My favorite trips are the ones stumbled upon. It’s a common occurrence in my household to pick up and leave on a day of leisure. I would rather sit in my car all day not knowing where I will end up than to sit in my house watching Nexflix. Direction never matters but, in the summer it feels liberating to get away from the heat. Higher elevation subdues the brutal sun – on my last trip it was upward of 105F at home but Flagstaff was a beautiful, balmy 75F. The road is unpredictable but, it makes each trip you take memorable. On such an occasion, a trip up the Beeline Highway landed my family unit in Winslow – in a windstorm- with thunderheads looming in the distance. On the plus side I got to stand on ‘a corner in Winslow, Arizona’ and I happened to be in a flatbed Ford. The destination is not the most important part of the trip – it’s how you get there. That’s all I will touch on with philosophy. The best part about central Arizona is you only need one or two hours to get anywhere if you live in the Phoenix/Scottsdale. Below I have compiled my favorite escapes that you can make a day or a weekend out of.
Steel-cowboy-wild-west-artist-paradise? Nailed it: Cave Creek is calling your name, located off of the Carefree Highway. Don’t get me wrong the town itself is a tourist trap – but a worthy one. There are art galleries to your hearts desire; Good food, eccentric locals and if you are into football Cave Creek hosts a Bear’s, Steeler’s, Packer’s, and Viking’s bar. Let me tell you this place is WILD.
I frequent Cave Creek because of the fantastic hiking at Spur Cross Conservation Area which is about five miles north of Cave Creek. There are hiking options for all levels of ambition.
Looking for an easy stroll? Follow the Dragonfly/Jewel of the Creek trail. On this trail you will see the creek oasis where there are tall seemingly out of place oak trees. The area is cool and mostly shaded. Keep your eyes out for prehistoric rock art – petroglyphs – the whereabouts are not noted so it is up to you to keep your eyes peeled.
Want to break a sweat? Take the Metate or Tortuga trail. The Metate trail has an AMAZING collection of saguaro cactus and examples of metate grindstones which were used to prepare grains by the Native people who occupied the area.
Feeling Ambitious? If you have an entire day to spend (roughly 4-5 hours) and it isn’t too hot consider taking the Elephant Mountain trekk. It is an extremely tough hike that touches the boarder into Tonto National Park but summits at the prehistoric Hohokam fortress. Be sure to bring adequate water. I’m not kidding – it is up hill both ways 🙂
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and Wupatki National Monument is one of the coolest attractions in Flagstaff. The entrance to the park is right off of the state route 89A – blink and you will miss it. The fee is $20 per person and it is well worth the experience. The lava flow field and cinder mounds alone were awe-inspiring. Make sure you grab a map at the ranger station before you start into the twenty mile national monument it will show you where all of the pull offs are.
The second half of the park is dedicated to the Native people who occupied the land. There are amazing sites which showcase the pueblo villages which have been standing for nine hundred years. We visited the Wukoki Pueblo, Lomaki and Box Canyon ruins. Exploring can be cut short due to a threatening thunderstorm. Be aware of storms that prowl over the open prairie – be ready to take cover when the thunderheads move in.
The trails in this national monument are very well maintained and are for everyone to enjoy. My only caution would be to bring adequate water and some lunch which you can enjoy at the numerous pull offs.
If you are into becoming one with nature – Sedona is the place for you! Nestled in red rock country and an hour south of Flagstaff is the eclectic city of Sedona. It has a little bit of everything for everyone – the main strip has art galleries, food, crystal shops, tee shirt shops, and so much more. Sedona is credited with having several large and rather powerful vortexes. A vortex is a location that is said to release earth’s energy. Whether you believe in it or not Sedona has always had a magnetic pull on me – it makes you feel raw and pure. As you can probably tell I am mostly into hiking so I will go ahead and cut to the chase.
I have to admit – I can’t pick just one location as my favorite hiking spot – I have several. I will work on a separate post for the best hikes but for the sake of this article:
Bell Rock Hike – Red Rock Pass required, but accessible in parking area. Bell rock is an easy to moderate hike. Easy if you walk around the base but moderate if you climb the rim. This is a great hike if you are a climber and the elevation allows you to take in the views of the red rock surrounding.
Devil’s Bridge – moderate because of the elevation change and it is mostly open to the sun. This hike offers a walk through a small valley – at the end is a natural rock arch that you can safely walk across. I must warn you the height is dizzying but exhilarating.
Fay Canyon – easy to moderate. If you stay on the maintained trail it is a nice easy walk through the canyon. It is pretty well shaded but I suggest sunscreen all the same. If you follow the un-maintained trail it’s a pretty strenuous ascent. The view at the top is amazing! you can see it in my slide show.
Jerome is an amazing find – not too many people know about it because it is essentially a ghost town that is on the up swing. In the 1800’s it was a copper mining town and fell into disrepair in the 1960’s until an artist commune moved in. The town itself is a work of art – it sits on a hill that has a view that takes your breath away.
Are you a Tool fan? Visit Maynard’s winery Caduceus Cellar in the upper corner of the small town. Jerome boasts two winery’s that are worthy of a visit, antique shops with curios from the 1950’s, boutiques, and a few great lunch choices.
I suggest the Haunted Hamburger which is always packed or the Mile High Grill which has great service and even better food.
Payson is a quaint cowboy town that is most popular for it’s rodeos. I haven’t had much time to explore the city of Payson but there are a few places that I have been able to fall in love with.
Tonto Natural Bridge – one word for this place is magical. As you descend into the canyon the first thing that hits you is the smell of water, the kind of musty, sweet smell. Then you see the arch – huge and carved out of the opposing side of the canyon. The greatest part is walking right through it! You can pick your way through the rocks and the river to the steps on the other side. Note: Pets are not allowed.
If you have additional time another great destination is family run Fossil Creek Ranch in Strawberry. Fossil Creek Ranch is a goat and llama farm as well as a creamery. The fudge is to die for and so is the goat milk moisturizer. This is a perfect destination if you are traveling with kids (no goat pun intended). Fossil Creek Ranch offers felting classes, cheese making classes and ranch tours as well.
ALSO OFFERED: Llama hikes.For $30 a person you can lead llamas through the Mogollon Rim. Reservations are required.
Ok, so this last place isn’t in a cooler elevation but, worth taking a day trip. Once upon a time, Late Triassic to be approximate, Arizona was a tropical forest. As the climate changed trees fossilized and what was left behind became known as petrified wood. Petrified Wood National Park in Holbrook, Arizona boasts one of the largest deposits of petrified wood in the world. Along with 200 various plant fossils the desert area has also produced fossils belonging to phytosaurs (giant crocodiles) and Buettneria (giant salamanders).
As if it cant get any more magnificent, keep driving through Petrified Forest National Park and enter the Painted Desert. The Painted Desert extends through the four corners area – Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona. The badlands are known for a signature rusty red but be sure to look out for shades of olive, lavender and ivory.
Cobweb Clearer – Kate