With so much to see and to do, time gets quickly lost. So, for this blog, I’ll just summarize Arizona’s good and blah areas we found in our travels in case one of you were looking at a trip to this area.
Benson: We used Benson as a base for visiting Tombstone and the surrounding areas reaching up to Tucson. The city of Benson had a Visitor’s Center that became my youngest’s favorite. They had a model railroad lofted around the inside walls. Then they allowed my son to operate the train using a control panel mock-up from a diesel locomotive. When he was finished, they gave him a paper certificate declaring him to be an engineer. I don’t know whose eyes sparkled with delight more, my son or the older gentleman “training” him in.
Tombstone was the first outing our family had in Benson. I’ll say it straight out: we were highly disappointed in Tombstone. This was nothing more than a creative way to get money out of tourists. Tombstone lives on the Wyatt Earp and the OK Corral fame. Other than walking down the dirt road looking at the historic plaques, everything seemed fake and over-priced. Even the true history of Wyatt Earp is truly unknown and regarded widely as fictitious. We later found other towns that did not charge for the same entertainment further down the road. Being disenchanted and still in the area, we did drive out to find real ghost towns marked out on a local map from a visitor’s center.
Another day we visited the Saguaro National Monument on the west side of Tucson. I was thankful it was still early spring, as the sun became intense as we walked along the trails. Colorful desert flowers were starting to bloom, adding small but vibrant beauty to such an arid place. The boys finally saw the tall cactuses which they once thought lived in every desert, or at least cartoon deserts.
Mesa: I normally do not mention anything about the places we stay, but Monte Vista Resort by Encore was an exception this time. We declared time off of schooling to experience the hands-on learning the place offered. Here, the boys learned a different way of playing billiards called 1-15, watched a silversmithing/ jewelry making demonstration, was introduced to lapidary processes, played tournament croquet, and created bowls on a lathe in the wood shop. They also played pickle ball, shuffleboard, tennis, and swam.
Other interesting activities in the area included the Organ Stop Pizza, Mesa Market, and the Apache Trail to Roosevelt Dam. We spent an evening at Organ Stop Pizza and listened to the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ while enjoying delicious pizza. Now the boys understand when I described the rumbling of the room while listening to a real organ. A months later, my youngest still mentions the experience with the desire to return. A tip for going: plan on arriving there as soon as the place opens for the best seating as people stay the entire night.
Mesa Market was a giant flea Market with new and used items and crafts. We easily spent all morning walking past the booths listening to the live entertainment as we went. We noticed several of the vendors operated multiple booths scattered through out, so it did become repetitious.
The Apache Trail was an exciting scenic drive. Native Americans made this supply road for the building of the Roosevelt Dam. It was only a one lane dirt road in some areas, though people drove both ways on it. The fun really began when our dually truck met up with another vehicle as there were very few guardrails along the 40 mile washboarded road. One time a vehicle had to even back up so we could pass. Fortunately we were in a pullout while a vehicle with a trailer passed. We also ran across a few brave bikers as well. The best way to see the view would have been on ATV’s like one couple did. I was thankful we heeded AAA’s advice to travel the trail from west to east to have the canyon wall side most of the way. When we hit the pavement again at Roosevelt Dam, we circled back through Devil’s Canyon, which was not much to see along the way.
Sun Valley: My men saw Meteor Crater and learned about the impact that astroids made. We also visited the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert. These places were linked together with a scenic driving trail. Several large, colorful petrified trees and stumps were scattered throughout the park. We saw the different color combinations up close along some walking trails. Had the sun been out, the colors would have been even more dynamic.
Williams/ Flagstaff: Though we stayed in Williams for easy access the Grand Canyon, we also visited the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and explored Route 66 in the little tourist town.
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument brought our imaginations back to a time when the volcano exploded. We walked along the Black Lava Fields, cinder cones, other volcanic formations. We visualized how the magma poured up and spread itself out through the lines and porous rock left behind. The area smelled of fresh pine and was not crowded in comparison to other national parks and monuments. We feasted upon great views of the snowcapped San Fransisco Mountain Range in the distance.
Route 66 runs through Williams, making a nostalgically animated downtown to visit at night. Cafes, live music, neon lights, and novelty stores were open later and the place came alive after sunset.
Grand Canyon National Park, South Rim: We took AZ 64 into the park. To avoid the visitor center congestion, we cut off at Center Road to take a less populated short cut up to the village loop drive, where parallel parking and more parking lots were more abundant. We arrived around 9 am and the place was already hopping. We rode the shuttle bus at Hermit Road right away to the various lookout points. We walked between Maricopa Point and Hopi Point, as the South Rim trail passed through there. We discovered an old copper / uranium mine that was closed off to the public. We should have brought a picnic lunch with us for many scenic areas would have made for picnicking. When we completed that, we grabbed the blue shuttle line to get to the orange shuttle line that took us out to the east side. Due to the bus route, the order to see that side in has to be South Kaibab Trailhead (which does not really have any good canyon views), Yaki Point, and then Pipe Vista. Two good sites for great sunset photo opportunities were Yaki Point and Hopi Point. The bus driver said he preferred the Yaki Point because it is less crowded, had a bathroom, and we saw both the east and west sides. Plenty of elk are in the park. The most crowded areas were waiting for the Hermit’s Rest shuttle first thing in the morning and the waiting for the bus to return us from Yaki Point. If you stay to watch the sunset, be sure to bring warm clothes as the wind grew brutally cold as everyone waited for the shuttle ride back.
Route 66: The free Arizona passport booklet to stamp sites started in Sun Valley. Some stamping points went through Flagstaff, Williams, Kingman, and Oatman. After our enjoyable stay in Williams, we were expecting a fun spot in Kingman as well. After all, that town boasted at being “the Heart of Route 66”. After seeing they only had a museum and one Route 66 themed burger joint, I wondered if Route 66 had a “heart attack”. The area seemed pretty much dead, especially compared to Williams. However, we used the area as our base for day trips to Las Vegas (I’ll describe Las Vegas, Hoover Dam and the Pawn Stars shop in a different blog) and to Oatman / Lake Havasu.
Oatman / Lake Havasu: For a day trip, we drove the scenic Route 66 through the hillside. This was a tiny road with lots of curves and switchbacks. At one scenic pullout, we found a makeshift memorial area remembering people and pets. Nothing was stated about this, though it looked like people still visit the area decorating the memorials. Odd. We heard stories of how people would race their cars along this narrow road with no guards. Sure enough right before the old mine, we saw a brightly painted old car that looked like it flipped halfway down the hillside.
Not too long after, we saw donkey crossing signs and we knew we made it to the old mining town of Oatman. When the mines closed down, they released the donkeys that pulled the mining carts into the wild. Since then, their descendants casually roam the downtown area. The townspeople collect money to continue to care for their town mascots. While the wild donkeys attracted us to the town, the wild west / mining theme captured our attention. We walked the downtown shops looking at the local crafts and trinkets among other attractions. Before long, Route 66 was temporarily blocked off and actors themed a mock shoot-out in the middle of the road. This small town really put forth a lot of effort to create a unique area to come visit without wringing the tourist money out of people like Tombstone did.
After a picnic lunch, we continued our journey to Lake Havasu. An industrialist purchased the London Bridge, had it dismantled and set up identically in this city. He themed the area after a London town in hopes to attract people to the area. Other than water sports and the bridge, the town really did not have much to see or do. So, after walking along the bridge, we returned to Kingman.
While Arizona had plenty to see and do, we were glad to move on to the next state and give our bodies a little reprieve from the dryness. So our travels continued…
Until we meet again,