Is best known for the Grand Canyon
The Southwest is gifted with some of the most spectacular and awe -inspiring scenery in the world. The influence of Mexico on the architecture, cuisine, and even the language of the Southwest is unmistakable. Just as we share culture and history with Sonora, the Mexican state south of Arizona, we also share geography. Thus, many visitors may wish to explore a vacation in both countries. The following itineraries can form the basis for designing your Southwestern vacation fun.
Experience the thrill of nature's beauty as you visit a variety of canyons in Arizona and Sonora... from the majesty of the Grand Canyon to the stunning vistas of the Copper Canyon in Mexico. The Grand Canyon can be enjoyed from the ground and from the air. A helicopter tour is perfect for taking in the spectacular views from high above the Canyon. From this angle one can get a better perspective of the grandeur and immensity of the world-renowned Grand Canyon. Rim tours help visitors understand how the Grand Canyon came to be so grand! The large-screen show at the IMAX Theater in Tusayan also tells the history, archeology and geology of the Grand Canyon. You will feel as if you are actually running the rapids of the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon or soaring with the eagles!
The red rocks of Sedona are also acclaimed worldwide because the scenery takes your breath away and also seems to restore your spirit. View the area from a small plane's perspective or roll along the red rocks with an informative jeep tour. While in Tucson, a visit to Sabino Canyon will provide the opportunity to enjoy nature within minutes of the city. Located in the picturesque Catalina mountains, it provides hiking, picnicking, bicycling and horseback riding. The canyon is a magical melange of a running stream, tall trees and an impressive population of native plants and animals.
The Copper Canyon, nestled in the Sierra Madre range, compares remarkably to the Grand Canyon. It is home to the Tarahumara Indians, who have been isolated here for centuries. A train tour from Los Mochis to Chihuahua and back on the Chihuahua Pacific Railway offers an up-close, one-of-a-kind canyon experience. The tour provides several overnight stops to explore the area, including a visit to a Tarahumara Indian Cave, the Mission School and San Ignacio Mission. Other side tours include a tour to the Indian village of Cerocahui and the Mission Hotel, and a visit to the Tarahumara Indian Girls School. As you cross the 38 bridges and wind your way through the 86 tunnels, you will begin to understand why it is called the "Train Ride in the Sky."
Science and Ecological Centers
The native flora and fauna of this region are showcased in many natural and man-made settings just waiting to be explored. Tour all of the gardens and zoos of the area, as each gives its own perspective of life in the Sonoran Desert and offers views of life in other areas of the world and even space! Desert Botanical Gardens - offers close up exhibits of more than 20,000 plants from the world's deserts and explains the relationship between man, arid land plants, and animals. Arizona Sonora Desert Museum - recognized as one of the best institutions of its kind, this "museum" specializes in presenting the 300 species of animals and 1,300 plant species of the Sonoran Desert. All are beautifully displayed in naturalistic exhibits. Boyce Thompson Arboretum - serves as both a nature center and a hiking destination with 35 acres of nature trails and desert plants from around the world.
Phoenix Zoo - tour the largest privately owned, non-profit zoological park in the U.S. The 1,300 animals, including 150 endangered or threatened animals, live along one of the five distinctive trails: Arizona Trail, featuring plants and animals of the American Southwest; Africa Trail; Children's Trail; Tropics Trail; and Deserts Trail, featuring exhibits from the great deserts of the world. Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium - fun, educational, hands-on science exhibits, planetarium shows, laser-light shows and mineral museum. Walk through an asteroid. There is a public observatory for nighttime viewing and a science and astronomy store. Kitt Peak National Observatory - world's largest collection of optical telescopes, including the Mayall 4-meter telescope and the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope Facility. Daily guided tours are offered.
El Piñacate National Park - this U.N.-designated bio-preserve is famous for its moonlike meteor craters. It was one of the major sites of training for the Apollo XI astronauts before the 1969 moon mission. Due to the unique mineral content found in the soils impacted by the meteors, this park is home to diverse flora and fauna not found anywhere else. It is highly recommended that visitors explore this undeveloped natural area with a guide. Guided tours are available from Rocky Point. Biosphere 2 Center for Research and Education - this 2.5-acre enclosure replicates the seven life zones found on Earth. Nearly 4,000 species of plants and animals live inside the glass dome. Saguaro National Park - offers naturalist talks, picnic areas, cactus and desert discovery trails.
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument - cacti and wildflowers abound in this 500-square mile area. Some plants, such as the senita cactus and elephant tree, grow only here and in Mexico. La Barbuja Museo del Niño - an interactive museum where old and young learn by playing in any one of several areas: Your World, Energy, Waves, Your Body, Communicate, and How Does It Work.
CEDO, Inter-cultural Center for the Study of Deserts and Oceans - this organization has played an important role in the conservation of animals of the area. The site includes the Earthship CEDO, a solar building constructed of old tires, sand and aluminum cans as a model of alternative housing, and a 55-foot whale skeleton. Tours are available. Ecological Center of Sonora - presents 300 plant and 200 animal species, primarily from the Sonora area, in a park that covers almost 2,500 acres. Las Barajitas - abundant flora and fauna unique to where the desert meets the sea make this an ideal location for exploration, both above the waves and beneath.
Birding and Wildlife Watching Tour
Southeastern Arizona offers world-class bird watching for both the novice and most experienced of nature lovers. In this region, you will find the highest concentration of hummingbird species in North America, and the only species of parrot in the United States. It is also a major migratory location of the Sandhill Crane. Huatabampito Beach and Bahia Yavaros Estuary, a coastal lagoon and river delta, is home to thousands of different birds from coastal to inland species. Catalina State Park - preserves more than 5,500 acres of Santa Catalina Mountain foothills for hiking, birding, picnicking, horseback riding and an archaeological area.
Madera Canyon - supports more than 200 species of birds that nest among the oak, juniper and sycamore along the stony creek. Hiking is available in the Mt. Wrightson Wilderness Area. Ramsey Canyon - this wooded canyon is famous for its beauty and diversity of plant and animal life, with two preserve trails for hiking. Birders can spot more than 14 species of hummingbirds, more than any other place in North America. Wildlife includes deer and coatimundis (ring-tailed cats.) San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area - two-thirds of North America's inland bird species have been spotted in this area, making it one of the best birding areas in the country.
Patagonia/Sonoita Creek Sanctuary - which is managed by the Nature Conservancy, features more than 275 species of birds. Year-round water and a variety of habitats attract diverse birds, javelina, bobcat and other animals. Chiricahua National Monument - this 11,985-acre fantasy land of rock sculptures resulted from massive volcanic explosions 27 million years ago. The "Land of the Standing Up Rocks" boasts towering rock spires, massive stone columns and rocks weighing hundreds of tons balanced atop small, carved pedestals. Seen here are the Virginia Warbler, Mexican Chickadees, Thick-billed Parrots and the largest population of Trogons in the country.
Sulfur Springs Valley - approximately 12,000 Sandhill Cranes winter here, along with hawks, prairie and peregrine falcons. Located near Willcox. Huatabampito Beach and Bahia Yavaros Estuary - only 90 minutes south of Ciudad Obregon, this area provides the perfect combination of surf and sky. Romp in the waves or view the thousands of different birds, attracted to this coastal lagoon and river delta.
From Phoenix to the White Mountains of Arizona, don't miss the Salt River Canyon. Often referred to as the "mini Grand Canyon," the road winds its way up 5,000 feet from the floor of the Sonoran Desert to the pine forests of the White Mountains. The White Mountains of Arizona are a paradise of cool breezes and sun-drenched lakes and there are enough nature-based activities to delight everyone. Activities in the White Mountains include fishing, hiking, camping and, in the winter, snow skiing. A side trip to the White Mountain Apache Indian reservation could also be included.
The Mogollon Rim runs along the central part of Arizona heading northwest. This area, filled with panoramic vistas and babbling brooks and teeming with wildlife, is a photographer's dream. It is the edge of the uplifted Colorado plateau. Travel along Arizona's Mogollon Rim and explore the world's largest natural travertine bridge at Tonto Natural Bridge State Park. As you enter the northland and view the towering San Francisco Peaks in the distance, recall that these mountains are the home of the Kachina in Hopi religion. The mountains are sacred and, according to myth, any who dwell within their shadows are destined to return.
Descend from the forest highlands to the high deserts of northern Arizona for a stop at Homolovi Ruins State Park in Winslow, where an on-going archaeological excavation is conducted each summer. Meteor Crater was formed 49,000 years ago when a meteor slammed into the earth. The crater is now 4,100 feet across, and has been used as a training site for NASA astronauts. You will climb back up to the forests and mountains that are sacred to many of the Indians in the region. For a look at past civilizations, a stop and hike into Walnut Canyon gives you a feel for the lives of the Anasazi who built their homes into the canyon's formations. In the winter, skiing can be enjoyed on the San Francisco Peaks, and in the summer, take the chairlift for spectacular views. (On a clear day one can see as far as the Grand Canyon!)
As you enter Mexico, you pass into awe-inspiring backdrops of rugged terrain, under dazzling blue heavens. The Cananea area is rich in minerals, and is a major mining location of northern Sonora. This outstanding route from Cananea to Hermosillo will take you through a number of picturesque Mexican pueblos rich in colonial tradition and nestled along the Rio Sonora. One of the most interesting is Arizpe, so be sure to stop and look around. The route shows the unique character of Sonora, with one foot in the Sierra Madres and one foot in the sea.
The First Peoples Tour
As cultures rise and fall, some leave us only remnants of their grandeur while others leave us with people who have adapted, but retain many of their old ways. This tour covers several time periods of "first peoples." In both Arizona and Sonora, there are signs of people gone but not forgotten. Some have left behind enough for us to piece together their story; others have left only enough to tantalize us with the mystery of who they were and where they went. At Old Oriabi on the Hopi Reservation, the people have lived in the same houses for 600 years, making it one of the oldest continuously inhabited dwellings in North America. Montezuma's Castle, Wupatki and Walnut Canyon are fine samples of the homes of Sinaguan and Anasazi peoples who mysteriously left their dwellings a thousand years ago, but who some think may now be the present day Navajos or Hopis. In Sonora, the Yaquis prospered in a region others thought desolate. They were pursued by both the Spanish and the Mexicans, but never conquered.
Modern Hopi and Yaqui keep alive ancient traditions. There is much to learn from these people and their ways and much to ponder about those who have gone before.
The Missions of Padre Kino
Mission architecture can be seen in both modern cities and isolated settings. For those interested in the remarkable work of Father Eusebio Francisco Kino and other Spanish missionaries, there are plenty of 17th and 18th century missions to explore.
Water Adventures: Resorts and Beaches
Whether you enjoy sunshine and water activities in a natural canyon, an elegant resort or on the ocean, Arizona/Sonora offers the perfect, no-hassle place to unwind and be pampered.
Located in Arizona's beautiful red rock country, Sedona offers several first-class resorts and "first-class" attractions. For the hiker, there are hundreds of trails to follow into the red rocks. Boynton Canyon is one of the favorites here. Shoppers will want to spend their time browsing through the numerous art galleries and fine gift shops. One of the favorites is Tlaquepaque, a reconstruction of an old Mexican village that is filled with art galleries and authentic Indian crafts. Families never leave the Sedona area without a trip to Slide Rock, a natural water slide carved by Oak Creek. And nobody will want to leave Sedona without taking a jeep tour ride! Various tours can be arranged depending on interest.
The Phoenix and Scottsdale area offers dozens of first-class resorts around the Valley of the Sun. Water activities found in this part of the desert include swimming pools, water slides and water hazards on the golf courses! Resorts sport swimming amenities that range from pools lined with mother-of-pearl to sandy beach areas. One resort even created a "river" that allows guests to float around a huge water playground. There are several water parks located around the Valley that feature giant water slides and are able to offer surfing with the help of modern wave machines. Shopping and browsing at more than 100 galleries and museums is also popular.
For a truly relaxing vacation, visit one of Tucson's numerous world- class resorts and spas. They offer healing for the body and soul in beautiful desert surroundings. Many also offer Southwest gourmet cuisine. Tucson also has a couple of water parks and one resort features the longest water slide in North America! With 350 days of sunshine annually, there are plenty of ways to soak in the sun. Tucson's thriving arts community and artist district display upscale merchandise from specialty leather goods to couture clothing.
If the open ocean and the fine amenities of first class resorts are what you seek, then set course for San Carlos. Some of the resorts offer ocean views with unparalleled sunsets. Ocean activities include deep sea fishing, snorkeling, scuba diving, beach combing, and sun bathing. A crimson-colored sunset is the perfect end to a perfect day in San Carlos.
Following the Colorado River
Known as the mighty Colorado, this powerful river worked for millions of years carving into the Colorado Plateau to form the spectacular Grand Canyon. Today, the river provides a multitude of activities and adventures for water lovers. It serves as the border between Arizona and California and then empties into the Sea of Cortez, not too far from Puerto Peñasco. Although the Colorado River has been tamed by the numerous dams built along its route, this has also provided many recreational opportunities.
A community sprang up overnight as the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam began. That community, Page, is now a starting point for many recreational activities on the Colorado River and Lake Powell. Houseboating is one of the best ways to explore the nooks and crannies of the Lake Powell shoreline. Or a tour to Rainbow Bridge, a spectacular natural arch and Navajo holy site, is accessible by water from Wahweap Marina. Electricity is supplied to many in the Southwest through the Glen Canyon dam and a tour of the inner workings of the dam is fascinating.
Although the white water rafting tours that leave from Lee's Ferry, near Page, last from 3 to 14 days, a half-day tour from the base of Glen Canyon Dam is the perfect way to get the perspective of floating on the Colorado River and viewing the majestic canyon from the bottom. (White-water rafting trips require reservations one to two years in advance.)
The London Bridge did not really fall down, but now gracefully spans a portion of the Colorado River in Lake Havasu City. Besides taking pictures of the bridge and shopping in the Old English Village at the base of the bridge, there are many tours and water activities to be enjoyed. For those interested in wildlife, a tour of the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge and Topock Gorge is a must. For the sightseer, a tour on the DixieBell or a jeep tour to view the unusual mix of flora and fauna where the Sonora and Mohave deserts meet is a delight. For the more adventurous, there is jet skiing, houseboating, water skiing, sailboating, fishing or parasailing.
Early Spanish missionaries and explorers visited the Yuma area in 1540, but no remnants remain from that era. But by the 19th century, Yuma was known as the "Cross Roads of the West." Located at the confluence of the Gila and Colorado rivers, this river crossing site served as a major steamboat landing in the early days of the frontier.
The area's frontier history is brought to life at the Yuma Territorial Prison State Park, where the hard-living lived hard lives and the prison's reputation was feared by desperadoes. The Yuma Quartermaster Depot, now a living history museum, brings the past to life with first person interpretations of this Army supply hub until the railroad pushed through in 1877. For those who want to be on the water, sightseeing tours are offered on the river. A favorite shopping activity for many is a quick trip to San Luis, Mexico.
The Colorado River has finally trickled into the mighty Sea of Cortez. For those who still want some water fun, Puerto Peñasco or Rocky Point is a great way to end the trip. Water activities such as boating excursions, fishing or just playing in the surf are favorites.
The Old and Older West
Most of the favorite tales and legends of cowboys were born in the Southwest. If you love to hear stories filled with names like Wyatt Earp, Geronimo and Billy the Kid, that happen in places like Tombstone, the Southwest is the destination of your dreams. The romance of the Old West is enhanced with tales from times when Spanish conquistadors and colonists followed trail-blazing Franciscan and Jesuit priests as they built missions in the wilderness.
Ride the Rails
Here's an idea for true train buffs! Several types of train trips and sightseeing tours are offered in this region, from trains that take you through the spectacular Copper Canyon in Mexico to a steam train of a bygone era that transports you to the Grand Canyon, and several others in between.
Take a vintage train from Williams to the south rim of the Grand Canyon on the Grand Canyon Railway. Ride in authentically restored 1923 Harriman coaches. There is on-board entertainment and a Wild West show in Williams each morning at 9 a.m. Allow some time before boarding the train to visit the Grand Canyon Railway Museum where exhibits covering the railroad, mining, ranching and logging in the Grand Canyon region are located in the former Harvey House Restaurant.
A panoramic rail experience thru the Verde River Canyon can only be enjoyed by taking the Verde Canyon Railroad from Clarkdale. This half-day tour offers views of Arizona's red rocks, a variety of wildlife and ancient cliff dwellings. Eagle watch excursions are available December through March. On-board entertainment is offered year-round.
The San Pedro and Southwestern Railroad offers excursions between Benson and Charleston. This scenic trip follows rolling grasslands and the San Pedro River Riparian area. Glimpse this outpost of Arizona's wild past.
Fly or drive tours are offered from Phoenix and Tucson to board the Chihuahua Pacific Railway for a spectacular tour of Copper Canyon. This tours offers an up-close, one-of-a-kind canyon experience in the homeland of the Tarahumara Indians. A tour that includes several overnight stops gives more opportunities to explore the area in-depth.
The Yuma Valley Railway travels twenty-two miles along the Colorado River in both Arizona and Sonora in a 1922 Pullman coach pulled by a 1941 Whitcombe diesel or a 1952 Davenport-Beshler diesel-electric engine. The tour is two hours, or three hours with a meal.
Fore! If you are not a golfer, let those who are play through on any one of the finest courses in the Southwest. Golfing opportunities abound. With more than 250 courses in the region, golf is a "fore"-most activity. From mountain courses where the fairways meet the pine forests, to the challenging desert courses, Arizona/Sonora is a utopia for golf lovers. One example of what can be found in Arizona is conveniently packaged by Mesa Golf Tours. The package includes a choice variety of eight hotels and 10 different golf course options. With a 90-day advance reservation, tee times can be scheduled.
Fly fishing, stream fishing, deep sea fishing, fresh water fishing, salt water fishing, sport fishing, lake fishing . . . there is no limit to the type of fishing to be enjoyed in this region! From cold mountain-top lakes and streams to wide open ocean, there's fishing from the northern border of Arizona to the southern tip of Sonora. Both the dabbler and the serious fisherman can take home stories of "the one that got away" or share the prizes from these waters. The following is just a small sampling of the incredible abundance and variety of fishing opportunities.
Because of the nearby Guaymas Trench, a 1,500 meter deep (5,000 ft) sea canyon, San Carlos waters offer the best sport fishing along the Sonora coast. Offshore you can hook into marlin, sailfish, dorado, pargo, cochito, and grouper. Inshore there are triggerfish, seabass, sea trout, sierra and others.
The best overall fishing season (especially for billfish) is early summer, although there is something biting all year-round. A well-protected bay with a full-service marina has also made San Carlos the pleasure boating capital of the eastern Sea of Cortez. The Sociedad Cooperativa Teabampo de Pesca Deportiva near Marina San Carlos organizes sport fishing charters. A deep sea fishing tournament is held each September.
Presa Alvaro Obregon - this huge dam on the Rio Yaqui north of Ciudad Obregon is a major bass fishing destination. The main boating and fishing access is via Marina del Rey at the lake's southern end, where you'll find cabins and trailer spaces (with sewer hookups) for rent, plus a small store where boats and fishing guides may be hired.
In just one day, one can fish in the cool, clear mountain waters of Northern Arizona for a variety of trout, and cast for bass along the cactus-studded shorelines of warmwater reservoirs just outside of Phoenix. The White Mountain and Flagstaff areas are well stocked with many varieties of trout, and the unique Apache trout and Arctic grayling can be found in the White Mountains. Along the Colorado River and in the lakes formed by the dams along its path, one can fish for trout, catfish, large and small mouth bass, crappie, bluegill and walleye, but the watercourse is perhaps best known for its abundance of large striped bass. The warmwater reservoirs just outside of Phoenix are popular for catching large mouth, small mouth and yellow bass, yellow perch, crappie, bluegill, other sun fish, northern pike, carp, channel, flathead, and bullhead catfish.
If hunting is your bag, then the mountains and deserts of Arizona and Sonora are right on target.
South of the border, popular small game includes dove, duck, rabbit, quail, pheasant, and wild turkey. Big game includes javelina, white-tailed deer, mule deer and coues deer. Non-Mexican hunters are now required to be accompanied by a Mexican hunting guide. Various companies and organizations offer expeditions, and can arrange the licenses and familiarize you with the regulations and fees involved. Check with outfitters about the best season; however, keep in mind no hunting is permitted in Mexico May through July.
The White Mountains area is a favorite hunting ground for game not found in the desert. Archery, black powder and rifle seasons are available for black bear, dove, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, rabbit, squirrel, trophy elk, and wild turkey, which are among the most popular game. The desert area provides quail, dove, rabbit and javelina.