Central Arizona

Phoenix and the Grand Canyon

Headed for the Grand Canyon? You can get there from Phoenix in around four hours, but you also miss a whole lot of spectacular scenery, several Indian ruins, a historic cavalry fort, and some very interesting towns. Why not slow down and take the scenic route. Add two to four extra days to your itinerary and you'll get a much better feel for what Arizona is all about.

Start by eschewing the interstate and heading northwest from Phoenix to Wickenburg. This old cow town was once the dude ranch capitol of the Southwest (they call 'em "guest ranches" these days), and though there are only a handful left in the area, Wickenburg still hangs on to its wild west character. Be sure to tour the Desert Caballeros Western Museum, and if you're a bird watcher, stop by the Hassayampa River Preserve.

From Wickenburg, head north to Prescott. En route, you'll pass through some rugged, rocky country and even cross a high, forested mountain range. Prescott was once the territorial capital of Arizona, and, in the center of town, you'll find the city's grand old courthouse, which is surrounded by stately shade trees. Surrounding the square are lots of antique stores, a few galleries, restaurants, and several old saloons on what was once known as Whiskey Row. Beyond the commercial blocks are lots of old Victorian homes. To learn about the history of this town, visit the Sharlot Hall Museum, and if you have an interest in Western art, be sure to visit the Phippen Museum.

From Prescott, head north, passing through the giant boulders of the Granite Dells just outside of town. Your route then climbs up and over Mingus Mountain to the old copper-mining town of Jerome. Though nearly a ghost town in the early 1960s, Jerome is now full of art galleries and interesting shops, and many of the old homes have been restored. From the vertiginous hillside setting, you can gaze out across the Verde Valley to the red rocks of Sedona and the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff.

From Jerome, the road drops down to Clarkdale, where, if you have time to spare, you can ride the scenic Verde Canyon Railroad. Just outside of Clarkdale, you'll come to Tuzigoot National Monument, where the ruins of an ancient Indian pueblo stand atop a hill overlooking the valley.

From Clarkdale, it is just a short drive to Sedona, which boasts the most breathtaking setting of any town in the state. Naturally sculpted red rock cliffs, mesas, and rock outcroppings surround the town and serve as a backdrop to million-dollar retirement homes, art galleries, upscale boutiques, and excellent restaurants. You can head for the hills on foot, on horseback, on a mountain bike, on a jeep tour, in a hot-air balloon, or in a biplane. While in Sedona, you can also explore more Indian ruins, including the relatively small and remote Palatki Ruins and the much larger (and more crowded) cliff dwellings at Montezuma Castle National Monument. Among the most unusual ruins in the area are those of Montezuma Well; these small structures are tucked under the lip of a large sinkhole not far from Montezuma Castle. In the nearby town of Camp Verde, you'll also find the Fort Verde State Historic Park, which preserves a 19th century military post.

From Sedona, a scenic drive up Oak Creek Canyon brings you to Flagstaff, a historic railroading town. The downtown is full of large historic commercial buildings and is well worth a bit of exploring on foot. However, the town's main attraction is the Museum of Northern Arizona, which is a superb introduction to the traditional Native American cultures of this region. Just north of town, you'll also find Arizona Snowbowl, a ski area that also offers lift rides in the summer months. From here it is less than 80 miles to the Grand Canyon.

If, after visiting the Grand Canyon, you feel satisfied that you've seen the best of central Arizona, feel free to hurry back to Phoenix. However, you might want to take a break in the community of Rock Springs. This wide spot in the road boasts the best pies in Arizona. You'll find your little slice of heaven at the Rock Springs Cafe off exit 242.

The Route:
Spend the night in Phoenix. From Phoenix, head northwest to Wickenburg on Hwy. 60 and then go north on Hwy. 89 to Prescott (spend the night in Prescott). From Prescott, take Hwy. 89 to Hwy. 89A north passing through Jerome en route to Sedona (spend one night in Jerome and one night in Sedona or spend both nights in Sedona). Continue north on Hwy. 89A through Oak Creek Canyon to Flagstaff (spend one or two nights in Flagstaff).