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When driving across through Arizona, one can’t help but think of its rich Southwest history, and the stories of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and the Clantons. Kokopeli, the Trickster of Native legend, is represented in some fashion virtually everywhere we look. This isn’t meant to suggest that Arizona is trapped in the 19th century; far from it. Arizona has managed to retain her respect for history, while reaching firmly into the 21st century and beyond.
Phoenix is a prime example of a modern city that still respects its roots. There are constant reminders of Arizona’s rich Native American culture, as evidenced in mosaic murals and architecture. The city is surrounded by three massive mountain ranges situated firmly in the Sonoran Desert, which is one of the most ecologically diverse areas in the U.S. This desert possesses a wide range of plant and animal life that varies depending on altitude and climate. Seven large lakes, within an easy drive of the city, offer a multitude of opportunities for boating, jet skiing, swimming or just floating on an inner tube. If a good solid hike or a trip on a mountain bike is your idea of a good time, feel free to take the challenge offered by several mountain trails.
As we leave Phoenix, heading north on the I-17, roughly an hour away awaits Black Canyon City, which has been home to colorful characters from the Old West such as Jack Swilling, an Indian fighter who turned entrepreneur and developer. This rustic town makes a great staging area for short trips to the nearby Agua Fria National Monument, and the Bradshaw Mountains, as well as the ghost towns of Yavapai County.
Staying on the I-17 leads us into Camp Verde, home to the Sinagua Indian ruins and Fort Verde. It makes for an excellent outdoor vacation, providing a chance to go hunting, fishing, swimming and canoeing. Be sure not to miss the Montezuma’s Castle National Monument along with the Yavapai Cultural Center. Or if you’re looking for a different kind of diversion, try your luck at the Cliff Castle Casino. Further on up the I-17 is Munds Park, a great place to break out the All-Terrain Vehicles and cut loose.
Staying on the I-17, we ultimately reach Flagstaff, a quaint community with the charm of a mountain town, but with big city amenities. Natural forests surround Flagstaff, providing an excellent source of year-round fun. Spring, summer and fall are great times to hike, camp, fish and ride horses, while winter brings snow and the chance to break out the skis, ice skates and sleds. Sleigh rides are even available. Indoor activities include several museums that regale us with tales of Flagstaff and Northern Arizona’s past, as well as the Arboretum and the Lowell Observatory. Nearby activities include the Pine Country Pro Rodeo at the Fort Tuthill Recreation Area, and the Cococino County Fair. Check the website at www.flagstaffchamber.com for further details and scheduling of events.
After Flagstaff, we change our heading, moving southwest on the 89-A, moving into the upscale resort community of Sedona. This town offers some of the finest gourmet food and five-star resorts in all of Arizona. The scenery is nothing short of breathtaking, and one can wake up each morning to the deep red rocks of Boynton Canyon, Oak Creek Canyon and Secret Mountain. If you’re feeling particularly athletic, try hiking to the Secret Mountain Indian ruins. Once you get there, the view is well worth the climb.
The terrain can also be explored by rented Jeep or ATV, and guided tours are available. After a day of outdoor sporting, there are plenty of excellent restaurants all around, some of which serve a delicious Southwest cactus juice margarita. The Tlaquepaque shopping complex is a perfect place to dine and shop, for those whose hunting tastes are decidedly retail.
Cottonwood is just a few miles southwest of Sedona, and is surrounded by majestically jagged mountains, mesas and buttes. The historic Old Town district is a picturesque throwback to the Old West, with several shops and restaurants. It’s a great place to stay while visiting the local ghost towns, historic parks and Indian ruins, as is nearby Jerome. Each city provides a perfect staging area for our desert exploration.
Cruising down the 89-A links us back with the southbound Highway 89, and eventually to the city of Prescott. Prescott has something for everyone’s taste; museums and art galleries, six golf courses, five nearby lakes and 450 miles of hiking trails. Some of the best rock climbing in Arizona can be found at Groom Creek and Granite Mountain, and the Prescott Peavine Trail is one of the most beautifully scenic hikes around. To cool off from the summer sun, take a break in the buffet line at the local Yavapai Casino, or visit Yavapai Downs, a state-of-the-art horse racing center.
An hour’s drive further south on the southbound 89 brings us to the cities of Congress and Wickenburg, either of which is a model spot to pull over and check out some rarely seen natural beauty. The Hassayampa River Preserve is a protected piece of Arizona’s natural environment; the 100-mile long river flows mostly underground, but emerges into our view within the confines of the Preserve, providing a home to several endangered species of wildlife. The nearby Vulture Mine affords us a peek at yesteryear with self-guided tours of the mine and its surroundings, but for a truly awe-inspiring experience, rent a hot air balloon and see the panoramic vistas with a true birds-eye view. Here’s a tip: ride with a loved one at sunset. You’ll be glad you did.
As our trip comes to an end, there’s an opportunity to get in one more bit of water sporting and camping at Lake Pleasant, just a quick trip down Highway 60 to Highway 74. Catch another sunset before reaching the junction of highway 74 and the southbound I-17, which takes us back to our origin point of Phoenix.
But if we want to stretch it out for just one more day, Phoenix is the place to do it…
Other Area Sponsors in Arizona:
Distant Drums RV Resort
Mesa Spirit RV Resort
Orangewood Shadows RV Resort
Pleasant Harbor RV Resort
Pueblo El Mirage RV Resort & Country Club
Silveridge RV Resort
Turquoise Triangle RV Park
Voyager RV Resort