Category Archives: Arizona

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Overview

In the heart of the Navajo Nation in northeast Arizona lies Canyon de Chelly National Monument.  Humans have inhabited this area for 4,500 years, leaving behind numerous pictographs and the dramatic ruins of Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings.  The Navajo arrived in this region around AD1700 with sheep they gained from Spanish colonists which they utilized to weave intricate wool blankets.  Wars with the Utes, Spanish, Mexicans, and then U.S. government eventually led to their forced migration (“The Long Walk”) to Bosque Redondo in New Mexico around 1864.

Highlights

Spider Rock Overlook, White House Ruin, guided vehicle tours, horseback tours

Must-Do Activity

Four years after being forced to the uninhabitable Bosque Redondo, the Navajo were granted the largest reservation in the country and families still inhabit Canyon de Chelly (pronounced “d’shay”) to this day.  The 84,000-acre National Monument is administered cooperatively with the National Park Service (NPS).  However, entrance into the canyon is limited to guided trips and one publicly accessible trail that drops 500 feet to White House Ruin.  Overlooks along the North and South Rim Drives (17 and 18 miles respectively) are free and open year-round, though.  It not only seems like everything runs on a different clock here, but, unlike the rest of Arizona (and now New Mexico), the Navajo Nation observes Daylight Savings Time, so is always an hour later in the summer months (the same time as New Mexico until the fall).

Best Trail

White House Ruin was inhabited AD1060-1275 and is named for the white plaster used to coat the wall in the upper dwelling.  The 2.5-mile roundtrip White House Trail drops down the canyon wall and cuts through a tunnel.

Instagram-worthy Photo

At the end of South Rim Drive is 800-foot tall Spider Rock, a great spot to watch the sun set, which is an ideal time to photograph the canyon’s red sandstone walls.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/cach/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Note that there is typically a time difference because Arizona and New Mexico do not observe Daylight Savings Time.

Fees

There is no entrance fee for the North and South Rim Drives, but guided tours into the canyon do charge admission.

Road Conditions

All roads open to the public are paved, but guided tours can be very bumpy since they use the canyon bottom as a road.

Camping

The NPS runs Cottonwood Campground with 96 spaces (and running water in the summer) in a grove of Fremont cottonwood trees that turn yellow in the late autumn.  Guided camping trips in the canyon are also available.

Related Sites

Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)

Navajo National Monument (Arizona)

Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site (Arizona)

Explore More – How many millions of years ago did sand dunes turn into Canyon de Chelly’s red sandstone?

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Overview

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area encompasses 1.2-million acres surrounding the snaky shoreline of Lake Powell, named for geologist John Wesley Powell who led a mapping expedition down the Colorado River in 1869.  The reservoir was formed by the Glen Canyon Dam, which was built between 1956-63 to store water for the Southwestern U.S. and generate hydroelectricity.  The damming was controversial because it destroyed archaeological sites, submerged scenic canyons, and altered the flow of the Colorado River into Grand Canyon National Park

Highlights

Horseshoe Bend Overlook, Lake Powell, Glen Canyon Dam, Cathedral Wash, Lees Ferry, Hole-in-the-Rock

Must-Do Activity

The National Park Service (NPS) run Carl Hayden Visitor Center in Page, Arizona is a good place to start a visit, where you can purchase tickets for a dam tour.  The meandering lake has about 2,000 miles of shoreline (mostly in Utah) with plenty of coves to explore and spend the night aboard a houseboat (rentals available).  If you do not want to attempt navigation there are many commercial boat trips, including an all-day cruise to Rainbow Bridge National Monument.  If you plan to stay on land, be sure to walk out to Horseshoe Bend Overlook, hike through the high desert landscape, or drive some of the hundreds of miles of dirt roads.

Best Trail

Wiregrass Canyon is located east of Big Water, Utah and the rocky trail passes hoodoos and two natural bridges.

Instagram-worthy Photo

You might want to bring your “selfie stick” to iconic Horseshoe Bend Overlook, a short 0.7-mile one-way hike from the parking area on Highway 89 outside Page, Arizona.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/glca/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

Parking is now $10 at Horseshoe Bend Overlook (no NPS passes accepted), but many other sites are free. There is a $30 per vehicle entrance fee at some marinas (NPS passes accepted), in addition to charges for the dam tour and guided boat tours.

Road Conditions

This park is famous for its backcountry 4×4 roads (like Hole-in-the-Rock Road) and flash floods, so check with a park ranger before attempting anything unpaved.  A fee is charged to ferry across the lake between Halls Crossing and Bullfrog Marina.

Camping

There are several developed campgrounds (mostly near marinas), but free primitive camping is allowed along most dirt roads.  A permit is required for overnight camping in the beautiful Coyote Gulch area, which is popular with backpackers.

Related Sites

Lake Mead National Recreation Area (Nevada-Arizona)

Canyon de Chelly National Monument (Arizona)

Capitol Reef National Park (Utah)

Explore More – Lake Powell is well known for its “bath tub ring,” so when did the reservoir last reach its high-water mark?

Walnut Canyon National Monument

Overview

Cliff dwellings were built in Walnut Canyon around the same time another group of Sinagua was living at nearby Wupatki National Monument.  These cliff dwellings were only occupied for about a hundred years and abandoned by AD 1250.  Since 1915, they have been protected within Walnut Canyon National Monument, a 3,541-acre park on Interstate 40 east of Flagstaff, Arizona.

Highlights

Museum, ruins, scenic views

Must-Do Activity

To get up close with the ruins requires a hike down 200 stairs on the one-mile Island Trail loop.  At 6,690 feet in elevation, downhill is easy, but getting back up is another matter entirely.  It is well worth the effort to get a feeling for a life spent inside the shallow limestone recesses in the canyon walls.

Best Trail

The paved Island Trail drops 185 feet and takes you right up to the 25 rooms built into the cliffs.  Above the canyon, 0.75-mile Rim Trail is handicap accessible and provides views of the ruins.

Instagram-worthy Photo

October is a great time to visit to see changing leaves in Walnut Canyon, especially the bigtooth maple trees.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/waca/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$15 per person or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Access road is paved

Camping

There is not a campground at the site, but dispersed camping is allowed down the dirt road that turns off to the left just before entering the National Monument.

Related Sites

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument (Arizona)

Montezuma Castle National Monument (Arizona)

Tuzigoot National Monument (Arizona)

Explore More – There are multiple Arizona sites in the National Park Service system dedicated to the vanished Sinagua people; what does their name mean in Spanish?

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

Overview

The ruins of this four-story pueblo in Coolidge, Arizona were originally protected as Casa Grande Reservation in 1892, the first time an archaeological site was given this designation by the federal government.  The National Park Service (NPS) took over management in 1918 when it was named a National Monument and in 1932 a protective cover was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted to prevent further erosion.  It is hard to believe when looking around the desert today, but the Hohokom farmed the Gila River Valley for over a thousand years until abandoning the area in the mid-1400s.  To accomplish this feat, they dug nearly a thousand miles of irrigation canals measuring 10 feet wide and 10 feet in depth.

Highlights

Museum, film, ruins

Must-Do Activity

Its name means “Big House” in Spanish and you will see why when you take the short, flat walk (handicap accessible) around the multi-story ruin and ballcourts.  Built in the early 1300s, the pueblo was only inhabited for about a century.  The NPS runs an excellent museum at the site that shows an introductory film.  The nearby Hohokam Pima National Monument shows up on NPS maps (and is counted in the 420+ units in the NPS system), but the O’odham do not allow access to the site on their reservation.

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

There are pigeons instead of ravens at this NPS site.

Peak Season

Winter

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/cagr/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

No camping at the NPS site, but options are available nearby in Tonto National Forest and Picacho Peak State Park (right off Interstate 10).

Related Sites

Tonto National Monument (Arizona)

Tuzigoot National Monument (Arizona)

Saguaro National Park (Arizona)

Explore More – In 1694, who was the famous Jesuit priest that became the first European to see Casa Grande?

Saguaro National Park

Overview

The only U.S. National Park within the expansive Sonoran Desert is divided into two separate districts east and west of Tucson, Arizona.  Its namesake cactus can reach 50 feet in height and weigh more than 16,000 pounds when swelled with water during the rainy season.  Saguaros do not typically branch their first arms until age seventy-five and they can live over 200 years.  They share their home with other cacti that have cuddly names like teddybear cholla, hedgehog, barrel, staghorn cholla, and prickly pear.

Learn more in our guidebook to the 62 National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Cactus Forest Drive, Desert Ecology Trail, Scenic Bajada Loop Drive, Desert Discovery Nature Trail

Must-Do Activity

There are National Park Service (NPS) visitor centers in both the Rincon Mountain District and Tucson Mountain District.  In each district, opportunities for visitors include scenic drives, handicap-accessible nature trails, and more strenuous hiking options.  Much of the wildlife is nocturnal in the hot desert, but watch for unique species like javelinas, ringtails, kangaroo rats, roadrunners, phainopeplas, desert tortoises, Gila monsters, and western diamondback rattlesnakes.

Best Trail

Hikers can find great overlooks of the surrounding mountains along the short Ridge View Trail in the eastern Rincon Mountain District of the park.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Winter is a great time to come to Saguaro National Park due to mild temperatures, but to see the desert in bloom the spring is best.  Saguaros typically bloom in early June, though their large white blooms are hard to photograph at the top of the tall cacti where moths, bats, and other pollinators can find them.

Peak Season

Spring

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/sagu/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$25 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

In the Rincon Mountain District the Cactus Forest Drive is all paved, but in the Tucson Mountain District the Scenic Bajada Loop Drive is mostly a graded gravel road.

Camping

Only backcountry camping in designated sites (with a permit) is allowed in the National Park, but campgrounds are available at Tucson Mountain County Park just outside the western district and throughout Coronado National Forest which borders the eastern district.

Related Sites

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (Arizona)

Tumacacori National Historical Park (Arizona)

Chiricahua National Monument (Arizona)

This design we created to celebrate Saguaro National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – Tohono O’odham Indians utilized saguaro fruit for jam, syrup, and wine; at what age do the cacti start flowering?

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