Coapse at Desert Botanical Garden,Arizona, American West

Desert Botanical Garden

A short drive from the airport, the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden is a must-visit for garden lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. There are several paths to choose from, including ones focused around local wildflowers, desert discovery and the people and plants of the Sonoran Desert. Throughout the year, there are also special exhibitions and the annual butterfly show. Don’t miss the Cactus & Succulent gallery, an al fresco extravaganza of incredible scope. If you want to dine at the Gertrude at the entrance of the garden, be sure to make a reservation. It’s a popular spot, especially at lunchtime.

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The Phoenix/Scottsdale area is one of the country’s most renowned for golfers. During the summer, only true die-hards will want to compete with the soaring temperatures, but during the wintertime (January through April), it’s the perfect escape for East Coasters, in particular. The most famous courses need to be reserved well in advance (green fees typically start at $250). The best resorts for golfers, because they have top-rated courses on property, include the Boulders, Four Seasons and Biltmore.

Beautiful Landscape at Grand Canyon , Arizona, American West

Grand Canyon

A place of superlatives with mind-blowing proportions — 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide and over a mile deep — the Grand Canyon is rightly on many travelers' must-see lists. Because it is one of the most-visited tourist attractions in the U.S., it's also a place where trips have to be mapped out carefully for a good experience. Here are six things to know about visiting the Grand Canyon's South Rim.

1. Drive in via Desert View Road.

Most travelers arrive via the South Entrance but if you can, try to come through the Desert View Point, which offers a scenic, 20-minute drive towards Grand Canyon Village. This is the only road you can drive along the rim. Past Grand Canyon Village, there's a shuttle system that takes visitors along the edge of the canyon.

2. Timing is everything.

Heat and crowds make the Grand Canyon all but unbearable during July and, especially, August, so try to avoid those times and travel instead in the spring or fall. You will never be alone at the South Rim, but crowds will be decidedly less.

Once there, try to time your hikes against the flow: everyone rushes to Desert View for sunset, for example, but the sheer scope of the canyon allows for exquisite sunset viewing from pretty much anywhere. A great spot is Pima Pont, the second-to-last stop on the Red Line shuttle.

When hiking along the rim, you will encounter crowds near the scenic view points that have a parking lot or a shuttle stop, but in between – the ones where you have to walk – you will have stretches that are basically deserted.

3. High-end accommodations are not available.

Grand Canyon Village feels like an airport-meets-a-college-campus, with different clusters of lodges, restaurants, cafés and gift shops. The historic El Tovar ( hotel, built in 1905, that sits in prime position at the very end of the village near the Rim Trail is the most upmarket of the offerings. It has just 78 rooms and books way in advance. If you can score a room here, take it. None of the other accommodations come close to this hotel's ambience and its restaurant is also the most upscale.

If El Tovar is booked, which it often is, the cabins at the Bright Angel Lodge ( are the next most-desirable accommodations. They are in the middle of everything and there will be crowds outside your window all throughout the day, but the views here cannot be beat. Kachina and Thunderbird lodges are low-rise concrete constructions and the Maswik Lodge, a five-minute walk away from the rim, has motel-style rooms. In the end, the Grand Canyon lodges book up regardless of service and amenities, so the more in advance you can reserve, the higher your chances you will score a nicer room or cabin.

4. Day hikers will be bored after one day.

Day hikers have two options at the Grand Canyon: they can walk along the rim, which is spectacular with breathtaking drop offs and lots of photo opportunities, as well as long (13 miles), but it's not exactly hiking through rugged terrain, as it's mostly a walk along a paved trail.

Alternatively, hikers can choose one of the trails that snakes down into the canyon, like Bright Angel or South Kaibab, both of which are exhilarating but only whet your appetite to go further. Countless signs warn hikers not to tempt to climb to the bottom of the canyon and back out in a single day: hikers have died from dehydration and exhaustion (it takes about 3 hours to get to the bottom and more than 6 to come back up).

Ultimately, there are no satisfying, longer day hikes that take you through very different terrain, as you find in Zion or Bryce, so once you have had your share of rim photos, you are ready to either move on to an overnight hike into the canyon or to keep driving to the next stop along your road trip.

5. Overnight hikes need to be planned way in advance.

The hiking on the bottom of the Grand Canyon is considered some of the most exciting terrain of the southwest. To stay in the historic Phantom Lodge ( on the bottom between the South and North Rims, you have to book well in advance (up to one year).

Phantom Ranch has small wooden and stone cabins with bunk beds and a small bathroom. Accommodations are very rustic and bare-bones, but the location at the bottom of the canyon on the Colorado River is incredible. Breakfast is served, and you can purchase box lunches. Dinner, usually stew, is served in the evening. Some of the bathrooms have hot water but some don't.

Indagare Tip: The Canteen has strict hours, so you have to bring down your own snacks or else it's possible to go hungry for hours until it opens for dinner.

6. Have a sense of humor – you're at the Grand Canyon.

Fair warning: the mushy food in some of the cafeteria-style restaurants will remind you of your college days; you will be given a beeper (classy) that starts bouncing around when your table is ready (even at breakfast); and the abundant gift shops will play a grating soundtrack of Native American flute music. But keep a sense of humor about the parts that feel like Grand Canyon Disneyland – or ignore them – because once it's just you and the canyon, you will experience moments of great awe and humility.

Spend time in the Kolb Studio, dedicated to the work of the Kolb Brothers, photographers of the Grand Canyon around 1900, whose black-and-white works are fascinating. Walk along the Trail of Time, which details the geological evolution of the billion-plus-year-old canyon. Visit the hard-working mules that carry visitors up and down the canyon (they have their own chiropractor on staff). And take in such prime viewing spots as Mather Point and South Kaibab Trailhead to marvel at the multi-hued layers of rock and time of this magnificent place.

There's no right or wrong way to do the Grand Canyon: some people treat it as a drive-by photo op; some spend a night and walk around the rim; and others look into the great abyss and see the challenge to return.

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Exterior View - Heard Museum,Arizona, American West

Heard Museum

Holding one of the—if not the—most acclaimed collections of native American art in the country, the Heard Museum is a great stop for travelers interested in the history, culture and art of the Native America. It’s large, with eleven exhibitions spaces and an outdoor sculpture garden. The museum shop is a lovely spot for gifts; and the crafts, jewelry and art on sale here all come from Native American artisans.

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Yes, Phoenix/Scottsdale offers a handful of museums and more than a handful of spas, the area is still all about the great outdoors. It’s a sprawling, suburban metropolis built into cragged mountain ranges and blooming desert landscapes, and the best way to get a sense of the terrain is by hiking, walking and mountain biking. Most pronounced is Camelback, which you can’t miss because it looks exactly as its name implies. One of the most challenging hikes there is Echo Canyon Trail, with its last steep stretch of boulders. The peak offers incredible views. Those who are not inclined to play rock climber can choose from myriad valley paths (bring lots of water – it’s the desert, after all!).

Recommended areas to explore for top hiking include:

  • Oak Creek Canyon Natural Area
  • Dreamy Draw & Squaw Peak Park
  • Piestewa Peak Summit Trail
  • Pinnacle Peak Park
  • McDowell Sonoran Preserve Gateway Trailhead
Interior View - Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Arizona, American West

Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art

Part of the Scottsdale art complex that also houses the Center for Performing Arts, the so-called SMoCA is an impressive little museum. Most come for the permanent installation Knight Rise, one of light artist James Turrell’s incredible sky-spaces. But it’s also worth checking what is on display in the airy exhibition rooms. Past shows have included the goose bump–inducing work of music/sound artist Janet Cardiff and a misty water installation by Danish-Icelandic wunderkind Olafur Eliasson.


Pampering and wellness are synonymous with Phoenix/Scottsdale, and most of the top-rated resorts have impressive spa centers. They range from the Zen-like Sanctuary on Camelback, with beautiful indoor-outdoor treatment rooms and a quiet vibe, to the over-the-top (but extremely well-done) Willow Stream spa at the Fairmont. A fun combination is to hike Pinnacle Peak in the morning and then make an afternoon at the nearby Willow Spa. At the Sanctuary, make a spa appointment and then stay for dinner at the acclaimed Elements restaurant.

Exterior View - Taliesin West,Arizona, American West

Taliesin West

About a 30-minute drive from such resorts as Sanctuary on Camelback and the Royal Palms, Taliesin West feels like a world apart. In 1937, the architect Frank Lloyd Wright purchased 620 acres of wild desert lands and began building what would become his winter enclave (summers, he spent at the original Taliesin in Wisconsin), as well as school for budding architects, which is one of the most prestigious place to gain a masters in architecture to this day.

You have to take one of the tours—departing every half hour but reservations are necessary—in order to access the buildings. It’s the best way to learn about the visionary architect whose adoration of nature is expressed in every detail, down to the last well-placed picture window. Unlike many other Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, this one (considered his “summer camp”) is totally accessible to visitors, so you are invited to sit in the chairs, open drawers and really experience what it was like to live and work out here in the Arizona desert. If you have not read the book Loving Frank, about his passionate—and ultimately doomed—love affair with the feminist Mamah Borthwick, this is a good time to do so.

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