Road trip in Arizona, between desert and lush oasis

To go to Arizona is to conquer the West. The America of westerns, the Far West, horses, cowboys, Indians. And supernatural landscapes, between the desert with red rocks, the blue of the sky, the white of the lake and the oases in the middle of the canyon.

South of Arizona are deserts and cacti. To the north, the plateaus, the red earth and the lakes including the famous Lake Powell and its 3200 km of shoreline. The further north you go, the more rocky faults you will see barely disturbed by flowers, birds, coyotes, horses and reptiles. The third of this state, indigenous territory, brings together nations such as the Navajos, Hopis and Pueblos. The Navajo territory covers 70,000 m2, a reservation that extends over Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. Arizona comes from the Indian word “arizonac” which means “place of the small spring”. It all starts in Phoenix, “the valley of the sun”, with its 300 days of sunshine a year, where the airport is located. We flew Paris-Detroit and then Detroit-Phoenix. We will take the day after our arrival a part of Route 66, called “the mother road”. It is the old way that linked Chicago to Santa Monica, between 1926 and 1985. Arizona lends itself to road trips, the only way to criss-cross this state and see mythical sites such as the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, the canyon de Chelly and the petrified forest, then Tucson the western city on the way back. This state astonishes, shakes and enchants. In Navajo land, we set foot on Mars. If the Navajos hardly smile, they offer superb craftsmanship in the canyons. It was around 1850 that it was refined and gave birth to their jewels so famous today. We will not soon forget such a road trip.

From Phoenix to Flagstaff via Route 66, then Grand Canyon.

Two hours of driving are necessary to connect the two cities with a stop in Sedona not far from Flagstaff. Sedona is nestled amid incredible ocher rock formations juxtaposed against the green of pine forests and blue skies, which inspire artists and spiritually-seeking travelers and are convinced that rocks, cliffs and rivers radiate a unique earth energy. . The “red rock country”, name of Sedona, is an emblem of Arizona. We then arrive in Flagstaff, a charming little town with a historic center and typical eclectic architecture with its low houses and colorful facades. Not far away is a large pine forest of the country, ideal for walking and skiing. We will spend the night at 303 BnB Flagstaff, a cozy bed and breakfast with plush, green, pink or blue rooms. At cocktail hour, wine and cheese are served by Kim and Woody on the patio with swings. Flagstaff is a good starting point for the Grand Canyon and the Indian Reservations. The next day, we take the road to the Grand Canyon at 1h30 by car. We are first struck by the immensity of the canyon, a fault two billion years old, then by the steep plateaus, the hillocks, the crimson ridges and the luxuriant oases. At the bottom, the Colorado River meanders along the 445 km of the canyon. 10km from the entrance to the southern slope, we will see the Grand Canyon Village with its shops and restaurants. This is the starting point of the “bright angel trail”, a path that allows you to descend the canyon on foot. To visit it, we are offered a Hummer tour which has no more advantages than a car tour and a helicopter flight over the canyon. Allow 30 minutes for 244 euros, or 50 minutes for 354 euros. It’s the real nice outing to offer yourself.

DeAntelope Canyon, au lac Powell

Antelope Canyon in Navajo Territory was named after the herds of antelope that once roamed the valley. We will visit Slot canyon, invisible from the surface, carved by wind and sand for thousands of years, vertically. Imagine a descent along a ladder to find yourself in a gallery with narrowing tunnels in bottlenecks. The red sandstone walls fascinate with their archaic roundness and the wall sculptures are enhanced by the narrowness of the gorge. We follow the movements of the rock in shades of beige, pink, orange and red. You book your entry six months in advance to see this unique site in the world. Not far from there, 6 km from the town of Page, is Horseshoe Bend, “the curve of the horseshoe”, a meander of the Colorado River. It is a brown rock surrounded by the waves (in the distance you can see kayak canoes) which is well worth the fifteen-minute walk from Route 89. Then we go to Lake Powell for a navigation. Second artificial body of water in the country, which extends between Utah and Arizona, this lake gives to see very clear waters between cliffs of white and blond rock. Ah, this feeling of navigating in a science fiction film and being able to meet androids.

From Monument Valley to Canyon de Chelly

This is the essential step of all the roadtrips of the American West. “Monument Valley” means “valley of rocks” in Navajo. This natural site located on the border between Arizona and Utah, in Navajo territory, was declared a national monument in 1958 and is administered by the Native Americans themselves who occupy reservations in northeastern Arizona and the contiguous regions of New Mexico and Utah and are related to the Apaches. According to ancestral rites, they still live from breeding sheep and horses, growing corn, selling handicrafts. There are jewels and turquoises, pottery and weaving, basketry… But this Monument Valley is best known for the number of westerns that have been filmed there. More than 20 feature films including “The Fantastic Ride”, John Ford’s first film with John Wayne in 1939, “The Conquest of the West” and “The Fort Apache Massacre”. The landscape is still used as a backdrop for many films (Forrest Gump, quantum code, back to the future III, cars, transformers 4, etc…). We drive through the 120 km2 perched at an altitude of 2600m in this red sandstone desert. Impressive, these red rock peaks, some of which rise up to 300 meters high. The next day, we continue the road to the Canyon de Chelly in Chinle, which means “flowing water” in Navajo. Covering an area of ​​342 km2 with cliffs reaching 300m, this canyon surprises with its green and red physiognomy and its low reliefs recalling the presence of several ancient pueblo sites (Indians who live in juxtaposed stone houses). The cave paintings dating from 1800 evoke horses, for the most part. This canyon has been inhabited for centuries by Navajo farmers who spend the winter on the edges of the canyon before descending to spend the spring and summer in their hogans (traditional round houses made of cedar wood and clay mud). We will have a coffee in the middle of the journey by jeep, in the pouring rain, on one of the stands held by the Indians, we will buy necklaces from them and the scene will seem surreal to us.

From Petrified Forest National Park to Tombstone, the western town.

As we descend back towards Holbrook, we come to the site of the Petrified Forest National Park. Another extraordinary site, a concentration of fossilized tree trunks, in shades of midnight blue standing out against a white background. Eleven stages allow you to go around this park. You will have a spectacular view of the desert, the ancestral homes of the Anasazis (Ameridians of southwestern North America), not to mention the Crystal Forest, named for its petrified logs that sparkle with the fire of quartz crystals. along a paved path. Then head for southern Arizona, land of legends. We are here in the “Wild West”, that of the Apache Chiricahuas, the 7th Cavalry, the outlaws, Cochise, Geronimo and the Earp brothers with the famous settling of accounts at OK Corall. Nature is not left out with the Sonoran Desert and Saguaro Park. Tucson is the entry point to this wild south. Its rehabilitated historic center makes it possible to discover on foot, which is rare for an American city, the districts of El Presidio and El Barrio Historico. Beautiful Victorian-style brick homes stand alongside older, colorful buildings built of adobe (clay). Don’t miss the Córdoba House, arguably the oldest house in Tucson dating back to 1850. The Tucson Museum of art offers beautiful paintings from the 19th and 20th centuries as well as pre-Columbian works. Nicknamed the white dove of the desert, the Mission San Xavier du Bac is a fine example of Spanish colonial architecture. Founded in 1692 by the Jesuits, it is certainly one of the most beautiful and one of the oldest missions in the United States. On the road to Saguaro National Park, the city of Old Tucson with its western film sets, which has just had a makeover, is an obligatory stopover for anyone who wants to return to the days of the wild west. It is here that nearly sixty films have been shot. Finally, the small town of Tombstone, where on October 26, 1881 the famous settling of scores at OK Corall which opposed the Earp brothers to a gang of cowboys, took place is immortalized by many films. A daily show recounts the events that took place there. The main street has been preserved, including the Bird Cage Theater, a saloon-theatre, opened in 1881. At the northern exit of the town is the charming Boothill Cemetery (boot hill) which is worth the visit with its historical epitaphs. The Far West never ceases to surprise us.

Photos Brice Charton

Also read:

Practical notebook

Air France, Paris-Detroit then Detroit-Phoenix.

-303 BnB Flagstaff, in the historic district, 4 bedroom house for travelers. Living room and Patio. 220 dollars (226 euros) per night. With breakfast.

-The View Hotel in Monument valley. Site view. Balcony. Restaurant. 95 double rooms decorated in Navajo style with locally woven rugs, traditional paintings. 209 dollars (214 euros) per night with breakfast.

-In Chinle, Thunderbird lodge, rural hotel. Rooms on one level, comfort, 70 dollars (71 euros) per night. With breakfast.

Dollar rate: 1.03 euros

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