I suspect this trip would be much easier if we were going to New Mexico instead.
January 3, 2011 1:19 PM   Subscribe

I'm heading to Arizona for 3-4 days of unfettered roaming with my boyfriend. We are a strange pair of humans, and up for anything that sounds interesting. We're renting a car, and don't mind driving ridiculous distances for a small payoff. We'll need to find 3 places to sleep during the course of this little trip, as well. Any ideas, the more outlandish the better? We almost never get to travel together, so here's hoping for some strange fun if we can get it!

We arrive in Phoenix on Thursday morning, and need to return to Phoenix sometime Sunday (so 3 nights and 4 days). The only ideas I've come up with so far (after checking previous threads) are 1) staying a night at these clothing-optional rustic hot springs, 2) maybe sleeping in an old airstream trailer at Shady Dell in Bisbee one night, and frankly, that's all I have so far.

I wouldn't mind some other overnight ideas, but I also don't want to form the whole trip around simply sleeping in quirky places. Are there unique towns? "Ghost towns" or things like that? Communes that are up for visitors? Rock formations? Towns that are like Bisbee in it's golden-age (or is it still a pretty interesting place?) Cheesy-touristy is fine too.

We're throwing this together really quickly, and I'm researching various ideas, but it would be helpful to get some personal recommendations at this point if possible! Many thanks.
posted by thegreatfleecircus to Travel & Transportation around New Mexico (32 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Visiting Antelope Canyon near Page, Arizona is fun. You need to have a Navaho guide so planning ahead is advised. Although we just drove up and got a guy who was waiting there in his 4x4.
posted by FastGorilla at 1:23 PM on January 3, 2011

Go to Arcosanti. an experimental town about 70 miles north of Phoenix. Take a tour, stay overnight, marvel.
posted by Pineapplicious at 1:24 PM on January 3, 2011 [4 favorites]

Awww, you kids sound like BoyfriendThumbscrew and I!

While I unfortunately have no AZ-centric recommendations, I have found many, many wonderful weird-ass spots by consulting previous MeFi favorites Roadside America and Atlas Obscura.
posted by julthumbscrew at 1:26 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have you checked out Roadside America?
posted by eunoia at 1:27 PM on January 3, 2011

posted by get off of my cloud at 1:28 PM on January 3, 2011

Side note from a cursory glance of Atlas Obscura: OH MY GAWRSH YOU CAN VISIT BIOSPHERE! If I were you, I'd find a way to sneak off and sleep in it overnight. Note: JulThumbscrew not responsible for bail money.
posted by julthumbscrew at 1:30 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Are you outdoorsy people? you could drive to the Grand Canyon in half a day. Or there are a zillion other amazing places like that you can visit.
posted by PercussivePaul at 1:36 PM on January 3, 2011

Montezuma's Castle is pretty cool.
posted by Jode at 1:45 PM on January 3, 2011

Well, I can tell ya, I hit the Grand Canyon up on my rip through AZ back in 2005, at the end of a very long (2 month) roadtrip. I wasn't particularly excited about the canyon, cause I tried to make the trip as little of a touristy adventure as I could. Holy cow was I pumped when I woke up that morning, though! My ex and I camped near the rim of the canyon and got up to watch the sunrise.. It was one of the most incredible places I've ever been to! I think you're wellll out of tourist season here in January, so it should be a pretty peaceful and beautiful time of year to visit, if you choose..
posted by Glendale at 1:47 PM on January 3, 2011

I went to the Grand Canyon in January two years ago. It was great, very low smog, and the place was empty. Yes, there was some snow on the ground, but we got to drive around to places that only the shuttle buses can travel for the majority of the year. It will be a drive, but check it out if you can, hopefully you will have great conditions.

Here are some weird places around that way:
Wigwam Motel in Holbrook
On the corner in Winslow, Arizona (from the Eagles song) is acted out in detail. It's weird, although maybe not worth an extra trip.
YES to Arcosanti as mentioned above. That is weird.
The Dog Haus on Rt 66 in Flagstaff is a good stop if you are heading to the Canyon. It's just a weird shaped drive through place, but I just love it.
Just to the West of Flagstaff is Williams, AZ, and this is a town that has kept up with the Rt 66 nostalgia. Worth a look if you are already going in that direction.
posted by smalls at 1:56 PM on January 3, 2011

the aforemnetioned Arcosanti
Drive through Sedona
Canyon de Chelly - I prefer it to the Grand Canyon trip, well worth getting the day long horseback tour from the Native American guides.
Titan Missle Silo & Museum - the only "publicly accessible Titan II missile site in the nation"!
Airplane Graveyard (not actually open to the public, there's a bus tour from the Pima Air & Space Museum)
Barringer Meteor Crater
Old Tucson - where they film westerns.
Petrified Forest national Park

Tucson and Flagstaff will probably have the best options for interesting stuff to do at night and reasonably-priced lodging; Phoenix is more like a mini-L.A.
posted by Challahtronix at 1:56 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Jerome! Eat at the Mile High, and visit the ghost town down the road, it's a quirky, hippie-ish town with lots of art and interesting buildings. Keep going up the mountain outside of Jerome and end up in Prescott, nice ride. Don't miss Sedona for gosh sake, the entire town is fun. Up the mountain from Jerome, Native Americans sell their goods from roadside stands. Bring a jacket, you will go from sleeveless to snow in 20 minutes. Have fun!
posted by ~Sushma~ at 1:58 PM on January 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

Really enjoyed my last two visits to Tucson, notably:

- Colossal Cave
- Biosphere 2
- Arizona State Museum
- Saguaro National Park

Plus plenty of other places noted in the link above. Definitely a nicer area than around Phoenix in my opinion.
posted by samsara at 2:03 PM on January 3, 2011

Jerome. It's an old mining town turned art colony and tourist spot. It's west of Cottonwood, southwestish from Sedona, north of Phoenix, west of I-17. There's a really humongous copper mine drilled through the mountain that Jerome is on. They have a really interesting mining museum. Be warned that the climb up from Cottonwood is very, very steep and twisty, but it's a well built road. Jerome is less overrun by new age hippy woo than Sedona and has incredible views.

Sedona is cool, too, but everyone goes there and looks at the rocks. Please don't drive slow on the narrow roads gawping at the rocks, it annoys the locals trying to get from point A to B and it's kind of dangerous. Pull over at one of the many vistas and gawp there. I only mention this because almost everyone does it because the rocks and views are that distracting.

Route 89A north out of Sedona to Flagstaff is awesome, too. That's Slide Rock State Park.

Also in this general area is the Arcosanti Project, a bit further south on I-17.

As you can see I'm partial to the highlands. They're pretty.

However, they look like they might also be getting snow in some spots right now.

To the east of Phoenix is Apache Junction. Head NE on 88 for Canyon Lake, Apache Lake and eventually Lake Roosevelt and an old concrete arch dam in the middle of nowhere. Somewhere around there is the Lost Dutchman mine, also lots of just random derelict piles of mining gear, ghost towns, ranches and whatnot. The canyon views around the lakes are incredible, and there's a lot of wildlife around Roosevelt lake.

Tuscon is pretty. You can also get out south of Phoenix/Mesa and tool around on any number of endless, dusty dirt roads.

Be warned that some of the routes I'm recommending may be dirt roads. Some may be subject to flash floods. Road conditions in the winter in AZ run the gamut from snow/ice to severe rain and flooding to windy and full on sand storms, to deep sand in the middle of roads - or a mix of all of the above. Always bring plenty of food and water, charge your phones, use maps and a GPS, check in at country stores and ask about local road conditions, tell someone where you're going, etc. There's a lot of places you can get to in under an hour that don't have cell phone access.

Also be aware you can encounter potentially dangerous wildlife from Javelinas (feral desert pigs) to coyotes and mountain lions, not to mention bark scorpions, rattlesnakes and gila monsters pretty much anywhere in AZ, starting in the suburbs of Phoenix. I lived there for just under two years and I encountered all of the above, including the elusive and terrifying tarantula hawk "cow killer" wasp which was bigger than a hummingbird or small sparrow and made me scream and run away like my hair was on fire.

But road tripping in AZ is fun. Get a good map and pick a random spot and go.
posted by loquacious at 2:10 PM on January 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

I don't recommend the Grand Canyon. Big drive for a little payoff.

Sedona is expensive, but incredibly beautiful and a fun place for slightly offbeat fun. There is a lot of on beat fun too, but there is a some great new agedness there to play with. The red rock formations make for some really great photo ops.

Tombstone is a fun town to spend the day in. I'm a fan of the Birdcage Theater (warning: music)which was a working brothel and holds some pretty fun history. I think it's also supposed to be haunted. As a matter of fact, you could spend the weekend just visiting all the 'haunted' buildings in and around Bisbee and Tombstone.
posted by TooFewShoes at 2:14 PM on January 3, 2011

Yes, Jerome! How could I have forgotten? That's a great suggestion.
Also, there is a lava tube cave near Flagstaff I wanted to mention. Pretty spooky.

If you are going down toward the Tucson area instead, you might want to check out Kartchner Caverns. This is an amazingly preserved "living" cave and so it is pretty unique.
posted by smalls at 2:18 PM on January 3, 2011

I went to the Grand Canyon a week ago - there was snow on the ground then, and when I went back through Flagstaff a few days later, there was an additional 8 inches or so. They're getting even more now. It was butt cold up there (speaking as a San Diego native) - highs are currently around freezing with lows in the single digits. I left Flagstaff on 1/1/11, and our hotel's outside thermometer said it was -8 at around 8:30am.

Petrified forest is also pretty cool, and doesn't take too long. You basically just drive the road through the park and pull off by the side of the road when in certain places. In addition to the petrified trees, you also get great views of the painted desert, petroglyphs, and a pueblo ruin.

While doing this trip, I also went to New Mexico (pretty much just Santa Fe). New Mexico was much more difficult to drive around in with the snow than AZ was, so take that under advisement. I-40 in AZ was almost totally clear of snow; there were some scary sections in NM.
posted by LionIndex at 2:29 PM on January 3, 2011

Don't just drive through Sedona - get out of the car and take a canyon hike to a vortex. It's beautiful, easy hiking - incredible views of the rocks.
posted by Daily Alice at 2:37 PM on January 3, 2011

Taliesin West in Scottsdale is a neat place to see.
posted by moonmilk at 2:43 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

You absolutely have to go through Holbrook, AZ and sleep in a wigwam.
posted by tully_monster at 3:11 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

THe wife and I took our mothers-in-law (heh) to the Grand Canyon last May. On the way back to our flight in Phoenix, we stopped in Flagstaff and spent a little time at the Museum of Northern Arizona. I didn't expect much. I was overwhelmed. They have a *lot* of really neat archeological, historical, and sociological (native artwork) displays.
posted by notsnot at 3:26 PM on January 3, 2011

Seconding Jerome. And the Grand Canyon. And the Museum of Northern Arizona (I thought I was the only one who loved it!) and let me put in a plug for the Rim Country Museum which is adorable though small.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:17 PM on January 3, 2011

(As a former resident of Tucson, I caution you that these recs are Tucson-centric.)

I was honestly a little less amazed by Biosphere 2 than I thought I would be. I felt like the place has such a weird, interesting history, they could give a really dramatic and fun tour. However, they completely downplayed the human drama (to the point where I learned most of what went on during the original Biosphere experiment from rumors going around my tour group, not from the guide), instead choosing to emphasize the somewhat less interesting scientific research currently going on there. It was a majorly missed opportunity. On the other hand, while the Biosphere itself was pretty much just a big glass building with plants inside, the living quarters were very cool - like being in an old submarine, kind of. The drive there from the center of Tucson was really long, but northward, so if you're coming to Tucson from the north you may want to just stop on the way.

However, I was very, very impressed by Kartchner Caverns. Lovely place. The Tucson Desert Museum is also pretty sweet.
posted by little light-giver at 4:19 PM on January 3, 2011

We went to the Tucson area not too long ago:
The colossal cave was really fun, more so than I expected. Outside, they have a big display about the WPA. It's interesting as anything, since the cave was developed by them. I am fascinated by how the work programs helped the economy recover from the Great Depression, and it seems particularly relevant now.

The biodome was interesting, and fun. They really don't like it when you ask questions about anything, though. It's still involved in scientific research, since each pod's climate can be controlled to a very exacting degree. I'm a bit of a geek about that kind of thing, so take that for what it's worth.

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is stellar.My favorite part is the hummingbird aviary, because you get to go in and hang around with the sassy little things.

In Phoenix, there are a few places I would recommend:
Cafe Lalibela serves Ethiopian food.

Seconding Taliesin West, though the tour is a bit pricey.

Flagstaff has an observatory that's pretty good
posted by annsunny at 4:44 PM on January 3, 2011

Mel's Diner from the show is in Phoenix on Grand Street. If you head north I second the Holbrook stop with the Wigwam hotel. Holbrook was used extensively as the basis for Disney's Cars. Holbrook also has a nice haunted museum which is great to walk through. There are a couple of ghost towns outside of town as well. The Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest are a quick drive away. Both are blah to a person who grew up in the area but would probably be beautiful to an outsider.
Try Ghost Towns website and search for cool places to find by county.
I grew up in Yavapai county and there are a ton of ghost towns near Sedona and Jerome. Jerome has gotten extremely commercial as of late but there are some great artists there and the Haunted Hamburger is a nice place to chow. There are a couple of haunted hotels to stay the night in Jerome.
Sedona has of course many rocks that look like Snoopy, male sex organs, lizards, and bells... Stop by Bell Rock for a trip tot he top and a powerful vortex.
If you head from Sedona to Flagstaff take Schnebly Hill Road. It was featured in the National Lampoon's Vacation. This is a dirt road and not upkept but exciting with beautiful views. There is also some old tree that they call the Elvis Tree on the side of the road from some old movie - he played a guitar under the tree...???
Oak Creek Canyon on the other side of Sedona has some nice places to pull off, including wild raspberries for picking!!
The Northern AZ Museum in Flagstaff is great. They have a whole display of maize throughout history. I learned that each corn kernel was once surrounded by a husk. Native Americans bread corn to what it is today. Can you imagine peeling the husk off each kernel before cooking!!?
Payson has a nice natural bridge complete with 2 waterfalls and outside of town heading towards Apache Lake is the amazing Tonto National Monument - amazing ruin.
The hot spring at Sheeps Head Bridge is nice, The drive out there is amazing and bumpy but fabulous. You'll need 4 wheel drive. Hot spring is completely surrounded by bamboo and sits along the river.

If you want to eat some nice arizona ethnic food try the Indian Fry Bread House on 7th Ave in Phoenix. Huge fry bread and red or green chili stew with a drink is super affordable and will fill you right up.

If you head to southern AZ, I second the missile silo museum! Cold War at its best! Bisbee is awesome. One of my gfs just stayed at the travel trailer hotel and loved it. You can take a tour of the Morenci Copper Mine and Kartchner Caverns are sweet!

There are just so many awesome things to do in AZ that I fear your time to explore is too short. I lived there for 15 years and I haven't seen enough! I hope you have a great time!!
posted by phytage at 5:54 PM on January 3, 2011

Monument Valley, particuarily Mile Marker 13.
posted by PixieS at 8:10 PM on January 3, 2011

My parents are snowbirds in the Phoenix area, a few things I've seen while visiting them:

Eloy, about 65 miles south of Phoenix, has the largest skydiving drop zone in the world. Fun to watch the divers come down, and if you're up for it, you can tandem jump with an instructor (might be too late to sign up for that though).

For an odd tourist attraction in Phoenix itself, try Mystery Castle. Sadly, wiki notes that Mary Lou passed away last November - when we took the tour, she was still around for questions sometimes.

East of Phoenix, the Superstition Mountains area is gorgeous. This is where you'll find Roosevelt Dam. Along the way on the the Apache Trail, there are a few tourist trap old west towns, Goldfield and Tortilla Flat.

The Boyce Thompson Arboretum, about 60 miles east of Phoenix, is pretty cool for a plant geek who hasn't experienced desert vegetation before.
posted by superna at 8:23 PM on January 3, 2011

This is fairly vague but perhaps an Arizonan Mefite can add some details. 20+ years ago I was driving in the southeast quadrant of the state on (then) Route 666 and I got out to explore and early-twentieth century cemetery on the east side of the road. As I recall it the cemetery was on the side of a steep slope overlooking some kind of smelter or something on the other side of the road. The hillside was a jumble of graves and cactus, many of the graves were unmarked or marked with pipe metal crosses. In my hazy memory I want to say that there were bones scattered amidst the cactus and yucca. It was totally abandoned and very spooky on a bright afternoon. The drive itself along 666 was spectacular.

It seems trivial to even write it down, but it was a very moving spot.
posted by LarryC at 9:34 PM on January 3, 2011

Most of these recommendations are great, but I would be very careful about going very far north of Phoenix at all, at least off of the interstate (Arcosanti's probably okay). All of northern Arizona got a ton of snow last Wednesday/Thursday, and it won't have melted in the high country yet. The interstates will probably be fine, at least during the day, but the people blithely encouraging you to take all of these little side roads, some of which are very rutted dirt, in what sounds like a rental car are probably not doing you any favors. Check the ADOT traffic site and check out the alerts and the webcam pics on the map before you go anywhere up there (it doesn't link well, but Google finds it easily), and remember that the roads on the webcam pics are major roads and that the side roads in towns will be about 3-5 times worse, and the side roads out of towns will likely be impassable in places. Or just impassable. My parents were snowed in until today, and they're only at 5000 feet about four miles away from one of the towns mentioned above.

Even though I like northern Arizona more, I'd personally bum around in the south right now. And I always use Roadside America for my random driving adventures.
posted by wending my way at 7:28 AM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh, one more place I would recommend is meteor crater. The visitor center is great, and more geek fun, astronauts practiced for the moon landings there!
posted by annsunny at 8:30 AM on January 4, 2011

Response by poster: I can't thank you guys enough for all these great and detailed recommendations!! I'm still sorting through them, and frankly it helped being cautioned against going too far north of Phoenix because of the snow. I was starting to feel utterly overwhelmed by the task of choosing from all these majestic options. My boyfriend and I have already decided to take another trip out there when it's warmer, so we can see more of the quirky treasure chest that is Arizona (I had no idea!) I'll definitely update with what we end up doing. Thanks again!
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 9:46 AM on January 4, 2011

Phoenix has the desert botanical garden - I always took people there when they visited me during the time I lived there.
posted by Dedalus at 9:57 AM on January 4, 2011

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