Help us see the Southwest
May 1, 2006 5:09 PM   Subscribe

We're going to be in Tucson, AZ for a wedding the weekend of June 3rd. We'd really like to spend the week after the wedding seeing the Southwest (Mesa Verde, the Grand Canyon, and so on). Where should we go and how should we get there?

I have in mind, say, driving from Tucson to the Grand Canyon, then from the Grand Canyon to the Four Corners, spending two nights, say, at the Canyon and at Mesa Verde. (We'll have about a week.) But the truth is that I haven't spent any time out there, have no idea how far one place is from another, and don't really know how to efficiently organize things. For example, we'll be flying into Tucson--but can we fly out from somewhere in the Four Corners area without driving all the way to Salt Lake City?

Anyone have any advice? We're on a budget, and figure that as long as we're paying to fly all the way out to Tucson from Boston, we'd like to see some amazing places.
posted by josh to Travel & Transportation around Tucson, AZ (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
DO NOT miss Sedona, the most beautiful place on earth. About half way between Phoenix and Grand Canyon. You won't regret it.
posted by webtom at 5:28 PM on May 1, 2006

Patagonia is a cool, unspoiled little mountain town about 40 miles due south of Tucson. It's a funky little artists community tucked in a green valley along on the Sonoita Creek. Not really on your way, if you're heading for the Grand Canyon, but it's a great day trip from Tucson if you have the time.
posted by soiled cowboy at 5:54 PM on May 1, 2006

I second Sedona - and the best way to take it in is a sunrise ride with . There are others, but Red Rock Balloons has absolutely the best tour available.
Also, while in Tucson, don't miss the - go there late in the day and experience the fantastic sunsets behind the mountains.
If you want to fly back from somewhere close to the four corners area, the only major airport anywhere closeby is Albuquerque, however, Farmington NM has regional service.
Have fun, and enjoy the desert!
(sorry, haven't learned how to properly post a link)
posted by walleeguy at 6:06 PM on May 1, 2006

Canyon de Chelly is an amazing place, smaller than the grand canyon, but really fantastic.
posted by Biblio at 6:07 PM on May 1, 2006

The southwest is really spread out. It's about a five hour drive from Tucson to the Grand Canyon environs, maybe another 3 hours to get to four corners. So there'd be alot of driving in a trip like this. My general advice would be to pick a base, say Tucson, Phoenix or Flagstaff (hip, active), and set smaller geographical limits.

I'm no expert, but one could probably spend a week just exploring the Grand Canyon. Spectacular Havasupai Falls would be considered by many to be worth an entire trip in itself. Or you might consider a multi-day rafting trip.

Tucson itself has a great deal to offer and you could easily spend a week taking in nearby beautiful scenery, including the aforementioned Patagonia. Plus there's some culture and nightlife, which you may find lacking around Four Corners. There are other AskMe threads discussing things to do in and around Tucson.

Enjoy your trip!
posted by ldenneau at 6:11 PM on May 1, 2006

Sabino Canyon, minutes from Tucson, is a very nice place. It's no Grand Canyon, but a nice canyon and will be cooler than Tucson.

The drive north, through Phoenix, then up by Sedona to Flagstaff is really really nice in that it gets cooler and greener gradually.

The crater near Winslow would be a nice stop also.

But too much to see in that area and it would be hard to do it all.

Have fun!
posted by Danf at 7:19 PM on May 1, 2006

Lake Powell is pretty much my favorite lake in N. America. I'd highly suggest a drive by.
posted by sublivious at 7:26 PM on May 1, 2006

just a few clarifications from a local: tucson to flag is about 5 hours, particularly if you hit any phoenix traffic, which becomes more and more likely by the day these days... flag to grand canyon is 70ish miles and takes about 1.5-2 hours, again depending on traffic and weather conditions... the south rim is always a mad-house, so if/when i go the they canyon, i try to go during the week... but the best trip i ever took into the park was by train out of williams... flag to 4 corners is gonna be more than 3 hours for sure; it's nearly 3 from here to kayenta, and kayenta's this side of both monument valley and 4 corners... it's not a trip we make too often; 4 corners is really just a dead-end tourist trap on the rez... but i guess it kinda fun once... flag to sedona is about 45 minutes, maybe an hour depending on traffic in oak creek canyon. sedona's great, but it's warm in the spring/summer, imho. questions? email me... it's in my profile.
posted by RockyChrysler at 7:40 PM on May 1, 2006

White Sands. It is one of my favorite places in the world. If you can at all swing it (it's about 350 miles east of Tucson), go. Nearby is Three Rivers Petroglyph Site, home to over 20,000 of pieces of rock art created by the Jornada Mogollon people over a thousand years ago. This is American antiquity at its finest.

If you're a science buff, these are both right near Trinity Site, the location of the first-ever atomic bomb test (don't worry, radiation levels are low). In Alamogordo proper is the New Mexico Museum of Space History (which is actually way cool), and the VLA isn't too far away from all of this either.

In northwestern New Mexico, though, is perhaps the crown jewel of all of the region (though I'm an archaeologist, so I'm biased): Chaco Canyon. Simply amazing, and sort of near Mesa Verde.
posted by The Michael The at 7:42 PM on May 1, 2006

oh, and regarding the fly-out question: we've got a nice airport in flagstaff... there's a big airport at tusayan... pretty sure cortez colorado's got an airport too... farmington, nm is big enought to have a good airport too, most likely... and kayenta might as well, for heavy-hitters destined for monument valley... not sure about the particulars of commercial service at any of the above except pulliam in flagstaff; we get the america west puddle jumper to phoenix-sky-harbor. that's it.
posted by RockyChrysler at 7:44 PM on May 1, 2006

i suggest sedona...
despite it's new-age draw these days...
and the painted desert...
which is fantastically beautiful...
posted by MonkNoiz at 8:35 PM on May 1, 2006

Arizona Highways is the definitive word for this state; a fabulous magazine produced by the highway dept. Has some jaw-dropping photos, in case you've never seen a copy. Their site should provide you with all the info you need; look at some of their books.
I second all of the above suggestions, although Chaco may be pushing it for a week...don't spread your self too thin; stop and smell the saguaros. You might want to make Monument Valley/Chaco a separate trip; vast area for so short a time.
If you can't opt for the balloon ride in Sedona, the best place to watch the sunset is at the airport.
posted by JABof72 at 8:45 PM on May 1, 2006

A drive from Tucson to the Grand Canyon is a drive that will eat up most of your day -- I've never done that particular drive myself, but I can't help but suspect that ldenneau is underestimating the traffic that you WILL hit in Phoenix and the surrounding environments.

Other suggestions: Sedona -- many people like it, but it's never done much for me. It'll certainly seem like the minor leagues of nature, when compared to the Grand Canyon.

Alternatives to the drive might include the old-time railroad that runs from flagstaff to the Grand Canyon. I have friends who love that trip.

Another suggestion: Instead of heading ever northward in AZ, why not consider exploring the southern part of the state as well? Tucson's Arizona Desert museum is worth a take-in -- Kartchner Caverns is a very cool living cave, and if you want small town Arizona history, without the Sedona pretention, Bisbee is beautiful.

(In short, you've got a lot of options. Sorry for the lack of links here; I'm short on time at the moment. But feel free to email me with any follow up questions. Address is in the profile.)
posted by .kobayashi. at 11:02 PM on May 1, 2006

If you're active, I absolutely second spending some time camping in the Grand Canyon. Havasupai Falls is amazing, and it's only one of dozens of fantastic scenic wonders in the canyon.

If planning a multi-day camping trip halfway across the country sounds intimidating to you (it does to me!), maybe consider a ruins tour? My mom and I left Tucson going west on I-10 towards Phoenix, stopping at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument on the way; once in Phoenix, we headed north on I-17 (check out Montezuma's Well, but skip Montezuma's Castle).

We stayed in Flagstaff that night; most of the fun stuff for visitors here is downtown, so your best bets are there: the historic Weatherford and Monte Vista (but beware! It's haunted) Hotels or if you're looking for something a little more pampered (The Weatherford and Monte Vista are old and cool, but not really that comfortable) a bed and breakfast.

The next day we took the I-40 East, checked out the Petrified Forest and Canyon de Chelly National Monument (which now requires a guide to check out stuff in the backcountry as it's apparently gotten so popular). We stopped and camped at Canyon de Chelly for the night, which I don't recommend doing if you like solitude as part of your nature experiences; maybe head North towards Canyons of the Ancients National Monument and camp there or head toward Farmington and get a hotel. I got wicked food poisoning at this point in our trip, and spent a day in the hospital, which I do not recommend.

Canyons of the Ancients National Monument and Mesa Verde National Park are now a shortish drive to the north (and stop at 4 Corners because it takes ten minutes and hey! it's 4 Corners), and are both very cool. From there, it's just a relative hop, skip and jump to Aztec Ruins National Monument.

We started heading back to Tucson at this point, but if I did it again, I'd keep heading southeast and spend a couple of days in Santa Fe. Downtown there is a lot of fun, and I highly recommend the Ten Thousand Waves Spa. There's a small airport in Santa Fe and a larger one in Albuquerque, which if I remember correctly is less than two hours away.

I've been an Arizona resident my whole 23 years, and have lived in Tucson and Flagstaff in that time. Please feel free to email me; it's in the profile.
posted by joshuaconner at 11:30 PM on May 1, 2006

White Sands is really, really cool. They allow 25 people a day in for backcountry camping. I've done that twice and it's been just amazing both times. One of the more other-worldly places you can be on Earth. Gypsum salt dunes with sparse yucca vegetation , the occasional herd of Arabian Oryx, and you may even see a stealth aircraft on its way back to White Sands AF Base. I'm not kidding about the oryx, either.
posted by mcstayinskool at 7:54 AM on May 2, 2006

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