Arizona Adventures: Five Under-the-Radar Desert Destinations

Arizona Adventures: Five Under-the-Radar Desert Destinations

Grown bored of the Grand Canyon? Think cowboys are clichéd? We’ve ventured beyond the obvious in Arizona and found our favourite under-the-radar destinations in the desert state.

that Arizona was all about trekking through the Grand
Canyon and rubbing shoulders with cowboys in Phoenix? Think again.
We’ve ventured beyond Flagstaff, Monument Valley, Tucson and co to
find the underrated places of jaw-dropping, red-rocked natural
beauty, indigenous culture and, erm, utopian urban

Take a walk on the Wild West side with one of these desert

The brutalist exterior of Arcosanti in Arizona


Arizona, United States

Why we can’t wait to visit again: Jutting from
Arizona’s red rocks and bruised valleys, this geometrical patchwork
of sci-fi-esque concrete structures is the brainchild of Italian
architect Paolo Soleri. A former student of Frank Lloyd Wright, he
founded this experimental micro-city in the 70s in a bid to
reimagine urban sprawl, excessive consumption and ecological

Life here revolves around access to nature, frugality and the
local production of food and energy – oh, and a bronze foundry,
where bare-chested men mould molten metal into the famed Soleri bells. From here,
follow State Route 69 to Watson Lake, where mirror-still waters are
broken by exposed bedrock.

Where we’re staying: Arcosanti
offers rooms, dorms and campsites to guests who want free
exploration of the settlement, a chance to connect with its 80
permanent residents and nightly views of the Milky Way. The
two-bedroom Sky Suite is the stuff of interior-design

Before you go: There are several documentaries on Paolo Soleri and his utopian city.
Ten years in the making, The Vision of Paolo Soleri: Prophet in the
Desert explores his legacy as an architect, environmentalist and
philosopher while posing questions about mankind’s future.

Canyon de Chelly

Arizona, United States

Why we can’t wait to visit again: The tourist
trail in northern Arizona usually stops short, in Flagstaff, with
adventures further north often limited to the silver-screen-famous
Monument Valley. To stick to this path is to miss Canyon de Chelly,
one of the longest-inhabited landscapes in North America.

This flora-flecked slice of the red-stone Navajo Reservation is
home to Spider Rock and the White House Ruin Trail. Note that
access to the canyon floor is restricted; you’ll need to be
accompanied by a park ranger or authorised Navajo guide. Like this?
Take the Indian Route 59 to the Betatakin ruins, a housing complex
built into the alcove of a cliff by the Anasazi at a time when only
mud bricks and hand tools were available.

Where we’re staying: Off the beaten path, in
this traditional Navajo hogan.

Before you go: Read the poem Canyon de Chelly by Puebloan writer Simon J. Ortiz and
marvel at Ansel Adams’ 1942 photograph from White House

Aerial shot of the town of Bisbee in Arizona


Arizona, United States

Why we can’t wait to visit again: Around 145km
south-east of Tucson, nestled among the Mule Mountains, near the
Mexican border, Bisbee is a place where past and present collide.
Though the former mining enclave is ranked among America’s best
historical small towns, it’s filled with a free-spirited community
and a thriving arts and culture scene.

Peruse galleries, vintage stores or the Saturday farmers’
market, climb the town’s many staircases or catch a gig as you sip
a barrel-aged brew at the Old
Bisbee Brewing Company
. From here, take a half-hour drive north
to Tombstone to relive old Western movies. It’s best known as the
site of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

Where we’re staying: The Shady Dell,
which began life as a camping ground in the 1920s, and today houses
a collection of vintage trailers that double up as guest rooms,
with diner-style breakfast booths and vintage radios.

Before you go: Read David Ryan’s The Bisbee
Stairs to get acquainted with the town’s trails, stairways and
hidden corners, or watch Bisbee ’17, a 2018 docu-film that reflects on the
illegal kidnapping of striking miners.

The Verde Valley, Arizona

Verde Valley

Arizona, United States

Why we can’t wait to visit again: Arizona is
the astrotourism capital of the US. Flagstaff (where Pluto was
discovered) was the world’s first designated Dark Sky destination,
but we like to venture south into the less-crowded Verde Valley,
which is also known for stargazing ops, as well as wineries,
canyons and the rustic towns of Camp Verde, Cottonwood, Jerome and

Almost 80 per cent of the valley is designated national forest,
making it ideal if you want a change of pace from Arizona’s
signature red-rock landscape. We recommend visiting the
culture-rich reservation of the Yavapai-Apache Nation, which is
dotted with prehistoric sites and scored with early irrigation
systems that fed the tribes’ farmlands. Carved into a sheer
limestone cliff, the 12th-century Montezuma Castle is

Where we’re staying: Enchantment
in Sedona’s Boynton Canyon.

Before you go: Visit here and you’ll be gazing
at stars – lots of them. Pick up The Art of Urban Astronomy by Abigail Beall for
an accessible guide to the night sky that you can also use back
home. You’ll want to pack a decent pair of binoculars, too.

The Route 66 highway in Arizona

Route 66

Arizona, United States

Why we can’t wait to visit again: Letting the
wind tousle your hair as you kick up dust on Mother Road is a great
antidote to months spent cooped up. Sure, Route 66 – which
originally ran from Chicago to Los Angeles – is hardly a
“lesser-known” destination, but hear us out.

Along Arizona’s 250km neon-lit stretch – the longest unbroken
section still in existence – most travellers make a beeline for
popular stops such as the Petrified Forest National Park,
Flagstaff, Kingman and the Grand Canyon. Instead, try Holbrook,
Winslow and the restored gas station Cool Springs, after which the
road bends 122 times in 15km. Just before the Californian border is
Lake Havasu City, where you’ll see London Bridge and white-sand

Where we’re staying: Winslow’s vast La Posada is the
fantastical vision of architect Mary Colter, who, in 1929, set
about recreating a 19th-century-style Spanish rancho, complete with
a faux archaeological site and hotel. Former guests include
Franklin D. Roosevelt, Einstein and Amelia Earhart.

Before you go: Immortalised in popular culture,
Route 66 crops up in Get
Your Kicks on Route 66
, popularised by Nat King Cole, and
served as a symbol of escape and loss in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.

This article was updated 18 August 2022.

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