Summer vacations in the American Southwest are exceptional. In the low desert, visit renown places without the crowds, enjoy air-conditioned spaces, and dine on misted patios. In the high desert, cacti give way to pine forests and cooler temperatures. All the Southwest has unique cuisine, including green chili beer, cactus confections, posole, and Navajo frybread. Summer in the southwest is excitement fueled by wonder.
The Grand Canyon, Arizona
You can see photographs of the canyon from now until forever, but nothing prepares you for the real thing. It’s as if someone ripped open the fabric of the earth and laid bare eons of time and layers of elevation. And, at the bottom, winds the Colorado River. The Watch Tower is a must-see. In 1932 Hopi Indians were hired to build the tower walls and paint the interior with Hopi symbols. There is nothing, literally, in the world like the Grand Canyon.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
At 7,000 ft., Santa Fe is the nation’s highest capital city. Beginning in 1598, the Camino Real carried goods and people from Mexico City to the city. By 1821, the Santa Fe Trail connected Missouri to New Mexico. All this movement created a diverse population with a spirit of adventure. Today the historic square brings eclectic artists, Native Americans, and Hispanics together. The city is a haven for history lovers, foodies, and creative people.
Monument Valley, AZ and UT
You’ve seen it in movies countless times. This is the place Forrest Gump stopped running. Where Thelma and Louis took their final leap. Where John Ford shot all those John Wayne movies. Like the Grand Canyon, you can see the images, but they are nothing compared to experiencing an awesome sense of size and grandeur. (Take a side road, the Valley of the Gods.) Drive through the park, get out, take pictures, and feel the peace.
Mt. Lemmon, Arizona
Drive from Tucson up to Mt. Lemmon—prepare to be surprised. The road is 30 miles long, and the summit is about 20 degrees cooler than the base. You’ll watch the landscape, dotted with cactus, slowly become pine forest. (Pull over at scenic overlooks.) Once you reach the top, you’ll find a stocked lake, outdoor dining, a chairlift ride, hiking trails, and fresh treats from the Cookie Cabin.
The Trading Posts, Arizona and New Mexico
Hubbell Trading Post, by Jsweida, CC BY-SA 3.0
Summer is the ideal time to purchase Native American art and jewelry—it’s a great season to strike bargains. You’ll find trading posts located on the Old Route 66, I-40, and small back roads throughout the heart of the southwest. Look for Eye Dazzler rugs, old pawn jewelry, pottery with horsehair, kachinas, and traditional baskets. Ask questions about the artist! Every piece is unique.
Visit these cities in the summer? You bet! The snowbirds have gone home, there are fabulous restaurants, and plenty of cool spots. Consider an afternoon at the Musical Instrument Museum. Great for the whole family, there are hands-on experiences plus 4,300 instruments and costumes from around the world. Tour Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter design studio. Head to Wet N’ Wild, featuring a water coaster and a top-rated lazy river.
Just under two hours from the PHX airport, Sedona is a world of its own. Red rock spires reach the sky, and Oak Creek burbles with happy satisfaction. If you want to experience New Age and alternative medicine, this is the place. Sedona is also ideal if you simply want to glory in the power of stunning red rock sandstone formations. (This small town has terrific dining, too.) Arrange a private yoga instructor for morning salutations and in the evening watch the sunset blaze across the sky.