The famed author David Toll said of his beloved Arizona, “The Arizona desert takes hold of a man’s mind and shakes it.”
Mile upon mile of the endless painted desert, and all visitors to Arizona quickly grasp Toll’s meaning. Arizona, the last contiguous state admitted to the United States of America, is a holdout and a holdover in many ways, as anyone who has ever visited the Grand Canyon State will tell you. Legends are born there, and they have lived on for a hundred years. The indigenous tribes, the cowboy legends, the battles fought, won, and lost on the arid soil, under the giant bowl of the bleached blue desert sky all blend to form the storied spirit of the Southwest that Arizona personifies: self-reliance, independence, and a sturdy pioneering spirit.
This wild place is tamer now, if only in the everyday goings-on of life. There are no more O.K. Corrals to shoot up or long, treacherous covered wagon trails to traverse. But that same wild spirit that is so singular to the state of Arizona still thrives today.
All one has to do is just look around at the sky-high vistas of the San Francisco Mountains to the North or the sweltering, flat, impenetrable deserts to the South and everything in between.
Arizona has a wild story to tell, and thankfully those stories and events are preserved in the state’s contribution to the National Parks System.
Below are some not to be missed Arizona highlights:
Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument: Arizona is home to one of the Seven Wonders Of The World, The Grand Canyon. But this rarely seen side of that world-renowned attraction is extraordinary and not for the faint of heart! A 4×4 vehicle and plenty of water are necessities on this trip into the past, where the wilderness truly begins. It is a place that is as unwelcoming as it is beautiful, and one wonders in awe at the lives led here for thousands of years before modern conveniences.
Travelers can take the rocky two-lane road into the heart of the Grand Canyon and see Mt. Turnbull or wade in the waters of Pakoon Springs, an oasis in one of the driest places on earth.
This piece of the famous attraction is a can’t miss for the most adventurous of spirits.
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument: Just down the road from the Grand Canyon, in Flagstaff, is an attraction of another stripe altogether! The Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument preserves the place where a thousand years ago, the very ground itself was ripped open by an incredible seismic event that forever altered the terrain around it. Today, visitors can walk among the petrified lava flows where life grows and thrives again and remember nature’s incredibly destructive and restorative power.
Tonto National Monument: Step back in time and enjoy the vibrance and diversity of indigenous life from hundreds of years ago at this national monument. Over 700 years ago, the “Salado Phenomena,” – the name given to the distinct influence of the Salado people on native tribes in the American Southwest through their unique pottery – helped to form a vibrant and culturally significant society. Today, visitors can touch the ruins of the cliff dwellings in which the people lived and learn more about the lives of these ancestors and how it informs life in the Southwest to this day.
Pipe Spring National Monument: In the high desert of Arizona, water is as valuable a commodity as there is, and its scarcity or abundance was often the difference between life and death, between building communities or abandoning them. Pipe Spring is an example. The history of Pipe Spring and the societies that sprung up around its oasis-like setting is as long and storied as the ancient waterway itself. From the Kaibab Paiute to early Mormon settlements, Pipe Spring has been fertile ground for burgeoning settlements throughout the centuries. Stop in to learn more about the lives led here over the long, winding road of history.