Visitors who come to USA often overlook the state of Arizona unless they are visiting the Grand Canyon. Contrary to popular belief, this 48th state in the United States is not a barren dessert. In fact, it has one of the most diverse landscapes, contemporary restaurants and some of the country’s finest art and architecture.

Most flights come into Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport, which is also the largest city in Arizona. The landscape here is that of lower dessert, which means it has dry open fields and giant cactuses. There are also a few mountains in the backdrop. Located 20 minutes from downtown Phoenix, Camelback Mountain is a Phoenix icon that also acts as a directional reference guide, as it can be seen from everywhere in the city. Hot air balloon rides are very popular here. You can fly with Rainbow Ryders and enjoy views of the Sonoran Desert while floating in the sky and sending greetings to earthbound folks below. Days are long and dry here, so golf resorts are very popular in the spring and fall.

Adjacent to Phoenix is Scottsdale, a city of 200,000 people who love to eat, be outdoors and admire art. Old Town Scottsdale is a neat area with more than 100 galleries that encompass a wide range of artistic expressions from traditional bronzes such as George-Ann Tognoni’s trio of galloping horses to contemporary and experiential such as James Turrell’s SkySpace at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. Leisurely stroll through the art district, waterfront and SouthBridge, taking a break at Grimaldi’s Pizzeria for lunch (the best New York style coal brick-oven pizza) or for something more local, try The Mission, an Old Town favorite spot serving delicious Modern Latin cuisine.

Stay at the The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa which will make you feel like you are on a cruise ship rather than a dessert resort. With a water park, two swimming pools, golf course, spa, adventure center, yoga and cooking classes, there is something for everyone to do. Also recommend the Fresh Start Renewal Vichy Body Therapy at the Agave Spa (located at the Westin); followed by dinner at Daseo, an award winning Latin Fusion restaurant serving muddled drinks and ceviche of fish that arrives daily to the restaurant at the same time as the chefs do!

Take a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West, a winter camp of the famous American architect, built in 1930s. Wright and his apprentices created Taliesin West out of the desert by gathering rocks from the desert floor and sand from the washes to keep the design in balance with the surrounding environment. This architectural masterpiece is best enjoyable with a tour guide, who will share hilarious stories from Wright’s colorful life.

In the morning, drive towards Sedona, which is roughly two hours from Scottsdale. On the way, you will see how the landscape changes as the tall cactus begin to disappear and are replaced by small shrubs. Spend a few minutes at the Montezuma Castle National Monument, a 20 room cliff dwelling built by Sinaquas (Ancient Indian Tribe) over 700 years ago.

In the next 10-15 miles of your journey, you will see a dramatic change in your surroundings. Mountains covered with green wild grass and low lying shrubs would suddenly give way to iron rich red rocks. This is when you will know you have reached Sedona. Watching the impact of Earth’s changes over millions of years over this area will leave you feeling insignificant. Once covered by sea, there are traces of coral still visible in the upper parts of the rocks. It is the only place in the world known to have four vortexes, or high energy points ideal for meditation and spiritual practices. Take a hike to each location and see if you get that tingling feeling!

In Sedona, you will find abundant spas, healers, psychic readers, and yoga and meditation centers. Explore the Uptown, a short stretch of restaurants and shops, where most tourists tend to hang out. Take the Sedona Trolley Tours (every hour) that takes you around the key places and gives you a good overview of where everything is in the city, as well as the history of the area. Stay at the Enchantment Resort (if you can afford it); otherwise just visit their terrace restaurant around sunset. It is a beautiful, quiet and peaceful spot to watch the rocks and the star studded sky.

Sedona gives away to the city of Oak Creek where you can see how a water source can miraculously change the surrounding into lush green. As you drive through the winding roads going up the mountains, you will pass through Coconino, the largest Ponderosa Pine Forest of the Colorado Plateau.

45 minutes later, you will reach the historic city of Flagstaff at an altitude of 6,000 feet.  Perhaps best known for its Indian reservations, it is a great place to explore the Native American culture. Learn about the Navajo, Hopi, Havasupai, Kaibab-Paiute and Hualapai tribes that have been here for hundreds of years. Visit the Northern AZ Native American Cultural Trails. Flagstaff was thefirst city to pass a night ordinance which explains the interest in exploration of space at Lowell Observatory.

If you enjoy skiing and winter sports, this is a great affordable destination, but if you miss the winters, Arizona Snowball is a year-round snow playground. The famous Route 66 once ran through the city and its romances are still found. Explore some of the old landmarks or celebrate the Mother Road heritage at the Annual Route 66 Days Festival each September.

End your Arizona adventure at the south rim of the magnificent Grand Canyon, one of the wonders of the world. After passing Flagstaff, the wooded green curtains would suddenly open up to a powerful and inspiring landscape spanning 277 miles in length and 1 mile in height. Here you can spend an entire day hiking, soaking in the views and taking photographs. There are also river rafting trips, mule rides and guided hikes available in the park.

The most amazing part about Arizona is that all these changing landscapes can be found within a 4-hour driving distance. You should plan to spend at least couple of days at each location, but even a long drive through the state is awe-inspiring!

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