ARIZONA, the Grand Canyon State

What to see

Wilcox landscape
Benson Gammons Gulch Ghost town
Tombstone Fight at the OK Corral
Tucson Biosphere II - Sonora Desert museum - San Xavier del Bac
Yuma Sand Dunes
Quartzsite RV town
Phoenix Phoenix City - Taliesin - Fountain Hills - Scottsdale - La Borgatta
Williams portal to the Grand Canyon
Holbrook Painted Desert - Petrified Forest
Sedona Panorama - Tlaquepaque
Camp Verde Montezuma's Castle
Tusayan Grand Canyon NP
Kingman The drive from Las Vegas to Tucson
Article Rattlesnakes, scorpions, tarantulas, the roadrunner
Other pages other states | articles

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This is an extract of what to see in this state, with small photos. You will find the full description, history and full-sized photos, in my e-book View America: West Mountain - Part 3

In the travel series View America, West Mountain - Part 3 covers Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico. It is not a traditional travelogue, but a non-commercial and more or less objective chronicle of an in-depth exploration of these states. Each state is described with its own brief historical background and its main sights, tourist attractions and points of interest.

My book does not describe lodgings, restaurants or entertainment, except where these may interact with the narrative. It is illustrated with more than 150 full-sized photos.

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ARIZONA is a state with endless room and magnificent landscapes. Mountains, valleys, plateaus, canyons and deserts make it one of the most beautiful states in the US. It is also called the Grand Canyon State after its most famous natural beauty at the Colorado River. The name of the state comes from the Indian word arizonac, which means "place of the small spring". In 1912, it was the last of the 48 continental states to join the US, and was followed by Alaska and Hawaii. Phoenix is the capital and largest city.

The economy up to the 19th century concerned the five C's, namely, Cattle, Copper, Cotton, Citrus and Climate. The great mineral wealth was exploited after 1880, when the railway was built. Arizona still is the main US producer of copper and molybdenum. Given the dry climate water has always been important, and since 1905, six dams were built on the Colorado River. Afterwards there were many lawsuits, mainly with California, because 70% of the state consists of federal and tribal areas with protected water rights.

The main crop is cotton, but 56% of the land area is used as pasture. In 1848 the cattle raisers appeared with huge herds of Texas Longhorns. The lack of water often caused bitter fighting between cattle and sheep owners, which stopped only after the introduction of barbed wire. Now most of the grassland is federal property and most of the livestock consists of Hereford and Aberdeen Angus.

Tourism is very important. The healthy climate with clear skies and dry weather is one of the major strengths of Arizona, and attracts both tourists and retired people.

There are many points of interest such as the Grand Canyon, 466 kilometers long, max 29 kilometers wide and with a depth of some 1,500 meters ! In the area of the Painted Desertlies the Petrified Forest National Park, where giant trees completely turned to stone. Montezuma Castle, south of Flagstaff, shows 5-story high mountainside homes. In Navajo Monument there are ancient Indian homes, dating from before 1300.

Fort Bowie tells the story of the bitter conflict between the Apaches and the US Army. Sunset Crater Volcano and the Turkey Creek Caldera in Chiricahua give a picture of former volcanic eruptions. In Saguaro Park and Organ Pipe Cactus in the Sonoran one finds extraordinary cacti. In the extreme northeast the Four Corners Monument is where the states of New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona meet.

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Benson : Gammons Gulch

Gammons Gulch is located just beyond the somewhat crabby village of Pomerene, on Cascabel Road, and right in the middle of nowhere... This replica of a Ghost Town is a real gem! The owner Jay Gammons grew up in the film business, since his father was a security man for several movie stars, and even got to be the personal bodyguard of superstar John Wayne. Actually, son Jay even managed to appear briefly in John Wayne's movie Rio Bravo !

Jay dreamed of having his own Ghost Town, and in 1971 he began to build one in the middle of the desert. Over the last thirty years he put up about a dozen old buildings, which were recovered from everywhere. He filled them with old objects and furniture of the period 1880 to 1940. He managed to find a few very old but still functioning old-timers, such as a beautiful 1931 Buick, a 1920 truck, and even an authentic 1940 fire truck!

Benson : Gammons Gulch 1 Benson : Gammons Gulch 2
Benson : Gammons Gulch 3 Benson : Gammons Gulch 4

The tour is commented by Jay himself, and in the old west saloon Marvelous Marv is ready to serve drinks, just the way a real 1890 bartender would, with a nice chat and dressed in classic western apparel. You can visit the fire house, the prison, the mine, the appraiser's office (to appraise mined gold), the Grand View Hotel (in which Jay lives with his wife), the blacksmith, the marshal's office and a telegraph office. And everything works!

Several movies were filmed on his domain, including a few very familiar titles. The atmosphere is definitely 1880, and Jay's personal charm makes the visit to Gammons Gulch a very relaxing and pleasant experience. A real treat!

Tombstone : Fight at the OK Corral

Tombstone is well known for the memorable and yet only thirty seconds long Gunfight at the OK Corral between the Earp family and Doc Holliday, against the Clantons and McLaurys. The story of this gunfight has become legendary and has been filmed repeatedly. Shots popped all over the place, and in thirty seconds no fewer than thirty shots were fired, which resulted in three people dead and two more wounded..

Tombstone : Fight at the OK Corral 1The clash started a lot of controversy, so much that the federal government threatened to send federal troops if things didn't quiet down immediately. Those who weren't shot on the spot mostly went on to a violent death, except for Doc Holliday, who died of tuberculosis.

In Tombstone almost everything revolves around this event, and main street is simply a succession of expensive souvenir and trivia shops, even though they are well presented and certainly picturesque.

The name Tombstone comes from the founder of this city, who discovered a rich gold and silver vein, but was told by his friends that the only thing he would find would be a tombstone. After his find became known, other gold miners flooded in immediately and in two weeks time a completely new city arose...

The main street of Tombstone lies parallel with and just next to Highway 80, and visitors need to purchase a ticket. The original OK Corral is of course long gone, but the current owners managed to buy a few parcels around the original site. There is a square with the figures of the players, exactly the way they stood when the battle erupted. Every day at 14:00 there is a replay of the gun fight.

Tombstone : Fight at the OK Corral 2 Tombstone : Fight at the OK Corral 3


Sonora Desert Museum

The Sonora Desert Museum lies west of Tucson, and can be reached after a steep climb through a mountain ridge southwest of Tucson. The landscape is beautiful and quiet, and everywhere the stately Saguaro cactus flourishes on the mountainside.

The walk through the park is not only beautiful, but also very instructive. You'll find fascinating information on minerals and geology, archeology, caves and fossils. You'll also see reptiles and arachnea (spiders), impressive bears, deer, mountain goats, parrots, roadrunners and prairie dogs.

The Sonora Desert museum is a true pearl, and well worth visiting, as much for the information as for the lovely walk in magnificent surroundings!

Tucson : Sonora Desert Museum 1 Tucson : Sonora Desert Museum 2
Tucson : Sonora Desert Museum 3 Tucson : Sonora Desert Museum 4


Scenic highway 89A from Flagstaff to Sedona is a narrow and steep two way lane, twisting itself through severe loops and turns. Even though the speed is limited to 40 mph, a drive over this road amounts to a small rodeo, whereby the driver needs to focus intensively on the road and cannot see to much of the scenery. Nevertheless, this beautiful scenery is definitely worth admiring because the ride leads through Ponderosa pine forests, which are rare in the Arizona landscape, and the panoramas resemble the Austrian valleys. After a steep seven-mile long descent at 7% comes Red Rock County, a magnificent configuration of red rocks, which ends in Sedona.

The very beautiful city of Sedona is extremely picturesque, as it lies in the extraordinary red hills. Even simply walking through the city center, one cannot but admire its beautiful surroundings between the mountains. Sedona received its first white settler in 1872, and the rich soil, plenty of water and a long planting season soon attracted more settlers, even though it is situated in a very remote location. So the town just slept on until 1920, when the famous writer Zane Gray came over for deer hunting .

He was so impressed by the stunning surroundings that he wrote a book, Call of the Canyon. The book was made into a movie, and suddenly the town became the favorite site of Hollywood movie stars, which in turn attracted magazines and TV. In 1960 retirees and artists started coming, and the real estate ball started rolling. Just try to find an affordable parcel of land now...

Sedona 3 Sedona 4

Another Sedona attraction is Tlaquepaque, a shopping center in the form of a Mexican village. It contains the nicest shops and it is a most pleasant place to stroll around.

Sedona : Tlaquepaque 5

Sedona : Tlaquepaque 6

Grand Canyon NP

The village of Tusayan is located at the south entrance of Grand Canyon National Park. It contains an IMAX Theater, that provides an interesting documentary about the Canyon and its history, filmed in IMAX format and projected on a giant screen.

The Grand Canyon was formed during the last five to six million years. The lowest layers, on the bottom of the canyon, are about 1.8 billion years old and the top layers date from 260 million years ago. Every single raindrop that came down from the Rocky Mountains searched for a way to the sea and took sand, boulders and rocks with it, which progressively eroded the softer layers of rock. Nevertheless, the most extensive erosion of the Grand Canyon by the Colorado River seems to have occurred only relatively recently, for the deepest 2,000 feet (600 m) have only been worn out during the last 750,000 years, which in geological terms represents only a second...

Grand Canyon 1 Grand Canyon 2
Grand Canyon 3 Grand Canyon 4

The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long (446 km), from 8 to 15 miles wide (13 to 25 km), and up to 4,600 feet (1,400 m) deep in some places. This extreme width stems from the fact that the sides gradually crumbled and in turn provided new ammunition for the river, to dig even deeper into the Canyon! Softer layers eroded more quickly and undermined harder rocks, and frost and plant roots broke up the rest. The canyon shows very different layers of rock that were exposed by erosion, such as granite, limestone, sandstone and slate from very different eras.

The Grand Canyon panorama is simply overwhelming, and the mere scope of the enormous view is impossible to describe. When the air is pure, the canyon offers a vista of well over 60 miles (100 km), but sometimes the California air pollution limits the visibility to 30 miles (50 km). Each year the park attracts about five million tourists from all over the world!

There are various viewpoints to visit, such as Mather and Yavapai Point, and at the train depot, a shuttle leaves for a tour of the Hermits Rest Route, which is not accessible by car. We visited the Abyss, Pima Point, walked to Hermits Rest, and headed back to Hopi Point and the exit.

It is also possible to take a 16-mile hike along the edge of the Canyon, but this path runs very close to the unprotected edge. Since these are not protected by parapets everywhere, people plagued by dizziness or vertigo have to be careful. And yet you'll see many daredevils, crawling down the edge and precariously posing for a exciting photograph, a dozen feet below the rim...