Leaving Las Vegas
Technically in Nevada, Sin City is a great springboard for reaching Arizona’s arid wonders, if you can tear yourself away from the tables, that is. After a few days staying at the iconic MGM Grand and a few nights partying at the Hakkansan night club next door, take your Avis car on an adventure.
The MGM Grand is the largest hotel in the United States and comes with a fantastic array of services. You’ll find it on the southern end of the strip near all the action of Las Vegas.
High on the Hoover Dam
Leaving Las Vegas, make a quick stop at the Hoover Dam and feel the power of concrete. This massive feat of engineering is over 200 metres tall, and you’ll need to at least pause for a roadside photo from the top.
From Phoenix it’s possible to fill your tank and make it to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park by sunset – the land’s most magical time.
Into the Grand Canyon
Avoid Grand Canyon West and head straight to the South Rim, where the Grand Canyon itself appears miraculously at your feet. This is the most famous viewpoint. Some foolhardy types take a traditional mule trail down, which isn’t for the faint-hearted. If you’re keen to travel under your own steam instead then head to the North Rim to descend into the canyon by foot on the best hiking trails.
If you need to break up your journey, the recently-refurbished Best Western Premier Grand Canyon Squire Inn is just a mile and a half from the entrance to the national park. The best thing about staying so close to the park? You can catch the sunset after the crowds leave.
Turning to Page
The city of Page sits in a bowl of natural wonders, including Horseshoe Bend on the Colorado river. Go down Highway 89 and the famous bend is a ¾ mile trek off a dirt road and worth it for the view of the curling river below a striking hill. Go in the late morning and the water will be in full sunlight.
Most people stop in Page to visit Antelope Canyon, a famous slot canyon with a delicate, shell-like interior. The iconic daily sunbeam tour, led by Navajo guides, was made famous by the most expensive photograph ever sold, an image by Peter Lik of the light striking the canyon floor.
Sunset at Monument Valley
From Phoenix it’s possible to fill your tank and make it to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park by sunset – the land’s most magical time. Watch the red rocks catch fire in the light then turn to dark giants under the blossoming stars. The sandstone ‘monuments’ are technically known as (no laughing) sandstone buttes.
Check in to Kayenta Monument Valley Inn within the Navajo Indian Reservation. This is the American West at its best.
Fly to Phoenix
In summer 2018 British Airways flights to Phoenix are even more frequent, so you can reach the capital of Arizona with ease. Once you arrive, pick up a hire car from Avis to explore Mesa and Scottsdale, too. If you don’t want to drive far, opt for a helicopter flight to take in the Grand Canyon from Phoenix.
Mosey into Mesa
Mesa makes for an affordable stay, plus you can head out of the city to drive the highlights of the Apache trail (in a trusty 4x4 only). This rustic route crawls in and out of the Superstitious Mountains, a traditional Navajo area, and hits the Tortilla Flats – where a crusty old stagecoach stop (with a sign that announces a population of 6) clings to the desert. It’s a time warp of saloons, boardwalks and swinging double doors, the definition of a no-horse town.
Shop in Scottsdale
North-east of Phoenix, Scottsdale’s excellent restaurants, bars, outlets and day spas make it a popular place to stay. The city is the site of Frank Lloyd Wright’s former winter home, but kids might prefer a turn on a train at the McCormick-Stilman Railroad Park or letting butterflies land on their hair at the Butterfly Wonderland – the largest of its kind in the world. Adults, take advantage of perfect golfing conditions, and cheekily cheap outlets. Look out for Outlets at Anthem and secret basement shopping at the Last Chance Clearance Store. And get used to ordering the areas special: Prickly pear margaritas: deliciously tequila-spiked, rather than spiky.
Stay at the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale, an oasis for golf lovers. Its Championship golf course is a massive draw, as are the multiple pools. Go full Italian with a meal at the Alto Ristorante… followed by a gondola ride on the hotel’s lagoon.
Spas in Sedona
From Scottsdale, Sedona is two hours north (and just two hours south of the Grand Canyon). The city is named after the wife of the city’s first postmaster and sits at a higher, cooler altitude than Phoenix. That’s not the only reason it’s seen as a haven. It also is supposed to be the sight of great spiritual energy – great for the local spas.
If you want to stay in Sedona, Los Abrigados Resort and Spa By Diamond Resorts is a popular hotel set in 22 acres and ringed by a rocky skyline.
Exploring Red Rock State Park
Cathedral Rock, one of the most photographed sites in Arizona, looms above Sedona and forms part of the Red Rock State Park, which is great place for hikes. Head to the Devil’s Bridge Trail – a strenuous hike with precarious rock formations, or Eagle’s Nest, a climb with valley views. The Painted Desert in the Petrified Forest National Park is a surreal trove of multi-coloured hills and scattered rock art.
On towards Flagstaff
Route 66 passes right through Flagstaff. The city is a good base for trips to the Walpi village, where you can explore Hopi culture atop a dramatic mesa. Drive three hours to reach the inimitable Canyon de Chelly, or reach the brink of a stark, 50,000 year old meteor crater in the middle of the desert. From here, Monument Valley and Utah call from the north, or you can return to Phoenix to fly home.