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If you’ve already peered over the edge of the Grand Canyon, explored Sedona’s mystical energy and hiked to Havasu Falls, perhaps you’re looking for something new to experience in Arizona. Or, maybe you just enjoy going off the beaten path, and in some cases, far off the beaten path. If that’s you, be sure to check out some of the state’s most spectacular hidden gems.
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Goldfield Ghost Town, “the gateway to the Superstition Mountains,” located just outside Apache Junction, was a bustling town around the turn-of-the-century after gold was struck here in 1892. Today, this ghost town in Arizona offers the chance to explore the Old West in an authentic ghost town brought back to life. Stop into shops and historic buildings, tour a gold mine, explore a museum and even pan for gold. Goldfield also offers rides on the state’s only narrow gauge train, and the chance to watch gunfights.
Located in picturesque Oak Creek Canyon just seven miles north of Sedona, Slide Rock State Park is home to a smooth, natural water slide. It was formed from red sandstone, and Oak Creek passes over it, spilling into a refreshing swimming hole. It offers a fabulous retreat for cooling off on a hot summer day. Visitors can slide down the slick water chute, wade in the cool waters or soak up the sunshine along the creek.
Colossal Cave Mountain Park is a desert park that showcases Colossal Cave and La Posta Quemada Ranch, a 128-year-old working ranch. Although the cave was officially “discovered” in the late 1800s, archaeological findings have shown that it’s been used for centuries by prehistoric people. Take a tour to explore its beautiful formations like stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone, boxwork, and helictites. The ranch hosts a petting zoo, pony and horseback rides and overnight camping is available too.
The Verde Valley is a beautiful destination for outdoor adventures, history, and just relaxing and taking in the gorgeous scenery. Renowned for its mineral riches, the valley once hosted several copper mines that attracted settlers to the area. As such, you’ll find a number of museums related to its glorious past, including the Arizona Copper Art Museum in Clarkdale. One of the most popular attractions here, however, is the Verde Canyon Railroad which takes passengers to the state’s “other grand canyon.”
The Wave is located in the Coyote Buttes North area, along the border of Utah within the Paria Canyon Wilderness Area/Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. It has an incredible, undulating appearance with vast sandstone structures that are stretched like taffy. Its made up of Navajo Sandstone dunes that have calcified vertically and horizontally, and eventually hardened into compacted rocks over time. To see it, you’ll have to enter the lottery to obtain a hiking permit four months in advance via the Bureau of Land Management, but it’s definitely worth the wait.
At this fascinating national park located east of Winslow, you can explore one of the largest and most vibrantly colored collections of petrified wood, historic structures and archaeological sites which sit among the striking beauty of the Painted Desert. The “trees” are fragmented, fossilized logs spread across a vast area of grassland. Many are huge, up to six feet in diameter, and at least one spans a ravine, forming a natural bridge. And, they’re as ancient as the first dinosaurs that roamed the world 225 million years ago.
Mount Graham International Observatory, is home to the world’s largest telescope, an LBT, or Large Binocular Telescope, which offers even better clarity than the Hubble Space Telescope, as well as other research telescopes. If you’re curious about astronomy and telescopes, you can take a tour on the weekend which includes a trip up Mount Graham, where you’ll learn about the mountain’s rich geology, history, and diversity of life, lunch, and a guided tour of the observatories.
Tonto Natural Bridge is a natural arch that’s believed to be the largest natural travertine bridge in the world. It sits within a little valley surrounded by a forest of pine trees inside Tonto Natural Bridge State Park. The 183-foot-high bridge hovers over a 400-foot-long tunnel, measuring 150 feet at its widest point. A series of underground springs with mineral-laden waters in a narrow, V-shaped ravine, have built up large deposits of travertine through which the creek has eroded a passageway, leaving the rocks above it standing, serving as a natural bridge. There are four trails that descend into a canyon, allowing visitors to capture the glory of this geologic wonder.
This archaeology museum and the Sonoran Desert preserve host the largest concentration of Native American petroglyphs in the Phoenix area and are open for public tours. Sunset tours offer the rare opportunity to experience the preserve during optimal viewing time when the light is just right to see the Hedgpeth Hills petroglyphs which are between 500 and 7,000 years old, with and at least one source dating them to 10,000 years ago.
Horseshoe Bend is considered to be one of the greatest natural wonders in the nation. The horseshoe-shaped meander of the Colorado River that serves as an excellent example of a formation called an “entrenched meander,” can be reached by taking a less than three-quarters-of-a-mile hike through the scenic red rocks that overlook the river.
The colorful historic mining town of Bisbee offers all sorts of interesting attractions, from odd art installations and spectacular murals to historical sites and even a mining tour. The Copper Queen Tour offers the largest and most complete tour of the state’s oldest copper mines. You’ll don a hard hat, slickers and headlamp before hopping on the underground train to go deep inside the mine. Retired miners narrate the tour, and show how the mines were operated back in the day.
Montezuma Castle is not a royal palace, but it’s at least as fascinating. Built by the Sinagua Indians in the 12th century, it boasts one of the most well-preserved cliff dwellings in the nation. Gaze through the windows of the past, peering into the 20-room high-rise apartments that were carved into towering limestone cliffs to get a look at how the tribe transformed the unforgiving desert landscape into convenient prosperity.
Signal Hill, in Saguaro National Park, offers spectacular desert views along with impressive petroglyphs along a short trail that are estimated to be at least 1,000 years old. The park also preserves a giant saguaro cactus forest that stretches across the valley floor, as well as vast mountain ranges offering excellent hiking and biking.
The Superstition Mountain Museum sits at the foot of the Superstition Mountains. Although it is a tourist trap, it’s one that’s worth visiting. Exhibits are focused around Superstition Mountain and the famous legend of the Lost Dutchman Gold, local geology, wildlife, Native American artifacts, cowboys and the west, including the numerous Western films that were shot in the area. It also happens to host Elvis weddings in a chapel that serves as the Movie Memorabilia Museum.
Set within Arizona’s oldest schoolhouse, built in 1884, local children were taught here until it closed in 1916. Eventually, the log cabin was totally abandoned, and it sat crumbling and forgotten. Then, in the 1980s, it was restored and opened to the public as the Strawberry Schoolhouse Museum, a treasured landmark and a registered historical site.
If you drive down Roosevelt Street in Phoenix, you can’t miss Alwun House with its bright colors making it stick out like a sore thumb, but even so, most people outside the local area don’t know it exists. The cheery-looking Victorian-era bungalow home is a vibrant part of the Phoenix art scene on Roosevelt Row, serving as an art gallery, studio, and venue for local artists. It’s a cutting-edge gallery, a “legendary hot-bed for emergent creatives,” offering out-of-the-ordinary performances that you would probably not see anywhere else.