It’s the time of year when we’re looking forward to booking our spring, summer and autumn holidays.
My first recommendation is super-hot Arizona in the United States although I’d suggest booking later in the year when the temperatures are slightly cooler.
Not only does the ‘Grand Canyon State’ boast one of the world’s most stunning natural attractions, its hot, arid desert landscape is as far removed as you can get from the cold and unpredictable weather of the UK.
Here are my top five top things to love about Arizona, one of the world’s areas of outstanding natural beauty.
1. Wild west landscapes
Arizona is all about big landscapes from red-rock canyons and creeks to mountains and deserts. I love its strange-looking rock formations. ‘Cowboy country’ with its distinctive mesas, butes and spires is one of my favourite landscapes.
The Grand Canyon should be on any self-respecting traveller’s itinerary with its dramatic geology and landscape. Truly, this is one of the seven wonders of the world. You can hike it, bike it, fly over it, ride a mule train down it or take the National Park bus which drops you off at different locations, each with their own spectacular views.
Since I visited, they’ve added the glass Skywalk, a cantilevered walkway jutting out 70 feet over the canyon’s rim. You’ll need a head for heights!
The Grand Canyon is the perfect place to watch a sunset and enjoy the changing light as it bounces around the sculpted rocks of the gorge and the Colorado River below. Allow plenty of time to explore the park as it covers a huge area.
If you’re on a road trip, why not take a detour over the border into neighbouring Utah where there’s more stunning scenery including Canyonlands, Monument Valley and Arches National Parks. I’m a huge fan of road trips and the South West USA is perfect for a tour.
Closer to Phoenix, a trip along the back road of Superstition Mountain isn’t for the faint-hearted with a series of precarious zig-zag hairpin bends and incredible views as you twist and turn on your car journey.
2. Ancient cultures
Arizona is a brilliant place if you’re interested in tracking down the history of America’s ancient peoples and their prehistoric roots.
One of my favourite sites is the idyllic Montezuma Castle National Monument. The visually spectacular remains of cliff dwellings are hewn into the sheer limestone cliff face overlooking Beaver Creek. This was once home to the Sinagua people who inhabited the area many centuries ago.
Further afield, it’s fun looking for ancient signs or petroglyphs on the rocks of canyon areas once inhabited by native peoples.
Studying them and trying to work out what they mean is a tricky at times as little is known about these strange rock markings.
Their exact meaning has been lost over time but it’s often possible to piece together a story from the images of human figures, animals, birds, insects and symbols, if you use your imagination.
The petroglyphs have great cultural significance to the Puebloan people. Look carefully but don’t touch as the pictures are fragile remnants of a past age.
Back in Phoenix go and marvel at ancient treasures in the fantastic Heard Museum with its collection of native South Western American artefacts.
3. Architectural wonders
Arizona has an amazing range of architecture from traditional ranches to colonial and contemporary styles. My favourite modern building is Taliesin West designed by architectural genius, Frank Lloyd Wright as his home and study centre in the late 1930s.
Located in the Sonoran desert, the building demonstrates Wright’s ability to integrate indoor and outdoor spaces. The low-slung buildings mesh totally with the natural landscape of the desert beyond.
Wright felt strongly that Arizona needed its own style of architecture – and this is the apotheosis of his vision. Take one of the many daily tours, sit on the chairs in the lounge, explore the gardens and marvel at the beautifully designed interiors. It’s my dream home!
Arcosanti is another architectural gem in the desert. It’s well worth a detour if you’re a fan of alternative communities. Located in the wonderfully named Paradise Valley, this community of artists and experimental buildings is a great example of green living where you can join a workshop, take a tour or browse the art gallery.
For an even more unusual architectural experience, take a trip to the Biosphere 2 Center near Tucson. This futuristic building was designed to accommodate eight people in a sealed environment for two years as part of an ecological experiment.
Taking the guided tour is a bit like visiting a space station in the desert or playing the virtual game, Second Life. You can wander through simulated tropical rain forest, marsh, ocean and savannah. A truly unique experience!
4. Go wild with nature
Arizona is a nature lover’s dream. Not only does it have spectacular landscapes, its arid climate means that there’s a fascinating range of wildlife and plants.
The iconic cacti can be seen everywhere. One of the best places to see them in their full glory is Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Garden which boasts 200 varieties. It’s tempting to stroke them but don’t get too close to these prickly plants or you may get more than you bargained for!
You might expect a poverty of wildlife in a dry desert landscape but the range of birds, animals, reptiles and plants is unexpectedly diverse in Arizona.
Many plants and creatures have adapted to the extreme heat. Most of them cope by conserving water, hunkering down during the heat of the day or adapting to the extreme climate.
Bird watching in Arizona is surprisingly good especially in the verdant canyons outside Tucson and around the red rocks of Sedona.
One of my favourite birds is the tiny humming-bird which darts around like a hyperactive bee, but with bigger wings and a splash of iridiscent colour.
Another stunner is the Hooded Oriole (pictured above) which strikes a colourful pose amongst the foliage on a boiling hot summer’s day.
5. Cowboy country
Arizona is possibly the best place in the Unites States to capture the spirit of the Wild West and cowboy country.
Travel back in time at Tombstone near Tucson where they re-enact gun fights and re-create the shoot-out at the OK Corral, one of the most famous folk tales of the Wild West.
Wannabe cowboys are in for a treat with a choice of ranch ‘dude’ holidays and horse riding excursions. Don’t blame me if you fall off your stallion!
Old mining towns abound. A personal favourite is Jerome, a historic silver mining town, which is now bursting with trendy cafes and art galleries.
Perfect holiday trip
So is Arizona the perfect overseas holiday destination?
In many ways, the answer is ‘yes’. Sun seekers can’t go wrong because hot, sunny weather is pretty much guaranteed year-round with average temperature of 21-35 degrees C.
Hedonists will love Scottsdale on the edge of Phoenix with its fantastic range of hotels and eateries. Spa lovers can get pampered and escape from the heat in one of the specialist resort hotels in Phoenix, Sedona and Tucson.
Wildlife lovers and hiking fans are in for a treat with wild walks and areas of supreme natural beauty. Arizona rocks – and that’s just the landscape with its boulders, rocky canyons and craggy geology.
Arizona is also perfect for golf addicts. I couldn’t help marvelling at the huge number of perfectly manicured golf courses – a weird sight in a desert landscape.
Thrill seekers can bungee, fly, raft, ride or glide above or below the Grand Canyon. Alternatively, why not join a cattle round-up on horseback at a working ranch? Lovers of the open road can drive Route 66, America’s most famous highway.
Arizona is a great all-round destination but one word of advice – avoid the scorching summer months when temperatures hit the high 30s. Spring and autumn are the best seasons to book a vacation.
Go wild and enjoy your trip to America’s Wild South West!