Large cities, sprawling farmlands and increasing rural habitation take up much of the area east of the Rocky Mountains and the scenic areas in these states are isolated bastions of the once natural world. The Rocky Mountain strip running from the Canadian border in Montana, to the Mexican border in Arizona, hosts vast areas of scenic wonders. Of these, Arizona may have the widest open spaces, the greatest collection of ancient cultures and an overabundance of overwhelming natural beauty.
Traveling from Tucson one hundred miles to the south or from Phoenix sixty miles to the west, the city of Globe is the start of a scenic trip to the White Mountains and beyond. Traveling north from Globe on US-60 the country rises toward the rim of the Salt River Canyon, first through scrubby desert, eventually reaching the elevation of beautiful rolling grassland forested with juniper and oak.
At the rim of the Salt River Canyon the road descends curving with switchbacks and caution is advised. The Salt River drains the entire White Mountain range and looking upriver from the bridge, the traveler is rewarded with a view of the roaring Salt running between sheer, vertical, cliffs. The climb out of the canyon is more curves and switchbacks and you roll over the top into the Apache Reservation, a land of sage and Yellow pine forest.
Reaching the mountain town of Show Low an hour and a half out of Globe, travel one hour north to Holbrook and east on I-40 to the entrance to the petrified forest. 225 million years ago, lush forests were swept away by flood and entombed in volcanic ash becoming petrified. Beautiful branches and huge logs lay scattered in this stone forest where dinosaurs once tread.
The Painted Desert is adjacent to the forest and a drive through these fairyland hills will leave you breathless. Rolling hills and sharp cliffs are vibrantly colored strata of striking earth tones of beige, purple, rose and deep reds. This magnificent attraction has attracted shutterbugs from the world over.
Another hours drive will bring you to Flagstaff for overnight accommodations and the return trip to Phoenix and Tucson down I-17.
With the Grand Canyon in mind, head north out of Phoenix sixty miles and take exit 289 west three miles to a beautiful canyon and the ruin called Montezuma’s Castle. Montezuma’s Castle is one of the best-preserved cliff dwelling in the United States. It rises five stories and boasts twenty rooms. The Castle was inhabited for 600 years by the ancient Siagua Indians and sits in a gorgeous canyon setting framed by towering Cottonwood and Walnut trees.
Returning to I-17, continue north, a short distance, to highway 170 and take it west into some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. The drive through Oak Creek Canyon was declared Arizona’s first scenic state route and is the number one tourist attraction in Arizona. The scenery is a breathtaking vista of red mountains and cliffs, Flowing streams and creeks and lush riparian habitats of walnut, cottonwood and spruce trees. The town of Sedona at the southern end of the canyon is lively tourist town featuring exquisite art galleries, gift shops and excellent restaurants.
Continue on highway 170 to I-17 and into Flagstaff. From Flagstaff follow highway 180 for seventy miles through heavy forest of Yellow pine to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Everyone is struck in awe at their first glimpse of this wonder of the world. Walls plunge nearly vertically from the rim to the Colorado River a mile below and are painted in every color of the rainbow. Towering spires reach for the sky and massive boulders are precariously balanced as only nature can create. The south rim is usually crowded and expensive and for those seeking more solitude, a trip around the east end to the north rim is well worth the effort.