Arizona is a favourite destination for snowbirds and tourists alike – and why not? Sunshine all year round and fantastic scenery invite exploration beyond the golf courses. Here are five sights – other than the Grand Canyon, of course – you won’t want to miss.

Monument Valley
This is the heart of the American West – at least, according to Hollywood. Located in a Navaho reserve on the border of Arizona and Utah, Monument Valley contains the spectacular red buttes and mesas, seemingly endless desert, and arching sky that has become so iconic visitors may find it familiar.

There’s only one road to the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park – US 163, linking Kayenta, AZ with US 181 in Utah. This long empty road leads across flat desert towards the 1,000 foot high red cliffs on the horizon. At the park’s visitor centre tourists can photograph three of the valley’s peaks – East and West Mitten Buttes, and Merrick Butte. To visit the park’s Valley Drive you will need a vehicle suitable for off-road travel, or to hire a guide with one. (Horseback tours are also popular.) Travelling deeper into the park allows th visitor to experience cave and cliff dwellings, natural arches, and petroglyphs.

More information: http://www.navajonationparks.org/htm/monumentvalley.htm

San Xavier del Bac
Located in Tuscon, the San Xavier Del Bac Mission is considered one of the finest examples of mission architecture in the United States. Constructed from 1783-1797, it is a blend of Moorish, Byzantine and late Mexican Renaissance architecture, framed by the earth tones of local hills and dusky backdrop of far-off mountains. It continues to be run by the Franciscans.

Tuscon itself is also worth a look: the New York Times called it “Santa Fe without the cuteness factor” in a 2005 article. Tuscon attractions include the Arizona State Museum and Flandrau Science Center at the University of Arizona, and the Pima Air and Space Museum.

Links:
San Xavier del Bac: http://www.sanxaviermission.org/
Flandrau Science Center: http://www.flandrau.org/
Pima Air and Space Museum: http://www.pimaair.org/

Montezuma Castle Monument
Prehistoric Sinagua Indians lived in this five-level, 20 room cliff dwelling over 600 years ago. One of the best preserved in North America, its impressive lines carved about 70 feet above the ground. Visitors are not allowed to climb up to the ruins, but there is a trail leading past it from the visitor centre and the view is impressive.

Link: http://www.nps.gov/moca/index.htm

Petrified Forest National Park
Celebrating 100 years as a protected area (in 2006), this national park is truly a combination of beauty to be appreciated, and natural wonder for the scientific mind. It features one of the world’s largest concentrations of colour-filled petrified wood, as well as archeological sites and a wide variety of fossils.

The overlooks along the rim provide views of portions of the Painted Desert at the north end of the park, while the south end of the park contains the Rainbow Forest, where visitors can explore trees preserved as stone. There’s also the Painted Desert Inn.

More information: http://www.nps.gov/pefo/

Tombstone
And for a change of pace, visit a truly tourist-oriented attraction – as well as a city of legend. Tombstone personifies the Wild West with legends such as the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. The town today is built largely around tourism and offers buildings still intact from the era, shows, shopping, and old-fashioned saloons. The town also boasts a unique rose tree that is 120 years old and covers an 8,000 square foot arbour.

More information: http://www.cityoftombstone.com/

Photo: Road to Monument Valley ©iStockphoto.com/ Xavier Arnau

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by:
Jennifer Gruden