Cacti, UFOs, Malls: What Does Arizona Have to Offer?

Photo by Fatema Sachak
Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon

The desert state of Arizona known for rattlesnakes, cacti and red mountains, is a vast and magnificent place. From haunted copper mining towns, UFO sightings, 40 acre monumental shopping malls and of course, the Grand Canyon, this state truly has a diversity of attractions. If you do find yourself riding cross-country or vacationing in this Wild West state here are some of the sites you just have to see. And for all the city folk, walking or public transportation to and from places is not an option - take a car unless you have an innate desire to walk well over 40 miles one way.  

Begin your journey in the south of the desert in Tucson, where you travel 35 feet underground into a nuclear bunker and can gaze through a world-renowned telescope into the night sky in the same day.

First stop, the Titan Missile Museum located just outside Tucson in Sahuarita. In this fascinating one hour tour, you’ll gain some insight into the role of nuclear weapons during the cold war and dive 35 feet underground into one of the most secretive and protected areas in the 1970s and 80s.  A 760 ton door underground will open to give you access to the command center where a guide will walk you through a potential nuclear deployment. The last stop before bracing the sun again, you will see where they stored nuclear weapons. There is no longer a nuclear weapon there of course, they do not know where others are stored and do not really appreciate questions of extreme secrecy. 

Biosphere (Photo by: Fatema Sachak) Biosphere

Next, take a drive to the top of a hill to look out into the universe at Kitt Peak National Observatory. Look at the weather forecast before and book your tickets on a night where the sky is clear so you can enjoy the mysterious universe without any cloud obstruction. Home to one of the best telescopes in the world, this observatory has both daily and nightly tours, but why go look into a telescope unless you are looking at the stars?

Next morning, hop in a car and drive a little outside of Tucson to the small town of Oracle, to visit the incredible design, science and architecture of Biosphere 2. This scientific marvel is home to a rainforest, desert, savanna, ocean and several other climate conditions all for the purpose of food, water and energy research. There are several different tours to choose from where you can walk through the biosphere and get an overview of the history and science of the building. You’ll learn about their coral, their drought experiment in the rainforest and can see a desert inside a biosphere in the middle of a desert. This glass dome is a work of genius. Visiting Biosphere 2 is an enlightening experience you will not forget. 

After completing your entertaining drive around Tucson, drive north and make your way to Tempe to visit Arizona State University. In the top 5 largest universities in the US, ASU is definitely quite a sight to see. Although there is currently a lot of construction taking place, with refurbishment of classes, building of dorms and solar panels, this college town is still beautiful. Take a stroll down Palm Tree Walk, a beautiful avenue of palm trees and watch students walk to and from classes, trying not to overstress with the piles of work they have to complete in their oversized backpacks. Once the sun sets and classes are over, take a stroll down Mill Avenue where stunning tree lights illuminate the street to a line of entertaining college bars and restaurants. 

Red Rock (Photo by: Fatema Sachak) Red Rock

Once you tire yourself of the college lifestyle, discard the studious life and continue to drive north to the famous cowboy city of Sedona. The breath-taking red rocks stretching for miles, scattered with lush green shrubs and cacti is something out of a movie. Speaking of movies, the magnificent backdrop of Sedona was the hub of many of Hollywood’s Wild West movies with cowboys riding horses through the red rocks, guns strapped in their holsters and lariats ready. Now, with the Wild West movies a thing of the past, Sedona is home to mostly retirees, the rumoured homes of Oprah Winfrey and Madonna and the world’s only blue McDonalds! Besides celebrity houses, this city is home to a rich history and beautiful sights. Take a one to two hour Trolley Tour where your guide will drive you through some valleys and explain some fascinating facts about the city. Did you know the now arid land started as an apple orchard and this beautiful city has had its fair share of UFO sightings? 

After the trolley tour, take a walk in the city center and pop into some shops. There are a lot of interesting trinkets you can find, or just enjoy the window shopping. Once you start getting peckish, stop at Cowboy Club, a local Sedona restaurant serving some unique foods from rattlesnake sausage to cactus fries, well worth the visit. Here you’ll be greeted by staff wearing black cowboy hats, cowboy boots and plastic guns in their holsters. Try sit outside if you can to take in the splendid view of the rocks. Their menu is a mix of local interesting delicacies, and if you are courageous, take a hit at their unusual dishes. Their cactus fries, although it sounds bizarre are delicious - a tangy, salty taste with a sweet prickly pear sauce. They taste a little slimy, but you may find that you like them better than French fries.

The ocean inside Biosphere (Photo by: Fatema Sachak) The ocean inside Biosphere

Post stuffing your face and before leaving, try one of the hiking trails in the city. Climb on top of the rocks to get an exquisite view of the surroundings. Many tourists are attracted to this red rock city as a hiking destination, but be careful, along the route, you may come across some rattlesnakes, scorpions and collared peccary, especially in the summer heat, and you do not want to mess with them. However, they are easy to avoid, and the end result of a rocky red plain is well worth the risk.

Last stop on the Arizona tour, and certainly not least by any means is, of course the Grand Canyon. One of the world’s wonders and amazing rock formations stretching several hundred miles, this bewildering natural beauty seems like a creation of the Gods. Keep driving north a few more hours and you’ll hit the Grand Canyon National Park. Besides walking for hours and seeing the vast valley and rocks, there are several activities to keep you entertained during the day. The Park has a camping ground if tents and sleeping bags are up your alley. For the day, there are boating excursions, helicopter tours, horseback riding tours and much more, all on the north, south, east and west rims. You can hike down the canyon have a little picnic, and then must muster the strength to hike back up all in one day. And if the kids want more out of the visit, they can become a Junior Ranger in the course of your time there. Although there are many activities at the Grand Canyon, pay attention to weather reports and seasons as several areas and activities are closed in the winter. The stunning view of the Canyon is something you will never forget, so plan it for clear sunny skies and don’t forget your glasses, you don’t want to miss this view!