Top Ten Arizona Highlights – Northern AZ

As part of my summer blog posts, I thought it would be fun to highlight a few attractions in our great state of Arizona. While I have focused on northern AZ for this post, I realize that in the future I will have to shift my gaze southward to give equal coverage. The varied topography and climates of Arizona, the 6th largest state in the union, is something to behold, and I hope to inspire more to visit and admire.

Many in my top ten are located on the Navajo reservation, a vast part of AZ that encompasses approximately 25% of our state. A fun fact is that the Navajo reservation observes Daylight Savings Time while the rest of AZ does not. So keep this in mind when planning your tours.

I don’t feel one can take in the Southwest United States without appreciating the cultures of the Native Americans. While Native Americans are surrounded by modernism and the advancement of technology, they hold on to their traditions, culture and history. There is no better introduction to this than a visit to Canyon de Chelly.

CANYON DE CHELLY

Spider Rock is quite possibly the most iconic rock formation in Canyon de Chelly.

Pronounced “de Shay”, Canyon de Chelly is located near the town of Chinle in northeastern Arizona, and is a sandstone canyon containing many ruins of early indigenous tribes, including the Anasazi and the Navajo. De Chelly offers a unique insight into the present day life of the Navajo, approximately 40 families of which still inhabit and cultivate the valley floor.

Access to the canyon floor is restricted, and visitors are allowed to travel in the canyons only when accompanied by a park ranger or an authorized Navajo guide.  Private Navajo-owned companies offer tours of the canyon floor by horseback, hiking or 4-wheel drive vehicle. The only exception to this rule is the White House Ruin Trail, a 2.5 mile round trip trail from White House Overlook to the White House Ruins. For more on our trip, see my blog post here.

The Anasazi Ruins at Antelope House in Canyon de Chelly.

HOPI MESAS

Third Mesa

To see the mesas of the Hopi reservation, you have to go to Tuba City for a guided tour, as access is granted only with a Native American guide. First, Second, and Third Mesas are united by a system of villages. The village of Old Oraibi was established in 1100, making the mesas the oldest continuously inhabited dwellings in North America. Most are built in the adobe style of the Hopi Indians, and are centered around the religious ceremonial room called a kiva. Many of the homes do not have access to electricity or sewage, but this is intentional, while a few have solar panels. For the most part, photography is forbidden in the villages, as we were told that photography steals the soul. Which means you will just have to drive there to experience it for yourself. For my complete Hopi Mesa blog post, click on this link here.

ANTELOPE CANYON

Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon located on the Navajo Reservation in Northern Arizona outside the city of Page.  It can be visited exclusively through guided tours, in part because rains during monsoon season can quickly flood the canyon.  The issue is that rain does not have to fall on or near the area, as rain falling dozens of miles away upstream can funnel into the canyon with little notice.  A few recent drownings have captured the media’s attention, and visits to Antelope Canyon, as well as to the many slot canyons in the area, are highly regulated.

Antelope Canyon is wildly popular now, and even if you book the first tour at the crack of dawn like we did, you are not guaranteed privacy.  However, the tour guides do their best to navigate around the other tours, and can even help you photograph the beauty of this natural cathedral.  Most guides are amateur photographers, and regardless of the time of day, will set up some pretty spectacular photos. For more photos and the name of our tour guide, see my blog post here.

HORSESHOE BEND

The name, Horseshoe Bend, was inspired by its unusual shape, a horseshoe-shaped meander of the Colorado River located four miles southwest of Page, AZ, off US Route 89 within the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

There is a 3/4 mile trail from the parking lot that is steep in some areas and there is little shade , so bring water despite the short distance. Oh, and bring the camera too.

Because of its Instagram fame, Horseshoe Bend attracts sizeable crowds to the single parking lot that serves the area. There is an entry fee of $10 per vehicle to park in the newly expanded lot. And take note: although Horseshoe Bend is part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, National Park Service passes are not accepted. There is also a barrier to prevent tourists from slipping off the edge after having lost 4 within the year. But other than the crowds and the possibility of falling to your death, it is a total must-see!

GRAND FALLS

There was not a lot of water the year we trekked to Grand Falls, making more of a Grand Trickle, but stunning nonetheless.

Located 30 miles northeast of Flagstaff near Leupp on the Navajo Reservation, Grand Falls boasts a vertical drop of 180 feet, which would ostensibly make it higher than that of Niagara Falls at 165 feet. This majestic waterfall with multiple terraces dumps the muddy water of the Little Colorado off of its Grand Canyon-esque cliffs. Monsoon rains or snowmelt will produce a spectacular viewing, but sadly when we were there it was just a trickle. To find it, do NOT let your GPS guide you or you will get lost. Buy a map (remember those?) from a gas station to find the dirt road off Hwy 99. Once you have arrived, there is a series of benches and viewing platforms, but you must have a permit from the Navajo Nation to take the 1/2 mile trail to the base of the falls. All in all, a great side trip. But don’t forget your map and a 4 wheel drive!

PETRIFIED FOREST

The entrance to the Petrified Forest National Park off Highway 180.
Having fun along the Blue Mesa Trail.

Located off Highway 180 east of the town of Holbrook is the south entrance to the Petrified Forest National Park.  The main park road stretches 28 miles, with stops and spurs along the way.  I would suggest planning several hours, if not a whole day to explore it all.  Bring your own food and snacks, and purchase some sort of guide or audio tape to enhance the experience.  We stopped at a few overlooks, but the highlight for us was the mile walk through the Blue Mesa Trail.  

The park road then winds around a section of Interstate 40, where the north entrance to the park is located, offering stunning views of the Painted Desert.  A interesting stop is the Painted Desert Inn, a 1920’s building that was made of petrified wood with murals by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie located near the north entrance of the park off I-40.

www.nps.gov/pefo

HARVEY HOTELS

Fred Harvey was a restauranteur credited with creating the first restaurant chain in the US and of promoting tourism in the Southwest. He also built and renovated a series of landmark hotels along the railroad route, such as La Fonda in Santa Fe, the Painted Desert Inn in Holbrook, La Posada in Winslow, and El Tovar in the Grand Canyon, to name just a few. He was a man with a vision ahead of its time, offering “Indian Detours” out of some of the hotels, such as La Posada in Winslow. Guests were supplied with a Cadillac, a picnic lunch and a driver to tour the sites, canyons and monuments of the Hopi and Navajo Nations.

La Posada, in Winslow, and El Tovar, on the south rim of the Grand Canyon, are still both alive and well, and worth the detour to admire the history and the beauty of the area. It is from the comforts of La Posada that we explored the Hopi Mesas and Meteor Crater. It is also close to the Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert. Plus, haven’t you always wanted to stand on a corner in Winslow, AZ? For more fab photos and detail, see my post here.

“Standin’ on a corner in Winslow, AZ…”

GRAND CANYON

Ok, so Arizona is the Grand Canyon State, and therefore by default on this top ten list. It is the mother of all canyons, or as Hubby would say, “They don’t call it the so-so canyon”. It is utterly spectacular. I wrote a longer post that you can read here for some facts about the canyon, the North and the South Rims, and different ways to enjoy the vistas.

On my most recent hike into the canyon there was snow on the rim.

SEDONA

Sedona is an easy 115-mile drive up I-17 north of Phoenix.  My earliest memories of Sedona are from graduate school, when we would just pop up there for the day to sample margaritas and cactus fries.  Later in life, it has become a place we go to celebrate anniversaries or Valentine’s Day.  There are many lovely hotels in which to stay, including the most famous, the Enchantment Resort, with the relaxing Mii Amo spa, and the L’Auberge de Sedona, situated right in the heart of Sedona on Oak Creek.  Beautiful hikes, great food, and friendly people…Sedona has it all.

Watch out…hiking Sedona with dogs (white ones, at least) is messy business!

METEOR CRATER

Meteor Crater was formed 50,000 years ago when the area was a giant grassland populated by wooly mammoths and giant ground soothes. A meteor slammed into the Earth creating a crater with a diameter of three-quarters of a mile. It remains the world’s best-preserved and first proven examples of a large impact crater, and a valuable laboratory for research into the origins and the evolution of our solar system. Located off Interstate 40 about 37 miles east of Flagstaff, the Meteor Crater is, IMHO, super fun for the family to see. That about wraps it up…shoot me a comment about where you hope to visit this summer, and happy exploring!! XoM

Honorable Mentions:

There is so much to see in AZ that it was hard to whittle it down to 10. Some honorable mentions from my readers were Flagstaff, Show Low, and Pinetop, all wonderful places I hope to explore more in depth in the coming year! Again, if you have a comment, please feel free to include it below and I will get back to you with some witty comment, no doubt.

All photos by Marci Symington for TEXAZTASTE.COM.

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