Call me biased, but I’m confident I can convince anyone that Arizona is one of the country’s most scenic states. With spring just around the corner, I want to encourage you to lace up your sneakers or hiking boots and treat your senses to some of Arizona’s eye candy.
Less than two hours from Phoenix, northwest of Payson on State Route 87, is Pine Creek Canyon, a tiny valley surrounded by pine trees and home to what’s believed to be the largest travertine bridge in the world.
Tonto Natural Bridge, carved by Mother Nature, stands 183 feet high over a 400-foot tunnel that measures 150 feet at its widest point. It is a spectacular and towering masterpiece of nature covered in moss, grass, trees and rocks with a natural spring waterfall cascading into the creek below. You can view the bridge from the top or hike down to the bottom, but either way, it is a one-of-a-kind setting you won’t find anywhere else in the state.
Another place that earns the “won’t find anywhere else” title is so eye-catching that even the most cell phone-addicted person might forget the need to check their email or Instagram. Just south of Alpine, smack dab in the middle of nowhere, is the glorious Hannagan Meadow, an emerald green oasis surrounded by the Apache National Forest. The endless pine-covered mountains that melt into the horizon will leave you speechless.
Another reason to keep eyes off the screen is so you don’t miss a chance to see elk, mule deer, antelopes, black bears or even a bald eagle. The fishing is excellent, but so is the hiking and horseback riding. Whether you are doing a lot or simply coming to unplug, you are guaranteed to feel like you are a million miles from home.
Another favorite of mine is the rugged Santa Catalina Mountains in Tucson. The highest point is Mount Lemmon, and at 9,147 feet, it is home to the southernmost ski destination in the United States.
A trip from the desert base to the top of Mount Lemmon takes you from 2,000 to about 9,000 feet above sea level in 45 minutes. This is one of Tucson’s famous sky islands, which has its own weather patterns and is great for stargazing. On the way up or down, be sure to make a stop in Summerhaven, a mountain hamlet great for lunch and some homemade fudge.
The Catalinas are a perfect place for hiking, horseback riding and catching a glimpse of bighorn sheep that like to hang out high on the cliffs. On the eastern corner of the Catalina Mountains is Sabino Canyon. Here you can take a walk on any of the trailheads or hop aboard a tram and enjoy a guided tour through Tucson’s flora and fauna.
All of these memorable scenic getaways are four-season adventures. You can ski above the Saguaros, or take a sky ride to the top, explore the dark skies, do some fly fishing, or grab a book, a picnic basket and breathe in the crisp mountain air. Beauty surrounds us – just go east, west, north or south off an Arizona highway.
— Robin Sewell is the host and executive producer of Arizona Highways Television, Saturdays and Sundays on CBS.