Few places in the country offer the diversity of climate, scenery and culture as Arizona, particularly during the summer. The elevations range from nearly sea level to over 12,000 feet, which gives the state a rare biological diversity. Whether you like temperatures scorching hot or near freezing, the landscape from nearly barren to lush alpine meadows, you’ll find it inside Arizona’s 113,998 square miles.
Although Arizona doesn’t have the population density found in other states, its cities and towns have all the offerings found in larger cities, from food to lodging, the arts, and major league sporting events. You can stay at primitive campgrounds for two weeks at a stretch, tiny cabins in the woods, or take advantage of seasonal rates at the world’s finest resorts.
The state’s largest city copes with hot Arizona summers by air conditioning virtually every interior space and using water for those outdoors. You’ll find aquatic-themed parks from large to small, major league baseball in a domed stadium, and women’s pro basketball team. The rates at the city’s luxury destination resorts fall during the summer, where you can play on championship golf courses at reduced rates and enjoy yourself pool-side at their lavish water features.
The area also has award-winning museums, galleries, and restaurants, some of whom use misting systems to drop temperatures by 30 degrees on their outdoor patio seating. There is no lack of shopping in the area, from bargain basements to high-end retailers. Attractions like the Heard Museum, the Arizona Science Center, the Musical Instrument Museum, and the iconic Old Town Scottsdale are must-sees for visitors and residents alike.
Just a few hours north of Phoenix, you’ll find Sedona, where breathtaking red rock geological formations ring the city. Sedona is a year-round destination with plenty of world-class resorts, fine dining, shopping and golf. Just up the road from Sedona is Slide Rock State Park, where you can glide down a short length of Oak Creek Canyon without any kind of floatation device.
Just up the road from Sedona is Flagstaff, home of Northern University and the place to shop for your outdoor outfitting needs. Just outside the city is Walnut Canyon National Monument, an ancient Indian ruin. The trails in this park are easy and it has an educational and unique gift and information center.
You can take in the night sky at Lowell Observatory. The dry air and dark sky create ideal conditions for star-gazing, but if your schedule won’t allow an evening visit, check out the Observatory’s daytime solar viewing programs.
While Tucson can boast all the big-city amenities Phoenix offers, it has a completely different urban flavor. Also called the Old Pueblo, you’ll glimpse the early days of Arizona urban development in this city, and have an opportunity to escape the heat by cruising to the Catalina Mountains. Its highest elevation of 9,157 feet on Mount Lemmon may have you reaching for your sweaters and rain gear if you visit during the monsoon, Arizona’s dramatic summertime stormy and rainy season.
If you have time in Tucson, head southeast out of town to see historic Tombstone, home of the shootout at the OK Corral, and take in the historic mining town of Bisbee, where you can tour a naturally cool underground mine by rail. Bisbee has a lively arts scene and its elevation over 5,000 feet provides cool temperatures and a green landscape set among the colorful mountainsides into which the town was built.
The Coconino National Forest in northern Arizona has the largest stand of Ponderosa Pine trees in the world, and elevations that range from 2,600 to 12,633 feet. The highest point lies inside the San Francisco Peaks where you can visit the Snowbowl, whether you hike the rugged trails or take a scenic ride on the ski lifts.
The gateway to this forest is Flagstaff. From here, you can travel northwest to the south rim of the Grand Canyon, one of the natural wonders of the world for a rigorous hike or backpacking trip to the Colorado River. You can stay in luxurious comfort at the Grand Canyon Lodge or at a camping site.
If you’d rather avoid the summertime crowds at the south rim, drive north out of Flagstaff to explore the north rim of the Canyon. You’ll trade off conveniences and a few amenities, but the quiet and pristine views are more than enough reward.
The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, found in the White Mountains of eastern Arizona, is no less stunning than the Coconino Forest. This region is dotted by full-service towns and wide stretches of pine and aspen forests. You’ll find all the services you need along the scenic roads, including campgrounds, hiking trails, a gaming casino, and lakes and streams for fishing, especially at Big Lake, northern Arizona’s best trout fishing lake.
The tallest peak in eastern Arizona is in this forest at the top of Mount Baldy, whose elevation is 11,409 feet. It’s an arduous day hike to the top, but the stands of spruce and the views as you approach the summit give you plenty of reasons to rest, camera in hand.
If you can’t make it to the Grand Canyon, check out the east and west forks of the Little Colorado River that eventually drain into the Colorado miles away. These forks of the river join together in Greer, an alpine village at 8,356 feet where you’ll find luxurious resorts with authentic log cabins and stone fireplaces. The waters of the Little Colorado in this region offer trout fishing and bird watching nestled in verdant mountain meadows.
Arizona is one of the few places where you can experience the best that man and nature have to offer, all within a day’s drive from one end to the other. From food to culture, pristine wilderness to the inventions of man, the one thing you won’t find in abundance in this striking state is boredom.
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