Photo Courtesy of Sven van der Pluijm
From alpine forests to saguaro-framed sunsets, the landscape is inescapable in Arizona. While the state's natural landmarks are the easiest to see, thousands of years of human habitation have also made their mark on the terrain: Many of the canals that irrigate Phoenix follow the contours of the dit…ches that the ancient Hohokam dug a thousand years ago. The unwaveringly sunny weather makes an outdoor lifestyle possible year-round, and a growing food scene means you'll never go hungry. From archaeology to gastronomy, Arizona offers up endless layers to discover. The Grand Canyon is just the beginning.
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Visit October through early May to miss the stifling summer heat. Places like the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley, which are exceedingly popular in the summer, will be quieter in late spring or early fall. If your trip does fall during the summer months, the Mogollon Rim highlands are a cool relief from the heat. Meanwhile, Flagstaff is the perfect winter playground. If you have a winter road trip in mind, remember that snowy road closures are common at higher elevations. No matter when you visit, be prepared for cold nights everywhere in the state.
The two major Arizona airports are in Phoenix and Tucson. By car, I-10 and I-40 are the main East–West routes. El Paso to Tucson is about a four-hour drive, and from Los Angeles to Phoenix is about five and a half hours.
A car—with air-conditioning, and ideally with tinted windows—is an absolute must to get around the state. Always carry extra water.
Spend half a day (or more) at the captivating Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and you’ll see why some call this region the “Galápagos of Southwest.”
In addition to Mexican and cowboy fare, Arizona has a burgeoning local food scene. Higher elevations are home to vineyards and orchards, and citrus fruits and pecans thrive in the heat. Despite the state's desert location, the sea is only a few hours’ drive away, so ceviche and sushi are as popular as chimichangas and steaks. If you want to try Southwest fusion, Tucson and Phoenix are international cities that do the cuisine of many regions well. Save room for a prickly-pear margarita, and remember that guacamole and salsa are as Arizonan as red rocks and cacti.
The historical blend of American Indian, Hispanic, and Anglo cultures gives Arizona (and New Mexico) a unique sense of place and makes it a much more eclectic destination than many realize. Pre-Columbian ruins sit alongside living cattle ranches. The Mission San Xavier del Bac, a masterpiece of baroque desert architecture near Tucson, was founded by the Spanish in the 1690s and is still the parish church for the local Tohono O’odham nation. The state also has some excellent museums, such as the Heard Museum and the Arizona State Museum.
Come spring, baseball training season is a huge draw for sports fans. Anytime of year, the spa scene in Arizona is world class. Arizona also has festivals for every taste and season. Winter brings the Renaissance Festival, Fiesta de los Vaqueros/Tucson Rodeo, Tucson International Gem and Mineral Show, Tucson Festival of Books, and the Fiesta Bowl. Spring sees the Scottsdale Culinary Festival, Tucson International Mariachi Conference, and Country Thunder. Summer is the time for the Annual Festival of Navajo Arts and Culture, Prescott Frontier Days, and the Sedona Hummingbird Festival. In the fall, enjoy grape-stomping at various wineries, the Arizona State Fair, and El Tour de Tucson cycling events.
Summer is jaw-droppingly hot, but you can still enjoy the outdoors: just start at dawn so you can finish well before mid-morning. If you get caught in a sandstorm while driving, pull off the road and turn your lights off. Finally, when in Arizona, burritos are called “burros.”
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Joseph Cyr is a language teacher certified in French and Spanish. After living in Germany, Georgia, Seattle, France, and Nicaragua, Joseph now calls Tucson home. If you spot him on a canyon run, he'll probably have his iPhone in hand. Tastes of place are a constant quest, and his current language-learning project is Korean. His writing and photography have appeared in the Seattle and Tucson newspapers, as well as in mobile photography exhibits. Occasional musings and snapshots can be seen at Allophile.com.