Arizona is home to the jaw-dropping Grand Canyon, crazy desert wildlife, and very hot summers.
#1 Lowell Observatory
Lowell is one of the oldest observatories in the United States — they were established in 1894! Of course, they’ve grown plenty since then. In 1965 they were designated as a National Historic Landmark, and in 2011 TIME magazine named them one of “The World’s 100 Most Important Places.” One of Lowell Observatory’s claims to fame is that Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto here in 1930. They still have the original sixty-one centimeter Alvan Clark & Sons telescope that was built in 1896! Back in the day, this telescope only cost $20,000 to make, and it arrived in Arizona via train from Boston. Of course, these days they just use it for educational purposes, while several other telescopes are used to conduct real research. Each year, 85,000 people visit Lowell Observatory to enjoy learning about the various wonders of the night sky. Sign yourself up for a guided tour and you won’t be disappointed!
#2 Walnut Canyon National Monument
Between 1100 and 1250 C.E, Walnut Canyon was the home of the Sinagua people. The word “sinagua,” is Spanish for “without water,” so the name attests to the incredible expertise of these people who were able to live in such a dry region. The Sinagua people chose the limestone cliffs of this canyon as the location to build their dwellings. These days, the archaeological remains of at least eighty cliff dwellings help us learn about their culture. Not only did the Sinagua people live here, but plenty of plants do as well! You’ll find over 387 different plant species here. Because it is so naturally and archaeologically diverse, Walnut Canyon was made a National Monument in 1915, and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. These days when you visit you can enjoy hiking trails, a museum, and a visitor’s center.
#3 Arizona Snowbowl
If you’re unfamiliar, you might think that Arizona is nothing but hot, dry desserts, but that isn’t the case at all! The Arizona Snowbowl is an alpine ski resort, and it’s just seven miles from Flagstaff on the San Francisco Peaks. At a base elevation of 9,200 feet, they aren’t lacking in precipitation at all. They average about 260 inches of snowfall a year! That certainly makes for some happy skiers! Five lifts and a 2,300 foot drop (the largest in Arizona!) surely make them happy as well. If winter sports aren’t necessarily your thing, plan for a visit during the summer. There are plenty of hiking trails to choose from, whether you want to venture into the Coconino National Forest, or 12,633 feet up to Humphrey’s Peak, the highest point in Arizona. Try your hand at disc golfing or jump on the chairlift for a scenic ride that even includes a view of the Grand Canyon in the distance.
#4 Wupatki National Monument
Wupatki National Monument is another great find that has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1966. If you’re interested in Native American ruins, this is the place to be! Here, you’ll find the archaeological remnants of many settlements created by the ancient Pueblo people. Wupatki, which means “tall house” in the Hopi language, was first inhabited around 500 A.D! Remarkably, it is the largest structure for fifty miles with more than 100 rooms, including a community room, and a ball court. Many smaller settlements are scattered about nearby as well. Although it is no longer inhabited, the Hopi people still still cherish this place and its heritage. A visit here will help you come to appreciate Native American heritage as well.
#5 Meteor Crater
Meteor Crater was formerly known as Canyon Diablo Crater, and scientists know it as Barringer Crater. It was Daniel Barringer who deduced that the crater was probably caused by a meteorite impact, and it is the Barringer family who now privately owns the crater. They claim that it is the “best preserved meteorite crater on earth.” The crater is a National Natural Landmark, but not a National Monument, because it isn’t federally owned. The crater is about 5,710 feet above sea level, 3,900 feet in diameter, 570 feet deep,and the rim rises 148 feet above the surrounding terrain. Created 50,000 years ago, the crater has eroded away fifty to sixty-five feet worth of height along the rim’s edge. This is a relatively small amount of erosion, actually, since the canyon is young, in geological terms. Since it is so well preserved, this crater became the first to be officially recognized as an impact crater from a natural celestial body. If you visit the crater, be sure to check out the visitor’s center! It has tons of interactive exhibits and displays to educate you about space. Don’t miss out on a guided tour, either!