Northern Arizona

  • 01 of 07

    Plan a Trip to Northern Arizona

    Northern Arizona Map
    Visiting Northern Arizona. Boise Matthews, used with permission

    It is summer. It is hot. It is really hot. You have almost no vacation time left. You can't call in sick, because you aren't. Just sick of the heat. How about a long weekend getaway? Gas up the vehicle, put a cooler in the back, put on your good walking shoes, grab your camera and your favorite baseball cap. Bring at least one other driver to share the burden. Let's go up north.

    There are many ways to enjoy Arizona's high country. Northern Arizona has a variety of historical sites and natural wonders. If you have already visited one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World in Arizona, the Grand Canyon, I highly recommend a few other amazing places.

    On my trip we chose to stop at the National Monuments since we had never visited them before. The National Monuments are administered by the National Parks Service and there is a small admission fee per vehicle. We were, without exception, very impressed at the condition of the parks, the helpfulness of the employees and...MORE rangers, and the thoughtfulness with which the trails and stopping points were organized.

    At each place you can stop at the visitor's center, peruse the exhibits, and use the facilities. You may also pick up a free color pamphlet about the park, the history of the area and its importance from both an archeological and anthropological perspective.

    First stop: Sunset Crater

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  • 02 of 07

    Sunset Crater

    USA, Arizona, Sunset Crater, aerial view
    Aerial View of Sunset Crater. Harvey Lloyd / Getty Images

    Our trip took us north from Phoenix to Flagstaff, Arizona where we spent the night. The next morning, our first stops were Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki National Monuments.

    Sunset Crater is a cinder cone. It erupted in the year 1064 and represents the most recent volcanic activity in the Flagstaff area. Sunset Crater had periodic eruptions over the next 200 years and is now 1,000 feet high.

    Sunset Crater is about 15 miles north of Flagstaff, The Sunset Crater Trail is an easy and relatively short walk (1 mile) through the lava fields formed by the volcano. It is hard to imagine that one is in Arizona while walking through the vast area of ash and lava rock.

    The ash from the volcano has covered as much as 800 square miles. Around the year 1250 red and yellow ash shot out of the volcano resulting on a colorful reddish glow that led to its name, Sunset Crater.

    Here's a map showing the roads in and around Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument.

    Next stop: Wupatki National Monument

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  • 03 of 07


    Wupatki Pueblo, sunrise.
    Wupatki Pueblo. Witold Skrypczak / Getty Images

    Wupatki is another 14 miles up the road from Sunset Crater. Wupatki is an incredibly well preserved pueblo with about 100 rooms. A self-guided tour is all you need to see this fascinating structure. If you walk the trails and stop at the Visitors Centers to look around, both Sunset Crater and Wupatki should take you three to four hours.

    The Wupatki Pueblo was built in the 1100s. At different times, the Sinagua, Cohonina and Kayenta Anasazi traditions resided here. Between 85 and 100 people lived at Wupatki. Life revolved around growing corn and people relied on stored water.

    Here's a map showing the area in and around Wupatki National Monument.

    Next stop: Walnut Canyon

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  • 04 of 07

    Walnut Canyon

    Walnut Canyon
    Walnut Canyon. Judy Hedding

    At Walnut Canyon you will see how the Sinagua lived in the cliffs of the canyon.

    Their name means "without water" and it is amazing to imagine how they farmed and lived in these canyon walls. Walnut Canyon is the only place we visited on this trip where there were warnings about the strenuous nature of the hiking trail. The Island Trail (all concrete and steps) provides the opportunity to walk beside the cliff dwellings. It is slightly less than one mile. Walking back up is steep (240 steps), and there are many benches along the way to stop and rest. If you can, though, walk this trail--it is worth it--and take your time going back up. The Rim Trail is easier and shorter. The elevation is high here: about 7,000 feet. Take this into consideration when deciding which trail to take. One and a half hours should be enough unless you do both trails.

    Next stop: Painted Desert / Petrified Forest

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  • 05 of 07

    Painted Desert and Petrified Forest

    Petrified Forest National Park
    Petrified Forest, with Painted Desert in the background. Carol Polich Photo Workshops / Getty Images

    The next day we left early and drove about two hours to the Petrified Forest National Park. Leave 2 to 3 hours for this visit. You are now on the Colorado Plateau. This is another incredibly different place, and if you are interested in geology you will be happy here. Walk the trail in the middle of petrified wood strewn across the landscape as far as the eye can see. Do not touch and do not steal any pieces! Stop at the various points along the road on the way through the Painted Desert.

    In the Colorado Plateau, and on the road to the Painted Desert, there is wonderful natural beauty. The mounds you'll see look like sand piles, but actually are roadmaps to some of the geologic history of the area. There are sandstone layers, clay layers, siltstone layers and hematite giving the hills of the Painted Desert wonderful colors. This doesn't look at all like Arizona, but it is!

    Next stop: Canyon de Chelly

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  • 06 of 07

    Canyon de Chelly

    Spider Rock at Canyon de Chelly. Judy Hedding

    A visit to Canyon de Chelly (pronounced can'yun duh shay') should be on your must-do list if you want to see beautiful and historical natural wonders in Arizona.

    Canyon de Chelly is on the Colorado Plateau. The earliest record of humans is between 2500 and 200 B.C. Canyon de Chelly is really several canyons, including Canyon del Muerto. In the deeper part of the canyon the walls are more than 1,000 feet above the canyon floor.

    The periods of human history here are broken up into periods: Archaic, Basketmaker, Pueblo, Hopi, Navajo, The Long Walk and Trading Days. The National Monument was established in 1931 and encompass about 84,000 acres. It lies within the Navajo Reservation. Although the Canyon is administered by the U.S. Government, it belongs to the Navajo people who continue to live in and around it today as they have for centuries.

    One of the most photographed points in Northern Arizona is Spider Rock. It is at the junction of Canyon de Chelly and Monument Canyon. Spider...MORE Rock is about 800 feet high. In the photo above you can see roads and farmed land on the canyon floor. There is livestock in the canyon.

    A jeep tour inside the canyon is advisable; many of the sights are not visible from the rim. There are several ruins that can be seen. They had living and storage areas and ceremonial rooms called kivas. Fortresses were built for protection from invaders.

    The White House Ruin in Canyon de Chelly is about 1,000 years old. There are two dwellings, an upper and a lower. At one time the walls of the lower structure reached up to the base of the upper dwelling which was covered with white plaster. It is not Navajo--it was built by ancient Pueblan people.

    Canyon de Chelly is two hours up the road from Petrified Forest and there are two rims. The North Rim Drive is 34 miles round trip and the South Rim Drive is 37 miles round trip. There is no entrance fee. This is Navajo private land, and they observe Daylight Saving time, unlike Phoenix or Flagstaff. Obey the speed limits and the laws here. If you have enough time, you can arrange for either a four-hour or eight-hour jeep tour into the Canyon. Either way, you can enjoy the ruins and the beautiful canyon.

    Next stop: Flagstaff

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  • 07 of 07

    Before You Go Home!

    View from Mount Humphreys
    View from Mount Humphreys. Judy Hedding

    Hopefully, you can get a little rest before you get back in your vehicle for the ride home, which should take you about six hours. We took an extra day and went back to Flagstaff. We visited Arizona Snowbowl and rode the skyride to the top of Humphreys (remember, we made this trip in the summer). It takes 30 minutes each way, and we spent only about 15 minutes on top. No matter how you plan it, you will have had an amazing weekend, seen several of Arizona's wonderful National Parks and Monuments and have a collection of spectacular pictures to prove it.