Arizona

When my son-in-law was stationed in Fort Huachuca in Arizona we had several occasions to visit.

Every time we visited we’d take road trips and day trips from their Sierra Vista home.  We explored many of the natural wonders this desert state has to offer.

When one thinks of Arizona the Grand Canyon immediately comes to mind after all Arizona is sometimes referred to as The Grand Canyon State.  But there is so much more to see in Arizona.
There’s no doubt that the Grand Canyon National Park is a gem, in fact it’s one of the crown jewels of the US National Park System, but Arizona is home to 2 other National Parks along with many National Monuments, Memorials, Heritage Sites, and Trails.

We’ve had the pleasure of visiting several of these sights, and hope to visit more in the future.  Each one is unique with its own beauty.  Here’s some of the National Parks I’ve visited in this state and others I hope to visit.  I hope it inspires you to find your park in Arizona!

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We’ve visited the Grand Canyon National Park countless times, it never fails to awe and inspire me.  Carved by the power of the mighty Colorado River the grandeur of the Grand Canyon has no equal.  The canyon is 10 miles wide and 1 mile deep.

There are many things to see and do at the Grand Canyon.  You can spend days if not weeks wandering around admiring it’s beauty and still not see it all.  A must do if you have limited time is a shuttle bus ride on the canyon’s South Rim, the more accessible side of the canyon.

There are 3 shuttle routes and are free to park guests.  The buses stop along the way at viewpoints and trail heads.  They run every few minutes so you can hop off at any stop and hop back on later or walk to the next stop and catch it from there.  My favorite route is the Red Hermit Road Route.  This starts at the village stop, runs along the historic canyon road making stops along the way to Hermit’s Rest where it loops back to the village.  This route can take 3-4 if you hop off at each of the scenic stops to enjoy the views.

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The “end” of the Red Route is at Hermit’s Rest, is a stone structure built in 1914 at the end of Hermit Road.  It was designed by architect Mary Jane Colter and is one of the four Mary Jane Colter Buildings in the Grand Canyon NP listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

It served as a rest stop for tourists heading to the long gone Hermit Camp.  Today it houses a small gift shop and snack bar.  The veranda overlooks the canyon and has coin operated binoculars that give visitors closer views.

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While at the canyon you’re sure to see wildlife; birds, deer, squirrels, foxes, and more.  The kids always get a kick out of spotting wildlife, many of them appear docile and may walk up to you, but be cautious and photograph them from a safe distance.

If you have more than a few hours you can plan a few days’ stay at one of the lodges or campsites. You can hike, bike, horseback ride, and more.

When you get to the park don’t forget to pick up a free Junior Ranger Program booklet at the visitor center or one of the other places where they are available.  Kids who complete the tasks will can earn Junior Ranger badges.

To plan your trip to the Grand Canyon click here!

For more information on this park and other National Parks check out my post National Park Week – Discover Our National Parks.

Arizona
Courtesy of NPS.gov

The Petrified Forest National Park is located in northeastern Arizona 50 miles from the New Mexico border.  It’s a wonderland of natural beauty and cultural significance. It’s named for the abundance of petrified wood found within its bounderies which spans covers semi-desert regions to the colorful badlands.  It’s known for its fossils, mainly fallen trees that lived in the Triassic period some 250 million years ago, and for the color formations known as the Painted Dessert.

Along with plant fossils dinosaur fossils have also been found in the park including that of phytosaurs.  The park also has hundreds of archeological sites including petroglyphs and Native American structures.

There are many things to do in the park.  You can hike its 7 maintained trails or any of its back country trails.  You can visit historic sites, museums, exhibits, and more and participate in ranger led activities.  If you don’t have a lot of time you can drive thru the park on the paved roads and stop at the scenic viewpoints.

There are no lodges or campgrounds within the park and overnight parking is prohibited.  However you can obtain a free camping pass and backpack in the wilderness area.   There is a diner in the park for meals and a convenience store and snack shop.

To plan your visit to the Petrified Forest National Park click here!

Get your FREE Petrified Forest National Park Junior Ranger Booklet here!

Arizona

The Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona is home to the country’s largest cacti.  Known worldwide as the symbol of the American West these giant cactus lives only in a small portion of the country and many of them are protected within the park’s boundery.

The park is divided in 2 districts separated by the modern city of Tucson.  The districts are 30 miles apart – the Tucson Mountain District west of Tucson and the Rincon Mountain District to the east.

The western district boasts large strands of the majestic cactus creating a breathtaking landscape of Saguaro Cactus.
The eastern district has a sky island where bears, cougars, and the elusive coati can be found.

There are many things to do in both districts.  You can drive around on the paved roads, both districts have loop roads with pullouts where you can stop to enjoy the view or begin your hike thru the maze of giant cactus.
You can hike, bike, mountain bike, horseback,  picnic, and join a ranger led activity.

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There are no lodgings, campgrounds, or restaurants in this park.  There are several picnic areas along the loop road as well as restrooms.  The visitor center has a small gift shop and vending machines outside for drinks.

It’s a great park to visit for the day, try to stay til evening to see the amazing sunset over the Sonoran desert.

To plan your trip to Saguaro National Park click here!

Don’t forget to get your Junior Ranger booklet at the visitor center!

Arizona

The Coronado National Memorial in Hereford, Arizona interprets and commemorates Francisco Vasquez de Coronado’s expedition and the resulting influences of Spain’s exploration in the Americas.

The Memorial doesn’t preserve any artifacts instead it invites visitors to reflect on the impact that Coronado’s expedition had in shaping the culture and history of America’s southwest and its lasting ties to Mexico and Spain.

The Memorial’s location is on the path Coronado likely took on his expedition.  It’s situated on the border between southern Arizona and Mexico.  The scenic overlook provides panoramic views of Sonora, Mexico and the San Pedro River.

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A visit to this park can begin at the visitor center and include a drive or hike up to Coronado Peak.
There are 5 hiking trails in this park, 2 of them, the Coronado Peak and Joe’s Canyon Trails are part of the National Trail System and are designated as National Recreation Trails.  The Yaqui Ridge and Crest Trails are part of the larger Arizona National Scenic Trail system that stretches nearly 800 miles from the US-Mexico border to the Arizona-Utah border.  The
Coronado Cave Trail leads to the cave located 1/2 mile from the trail head.

Adventurous folks can go caving in the Coronado Cave.  Cavers must be able to scramble down rocky slopes 25 feet to the cave floor and bring at least 2 sources of light as it is very dark at the back of the cave.  There are ranger led tours in to the cave.

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Other activities include bird watching, picnicking, and auto touring.  The picnic area is close to the visitor center and there are shaded picnic tables and restroom facilities at the scenic overlook.

To plan your visit to the Coronado National Memorial click here!

You might make a note to remember to turn off your cell phones while at the overlook.  It’s so close to Mexico and your phone may pick up international roaming fee.  Mine did and I never set foot in Mexico!

Arizona
Courtesy of NPS.com

Canyon De Chelly National Monument  is located in Chinle, Arizona.  The park sits entirely in the Navajo Nation with families living on tribal land.

The Navajo Nation unlike the rest of the state observes Daylight Savings Time.  When visiting this park between March and November you will be 1 hour ahead of  Arizona time.

The park has 2 paved scenic rim roads with overlooks that provide excellent views of the canyon below.  Both routes allow self drive tours.

You can go on a self-guided hike on the park’s only hiking trail which begins at an overlook on the South Rim and goes down 600 feet into the canyon before it loops back up.  You can also join a ranger guided tour.

For further exploration of the canyon whether on foot, motor vehicle, or horseback you will have to make arrangements with private companies who provide canyon tours.  Back country tours require a permit.

Camping is allowed at the Cottonwood Campgrounds and permits must be obtained from the Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation.

To plan your visit to Canyon De Chelly National Monument click here!

These are just a few of the wonderful parks in Arizona, there are many other National Parks, Monuments, and Historic sites around the state; not to mention many State Parks including Kartchner Caverns, Parker Canyon Lake, and Patagonia Lake just to name a few.

Arizona is rich in natural wonders and is home to many cultural and historic sites.  It definitely should be on your travel bucket list.