Essential Arizona Sights and Experiences

Via’s editor-in-chief, and Arizona aficionado, shares her top experiences in the Grand Canyon state.

From the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, lucky onlookers may glimpse soaring condors. 

Hans Wagemaker / Shutterstock

I fell in love with Arizona years ago when I landed in Tucson as a lowly intern at a now-defunct newspaper. In the course of writing obituaries, crime stories, and daily front-page weather poems, I came to adore the boundless desert landscape, lavish sunsets, and outstanding Southwest food.

Little did I know then that I’d one day be editor in chief of Via, the West’s largest-circulation travel magazine, and that I’d have reason to return to Arizona many times in search of the best adventures to share with readers. Here are some of my favorites:

An eruption of orange beckons pollinators among the spring blossoms at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson.

Anne McSilver

Admire cactus blooms in Phoenix and Tucson.

Every kind of flower is a tiny miracle but none more so than those that flourish in the desert. During a visit to Tucson this past spring, I encountered a beauty pageant of yellow, pink, and ruby-red blossoms at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Another prime spot, the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, curates an outstanding collection of botanical exuberance. My favorite cactus flowers cap each plant like crowns, showing that desert splendor reigns supreme. 

Gawk at condors on the Grand Canyon's South Rim.

The largest North American land birds—once extinct in the wild—occasionally swoop over popular tourist areas near the landmark El Tovar hotel. I love these audacious avians and have stalked their growing number of haunts, from California’s Pinnacles National Park to Utah's Cedar Breaks National Monument. But what could be better than seeing this grand creature soaring over our grandest canyon?

A desert tortoise looks almost as dry and dusty as its surroundings in Saguaro National Park.

Anne McSilver

Soak up thrills in Saguaro National Park.

Sitting still in a single spot rarely delivers exhilaration, but in April I found a comfortable rock along the Hugh Norris Trail in Saguaro National Park’s western district and sat down to watch one of Arizona's famous Technicolor sunsets. It was thrilling to experience a landscape packed with extraordinary life beneath the vivid sky. I even spied a rare desert tortoise—an excellent role model for taking things slowly. (Get a 360-degree look at the Hugh Norris Trail in this video.)

Become hopelessly spoiled in Sedona.

There is a precise moment in time when I officially became a marshmallow: Stepping into the Mii Amo spa at the Enchantment Resort. The level of luxury here seems precisely tuned to transform human beings into puffy, easily melted confections. Fortunately, I could shrug off the lazy haze and enjoy hiking amid the scenic riches of nearby Oak Creek Canyon. 

Floating tubes await on the lazy river at the Arizona Grand Resort's Oasis Water Park in Phoenix, Arizona. 

Anne McSilver

Surf an infernal heat wave in Phoenix.

High temperatures bedevil those who toil under the sun, but a pampered pleasure-seeker can thrive on a day when the entire outdoors becomes your salubrious sauna. During a 118-degree spell this past June, I savored the world's most relaxing combo at the Arizona Grand Resort’s Oasis Water Park: blasting heat, blended margaritas, and a lazy river.

This article was first published in July 2017. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.