[Lower Ribbon Falls in the Grand Canyon – another reason to hike to the bottom, instead of just checking out the rim!]
In my humble (aka always right) opinion, Arizona is such an underrated state and vastly misunderstood. (At least it was by me?)
[Look at all those lush desert plants! And that beautiful red desert rock! And that kinda sorta desert sunset! Side notes: Desert sunsets really are some of the most beautiful! This was near Saguaro National Park]
Like, did you know that not all of Arizona is desert (which is what I originally assumed #dontassume) and that it actually SNOWS in some parts? Like what.
[Yes, that white stuff is snow. In Arizona. And one of the many many reasons Flagstaff is s’cool: its extensive urban trail system! Also known as FUTS (Flagstaff Urban Trail System)]
With that said, here are my favorite places (that I’ve been so far – I really want to go back and explore more of northern AZ! Mainly just bc northern AZ is more my jam – I’m not as much of a desert DESERT person).
FLAGSTAFF IS THE PERFECT MOUNTAIN TOWN
[Classic urban trail scene in Flagstaff; it’s full of Ponderosa Pines]
One of the cutest and coolest mountain towns ever, so beautiful and basically set up right in the middle of nature. I ‘lived’ here for a little bit while I was in the conservation corps. I say ‘lived’ because, even though I was in the conservation corps for three months, I was only in Flag (as the cool kids call it) for a total of about 4 weeks since I was sent to different places to work. Which was awesome – I’d highly recommend the conservation corps! I got to travel a ton (although we were paid very little haha) and have unique experiences that you wouldn’t get as a typical tourist!
[Unfortunately, I am a poo and I didn’t get a better picture of downtown Flagstaff, but just know it’s full of cool buildings like this]
But ANYWAYS. Back to Flag – so it’s such a cute town with a cool community. It snows here in the winter and is abundant with Ponderosa Pines. I would def come back and live there again! Also it’s only about an hour and a half away from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon!
[Check out those supercool, vibrant colors!]
This is such a cool place right outside of Flagstaff. It’s a cinder cone (or a “steep conical hill of loose pyroclastic fragments, i.e. volcanic ash” – taken from Wikipedia) with the actual crater located inside the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument.
You can’t actually go see into the crater – apparently, there used to be a trail but due to damage from hikers, they closed it – but you can go to the base!
[The San Francisco Peaks in the background]
And even though you can’t see into the crater, you get really amazing views like the one above! The mountains are just beautiful and when you add in trees and volcanic amazingness it’s like yeahhhhhssssss!
[Volcanic rock is soooo cool]
THE GRAND CANYON WAS EVERYTHING I THOUGHT & MORE
[The Grand Canyon on the South Rim side]
[Bottom of the Canyon closer to the North Rim – it’s a little more ‘lush’ than the South Rim]
DUH. Like if you go to AZ and DON’T see the Grand Canyon did you even go? And what are you doing with your life?
I really enjoyed my experience there as I felt like I got the best of both worlds: I did a day trip from Flag to visit the South Rim, and then worked on the trail close to the North Rim and bottom of the canyon for the conservation corps (FYI: it takes about 4 hours to drive from one rim to the other because you have to go all the freaking way around).
[View of the South Rim – more desert-like than the North Rim]
That was a really awesome experience because the North Rim was closed at the time for the winter (it snows in the Grand Canyon, too!) so the only people we came across were ones that were hiking in or running from the South Rim (about 24 miles all the way across! They are insane). The top of the North Rim was still FREEZING but the bottom of the canyon was a lot warmer. We got to stay in the ranger bunk, but it was also warm enough that we cowboy camped outside on the helipad for a few nights.
[The South Rim of the Grand Canyon during sunset]
SEDONA IS FULL OF MAGIC
[Okay Sedona you can stop being so freaking pretty all the damn time; actually, on second thought, don’t because I want to keep staring at you in the most non-creepy way possible]
I could not say enough about Sedona. It really is one of the most epic, unique, and beautiful places. You should DEF go, and the drive from Sedona to Flag is absolutely gorgeous.
And it really is full of magic – so many people are drawn to Sedona due to its spiritual aura. So many people talk about “vortexes” in Sedona that are supposed to make you feel spiritually enlightened and healed and meditative. They’re areas where concentrations of energy make you feel alive.
I didn’t necessarily feel that, but I also didn’t try to seek out an vortexes, either. But there’s definitely something about Sedona that resets you, and makes you feel more alive and centered – although I attribute that to the beautiful surroundings more so than the energy. But who knows – you have to experience it for yourself!
[A pathway in Sedona]
I would highly recommend the Devil’s Bridge hike (pretty easy) but go early or later in the afternoon! It gets crazy busy. And don’t do it in the summer unless you go super early, as it’ll be HOT. And crowded. Otherwise, I’d recommend just driving around and exploring, and hiking random trails like the Chuckwagon Trail or the Courthouse/Bell Rock trail. Most of the trails in the area are 5 miles or less, with many of them being under 3 miles. They’re all pretty easy – at least the ones I’ve done, on pretty level trails with not too much incline.
[Yes, you walk out in the middle of that bridge, and don’t worry, it’s much thicker than it looks! Also, you can’t see it because I cropped it out, but on the right side of the image there’s a line of people waiting to get their photo taken on the bridge]
I’d highly recommend a cloudy/rainy day as the cliffs look so much more epic, and it was a ghost town.
[Look at that epic moodiness]
CHIRICAHUA IS LIKE NOTHING YOU’VE SEEN BEFORE
[LOOK AT THIS PLACE]
This is such a cool, unique place! The ‘hoodoos’ are super awesome. We went on Easter and it was pretty empty. However, we did find a random gigantic stuffed pink horse on the side of the road, and my friend thought it would be a great idea to pick it up and attach it to her backpack – we got a lot of weird looks.
Like Sedona, this is another place where I just felt alive and energized. There’s something about looking at those beautiful and bizarre hoodoos. To be honest, I think there’s just something about the Southwest in general that’s different from anywhere else.
BISBEE IS THE CUTEST PLACE IN THE WORLD
[Check out those western-inspired buildings thoooo]
Another cute little town. I’m obsessed with cute little towns, if you can’t tell. I’m also obsessed with its old, western style buildings and artist hippie feel (it was a haven for them back in the 60’s!).
[Staircase #3 of the Great Stair Climb; right next to a cute little bookstore]
It’s also kind of like a treasure hunt, as there are a bunch of hidden staircases that you can walk around and find. There are 9 of them, and every year there’s a race where you have to run up every single one and suffer in the name of who knows what. Super cool. If you’re into suffering and being out of breath.
[Even the alleyways in Bisbee are perfect]
If you end up gettin your ass on over to this gem of a town, I’d recommend just walking around. It’s suuuuper small (I felt like I was able to see pretty much all of it in a day, although I’d have happily spent a few days there bc of its charming, laid back vibe) so you can cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time. I’d suggest wandering around, popping into all of the cool antique-y shops, stopping at the brewery, and finding alllll the staircases (which pretty much gives you a nice little tour in itself).
[Buildings on the side of a hill in Bisbee]
SAGUARO NATIONAL PARK
[View from one of the visitor centers in the park – I think it was the Rincon Mountain one, but I’m not 100% positive]
The desert is just unlike anything else. I’ve never really been a desert person (more into trees & forests tbh), but I kinda did fall for it a little when I was working in AZ. There’s just something so mysterious and mystical about the desert. I’m not really sure what it is, but it’s just this quiet serenity that’s unlike anything else I’ve experienced.
[Classic cacti scene in Arizona]
You should definitely camp there if you can (but hopefully not in the summer or else you probably won’t come back, because you’ll be dead). I’d also attempt to see a sunrise and sunset (easy peasy if you’re camping) because it’s just so beautiful. There’s just something so still, so serene about desert landscapes and mountains.
[Prickly Pear Cacti blooms!! So pretty]
I would highly recommend visiting in the spring to see all the cacti blooming – so so so prettyyyyyyy. Plus, then you’re more likely to see wildlife with their babies! We saw Javelina and their reds (aka babies), a pregnant Gila Monster, so many birds, etc.
I also really enjoyed the houses in Scottsdale. So many southwestern style homes, all unique yet still maintaining a cohesive vibe. I also loved the cacti in everyone’s yards! Very cool that so many people didn’t try to fight the AZ climate and try and grow grass (so much water wasted!). And also I just LOVE cacti and succulents, and love to look at them especially since I somehow manage to kill all of mine. If you’re going to southern Arizona, I would highly recommend staying in Scottsdale over Phoenix! It’s much nicer, in my opinion, there’s a ton of hiking nearby, and it’s only about 20ish minutes from Phoenix.
Can we also talk really quick about the crazy awesome summer storms that occur during summertime aka monsoon season (mostly July/August)?? They come out of nowhere and are soooooo cool. Like one second it’s still and quiet and the next it’s pouring rain with thunder and lightning. I LOVE.
PLACES I MISSED
By Uploaded by Meckimac [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons
This is Lower Antelope Canyon – you can also go to Upper Antelope Canyon (which is a little cheaper), but you should choose Lower if you want those pretty sun beams! And pick a photography tour as you get more time in the Canyon (andddd I’d recommend seeing another part of the canyon as well – apparently Antelope Canyon gets crazy crowded, so some tours offer packages with other areas that you’ll have to yourself). Also, book early! I booked our spot on a Monday at the end of April in early March and pretty much everything was already sold out! Eeeeek so pretty and cool and awesome and ahhhhh. (Going to see this in May!)
By Mark Reed – original photo, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1705983
I’ve been wanting to go here since I heard about it 2 years ago, and I finally got a spot this year!!! I am SO FREAKING EXCITED. It was a crazy process getting the reservation though – I hopped on my computer on Feb 1 at 7:00AM (8:00AM in AZ) right when reservations opened. I had a few weeks in mind that I knew would work with my work schedule, and crossed my fingers real hard. At first, the online system wasn’t working, so I was just calling on my phone and refreshing the page – 10 minutes later I realized opening another browser would probably be a GREAT idea (I was using Chrome! So, don’t use Chrome). I opened it in Safari and it worked fine! Of course, by then, a bunch of dates were already taken – so I started clicking on available ones like a madman. Every time I would refresh the page, different dates would become available, since people on the phone were having dates held and other people online were trying, too. It took 4 tries and 45 minutes before I finally got the ones I wanted!! The first 2, it said there was a network error – then the last one said my dates were no longer available. I was literally about to text my friend and tell her it wasn’t going to work this year, but decided to try ONE more time – and it finally finally worked!! I literally shouted in my room I was so excited.
Lobineau at Italian Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
Another difficult place to get to! You have to enter a permit lottery, basically. But so pretty!
By John Fowler from Placitas, NM, USA (White Pocket Uploaded by PDTillman) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
If you can’t get to The Wave, this is a popular second choice! You need high clearance and 4-wheel drive to get here, though, unless you want to pay for transportation through a guide service; and then, most people get a guide to take them around. It looks amazing, and well worth it, though! If we’d had an extra day, I definitely would’ve made us check this spot out, too.
I, Luca Galuzzi [CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
It’s free, easy to get to, and looks legit. Finally going here on my AZ trip to Havasupai and Antelope Canyon! Yay for hitting all the tourist spots haha. We’re going to try and go for sunrise, instead of sunset, and hopefully avoid the ridiculous hordes of tourists that flock here for sunset pics.
By Coconino National Forest [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
Waterfalls and other prettiness. You can also swim in it, which is a majorrrr plus. Unfortunately, it’s getting more popular as a daytime party spot for local AZ-ers. Come on y’all – keep it clean and beautiful for the creatures that live there, and so other people can continue to enjoy its’ loveliness!
[Random road in between Sunset Crater and Wupakti National Monument]
So, I’m pretty much definitely going back to Arizona! I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did, but now it definitely has a place in my stone cold heart. I’m sure there are like 1043485748 other beautiful places that I don’t even realize exist, especially in northern AZ. Ugh, I’d move back to Flag any day! It’s the definition of the perfect town for me – small, but not too small; bike-able; basically right smack dab in the middle of nature; varied and beautiful surroundings; snow but not toooo much; mountainous; really pretty with unique houses; small but fun downtown – list goes on. Only thing I’d wish for is to be a little closer to the ocean, and maybe for a little more rain. But, it’s definitely a place I wouldn’t mind living in again!
[More of the Grand Canyon’s beautiful colors]