While the thermometer and calendar have different views about the start of summer, make no mistake: Memorial Day weekend is the official kickoff.
The lure of three days off lends itself to an RV road trip. You can experience the unforgettable exhilarating scenery, including the majestic beauty of the Grand Canyon National Park and the cactus-studded Sonoran Desert.
With more than 325 days of sunshine a year, you can always plan on perfect weather. Here are five exciting Arizona travel adventures to start the sun-drenched season.
Fans of cooler temperatures and Western art will be treated to both at the Phippen Museum Western Art Show and Sale May 27-29. Artists from across the nation will set up booths in Courthouse Plaza downtown. The juried show includes works in oil, watercolor, and sculpture.
At 2 p.m. May 27 and 28, roughly 20 artists will compete in the Quick Draw. Armed with their creative weapons of choice, they will have 60 minutes to complete a work of art. Their works will be auctioned on the north steps of the courthouse. The Phippen Museum (4701 State Route 89, Prescott) is offering free admission during the show.
The blanks will be flying during Wyatt Earp Days, a Memorial Day tradition in the town too tough to die—and too tough to be chased inside by triple-digit temps.
Tombstone has staked its claim on an Old West reputation that also refuses to die, thanks to a certain shootout at a particular corral. The annual festival salutes the spirit of famous lawman Wyatt Earp with staged gunfights, mock public hangings, a chili cook-off, and more. Be sure to bring plenty of sunscreen because Tombstone is not too tough for skin damage.
The home of red rocks and psychic-energy vortexes, this destination features the state’s second-best scenery on a large scale and is way more convenient than No. 1, the Grand Canyon. Seriously, you could pump gas and still see some of Sedona’s most amazing sights. As you crest the final rise on State Route 179, buttes and spires of red cliffs burst forth like fireworks frozen in flight.
A red-rock jeep tour is a great way to enjoy hard-to-reach vistas while experiencing the thrills of getting off-road. You’ll appreciate the springy suspension as much as the low center of gravity.
Entering the Santa Catalina Mountains just 25 miles northeast of Tucson, you’ll find yourself accelerating at the foot of Mount Lemmon. Named for botanist Sarah Plummer Lemmon, you’re going to have a lot more fun than she did in 1881 when she made the first ascent by horse and on foot.
Climbing to over 9,000 feet, with a near 7,000-foot elevation change in a mere 24 miles, the Catalina Highway (also called the Mount Lemmon Highway) is a brilliant ascent with countless curves, numerous vistas, and three major switchbacks. The best news is since there’s only one paved road up this mountain, when you reach the top, you’ll have no choice but to turn around and let gravity assist in your descent.
While perhaps any old strip of Historic Route 66 can provide a bit of a warm fuzzy, there are some stretches where that nostalgia can also live in the now. When they built this road, they weren’t blasting and bulldozing through mountains to straighten the path. The road went where they could find a place to lay it down.
Starting in Kingman, head west off I-40 and you’ll find yourself without a lot of company on the stretch of Old Route 66 to Oatman. More than half of this 26-mile adventure is made up of long straight stretches but be ready for the twisties as you near Oatman. It’s those last nine miles from Cool Springs to Oatman that supply many (perhaps even most) of the photos you see of Arizona Route 66. Oatman prides itself on the wild burros that roam the streets, and you wouldn’t want to be the ass who wrecks his car swerving to miss one of the town’s furry little friends.
The saguaro cactus is the Sonoran Desert’s singular icon, the largest native living thing that exists here, and it appears to be a stunningly robust presence in a harsh land.
—Larry Cheek, Cheek, Born Survivor