Perhaps the most amazing thing about Arizona is the landscape – both the desert areas and canyons but also the mountains. There is snow and rain in the high country in winter, while between June 15 and September 30, it is the monsoon season with large storms. Winters can be warm, while mid- summer can be unbearably hot and dry.
The hot dry summers and desert climate is the ideal climate for Cactus to grow – and while each cactus type is unique, they are designed to hold on to every drop of moisture and water to get them through the dry-times.
The most spectacular Cactus is the Saguaro Cactus – the tree like cactus that you see on postcards and throughout the south in Arizona around Phoenix and Tucson. The Saguaro can grow to heights of up to 40 or 60 feet high, and live as long as 200 years. They are also incredibly slow growing with a 10 year old tree being maybe just 1 ½ inches high. They are also very specific as to where they grow, and one of the very subtle changes that you may notice as you drive in Arizona is the changes in the type of cactus that you see, and then pine trees that also change type as you drive to higher altitudes. One moment you are seeing a mountain range which appears as rock, and the next you see one covered in trees.
Deserts have their own color spectrum – the reds, yellows, ochres, orange, greens and greys – and shapes, shades and shadows that play with the light. In many ways, shape takes on even more importance than color, and this is especially so when you some of the canyons and amazing mountain areas.
The Grand Canyon –in the Grand Canyon National Park is the 'big daddy' of all canyons and is some 277 river miles long and a mile deep and right down there is the Colorado River. Most people simply look over the edge from lookouts and look down to the sides of the canyon and the vastness of it across the canyon and below them, and it is possible to do this, or take a helicopter or small plane flight across the top of it, or hike on one of the trails that lead to different parts of the canyon, or even advance book a mule ride -
See www.grandcanyonlodges.com/muletrips and www.canyonrides.com for details.
There are two 'rims' of the Canyon – the North Rim and South Rim, with the South Rim being more popular and accessible and open year round, whereas the North Rim with far less tourists is closed in the winter months from late October re-opening in May, depending on the weather. The two Rims are 21 miles directly across from each other but it is a 220 mile road trip, with the North Rim being 1000 feet higher in altitude – hence the reason it is colder and closed through winter. The best known trail that heads from rim to rim is the Kaibab Trail down into the canyon. It is a long way down, and feels twice as long heading back up. There are also tour companies that run different hiking adventures. For one of these companies See www.justroughinit.com Tel: (480)857 2477.
The first thing to decide is how long you want to spend seeing the Grand Canyon – just taking a day tour or staying over to see more and experience the Canyon from different views and times of day as the light changes, or do some hiking. If staying over, there are lots of accommodation options from camping to lodges and hotels, but check to see how close you are to the Canyon – be that right on the Rim, or further away, and book early to get a room.
If exploring the South Rim – head to Tusayan and the South Entrance to the National Park and Visitor Center, where you will find lots of information, film clips and hear talks by Rangers about the Canyon. Free Shuttle buses leave from there and take you on a hop on/hop off trip to Grand Canyon Village and other viewpoints along Hermit Road and on Desert View Drive that runs 25 miles along the South Rim. You can also hire a bike (See www.bikegrandcanyon.com).
The Grand Canyon West – closer to Lake Mead and Nevada (Las Vegas – 125 miles away) is where you find the Grand Canyon Skywalk – a glass floor platform that hangs over the side of the Canyon with the Colorado River 4000 feet below you. This is about 250 miles from the South Rim Visitor Center on Hualapai Tribal lands. (See www.grandcanyonskywalk.com )
Most people coming to see the Grand Canyon come by tour bus or car, but you can also catch a train on the Grand Canyon Railway (Est. 1901) that leaves from Williams in Arizona in the morning returning by the end of the day. See www.thetrain.com You can also stay over in Williams too which is on the old Route 66, take tours from here, including Helicopter Tours, and drive through Bearizona Drive Thru Wildlife Park to see Black Bears, wolves, sheep and Bison. See www.bearizona.com in natural surrounds. Also look for the Planes of Fame Air Museum – 755 Mustang Way Valle-Williams – See www.planesoffame.org and The Grand Canyon Deer Farm at 6769 E. Deer Farm Road to see fawns, deer and other animals. See www.deerfarm.com Tel: 928 635 4073.
Colorado River Rafting – it is one thing to see the Grand Canyon from the North or South Rim, but quite another to look up from the River and see the canyon walls towering above you. There are lots of tour companies and trips can be a day trip or even up to 19 days long. For day trips see www.rafttheriver.com For longer trips see www.grandcanyonwhitewater.com , www.raftarizona.com, www.canyonexplorations.com , www.grandcanyondiscovery.com , www.westernriver.com , www.oars.com, www.riveradventures.com , www.azraft.com Weather permitting, these trips can be the trip of a lifetime but you need to book early too.
Lake Powell and Page, Arizona – The town of Page (population just over 7000 people) is beside Lake Powell, a man-made lake 186 miles long that straddles the border between Arizona and Utah in the north. The lake was created when they built Glen Canyon Dam in 1963 filling Glen Canyon with waters flowing from the three rivers - Colorado, San Juan and Escalante River. It took 17 years for the Lake to be fully filled with water creating a spectacular waterway (the second biggest man-made lake in the USA, Lake Mead being the biggest) with the blue water contrasting with the colors and incredible shapes of the sandstone walls in the Canyon. In Page you can hire a houseboat, go fishing, rafting, swim, play golf, go horse riding and take tours of the Lake, Dam, Canyons and just enjoy the amazing scenery in the land of the Navajo. If you can take a tour of Antelope Canyon to see the spiral rock arches. Also an amazing sight is Horseshoe Bend Overlook – where you look down from the rocky Overlook to the Colorado River far below you. where it flows around a horseshoe shape. Ask a local how to get there. It is about 2 miles south of Page off US 89.
Monument Valley - is east of Page and north of Kayenta on the border with Utah. This valley is a symbolic landmark of the west with 1000 foot high red pinnacle rocks, buttes and mesas standing tall above the desert floor, rock archways and other geological formations creating a panorama which has been used by Hollywood film makers, photographers and artists for over a century. The Monument Valley is Navajo Nation Reservation land, and there is a Visitor Center which has information about the Valley and its significance to Navajo people, as well as selling Navajo arts and paintings. See www.navajonationparks.org
Flagstaff – on Route 66 is the biggest city in the northern part of Arizona and is about 80 miles south of the Grand Canyon with a population of around 68,000 people. The City has an elevation of 7150 feet and is surrounded by 1.8 million acres of Ponderosa Pine forests, with lots of parks, 100's of miles of hiking trails, fishing, cafes, boutiques, shopping centers, art galleries, horseback riding, craft brewers, ski fields with the San Francisco Mountain Peaks overlooking the city.
There's a lot to do in Flagstaff with the old town center, great hiking trails and of course the Snowbowl ski field just 14 miles away where there are 6 ski lifts and 40 ski runs, with the ski season being December to April. See www.arizonasnowbowl.com The highest mountain peak in Arizona is located here too, Humphreys Peak which rises to 12663 feet. Also see the Flagstaff Nordic Center for cross country skiing – See www.flagstaffnordiccenter.com The scenic Chairlift (Skyride) also runs in summer to 11,500 feet with great views from the top.
In town, some of the things to see and do are
Lowell Observatory – is the place where the planet Pluto was first seen in 1920. Today you can also star gaze with tours in the day and stars to see at night. See www.lowell.edu Tel: 928 233 3211 located at 1400 W Mars Hill Rd.
Flagstaff is a good place to base yourself if you are looking to spend time in the north of Arizona, as it has all the city shops and places to stay, as well as the forest and ski fields and is also relatively close to the Grand Canyon and other places to the north, east, west and south.
South of Flagstaff – North of Phoenix
To the south west of Flagstaff are a number of small towns and spectacular scenery that are a must see if you are in Arizona – Sedona and the Red Rock State Park, Slide Rock and the one of my favorite places, Jerome.