With gas prices soaring, you might be thinking of revising your summer vacation to stay closer to home. Consider Arizona's national parks and monuments.
Spread throughout the state are the Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, Glen Canyon, Lake Mead and Fort Bowie National Historic sites. There are also monuments, forests, state parks and a multitude of wondrous scenic pleasures right here in Arizona.
Start ‘Grand' and expand
The Grand Canyon is so powerful and inspiring that it literally overwhelms us with its immense size. There are unique geologic color and erosion forms that decorate the 277-river mile-long canyon, which is up to 18 miles wide and a mile deep. You can camp at different developed sites within the park boundaries; stay in fine lodging or nearby motels. It's only a three-hour drive from Payson and a good place to start your summer explorations -- beating the high season throngs that will be at the canyon later. The summer temperatures on the South Rim are nice, but the monsoon season requires preparedness.
Pipe Spring National Monument, near Tonalea, not far from the Grand Canyon, might be of interest. The spring provided life-giving water to pioneers and the Paiute Indians. At the visitor center you can view exhibits about the people and cultures that lived in the region for centuries.
The Navajo National Monument is also near Tonalea and features intact cliff dwellings of the ancestral Puebloean people.
The Wupatki National Monument offers the largest pueblo around the Flagstaff area. This was a most difficult area to live in being dry in the high desert plateau, offering little in the way of food, water or comfort. The native people moved on, but the remains can still be viewed.
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument would be interesting for the young people in your family. Sunset Crater Volcano was born in a series of eruptions sometime between 1040 and 1100. Powerful explosions profoundly affected the lives of local people and forever changed the landscape and ecology of the area. Lava flows and cinders still look as fresh and rugged as the day they were formed. However, you will find trees, wildflowers and wildlife. You can explore the lava flow trail, which is a one-mile loop through an amazing volcanic landscape. The eruption destroyed all plants within a 5-mile radius. A fountain of fire, 850 feet high was visible for miles around and an ash cloud rose 2.5 miles into the sky. Ash covered about 64,000 acres.
The Petrified Forest National Park is located just off Interstate 40, east of Holbrook. It has one of the world's largest and most colorful concentrations of petrified wood, multi-hued badlands of the Painted Desert, historic structures, archeological sites and displays of 225 million-year-old fossils. You'll never forget your visit here. This "forest" has one of the best Late Triassic geologic and fossil records in the world. You can even purchase an example of petrified wood from some of the vendors nearby. It will be hot in the summer, even though it is at 5,000 feet in altitude.
Canyon de Chelly National Monument in the northeast portion of Arizona reflects one of the longest, continuously inhabited landscapes of North America. The cultural resources of Canyon de Chelly include distinctive architecture, artifacts and rock imagery while exhibiting remarkable preservation that provides outstanding opportunities for study. It continues to provide and sustain a living community for the Navajo people. It is comprised entirely of Navajo Tribal Trust Land, which remains home to the Navajo. Located at the high elevation of the Four Corners area, the weather is changeable, often continuing to be cool at night during the summer.
Saguaro National Park displays enormous cacti and to many it is the symbol for the American West. However, the majestic plants are only found in a small portion of the United States. The park is located on the edge of Tucson.
The Tumacacori National Historic Park protects three Spanish colonial mission ruins in southern Arizona: Tumacacori, Guevavi and Calabazas. The adobe structures are among more than 20 established in the Pimeria Atla by Father Kino and other Jesuits, and later expanded by Franciscan missionaries. Mission San Jose de Tumacacori was established in 1691 and located on 310 acres at the town of Tumacacori. The other two missions were also established around the same time. Not only will you see the ruins of these missions but you will be able to view baptismal, marriage and burial records of the time.
Fort Bowie National Historic Site commemorates the bitter conflict between Chiricahua Apaches and the U.S. military and is a lasting monument to the bravery of our soldiers in paving the way for settlement of the western frontier. It provides insight into the clash of cultures at that time. For more than 30 year Fort Bowie and Apache Pass were the focal point of military operations culminating in the surrender of Geronimo in 1886 and the banishment of the Chiricahuas to Florida and Alabama. This area is around 5,000 feet in elevation, but is still warm in the summer.
Not far away from Payson, off Interstate 17 at Camp Verde is the Montezuma Castle National Monument. Here you will see one of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in North America. The 20-room high-rise apartment, nestled into a towering limestone cliff, tells a 1,000-year-old story of ingenuity and survival in a high desert landscape.
Also in Camp Verde is the Fort Verde State Historic Park, featuring structures built and occupied by the U.S. Army through the 1860s and 1870s. Displays tell of the lives led by the ordinary soldiers, officers and their families.
West of Camp Verde is the community of Cottonwood, where the Tuzigoot National Monument is located. This is another ancient pueblo, crowing a desert hilltop. It had 110 rooms at its height and was constructed around 1000 A.D.
Near Cottonwood are the historic communities of Arizona's mining heyday, Jerome and Clarkdale, plus the Verde Valley Railroad starts its tour run in Clarkdale.
Online, visit the Web site for Arizona National Parks and Arizona State Parks and learn more about the many places to visit in our home state.