time with the former trees, drive to Holbrook and turn south. Continue south on US 60. This entire area is a sparsely populated vista of pristine mountains, alpine lakes, and meadows with plenty of chances to see wildlife, or just stop and listen to the immense quiet. 

The Tonto National Forest

The Tonto National Forest will surprise you with how many lakes and creeks there are to explore.

An Alternate route would be state route 260 through some of Arizona's highest peaks. The drive is beautiful, and ends in downtown Phoenix so you can get those rural and urban flavors all in one afternoon. The Tonto National Forest will surprise you with how many lakes and creeks there are to explore, and it's worth leaving in the morning so you can spend the day driving from one scenic vista after another. Bring snacks and a picnic lunch with you as there are no services or towns along this road, and so much the better for it.

Tombstone, Arizona

Looking for that uniquely authentic Arizona desert experience? Take I-10 east from Tuscon and turn south on state route 8- when you reach the town of Benson. You'll see some of the largest cacti on earth through this stretch of road, especially when you get off the interstate, and best of all, you eventually reach the legendary town of Tombstone, Arizona. Yes, THAT Tombstone Arizona; the very town where Wyatt Earp and his brothers faced off against the Clanton family at the OK Corral. What, you thought that was just a western legend?  Well, some of it is.

Most of Tombstone retains its Old West atmosphere and there are a lot of touristy things to see and do, but it's all centered around that famous Lawman Wyatt Earp and his friend Doc Holiday. 

Trivia: Holiday earned his nickname thanks to having been a dentist in the state of Georgia. When he was diagnosed with Tuberculosis, he was told to go west and find a drier climate. He was also told to expect to live maybe another six months at the most. Holiday, believing he had only a short time to live, became a hard drinking, gun slinging gambler whose gun slinging mostly involved disputes with other gamblers and his suspicion that they were cheating him. He met Wyatt Earp over one of these disputes and the two became fast friends. Holiday accompanied the Earp Brothers to the OK corral on that fateful day and it was he who is said to have shot down the notorious outlaw Johnny Ringo during the infamous gun battle. 'Doc' Holiday had come west to prolong his life during his illness, hoping to last a little longer than the six months his physician gave him to live. 

It would be another 14 years before Holiday died of Tuberculosis in an asylum for the sick in Colorado. He and his friend Wyatt Earp never so much as took a scratch from a single bullet.

Despite it's relatively remote location, there is plenty to do in Tombstone, including tours of some of the more famous sights, such as the eponymous corral itself. But there also the historic Birdcage theater, where Wyatt Earp is said to have watched a performance by Josie Marcus, with whom he would spend the rest of his life. There's the Earp's home, restored and preserved just as it was more than a hundred years ago. And there's the obligatory Boot Hill graveyard, where you can see the graves of both lawman and outlaw alike, presumably having died with their boots on. 

Sedona, Arizona

Looking to get away from the summer heat? Why not take a trip to Sedona? Take I-17 from Phoenix north toward Flagstaff and get off at exit 298 onto Highway 179. You will soon reach the intersection of Highway 179 and Highway 89A, which is known as the 'Y' and is used as a point of reference by many of the places in Sedona. 

Sedona has that amazing small town feel and is surrounded by beautiful plateaus and vistas. There are also plenty of things to do and great restaurants to dine at while enjoying the view. One of the most prominent architectural features in Sedona is the Chapel of the Holy Cross. This chapel was built more than 50 years ago right into the red rock that surrounds it. It was designed by Marguerite Brunswig along with Lloyd Wright, Frank Lloyd Wright's son; she was inspired to build such a unique chapel by the newly built Empire State Building and after one failed attempt in Hungary, she decided to build it in Sedona. In 2007, the Chapel was voted to be one of the 7 wonders of Arizona.

Another great way to beat the heat is to visit Slide Rock State Park just a few miles outside of Sedona. Its most notable feature is the naturally made water slide that is perfect for people looking to have fun in in the water without all the chemicals in pools. Or if water slides aren't your thing, there is plenty of space to lounge about on the red rocks surrounding the pools. There are also many great trails in the surrounding area just waiting for you to hike and explore nature's beauty.

If hiking really isn't your thing, you can always head back into town for Sedona's famous pink jeep tours. Hop right into a jeep with a knowledgeable tour guide to take you around the area and learn more about native plants and animals. There are also a variety of options, and each tour can take you through a variety of different areas.

Antelope Canyon

If you are entranced by Antelope Canyon's beauty and decide to make a trip, make sure you book a tour in advance or you may end up making the trip without actually being able to see the place.

I'm sure you've seen pictures of Antelope Canyon before, with rays of light shining down into the canyon from above. But what you might not have known is that it is actually a place you can visit in Arizona. If you are entranced by its beauty and decide to make a trip to to the border, make sure you book a tour in advance or you may end up making the trip without actually being able to see the place. Antelope Canyon is the most photographed slot canyon in the United States, and because of this tours are hard to come by with many people booking their tour in advance to be able to see the 'flowing' rocks. 

The nature of these rocks comes from the way that the canyon was formed. Because Arizona is so dry and it has monsoon seasons, it is prone to flash flooding which can quickly erode sandstone. Over the years, this flash flooding has created the unique structure of the canyon. It almost seems as though the rock is flowing like the water that so often runs through it. 

Depending on how adventurous you are, there are two different parts of the canyon that you can get a tour of; The Upper Antelope Canyon and the Lower Antelope Canyon. Most tourists and casual sightseers opt for the Upper Antelope Canyon for two reasons; the first is that the upper canyon is much easier to access as it is located on ground level and doesn't require any climbing to get to, the second is that it is much more common for beams of light to radiate down from the openings in the top of the canyon created the spectacular effects that make for mesmerizing photographs. 

The Lower Antelope Canyon requires you to climb down 'stairs' (basically a giant ladder), and the hike through the canyon is longer with narrower spots throughout. Despite the drawbacks, if you consider climbing and exercise to be a drawback, you'll still get to experience the sights of the canyon and bring home those photographs that showcase your adventures. 

If hiking isn't really your thing, or you want something else to do while you're visiting Antelope Canyon, you may also want to try kayaking in Lake Powell. Lake Powell is very close to Antelope Canyon and is one of the best kayaking destinations you can visit. There are a couple different places that you can go kayaking at, but if you want a similar experience to hiking Antelope Canyon (except your in a kayak, and there's water) then you should check out the Hidden Canyon kayak tour. This will take you through a narrowly carved area with wavy walls akin to those of Antelope Canyon. 

Chiricahua National Monument

If all these fantastic rock formations still aren't enough to appease your sense of adventure and you're looking for somewhere with unique wildlife that isn't found elsewhere in Arizona, then I suggest taking a trip to the Chiricahua National Monument. This monument can be found in the southeastern part of Arizona amidst the Chiricahua Mountains. Because of its elevation and past geological activity, it is home to many unique plants and animals. There are plenty of trails to hike, but be warned, the higher elevation and changes in elevation make many of these hikes pretty difficult. 

Millions of years ago, a volcano erupted and spewed lava and ash into the air. When all this lava and ash settled, it eventually got compacted into rocks that have eroded over time to create unique pillars of rock that seem like they could fall over any minute. Some of these rocks rest on tiny bases and extend hundreds of feet into the air. 

Vermilion Cliffs National Monument

The Vermilion Cliffs National Monument is one of the less visited monuments in Arizona as it is on the way to Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon. Most tourists fly by these spectacular cliffs on US 89 on their way to visiting the Grand Canyon and miss out on the opportunity to explore and photograph this amazing landscape. 

Most of the area around the monument is a flat plateau with a few outcroppings; one of the more famous outcroppings being White Pocket, a group of colorful domes and ridges. The prettiest area to visit is the lower Paria River Gorge, which is a deep watery canyon said to be just as magnificent as many parts of the Grand Canyon. The actual Vermilion cliffs are one of the most extensive cliff faces in all of the Unite States with heights reaching as much as 2,000 feet, and are known for their unusual coloring. 

While there isn't a physical visitor center anywhere, tourists are encouraged to explore the monument on their own. Like many of the other places we have discussed, the Vermilion Cliffs Monument is a great place for hiking. If you are brave enough, you can actually hike to the top of the cliffs for a fantastic view of an expansive stretch of desert. 

Do You Know Any Other Arizona Road Trips?

CASH 1 hopes you've enjoyed this glimpse into the variety of things to see and do throughout the great state of Arizona. For more information, contact the Arizona State Travel Board for details on places to stay and discounts on attractions. 

If you find yourself in need of a short term installment loan, a personal loan, or a title loan, comes see us online at CASH 1 or stop by one of your phoenix locations and we'll see if a small loan is right for you.

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