Amazing Places for the Arizona Summer - Southern Edition
Happy summer everyone! Midsummer is fast approaching on July 31. I am writing this to you from sunny and hot Phoenix, Arizona, capital of the most beautiful state and place on earth (in my opinion).
Let's hit the road and see 5 more amazing places for the Arizona summer, southern edition:
Let's start in Phoenix and first drive down Interstate 10 100 miles and head to:
On the way from Phoenix to Tucson, you'll pass a very distinctive mountain called Picacho Peak. This was the site of the only Civil War (which didn't have much to do with ending slavery) battle fought in Arizona, though it was really only a skirmish.
Passing Picacho Peak means you're getting close to Tucson. You should see a broad saguaro forest stretching out before you.
And finally, on your right is the world's largest airplane boneyard, where hundreds of old jets rest on the desert ground, waiting to be used for spare parts.
Tours of this amazing area are free actually, let us know if you're down there, we can help arrange a tour if they're open.
Now we have arrived in Tucson.
Tucson is Arizona's oldest city, older than the formation of the United States actually. It was originally a fort called Presidio San Agustín del Tucsón established in 1775 by the Spanish Empire in North America.
A presidio is a fort, and this one marked the northern boundary of the Spanish Empire in North America at the time.
The town fought off numerous attacks by the Apache Indians before becoming a part of Mexico in the 1820s and the United States in the 1850s.
Today it is a desert city with a distinctive feel, very different to that of Phoenix. I talked to one Tucsonian today who told me that living there is intoxicating, the vibe is so pleasantly different than anywhere else.
People are laid back, relaxed, and friendly.
While in Tucson, be sure to visit the University of Arizona with its beautiful red brick architecture.
Many don't know this, but there is a long-standing feud between Tucson and Phoenix. The two largest Arizona cities, with differing culture and demographics don't always get along.
The battle between the football teams of the two Arizona universities brings this simmering conflict to a head.
At the end of November, the two teams play for bragging rights in football. I grew up as an Arizona State fan, the university located in Phoenix. Sometimes my family and I would drive to Tucson to watch those games.
Tucson had the reputation to me then of a dangerous and dirty place, where the "bad" university was.
Now I think it's great, but I remember many cold tense nights watching those football games.
Head to the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum and Arizona Museum to see the natural wildlife and history of the area up close.
And if things get too hot, head up into the Catalina Mountains north of town. In about 45 minutes you'll be among the cool refreshing pine trees of Summerhaven, which hosts a winter ski resort.
On one of my last weekends before I moved to China in 2014, I visited Tucson to stay with an old friend of mine.
We spent the weekend traversing the desert west of town in my rough and rugged car that could go just about >>anywhere. Sometimes I drove around town with a football helmet on.
Without much of a plan, we set out just to explore and see what we would find.
Beginning in the Saguaro National Park (another beautiful place you should check out), we headed west.
Soon we were lost among the desert flatlands, without a care. We ended up in an Indian cemetery, having traveled onto the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation.
Eventually we found a road which led back to the highway leading into Tucson.
On the way back we stopped at Kitt Peak National Observatory which gets an honorable mention here. You can get tours of the place if you arrange them in advance and get views of the distinctive Baboquivari Mountain.
The Tohono O'odham, mentioned above, believe this to be the center of the world, from which the first people emerged.
This image contains the "Man in the Maze" which bears striking resemblances to other European mythologies.
A couple weeks later, I was in Hong Kong, ready for my Chinese adventure.
If you're lucky you'll catch a Tucson monsoon at night, noted for his booming thunder, cold rain and spectacular lightning displays.
Ready to move on? Good, we have more places to see.
Leaving Tucson on Interstate 19, we will head south and take the scenic route to our next destination.
Just outside of Tucson is the old Mission San Xavier del Bac. Built in 1692 for Spanish priests to try and convert the Indians, it stands as a beautiful example of Spanish architecture in North America.
Still a working church, you can go inside and view the centuries-old sculptures and interior of the church, a smaller version of the European cathedrals in the Arizona desert.
Heading south towards the Mexican border you can see the other old missions of Tumacácori and Tubac and pick up a few authentic souvenirs.
Keep heading south towards Mexico, which is only 15 miles away and we'll reach our turnoff at Nogales.
Nogales in 1899 and 2011
Actually one city in between two countries, Nogales is an interesting town set among the high desert hills. The name means "Black walnut tree" in Spanish as those trees used to grow abundantly in the hills between the two towns.
Heading out of town, enjoy an hour of Arizona's beautiful high desert grassland scenery as we pass through the towns of Patagonia and Sonoita before arriving at our destination:
2. Kartchner Caverns
This place is amazing. A pristine cave system which you can discover on a very comfortable tour. Discovered in the 1970s by two cavers, they kept the location a secret for 15 years, all the while working to have the area developed as a tourist cave to protect it from vandalism.
I have been to this remarkable cave system twice in my life. The first time was on an extended family trip in the hot summer when I was 11. My family and cousins loaded into two large cars and made the three hour drive from Phoenix to check them out.
It was a great trip. I returned when I was 24 and was equally impressed by the majesty of the caves. It is one of Arizona's lesser-known treasures and should be on anyone's list who is exploring Arizona.
The cave features the Big Room (closed for the summer unfortunately) and Throne Room which contains some of the biggest sodastraw stalactites and other amazing rock formations.
What a trip so far, right? We're just getting started.
Drive an easy and beautiful 30 minutes and you'll reach our next destination...The Town Too Tough to Die...
3. Tombstone, AZ
The nearby mountains were full of silver and gold in the early 1880s, which led to the town's formation.
Prospector Ed Schieffelin would spend his free time venturing out to the uninhabited and dangerous hills looking for silver or gold.
When his friends heard this, they warned him, "The only rock you'll find out there is your tombstone!"
When Schieffelin struck it rich, finding a 50 foot by 12 inch seam of silver, he aptly named it the Tombstone mine.
Eventually the silver ran out and most of the town dried up, but not before one of the most famous shootouts in the American West occurred there, the Shootout at the O.K. Corral.
Today the town looks and feels like it probably did in the 1880s. Downtown Tombstone still has dirt roads and is lined with old saloons and buildings from the 19th century.
There are plenty of Old West reenactments in Tombstone.
While you're there you can see the world's largest rose bush. Planted in 1885 by a homesick Scottish woman, the bush now covers 8000 sq. ft. (740 sq. m.) of the roof and has a 12 foot circumference trunk.
The world's largest rose bush. No, you don't need to wear their hats.
I have been to Tombstone a number of times. Growing up in Arizona you hear about the town all the time, but not many people know where it is.
The time I most remember was when we went down there for a friend's birthday weekend. He loved Tombstone and wanted us to celebrate down there.
We had a great time and late at night went on a ghost tour and had what felt like our own private ghost tour walking back to our hotel at the edge of town!
It gets spooky at night there.
After experiencing the American Old West - a unique historical time and landscape - let's head down the road to our next stop...
Bisbee hosted a number of successful copper mines, including the famous Copper Queen Mine, now partly open for tours.
What was once a booming mining town is now a quirky and well-preserved refuge for artists, musicians, and hippies. Think San Francisco but on a smaller scale.
Due to the rugged scenery, Bisbee is known for its many staircases serving as roads. In fact, every year Bisbee hosts the Bisbee 1000: Great Stair Climb Race. This is actually a race.
This area has numerous bed and breakfasts and it's a town unlike any other in America with its combination of picturesque rugged scenery and classic Victorian architecture.
One of my favorite stand-up comics lives in Bisbee. His name is Doug Stanhope and if you've successfully unplugged from the false political "Left-Right" paradigm, you'll love him.
A mix of outrage, sarcasm, and wit, Doug Stanhope is the comedian that other comedians like to listen to. I found out he runs a restaurant and bar aptly called Doug Stanhope's House.
I'll try to time it with one of the many music festivals Bisbee hosts, ones that my friends actually played in. Bisbee truly is a great place.
And last but not least, this one requires a bit of a drive, but after a week or so in the Arizona summer heat it will be worth it.
Starting from Bisbee, which is near the Mexican border, you'll head north to one of my absolute favorite places in Arizona, a place that my aunt calls "Switzerland in Arizona."
Okay, maybe she's exaggerating a little, but it's still beautiful. Greer is a well-kept secret in Arizona. Many natives don't know how beautiful it is.
I considered leaving it off the list because I don't want too many people knowing about it. Then I thought about it and even if many people know, most still won't go.
The ones who do make the journey will be rewarded and they're the ones who deserve to see it.
Greer is up at almost 8500 feet, tucked into the mountains at the headwaters of the Little Colorado River.
Snowmelt from the White Mountains feeds this river year round as it merrily flows past the town lodge.
It usually receives the most rainfall in Arizona, especially in the monsoons of July and August. Those are special storms.
The mornings start off bright and blue without a cloud to be seen. The temperatures climb in the late morning to where it's just a bit uncomfortable to be in the bright direct sunshine.
Around lunch the big white cumulus clouds start showing up. By 2 or 3 pm, the deep dark gray clouds are rolling over the trees. The wind picks up. The day darkens and the BA-BOOM!!! of thunder gets louder and louder.
The wind starts to whip up the pine needles bringing that fragrant scent through the windows. The wind chimes begin to sing. The first drops of rain drop thap thap on the roofs, big and cold.
The rain falls harder and it gets dark outside. Lightning flashes and thunder booms, sometimes rattling the walls and windows. Those are the good ones.
The day gets quiet as people gather on their front porch to watch the rain.
The storm moves on by dinner and during the refreshingly cool night, the far-off flash and booms are seen, felt, and heard getting further and further away.
There isn't much to "do" in Greer except to be, just be in nature. But it's an unknown treasure in Arizona, unforgettable to those who visit.
I made sure to visit Greer the first summer I was back in Arizona. It's stunningly beautiful. We didn't get a storm this time, too early in the season for that, but I saw something unexpectedly amazing.
Early on my aunt, uncle, cousin, and I woke early and drove to climb nearby Mt. Baldy, Arizona's second highest peak.
We trekked across flower-filled meadows and babbling brooks before turning upwards under granite boulders. Snow was on the trail. Real snow in the middle of June in Arizona.
We kept going and the higher we climbed the more snow there was. We couldn't make it to the top of the mountain! Snow drifts two to three feet high, packed hard and cold made walking forward impossible.
I never would have thought that just a few hours from 110 degree Phoenix was an ice covered mountain too snowy to climb.
Arizona continues to amaze me.
What an amazing trip, right? I realize I've left off two or three even more stunning places! I'll have to write about them soon.
The trend in international travel is geared towards experiences, not sight seeing. That was so 20th century. People are traveling now to gain a richer understanding of the world and themselves.
So forget those other touristy places!
Come to Arizona. The only thing you have to lose are the long lines, clogged freeways, and expensive hotels at those other tacky trip cities.
The places listed here will definitely help you have a great time.
So come visit! And when you're on the way, drop us a line and let us know you'll be in the area. It's always great to know when our readers are nearby.
Are you coming for a trip to AZ? Great! If so, drop in a comment and tell me where you're going: