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Deserts, Canyons, and Stars – the Essential Arizona

When people are asked about the most exciting places to visit in the United States, they often think of California, Florida, or New York. While these states are indeed wonderful to visit, another state is often left under the radar – Arizona.

Arizona, also known as the Grand Canyon State, lies in the southwestern corner of the United States. It is the 6th largest state in the country and has one of the driest climates as well. There are only two temperatures throughout most of the state – hot, and slightly less hot!

With that, here are some interesting places to see and things to do in Arizona.

Havasupai Falls

This scenic wonderland is worth the difficult-to-access location in the southwest corner of the Grand Canyon National Park. Blue green waterfalls and picturesque plunge pools line the area, which is now world famous in the internet age. Visitors must reserve permits before seeing the falls, a process that is very tricky to navigate since bookings fill up quickly.

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Located just west of Tucson, a city in southern Arizona, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum offers world class exhibits featuring animals and wildlife native to the Sonoran Desert. The museum is unique in that it contains 100 acres of natural desert land. Visitors can see coyotes and javelinas in their native environments (but watch out for rattlesnakes crossing your path!). If you enjoy nature and are especially interested in desert wildlife, stop by for a visit. It truly is a gem in the desert.

Castle Dome Mines Museum

Welcome to the ghost town of Castle Dome, a relic of the wild west that is sure to bring out your inner cowboy. Founded in the 1860s on the banks of the Colorado River, this historic town was known for its silver and lead mining until the last miners left in 1979. Today Castle Dome and its mines are frozen in time as part of a museum, with seven original buildings and dozens more faithfully recreated in 19th century style.



Williams is a charming little town to the west of Flagstaff. Visitors can hike renowned nature trails maintained by the United States Forest Service and fish in lakes stocked regularly by the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Interested in trains? The Grand Canyon Railway operates out of Williams and takes passengers to Grand Canyon Village daily.


Kitt Peak National Observatory

For those who enjoy astronomy, Kitt Peak National Observatory is the perfect place. Located west of Tucson inside the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation, this mountain-topped observatory is the ideal spot for star-gazing because of low light pollution. Make a day trip up the mountain to see the plethora of telescopes and the visitor center. Or, book a spot for the Nightly Observing Program to look through the telescopes and view stars, planets, and nebulae. The skies are often clear and the stellar viewing conditions make Kitt Peak a must-see attraction for anybody fascinated by the cosmos.

The Grand Canyon

Of course, the Grand Canyon is the most famous landmark in Arizona –– but that doesn’t mean it isn’t spectacular! Rolling vistas and jaw dropping cliffs are just a few of the goodies present at this spot in northern Arizona. Take a hiking tour, visit the Grand Canyon Skywalk, or simply take in the incredible Arizona sunsets as day turns into night. You won’t be disappointed.


Antelope Canyon

While not as famous as its cousin to the south, Antelope Canyon provides visitors a breathtaking array of great photographs. Tourists flock to this canyon, near Page in the far north of the state, to see the smooth patterns etched into the walls by erosion. The canyon is accessible by guided tour only, so make sure to book ahead.


Meteor Crater

Meteor Crater is a sight to behold at over one kilometer wide and 170 meters deep. Most visitors stay in Flagstaff and make a day trip over to the crater, which has a viewing platform with wonderful conditions for photography. Be sure to check out the visitor center for interactive exhibits featuring meteorites, comets, and a piece of an Apollo spacecraft.


Grand Falls

Also in northern Arizona, Grand Falls is one of the premier waterfalls to visit in the state. Surprisingly, Grand Falls is actually taller than Niagara Falls on the U.S – Canada border. Access to the falls is limited at certain times of the year and the water flow is quite volatile, so make sure to stay up-to-date on the weather if you plan on visiting.


Desert Hiking

Tucson has all sorts of wonderful hiking destinations nearby. The most well-known trails are in Sabino Canyon and the adjacent Bear Canyon, which lie a few miles north of the city center at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains. The most popular destination to hike from Bear Canyon is Seven Falls, a pleasant oasis with a waterfall and spring for swimming. Make sure you bring plenty of water, and try to avoid hiking during the middle of the day due to the high temperatures.

Of course, Arizona has lots more to explore and experience. Feel free to ask about other hidden gems that make Arizona a great place to visit, or suggest some of your own!

Interesting Vocabulary

under the radar – a phrase meaning ‘doing something without attention.’ Since Arizona is perhaps less well known than other states for traveling, it slips under the radar for travelers.

vista – a pleasant view

jaw dropping – amazing or beyond belief. Literally, a person’s jaw will drop in amazement upon seeing the cliffs of the Grand Canyon.

goodies – something desirable or ‘good’

etched – to carve onto a surface

world class – the best in the world

javelina – an animal native to the Sonoran Desert resembling a wild boar

frozen in time – a phrase describing how something looks the same as it did in the past.

volatile – unpredictable

adjacent – next to or near to

plethora – a large amount

stellar – relating to stars; exceptional

vibrant – energetic

premier – leading; of first importance



Nick Irvin is a 3rd year undergraduate studying at UC Davis. He enjoys reading, writing, and golfing.

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