Arizona Roaming – Monuments and Desert SitesApril 19, 2012 No Comments
Arizona has often been a state I drove through on our way to say, Utah, or New Mexico. For years people have told me there is a lot more to see here than the sun drenched pools of Phoenix, the music scene of Tucson, or the red rocks and vortexes of Sedona. So on a recent family trip, we decided to check out a few of the less explored areas of the state, and were rewarded with a great time and some wonderful sights.
Our first stop was the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument outside of Flagstaff, Arizona. Uncrowded, this enormous and apparently not often discovered crater is a beauty of lichen covered black rock. The Lava Flow trail is an easy one mile loop that lets kids get up close and personal with volcanic formations. Steeper, and best suited for children over five is The Lenox Crater Trail. It’s much tougher going up – and takes about a half an hour to climb the cinder cone. Going down took us less than fifteen minutes. The trail is just under a mile. We enjoyed it and found the steep walk well worth it, but if the weather is hot, you may want to stick with the Lava Flow trail.
Wupatki National Monument
Not far away from Sunset Crater is Wupatki National Monument. Amid the rocks and boulders you’ll find a series of ancient pueblo ruins. My kids were fascinated exploring the largest, Wupatki Pueblo. In the 12th century, this massive dwelling contained about a hundred rooms for that many residents. Think of it as an early apartment building. All of the pueblos are reached via simple, less than a quarter mile trails.
Glen Canyon Recreation Area – Views and Trails
Our next stop was a part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Horseshoe Bend is accessible on a quiet, easy, less than a mile trail and leads to a cliff view of the Colorado River, a thousand feet below. Along the river, red and orange rocks ride up from the tree lined banks. It’s a lovely sight, like a small, relatively quiet Grand Canyon.
The Colorful Petrified Forest
One of our favorite stops on our wanderings was right off Highway 40. The Petrified Forest is a collection of trees long buried and covered with quartz from the sediment under which they were trapped about two hundred million years ago. My kids were impressed by their age, and very much enjoyed the twenty-eight mile road that meanders through the “forest.” There were plenty of places to pull out, snap a photo, and stretch our legs. Kachina Point was one such over look, and we also enjoyed taking a short hike on the Blue Mesa Trail, which leads into the painted desert’s badlands. Colorful chunks of petrified wood are everywhere. Newspaper Rock is an even more rewarding stop, with over six hundred petroglyphs. Both trails are paved and easy to traverse. The following articles provides more details: Lots of Rocks: Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.
Our last destination was Meteor Crater, also off Interstate 40. It’s described as the best preserved meteor crater on Earth, and it’s certainly impressive. It was the result of an asteroid and Earth meeting up about fifty thousand years ago. At a mile across and over five hundred feet deep, we enjoyed strolling its circumference, and the kids also enjoyed the slightly hokey Collision and Impact Film showing in the visitor’s center.
The enormous crater sits on private land, and the exhibits in the visitors center have a less educational feel than those in the national parks and monuments visitors center. It’s also a slightly expensive attraction at $15 per adult.
Flagstaff for the Night
Staying in Flagstaff, we enjoyed the historic Monte Vista in downtown’s historic district. The rooms were large, the staff was friendly, and the atmosphere, replete with ghost stories, fit our theme of exploring Arizona’s attractions. Before leaving the area the next day, we checked out the Museum of Northern Arizona. The exhibits here helped put the natural wonders and archeological history we’d see in perspective. We were particularly interested in The Old Courtyard’s Life Zone Exhibit, which presented interactive information about the Colorado Plateau’s climate along a Nature Trail and Amphibian Pond. Indoors, Hopi Indian pottery and a mural were highlights.
Dining in Flagstaff can be a bit hit or miss, but we enjoyed the pizzas and fondue at Beaver Street Brewery a lot. Fondue? That’s right, fondue. The delicious and unexpected cheese concoction was served with both bread cubes and veggies for dipping and was a big hit with all of us.
We were thrilled to discover there was so much to see off the beaten path in Arizona. Coming from Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, or Phoenix, it’s pretty simple to fit in all of these attractions by extending your trip just a day or two. From black lava to ancient pueblos, it was a fascinating journey, and both the kids and I felt as if we were discovering new territory and attractions, highway close and worlds away from Phoenix.