By Jill “mamabug” Frier
One of the most fascinating things about Arizona is the vast number of National Parks and Monuments in our state. There are spectacular views in every nook and cranny and so many places to see that you could travel for a year and not see the same thing twice. Officially, there are 22 National Park Service Units in Arizona. This translates to almost 12 million visitors and $1 Billion in economic impact for our state every year.
The National Park Units include three National Parks (Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, and Saguaro) and 13 National Monuments (Canyon de Chelly, Casa Grande Ruins, Chiricahua, Montezuma Castle, Navajo, Organ Pipe Cactus, Parashant, Pipe Spring, Sunset Crater Volcano, Tonto, Tuzigoot, Walnut Canyon and Wupatki). Here are some of the National Parks and Monuments that are easiest to reach when travelling between Phoenix and the Grand Canyon National Park, a must see for the Grand Canyon State.
Wupatki National Monument is an amazing example of pre-historic Native American settlements in the Southwest. As their website poetically explains, “Nestled between the Painted Desert and ponderosa highlands of northern Arizona, Wupatki is a landscape of legacies. Ancient pueblos dot red-rock outcroppings across miles of prairie. Where food and water seem impossible to find, people built pueblos, raised families, farmed, traded, and thrived. Today, if you linger and listen, earth and artifacts whisper their stories to us still.” A piece of desert history, beautifully captured in well-preserved ruins that are now easily accessible to most visitors.
Want to know what it looks like after the volcano eruption cools? Want to walk next to a lava flow? Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument lets you do both. It gives you a view of fascinating geological formations that are the result of a volcano that erupted just 900 years ago. Beautiful views and fascinating geology reside just outside of Flagstaff – this is a great site to visit when heading to or from the wonders of the Grand Canyon.
Walnut Canyon National Monument is a beautiful place to visit the tall pines and take a hike among the ruins and cliff dwellings in the upper elevations of Northern Arizona. There are easy rim trails and more difficult trails down into the canyon. This is a great place to get out of the heat, see the high desert and stop on a road trip when travelling between Phoenix and Grand Canyon National Park.
Montezuma’s Castle National Monument is the first National Monument Ladybug ever visited, and a quick, easy stop off Highway I-17. One of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in North America, this is a lovely place to stop on the road from the Grand Canyon to Phoenix. Take a break or have a picnic and enjoy the shady trees while taking in a breathtaking piece of North American history.
If you enjoy seeing the history of desert people in the southwest as much as Ladybug, you will definitely want to include Tuzigoot National Monument in your road trip itinerary. Visitors cannot only see the ruins of an ancient village built by the Sinagua people, they can walk through the rooms and touch the walls of the structure. The monument is located just outside Cottonwood, down the mountain from Jerome, so be wary of the heat in the summer months. This is a definite must see if the weather is mild.
Of course visitors won’t be able to stop at every one of these spots in a one day journey, but each is worth a trip and a visit in its own right. The next time you want to get out of Phoenix for a day trip or adventure, or are returning to Phoenix from a trip to the Grand Canyon, consider one or more of these National Parks or Monuments in your travel plan.
Read Ladybug’s Blog for more ideas at ladybugsblog.com