Nothern Arizona: Magnificent Landscapes, Grand Escapes

By Burnell, Susan H. | American Heritage, November-December 2004 | Go to article overview

Nothern Arizona: Magnificent Landscapes, Grand Escapes

Burnell, Susan H., American Heritage

Breathtaking sunsets over red-hued mountains, timeless vistas of vast canyon expanse and nostalgic glimpses of days gone by--all are a part of the Northern Arizona experience. So too are its inspiring cultural and historic treasures and a climate that makes it a sublime four seasons playground for sports lovers of every kind.


Winter is an especially tranquil time to take in the amazing variety that is Northern Arizona. That's especially true at Grand Canyon National Park, one of the nation's top 10 most-visited national parks, where lighter crowds make exploration of the canyon's natural splendor even more relaxing. Covering nearly 2,000 square miles and a distance of 277 miles end-to-end, the one-mile-deep canyon is rich in geologic history and human drama. Against this giant backdrop the stories of Native Americans, Spanish explorers and early river navigators are told anew.

Within the park, the Tusayan Ruin and Museum features an ancestral pueblo building constructed in A.D. 1185-90. The site represents the westernmost extension of the Kayenta Anasazi civilization. A highlight of the region's modern cultural scene is the Grand Canyon Music Festival at the Shrine of the Ages on the South Rim. Every September, musicians from around the country delight audiences with a series of evening concerts featuring classical, jazz, fusion classical and styles.


Beyond the Grand Canyon stretches a region resplendent with spectacular scenery of its own and activities for every interest. In addition to geology, archaeology, history, outdoor recreation, theater, fine art and fine dining, travelers will find plentiful opportunities for serendipitous discovery and the simple joys of shopping.

Amid towering Ponderosa pines, 6,700 feet above sea level and 30 miles from the nearest traffic light, is the mountain community of Williams. Founded in the late 1800s by ranchers, railroaders and lumbermen, the town is named for famous trapper and mountain man Bill Williams. Among its attractions are the Old West Museum, the Native American Museum, Pete's Route 66 Museum, the Route 66 Road Store Car Museum and the Planes of Fame Air Museum. The town's historic district offers shopping, restored saloons and homes, and summertime cowboy gunfight performances. The Grand Canyon Railway departs daily from Williams for tours up to the Grand Canyon.


Southeast of Williams, Sedona enchants visitors at first sight and continues to captivate. Its red-rock monoliths are not only part of its geography but its personality, with such names as Coffeepot, Cathedral, Bell and Snoopy. Nature's wonders can also be found at Oak Creek Canyon. The canyon's winding road was Arizona's first officially designated scenic highway. Sedona was singled out by USA Weekend magazine as "The Most Beautiful Place in America" in May 2003. That beauty is enhanced with a full calendar of Shakespeare, symphony, chamber music performances and art exhibits. The Heritage Museum commemorates reel and real cowboys, with exhibits on feature movies and Westerns filmed in Sedona and artifacts from the lives of Sedona pioneers and working cowboys. Luxurious resorts and bed-and-breakfast inns, unique shops and fine restaurants make every visit picture-perfect.


Flagstaff is Northern Arizona's largest city and the region's business, tourism and education hub. The city is home to Northern Arizona University and the Lowell Observatory, where the planet Pluto was discovered. Flagstaff has more than 200 restaurants, scenic golf courses and a wide range of lodging choices. The newly-renovated Orpheum Theater offers films and live performances, and the Coconino Center for the Arts boasts an amphitheater and exhibition hall. …

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