As a reader of Arizona Highways magazine it's impossible to not fall in love with Arizona. In any given issue you are left yearning for a full tank of gas, pair of shoes and a pack to go out and explore all the areas you never new existed. I've always been a big seller of Arizona to visitors and felt it's really important to show people that we are not just a sweltering hot desert but in fact have so many varieties of life you cannot deny Arizona as one of the most incredible places in the US.
(Quick side fact in the latest issue of Arizona Highways: Arizona ranks third nationally as having the most biodiversity as a state behind California and Texas. Which both have ocean coastlines adding greatly to the diversity of life there. Ironically enough if Arizona had more water we would have less life as many of the unique species to the region are desert specific or region specific due to the many ecological regions of the area.)
Take a trip up Mt. Lemmon, Mt. Wrightson, Four Peaks Wilderness or a number of Arizona Wilderness areas for a true look at how different this state can be in as short as a 2 hour drive or day hike can take you. So with that in mind, here are some places in the state I've been really wanting to visit and finally get off my "to do" list. Some are popular yet undeniably beautiful must see's in the state. Numbered in no particular order.
#1 Kofa National Wildlife Refuge
To me the Kofa Mountains have always had this strange draw to them similar to how I've always felt about the Superstition Wilderness Area. It has this unique ruggedness, this shrouded secrecy deep within each of those canyons. What's in there? How to you get back there? What's on the other side of that ridge? I want to find out.
It's also full of some old mines from when it was originally the "King of Arizona" Mine which became "Kofa." Patton used some of the region for training for WW11 so there may be unexploded ordinances in the area. Which I'll admit sounds a bit sketchy given there isn't an extensive trail system to it's off trail peak bagging and chances are good it'll be a test of orienteering out there. It is also a breeding ground for Bighorn Sheep with about 1,000 in the region. They use the area to redistribute Bighorns to other regions to furthur populate the species. They are also about to introduce the Sonoran Pronghorn into the region in attempts to revive that nearly extinct sub-species.
#2 Chiricahua Wilderness/National Monument
The Chiricahua Mountains are so unique and so steep with history I've wanted to visit them for since I moved to Arizona in 2001. To think that the Chiricahua Apache Indians used to fight the U.S. Army in this region, in this terrain, is pretty remarkable given it's level of toughness. It's in the far southeastern stretch of Arizona and fell victim to a tough forest fire this spring so I'm not sure of the extent of the damage but it will get a visit, no doubt about it.
#3 Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs
On the Colorado Plateau just outside of Page, Arizona and Lake Powell is some of the most stunning landscape found. Many of it is so photographed you almost feel like you've seen enough of it yet that same argument could be made for the Grand Canyon and every time that argument is obliterated the moment you step foot on the edge of the Rim. I feel this would be a similar experience that a camera cannot fully capture exactly what you are experiencing as you make your way through the massive walls and slot canyons.
I'd always heard they restrict hikers for this region but that is only for overnight hikers. Coyote Buttes you do need a permit for day hiking but aside from that most areas are accessible for day use.
#4 Navajo Nation
Monument Valley...click photo for great article on Navajo Nation from UK, The Guardian writer.
Navajo Nation gets a bad rap sometimes, specifically if you went to college at NAU where Navajo's would come to get off the "Dry" reservation and have some drinks. But I think there is a wonderful quality to a group of people that have perservered for so long on land that is very difficult to survive off of. The history of the land dates so far back its incredible it's so often overlooked with the Grand Canyon visitors. Canyon de Chelly is a beautiful stop showing dwellings from the Anazazi's and the lush green below the Navajo Sandstone walls that climb a thousand feet above. I love the vastness of the area, the wide open high desert, the sandstone cliffs, the mountains that just jump out of the ground. It's a very mezmerizing place that I've actually been to several times. I've been to Four Corners (waste of time...) and Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon and driven through the reservation several times. So why is it on this list if I've already been there? Because there is so much more to see on this land than what you can see from your car. Watching "Running the Sahara" was a terrible idea for me and I blame my wife for allowing such an impressionable man such as myself to watch it. Now...I'm thinking far bigger terms than just a local 50k. What I previously thought was crazy is not feasible. What I previously thought was insane is now conceivable. Impossible 2 Possible. So would I run across the entire Navajo Nation? Yes. Yes I would.
#5 Imperial Sand Dunes/Monument Valley Dunes
Cow Skull on dunes in Monument Valley. Photo by Michael Howell.
Imperial Sand Dunes are technically in California but the premise here is the fact that we HAVE sand dunes in Arizona. There are smatterings of dunes on the AZ side but most is just west of the Colorado River and south into Mexico. It's there but just barely over the border. You can practically see it from Arizona. Near Monument Valley on the complete opposite edge of the state you can find full on dunes as well, just not in the huge quantity as in the Imperial Sand Dunes. You'll also find far less ATV's...
#6 Aravaipa Canyon
Riparian envirnoment that limits the number of people that can enter in any given day to 50. I've heard about this place over and over again throughout the years and just need to make the time to experience it myself.
#7 Mt. Baldy/Greer
Hidden Peak on the way up Mt. Baldy
Eastern Arizona on the Mogollon Rim has been hit hard with the Wallow Fire recently but it's always been a place I've wanted to explore after so many winters spent close by in Pinetop. Being one of the highest peaks in the state also has it's allure as well as the much colder weather.
#8 Sky Islands
Miller Peak by Frank Baker.
Just go to this website. Sky Island Traverse???
Grand Enchantment Trail? Where have I been??
#9 Havasu Falls
Twice I've had the permits and plans to visit this place and twice it's fallen through at the last minute. Despite the recent damage from the floods it's still well worth a trip, at least to say you've been there.
#10 Secret Mountain Wilderness-Sedona
Secret Mountain by Tony Trubb
I've been to Sedona more times than I can remember. I got married there, I've hiked there, I've ran there. Yet I've never really been able to do more than Bell Rock hikes/runs with family in town to "see Sedona." I know there is so much more out there to see and I've always wanted to go up there and disappear for a few days discovering all the trails that place has to offer.