Arizona is what the Old West is about. From gunfights in Tombstone, to old Army forts in Indian country and the Territorial Prison in Yuma, the 48th state has it all. It also contains some of America’s most stunning scenic sites, such as the Grand Canyon and the magnificent saguaro cactus that is a symbol of the Old West. It also has hundreds of museums and art galleries, and amenities that will suit all travelers whether they revel in hiking or luxury hotels. Visitors can see a lot of this state in a series of day trips from Phoenix.
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Bisbee is an old copper mining town south of Tombstone. Victorian homes are nestled on a hillside above an old downtown area that is filled with antique shops and boutiques. A stop at the Copper Queen Hotel is a must for fans of author J.A. Jance who set her Sheriff Joanna Brady murder mysteries in the Bisbee area. A mining museum, with equipment on the lawn, is just below the hotel; remains of the open pit copper mine are on the other side of the highway. Parking in old Bisbee is limited; visitors should be prepared to park on the highway and walk into town.
Surrounded by the world’s largest ponderosa pine forest, Flagstaff’s 7,000-foot (2,000 meter) elevation offers visitors something to do through all four seasons, from snow sports such as skiing and snowboarding in the winter to hiking and rock climbing in the summer; visitors can also just sit back and enjoy Flagstaff’s scenic beauty. It also offers motorists the opportunity to drive America’s highway, historic Route 66. Flagstaff also offers visitors a wide variety of museums where they can learn more about the Old West and Native American culture.
Situated about 90 miles (145 km) from Phoenix, Jerome is a former copper mining town that was once considered the wickedest town in the west because of its “prostitution row.” Sitting at an elevation of 5,200 feet (1,600 meters), Jerome was once the fourth largest town in the Arizona Territory; today, it is considered the largest ghost town in the United States, with tourists far outnumbering the town’s 450 residents. Draws include an old copper mine, historic buildings and a thriving arts community as well as seeing a town that sits on a hill so steep that buildings sometimes slide down it.
Montezuma Castle features one of America’s best-preserved cliff dwellings. Dating back to the 12th century and used by the Sinagua civilization, this five-story structure of 20 rooms resembles an ancient high-rise apartment complex. Although European-Americans named it after the Aztec emperor, the dwelling actually predates the birth of Montezuma II by 100 years. The site features a visitor center and museum that displays an assortment of relics and artifacts. Montezuma Castle is a great experience and a good place to stretch the legs when traveling between Phoenix and Sedona.
Filled with a variety of cactus, including the iconic saguaro, the Sonora Desert has a beauty all its own. The desert, which stretches across southern Arizona and California into Mexico, is best visited in the spring when temperatures are substantially cooler than the 120 degrees they reach in the summer. Visitors who want a closer look than driving by on the freeway can take off-road vehicle tours out of Phoenix or do a self-guided tour at the Sonoran Desert National Monument. Tucson offers Saguaro National Park as well as the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum with groomed trails.
Tombstone, the town deemed too tough to die, is a must-see destination in southern Arizona. Located about 180 miles (290 km) from Phoenix, Tombstone is most famous for being the site of the gunfight at the OK Corral, in which the Earp brothers took on a gang of outlaws. There’s a charge to see a re-enactment of this famous fight, but gunfights, that are free, take place several times a day on Old Tombstone’s main street. Tombstone also is home to Boot Hill cemetery, where gunslingers and townspeople alike are buried on a hill overlooking the desert.
Forget the modern interstates where vehicles whiz by on 75 mph freeways. The Apache Trail, also known as State Route 88, is Arizona’s oldest highway, starting out as a stagecoach trail through Apache Indian country. The road starts at Apache Junction, part of the greater Phoenix area, running through the Superstition Mountains of the Lost Dutchman legend and Tonto National Forest. Some of the road is narrow and unpaved, winding through the mountains, with not a lot of guardrails or other safety barriers, making it unsuitable for RVs and large vehicles.
Arizona is known as the Grand Canyon state after the magnificent natural wonder than runs through its north. The canyon is aptly named, too, since it is up to 18 miles wide and more than a mile deep in places. Almost two billion years in the making, the Colorado River, which carved out the canyon, is but a thin ribbon lying at the canyon bottom. The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is the nearest rim to Phoenix though it is still about 4 hours driving. So it can be done in an (exhausting) day trip from Phoenix, it would probably be more enjoyable to spend the night at a South Rim hotel. Another option is to take an organized tour so you don’t have to drive yourself.
Surrounded by stunning red rock formations and national forests, Sedona is popular with outdoor enthusiasts who like to hike, bike and ride off-road vehicles through scenic terrain. Considered sacred by Native Americans, Sedona is also a place to visit to become spiritually renewed or to indulge in luxury spa treatments. Named by USA Weekend as one of the most beautiful places in America, Sedona boasts more than 40 art galleries and a growing wine industry. Sedona is located just 115 miles (185 km) from Phoenix, making it an especially tempting day trip.