Arizona’s distinct climates are separated by altitude changes varying from the low Sonora Desert in the Southwest (lowest point: 70 feet along the Colorado River near Yuma) to the vast Ponderosa pine forests topping out at Humphrey’s Peak near Flagstaff at 12,633 feet. Wherever you are in Arizona, travel distances from low deserts to cool forests can be achieved in less than a day’s drive. These side trips will take you to the Arizona gems that often get overlooked or bypassed.
Southeastern Arizona is perfect for Spring and Fall trips, higher in elevation than the deserts and therefore cooler when the deserts heat up. Birdwatchers visit Madra Canyon, Patagonia Lake SP, Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, the San Pedro River, Willcox (huge flocks of Sandhill cranes winter on the Willcox Playa) and the Chiricahua Mountains near Portal (elevation 9,000 feet) for some of the best birding in the country, where you will see neotropical species at the northern end of their range.
History buffs will enjoy the gunfights in the streets of old Tombstone (Gunfight at the O.K. Corral), the Murray Springs Clovis site near Sierra Vista, where the pre-historic Clovis people hunted wooly mammoths 13,000 years ago, and Bisbee, once a raucous copper mining boomtown and now a quirky, artist’s haven and enlivened “ghost town” (click here for Southeastern AZ Good Sam Parks).
Head north along the New Mexico border to the Mogollon Rim’s Ponderosa pine forests, mountain lakes, and the town of Show Low, named after the poker game that funded the winner’s ability to buy the town. Just north you can visit the great Navajo and Hopi Reservations, where you can visit Walpi, which has been continuously inhabited for more than 1100 years dating back to 900 A.D. (Click here
for Good Sam RV parks on the Mogollon Rim).
Seven-thousand foot high Flagstaff is the largest high elevation city in the state, and the base for visiting Walnut Canyon National Monument, where you can walk through 26 Sinagua ruins built into the steep sides of the canyon walls, around the red sandstone puebloes in Wupatki National Monument, and up the sides of extinct Sunset Crater volcano. Chick here
for Flagstaff’s Good Sam Parks).
Prescott, at 5,400 feel, was the first Territorial Capital, and location of the first governor, John Fremont’s, mansion—well, actually, a very rustic log cabin. Discover Good Sam Parks in Prescott area.
Go West to the Colorado River’s winter snowbird destinations, also popular for boating and fishing, including the home of the London Bridge in Lake Havasu City. Just East of Needles, California, the revived town of Oatman is famous for its feral burros, turned loose by miners when their claims ran dry. They survived on desert plants until they discovered it was easier to beg carrots from tourists.