Central Arizona Adventure - Miles Ahead

Unlimited Opportunities North Of Phoenix

Carl Calvert
Feb 21, 2007
Photographers: Carl Calvert
Photo 2/12
Southern Arizona has Phoenix, heat, a vast expanse of desert, and a forest of Saguaro cacti. Northern Arizona has Monument Valley, Flagstaff, towering snow-capped peaks, aspens, and pine trees. In between these two locales is Central Arizona, where you'll find ancient Native American ruins, Sedona, beautiful lakes, pine forests, Prescott, and magnificent buttes.
Discovering Central Arizona
We had traveled to Central Arizona several times in the past. On a recent two-week trip to Prescott, we took in most of the touristy sights within an hour's drive of the city and also decided on a two-day side trip to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. As always, it amazed us what this area of Arizona has to offer: scenic beauty, historic places, an abundance of wildlife, unlimited recreational opportunities, and much more.
Photo 3/12   |   Sedona's Church of the Holy Cross is, indeed, an inspiring sight.
The City of Prescott
Prescott is very close to the geographical center of Arizona, and the city itself has a wide variety of things to do and see. The south end is a forest of pine trees and is the gateway to the Prescott National Forest, which has its own set of wilderness opportunities. The south end is also full of historical significance, and the landscape is dominated by the towering peaks of Granite Basin State Park and the imposing Thumb Butte. Head east and you'll run into Prescott Valley, a booming community that rivals Prescott in size and scope.
At the heart of the city is the old county courthouse and the courthouse square. At one time in the late 1800s, Prescott was actually the capital of Arizona. Across from the courthouse is Whiskey Row, now a collection of restaurants, night spots, art houses, and gift stores. Around the turn of the century, however, Whiskey Row was one of the wildest, shoot-'em-up places in the West, visited by the likes of Wyatt Earp and other famous hard-edged men of the time.
Photo 4/12   |   The North Rim is somewhat different from Grand Canyon's South Rim, yet both offer spectacular views of the canyon.
A number of lakes dot the area, including Willow, Watson, Lynx, and Goldwater, each offering a natural experience unparalleled in much of Arizona. Hiking opportunities abound in and around Prescott, and one of our favorite areas is the Granite Basin state recreation area.
The City of Jerome
Less than an hour's drive northeast of Prescott is Jerome, perched on a mountain just above the Sedona area. Jerome is an extremely popular place that must be visited if you are in the area. The city was one of Arizona's premier mining towns-more copper, gold, and silver were pulled out of the mines in the late 1800s and early 1900s than almost anywhere else in Arizona. The town still retains its rough mining town image, and present-day Jerome is rich in history and lore. Jerome is also a great place to visit for its tasty restaurants, lively nightspots, art studios, gift shops, and museums.
Tuzigoot National Monument
Just down the hill from Jerome are the sleepy towns of Clarkdale and Cottonwood, both worth a visit to stroll the old streets. Nearby is Tuzigoot National Monument, which was the home of early Native American people approximately 1,000 years ago, and they built a citadel on a hill that housed about 250 people. The restored monument is an amazing place to walk and dream of past people living in this arid region of Arizona.
The City of Sedona
A short half-hour drive north of Jerome, Cottonwood, and Tuzigoot is the town of Sedona, one of the most famous and well-visited places in America. Sedona has all of the beauty of red rock country, with its towering red cliffs, unique rock formations, scooped-out valleys, as well as the river-coursed, pine-studded beauty of Oak Creek Canyon. Over the years, though, this beauty is also shared by the glitzy stores and upper-crust homes of the city itself, which seems to grow more populated with each passing year. There's still scenic adventure to be found in Sedona, and we recommend many of the off-road areas that await in red rock country. The city also boasts some great restaurants and art houses to enjoy once you've had your fill of the scenic countryside.
Photo 5/12   |   Montezuma's Castle was built into a cliff face and was inhabited approximately 1,000 years ago.
Montezuma's Castle
Another couple of stops not far from our home base are Montezuma's Castle and Montezuma's Well. Both are National Monuments and lie just east of Prescott, a short 45-minute drive away. The Castle and the Well are both located in the Verde Valley, an area rich in beauty and history. Montezuma's Castle has been described as the best-preserved and most dramatic cliff dwellings in the United States. The Castle is built into a deep alcove with masonry rooms added in phases. Built approximately 1,000 years ago, Montezuma's Castle is still 90 percent original with 19 rooms that could have housed 35-50 people.
Photo 6/12   |   Montezuma's Well is naturally fed by a spring that pumps out 1.4 million gallons per day. You can see caves in the walls around the well where Native Americans lived about 1,000 years ago.
Montezuma's Well is a natural limestone sinkhole with prehistoric sites and several animal species found nowhere else in the world. Water entering Montezuma Well is at a constant 74 degrees Fahrenheit with a flow of more than 1.4 million gallons each day. The little-visited Well is worth a trip-give yourself a couple of hours to walk around this diverse area.
The Grand Canyon
Although not technically in the Central Arizona area, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is one of the jewels of Arizona. While in Prescott, we decided to take a side trip to the area, and made reservations to stay two nights at the historic Grand Canyon Lodge, which is perched right on the rim of the Grand Canyon. The vast majority of visitors to the Grand Canyon visit the South Rim, with its Grand Canyon Village, numerous hotels and campgrounds, and breathtaking vistas. Only 10 percent of all the visitors to the Grand Canyon make it to the North Rim, which is 215 miles by vehicle-about a five-hour drive!
The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is every bit as magnificent as the South Rim and has its own brand of beauty. We arrived at the North Rim in early October, just as the aspens were turning golden and the air was developing its late-afternoon nip. We stayed at the Grand Canyon Lodge, a rustic yet elegant place to stay that offers excellent views of the canyon from its dining room. A National Historic Landmark, the Lodge has both cabins and motel-style rooms, and it is advisable to book well in advance because it's such a popular place to stay.
The North Rim of the Grand Canyon has to be experienced to be believed. We took the short walk on a paved trail from the Grand Canyon Lodge to Bright Angel Point, which provides a spectacular view of the canyon. We also took two driving trips, which also offer awesome views: Point Imperial and Cape Royal. Point Imperial is 11 miles from the Grand Canyon Lodge and is the highest point on either rim. The drive to the Point is well worth the trip, and from there you can see Mount Hayden, Saddle Mountain, and a great view of eastern Grand Canyon National Park. Cape Royal, 14 miles from the junction of the Point Imperial and Cape Royal roads, leads to a self-guiding trail that winds its way to Angels Window Overlook, offering a great view of the canyon and the Colorado River. Besides Grand Canyon Lodge, there are also a couple of great campgrounds on the North Rim, and lodging is also available a bit north of the Lodge and at the nearby towns of Jacob Lake and Fredonia.
Photo 7/12   |   Watson Lake near Prescott, Arizona.
Lee's Ferry
On our trip back to Prescott, we took some time to visit Lee's Ferry, a historic spot on the Colorado River where one of the only ferry crossings was located during frontier times. We drove across the bridge over Marble Canyon for a superb view of the Colorado River as its cuts its way through a mighty Canyon. We also took in the Vermillion Cliffs, towering red cliffs jutting up out of the desert floor.
Naturally, there's much more to see in this area of Central Arizona, which we missed but are sure to see at a later date. These include the Fort Verde State Historic Park, the picturesque town of Payson, the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, the high mountain towns of Flagstaff and Williams, and more.

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