Arizona is filled with tourist destinations largely unknown to those who live outside the state. Non-residents conjure images of the Grand Canyon, Sonoran Desert, or the Wild West and cowboys, but they rarely see the pine trees through the saguaro forest.
Yet there are places—perhaps as a result of inconvenient location or lack of publicity—that may not appear on the RVer’s radar as much as they should. Following are five underrated Arizona destinations. The roads less traveled lead to these less-visited gems.
The endless vista studded with red-tinged buttes and spires is as well known as it is breathtaking.
Hundreds of millions of years ago, Monument Valley was a vast basin, a huge geological dud. Over eons, marvelous things happened. Sediment shed by the Rocky Mountains slowly filled the basin, the layers solidifying before wind and water carved the formations that remained relatively unknown until they starred in John Ford Westerns.
Book a tour with an authorized guide. Tours range from a few hours to much of the day. Best times to view are at sunrise or sunset when formations glow red and pink.
Step back in time at Canyon de Chelly National Monument. Steep canyon walls cradle hundreds of ancient pueblo ruins. Recognized as one of the longest inhabited landscapes in North America, see pueblo ruins built between 350 and 1300 A.D. ―as well as a contemporary Navajo Indian community that still inhabits the canyon floor, herding sheep during the summer months.
Two self-guided drives extend from the visitor center and follow the rims of the canyon. At the end of the South Rim Drive, take in the sights from the popular Spider Rock overlook, featuring the park’s signature geological formation.
The annual southern Arizona visit of thousands of long-legged and graceful sandhill cranes occurs from November through early March. Most people aren’t birdwatchers, and even fewer people will drive four hours to see a particular bird.
On a chilly winter day, a handful of people arrive at the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, where a shallow but vast body of water stretches before them. Shores to the left and right are blotted out by a forest of spindly legs sprouting gray feathers. The squawks and calls of thousands of sandhill cranes choke the air. Suddenly there is movement along the edges, then a swirl of wings and beaks. Hundreds of cranes take flight in an avian tornado.
Established in 1752 as a Spanish fort, Tubac is an exquisite, brightly painted town with more than 100 galleries, shops, and restaurants lining its meandering streets. A quaint haven for artists, Tubac was the first permanent European settlement in what later became Arizona.
It was in 1948 that landscape painter Dale Nichols opened an art school in Tubac and the quiet little burg began its evolution into an artist colony.
There’s a whiff of emergent Santa Fe here without the crowds. Meandering streets are punctuated by hidden courtyards and sparkling fountains. Tubac doesn’t even have a traffic light and I find myself falling into a relaxed rhythm as we wander the town. A half day can easily disappear wandering amongst this wealth of painting, sculpture, ceramics, and photography, as well as unique regional fashion, leather, crafts, antiques, and jewelry.
Southeastern Arizona is an incredible blend of mountains and grasslands and desert, hot and cold, and Coronado National Memorial is a great place to learn about it. Coronado National Memorial commemorates and interprets the significance of Coronado’s expedition and the resulting cultural influences of 16th century Spanish colonial exploration in the Americas.
Situated in oak woodlands on the southern edge of the Huachuca Mountains, the 4,750-acre park offers a visitors center, Coronado Cave, hiking trails, and a scenic drive that culminates at Coronado Pass overlook (elevation 6,575 feet) with breathtaking views of the San Pedro Valley to the southeast and the San Raphael Valley to the west.
The trip across Arizona is just one oasis after another. You can just throw anything out and it will grow there.