Arizona in the Fast Lane

I hope you like to drive fast; if you want to see Arizona in a week or less, you'll have to cover a lot of ground. Since most people think of Arizona as a desert and expect to see lots of cactus when they touch down at the airport, I suggest flying into Tucson. This way, you can start your exploration of the state with a visit to Saguaro National Park, where you'll see forests of giant saguaro cacti (head for the park's west unit to see the densest stands of saguaros). While here on the west side of Tucson, also visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum for a first class introduction to the natural history of the Sonoran Desert. If you've got time, you may also want to ride the tram up Sabino Canyon, a desert oasis in northeastern Tucson. If you've done your planning in advance and made a reservation, you can also visit Kartchner Caverns on the same day that you visit Sabino Canyon. Also not to be missed in the Tucson area is Mission San Xavier del Bac (the White Dove of the Desert), a Spanish colonial church on the south side of the city.

From Tucson, head north to Phoenix and, for a further immersion in the desert, visit the Desert Botanical Gardens. An excellent introduction to the Native American tribes of Arizona can be had at the Heard Museum, the nation's foremost museum of Native American culture. Just so you'll understand that Arizona isn't all cactuses and Indian reservations, visit the Phoenix Art Museum, which often hosts blockbuster art exhibits. No trip to Phoenix would be complete without spending some time in old town Scottsdale, where you'll find dozens of art galleries as well as lots of westernwear stores. Here in Scottsdale, you'll also find the architecturally intriguing Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.

From Phoenix, continue north by way of Prescott, Arizona's territorial capital, to Sedona. After wandering around Prescott's Courthouse Plaza, take the back roads north to Sedona and you'll pass through the town of Jerome, an old mining town turned art community. The appeal of Sedona is its dramatic red rock landscape, which surrounds you as you drive through town. To get up close and personal with this landscape, visit Red Rock State Park, Red Rock Crossing (a national forest recreation site), and Airport Mesa.

From Sedona, it's less than a two hour drive via scenic Oak Creek Canyon and Flagstaff to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon (or you can head up to Williams and take the Grand Canyon Railroad). To see the most with the fewest hassles, take the West Rim Tram, which leaves from Grand Canyon Village and stops at eight overlooks. If you decide to hike into the canyon at all, remember that it's all uphill coming back.

If you make your Grand Canyon visit a day trip from Sedona, perhaps stopping in historic downtown Flagstaff on your way back, you'll have a shorter drive back south to Tucson the next day. Between Sedona and Camp Verde, be sure to stop at Montezuma Castle National Monument, which is just off the interstate and preserves an ancient cliff dwelling.

The Route
Spend two nights in Tucson. From Tucson, take I-10 to Phoenix (spend two nights in Phoenix). From Phoenix, drive north on I-17 and then take Hwy. 69 to Prescott. From Prescott, take Hwy. 89A north through Jerome to Sedona (spend two nights in Sedona). From Sedona, continue on Hwy. 89A to Flagstaff and then Hwy. 180 north to Hwy. 64, which leads straight to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Retrace your route to Sedona or take Hwy. 64 south to I-40 and then drive east to Flagstaff. To return to Tucson from Sedona, head south on Hwy. 179 to I-17 south to I-10 east (spend the night in Tucson