Why Arizona Is the Hottest Destination in the U.S. Right Now
When it comes to variety, there are few parts of the U.S. that can compete with the Grand Canyon state
May 18, 2023
Trees and forests in the north, cactuses and desert in the south. In between, awe-inspiring canyons, coyotes and hummingbirds, abandoned towns and vibrant cities – and above it all hangs the tantalizing promise of adventure.
© Blagovesta Bakardjieva/Caroline Seidler
The desert changes you, they say. And it’s true: When your eyes wander across the sometimes barren expanse of the Arizona landscape, coming to rest only on the towering, majestic silhouettes of saguaro cactuses or cliffs cast in a reddish glow by the setting sun, something happens inside you. Everyday life is suddenly far away, problems seem small, you’re overcome by a sense of humility – and an irrepressible desire to discover the infinite variety of this wonderful U.S. state.
© Mauritius Image
There’s certainly plenty to see. The Grand Canyon state has an area of almost 300,000 square kilometers (114,000 square miles) and is home to about 7.3 million people. The climate and vegetation zones they can choose between couldn’t be more different: The north is dominated by forests, and even in the height of summer temperatures rarely rise above 26 C, whereas in the heart of the state, around the capital Phoenix, they can easily exceed 40 C in July and August. In the south, it’s the Sonoran Desert that defines the landscape: Between May and September it’s hot, and pretty warm for the rest of the year too.
© Mauritius Images
Arizona has an abundance of variety, sunshine and blue skies. That does something to the people as well: They’re open and adventurous. During a stopover near Sierra Vista on the border to Mexico, you might run into cowboys like Geronimo “Jerry” Arciniega. The retired mechanic is working on his truck. He pauses briefly and pulls something out of his pocket, opening his hand to show us two grayish things on his palm: “The rattles of two rattlesnakes I caught myself,” he tells us. Jerry’s face is weather-beaten, he’s wearing a cowboy hat and boots, like most people here – even those who’ve opted for motorized horsepower. In this part of the world, the Wild West isn’t a cliché that’s kept alive for tourists, it’s an attitude to life. And the boots aren’t a fashion, they’re a statement.
© Mauritius Images
No trip to Arizona is complete without a visit to the most iconic of all gorges: The Grand Canyon, which is an absolute must. On your way north, it’s definitely worth breaking up your journey now and again – in Jerome, for instance, where you can wander around a ghost town, or in Sedona, which was once a popular backdrop for westerns and continues to evoke the magic of a bygone era. There are numerous hiking routes that provide plenty of opportunities for breathtaking photos of the red rocks round about. In Flagstaff there’s an observatory that’s well worth a visit, and in Williams – besides buying a pair of authentic cowboy boots – you can take a train ride to the Grand Canyon that includes a mock ambush by bandits on the way back. Standing at the rim of the canyon gazing into its almost infinite depths with condors gliding silently overhead, you sense it again: a feeling of absolute freedom.
© Getty Images
The great gorge in the north
Anyone touring Arizona may not miss the most iconic of canyons, the Grand Canyonof course, don't miss it. On the way north, it's worth making a stop now and then, for example in Jerome, where you can stroll through a ghost town, or in Sedona, which once served as a backdrop for western movies and has lost none of its magic from bygone days. Numerous hiking routes offer breathtaking photo opportunities among the red rocks. In Flagstaff, on the other hand, a visit to the observatory is worthwhile, and in Williams you can not only buy authentic cowboy boots, but also board a train that will take you all the way to the Grand Canyon - including a fictitious ambush by mounted bandits. When you're standing on the edge of the canyon, with condors soaring overhead and an almost endless view of the depths, you're back with that feeling of absolute freedom.
Off to the wild west
The concept of freedom is also very much associated with the world’s most legendary road: Route 66. Established in 1926, it originally stretched from Chicago, Illinois all the way to Santa Monica, California and covered a distance of 3,940 kilometers (2,448 miles). Today only parts of it remain, and it is no longer continuous. However, some of the most beautiful sections are still a magnet for nostalgics and are located to the west of Flagstaff, between Seligman and Kingman. The former is considered the birthplace of the historic Route 66, the latter calls itself the Route 66 capital. Just after Kingman comes Oatman, a former gold mining town whose population now numbers just 102 people. As it disappears in the rearview mirror, you feel as if you’ve been on a journey through time – and not only because, in Needles, you leave Mountain Standard Time behind you and enter the Pacific Time Zone …
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Time is an extremely dynamic construct in Arizona: While people in the major cities dine on healthy bowls, go to yoga classes or partake of craft beer in one of the numerous new microbreweries, sometimes you only have to cross the street, enter a museum or take a short drive to feel as if you’re back in a bygone era – in a time when Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday played poker in the saloon, the music from honky-tonks spilled out into the dusty streets and hitting the road was still synonymous with adventure.
This article appeared in the Falstaff TRAVEL issue Spring 2023.