Arizona: beyond the Grand Canyon
Wexas specialist Keely Roberts looks beyond Arizona’s headline-grabbing poster child to discover a rich tapestry of natural beauty, tribal nations and thriving culture. It’s all found among a wild geography of red-rock buttes and cacti-dotted deserts. Indeed, a drive through Arizona is a conversation with Americana itself, and we’ve picked out a few talking points below.
Although the stars above Arizona’s wild remotes might give it a run for its money, the city of Phoenix offers the state’s indisputably brightest lights. As America’s fifth-largest city, it’s a thriving metropolis in the desert, bristling with cultural intrigue. Alongside a full complement of theatres, symphony halls and opera houses, you’ll be treated to some of the finest Southwestern and Mexican food around. Think mouth-watering tamales and tacos. It also invites in the state’s heritage and great outdoors, with the superb Desert Botanical Garden and the excellent Heard Museum, self-described as the world’s preeminent presentation of American Indian art.
With its great red sandstone formations piercing the big Arizona sky in a series of cathedral-like spires, it’s no surprise that Sedona has long attracted a near-religious level of reverence. And that’s not just among new-age spiritualists, with Jeep tours, hikes and hot-air balloon rides offering outdoors lovers truly moving views of its otherworldly landscape. Return to the art galleries and gourmet restaurants of its welcoming town, watched over by those omnipresent red cliffs.
Canyon de Chelly National Monument
For five millennia, people have called the rugged gorges of Canyon de Chelly home. And, you’ll quickly see why, with its beautifully barren ochre crags offset with surprising hidden-valley verdure that’s still farmed by the Navajo people to this day. The landmark, 800-foot-tall Spider Rock spire and its rippling canyon surrounds are an obvious highlight, as are the thousand-year-old White House Ruins – ancient dwellings built by Ancestral Puebloans in around 1060 ad – but look a little closer and you’ll discover unique prehistoric rock art, too.
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park
Quite literally, this is the Old West of the silver screen, with Monument Valley’s towering buttes having starred in everything from The Lone Star Ranger and Billy the Kid to a litany of John Wayne classics. In among these sandstone towers, you’ll also discover Navajo beliefs that exist to this today, with members of the Navajo Nation – America’s largest tribe – offering insightful guided tours. There’s even evidence of the ancient Puebloan people that called this place home centuries ago.
A labyrinthine series of flooded canyons, Lake Powell’s crisp blue dramatically contrasts with the region’s red rock to create a stunningly Martian landscape. Then, after exploring its rabbit warren of waterways on boating, Jet-Skiing and hiking adventures, there’s plenty more in its surroundings. Glen Canyon Dam is an engineering marvel. Walking through Antelope Canyon’s rippled slot maze is like stepping onto another planet. And, Horseshoe Bend is a natural treasure, where the mighty Colorado River coils back on itself, beset by great, 1,000-foot cliffs.
Something of an oasis town in the desert, Scottsdale is the perfect end to an Arizona adventure. Here, world-class resorts and spas are on hand to soothe after a few days on the road, while golf courses and a walkable old town of boutiques, restaurants and galleries offer a different kind of therapy. However, if you haven’t quite had your fill of exploration, there’s winding hiking and biking trails along the red-rock buttes of Papago Park
As Arizona’s star turn, this UNESCO-listed site and natural wonder of the world needs little introduction. But, it’s worth mentioning that there’s plenty of different ways to appreciate it, depending on your tastes. Drives along its southern rim offer magnificently varied overviews and, perhaps crucially, iconic sunsets. Hikes along the rim – or even strenuous ones to the canyon floor – bring you right among its layered rocks, while helicopter flights offer a full, aerial appreciation of the canyon’s sheer magnitude.