Ghost towns, historic railway rides, caves, canyons, London Bridge, resorts with waterslides... Arizona has lots for families.
The Old West of the Westerns
Arizona's Monument Valley defined the landscape for Westerns, starting in 1939 when director John Ford made "Stagecoach" starring John Wayne. More than 400,000 people travel each year to the Navajo Reservation to see Monument Valley's towers of rocks.
(And on the topic of Westerns, here's a quote: "I wouldn't say [that] when you've seen one Western you've seen the lot; but when you've seen the lot you get the feeling you've seen one."*)
Another icon of the west is Tombstone, Arizona, "The town too tough to die". At the The O.K. Corral you can walk where Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday had a famous gunfight, and maybe even see a re-enactment too.
Dude Ranches: Arizona has long been a popular spot for dude ranches, especially in the area around Wickenburg. Ranchos de los Caballeros is a low-key authentic "ranch resort" (i.e. golf and spa, in addition to horse-riding), with 60 years of dude ranch history.
Speaking of the Old West, Prescott National Forest has the right stuff: mountains, desert grasslands, chaparral, and names like Lonesome Pocket and Horsethief Basin. The giant saguaro cactus also appeared regularly in old westerns, and can be seen at Saguaro National Monument, which also has the Arizona/Sonora Museum with animals in "nearly natural settings".
Petrified Forest National Monument, meanwhile, has vast areas of petrified logs that were living trees before the dinosaurs; and at the north you can see the Painted Desert.
Grand Canyon: Of course the grand-daddy of Arizona's natural wonders is the Grand Canyon, which is actually a youngster compared to the 225-million-year-old Petrified Forest; the Grand Canyon started 5 to 20 million years ago through erosion by the Colorado River plus uplift of the earth's crust. There are many ways to visit the Grand Canyon: south rim, north rim; hiking, mule rides; historic lodges; Skywalk... See Grand Canyon Travel Guide.
Canyon de Chelly: Awesome in the true sense of the word, Canyon de Chelly, (pronounced "Chey") is near Chinle, in the heart of the Navajo Nation. Centuries ago, the Anasazi (Old Ones) lived in this Canyon; today, the Navajo keep sheep on the Canyon floor. Visitors can drive on the rim and peer down at overlooks, or descend by hiking, horseback riding, or jeep tours. However, without a guide, visitors can only go into the canyon on the White House Trail, which leads down to the ancient White House Ruins. The hike is steep at times, but very beautiful. If there's water in the Creek at the bottom, the kids can wade.
Kids love caves, and Arizona has some great ones: Colossal Caves, near Tucson;Grand Canyon Caverns; Kartchner Caverns, a state park.
Improbable though it is, this famous Bridge was moved and reconstructed at Lake Havasu City, and about one and a half million tourists a year come to see it and the English Village built nearby. Best location to stay is at the London Bridge Resort, which has 110 waterfront acres on Lake Havasu.
Lake Havasu - Houseboating: Lake Havasu actually a a large reservoir behind Parker Dam -- is popular houseboating; houseboating on Lake Mead -- the largest man-made lake and reservoir in the US -- is a big draw too. Both lakes can get crowded! Lake Mead - in Arizona and southern Nevada- is a National Recreation Area and has ranger-led hikes.
- The Pointe South Mountain Resort, fifteen minutes from the Phoenix airport, made itself a magnet for families by building The Oasis, its own private 6-acre waterpark. Great golf and hiking, too.
And for more Arizona vacation info: see Southwest for Visitors, at About.com.
*Katharine Whitehorn, British journalist, Sunday Best, "Decoding the West".)
photo © Teresa Plowright
This brief profile is meant to introduce these destinations to family vacationers; please note that the writer has not visited all these destinations in person. And always check web sites for updates.