the Grand Canyon Arizona

The Grand Canyon with Kids

“A Land to Inspire our Spirit:  Grand Canyon – one of Earth’s most powerful, inspiring landscapes- overwhelms our senses. Its story tells of geologic processes played out over unimaginable time spans as a unique combination of size, color, and dazzling erosion forms: 277 river miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and a mile deep. Our responsibility as good stewards is to pass on this gift, pristine and preserved, to future generations”.

Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon is arguably one of the most amazing geological masterpieces in the world and there are endless ways to explore her spectacular beauty. As an avid hiker, the way I wanted to see and experience the canyon meant on foot however my plans had to be altered when we decided to bring our two children along.

A visit to the Grand Canyon is wonderful at any age and thankfully the National Park System thought the development of the park out with this idea in mind. Whether you are an avid hiker, a senior citizen or a family, there are endless ways you can experience the Grand Canyon.

We planned our visit for two days in October when most children are in school and tourism is busy but not overwhelming. We flew to Tucson where my parents live and spent a few days there before heading out on our road trip north. Getting to the Grand Canyon involves a bit of driving and we split our trip by spending a day in Sedona before driving the rest of the way to the Grand Canyon.

We chose the small, touristy town of Tusayan as our base which is located about a ten minute drive from the South entrance of the Grand Canyon. There is not much there except for hotels and not so great restaurants yet it is convenient and our lodging was nice. If we do it again, which I hope we do, I would choose to stay at one of the many great places in the Grand Canyon. There are plenty of little cafes and restaurants and even a nice grocery store that serves wonderful, economically priced hot food. These hotels book up a lot faster than in Tusayan so it is probably best to reserve your hotel at least six months in advance and much earlier if you are going during summer high season.

We arrived at our hotel late on Monday night with only time for dinner and winding down before our big day exploring the Canyon. Our room at the Best Western in Tusayan was quite nice and even fit a cot for my ten-year-old son. I was surprised to see so many Europeans at our hotel. Given the time of year, the tourists at the Grand Canyon were mostly adults and not the van-loads of kids like you’d expect. It was quite an international crowd which I always enjoy.

We rose Tuesday morning to chilly temperatures around 39 degrees F, had breakfast and left for the Visitor Center at the Grand Canyon. Since it wasn’t high season, we had no problem parking in the main lot and left our car there all day as the Grand Canyon has an excellent shuttle service bringing you around to the main lookouts.

the Grand Canyon Arizona

There are tons of Elk at the Canyon. We saw them in the mornings and evenings.

We began our day with a short documentary film on the formation and history of the Grand Canyon, right at the Visitor Center. It was excellent and highly informative plus the kids loved it. We also grabbed a Junior Ranger Activity Book for the kids to fill out and complete during our time at the Grand Canyon. The Guide contains all sorts of learning activities which is an excellent way to keep young children engaged and interested in their visit.

the Grand Canyon Arizona

The Grand Canyon Junior Ranger Activity Book is a great way to educate and entertain children at the Grand Canyon.

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Sunset Crater Volcano National Park Arizona

Road trip Arizona: From Sedona to the Grand Canyon

Back in October, my husband and I decided it was time to make a road trip north and show our two children the Grand Canyon. We had visited southern Arizona countless times before always staying with my parents in Tucson. Yet, we had never ventured north as a family to see one of the greatest natural wonders on earth.

Since I am not all too fond of long road trips with the kids, we decided to split our trip up into several different stops along the way. We spent the first night in sensational Sedona where we enjoyed the raw beauty of her legendary red rocks. It was also a perfect midway point to the Grand Canyon from Tucson ensuring our kids (or me) wouldn’t get too stir crazy with all the driving.

The next morning, after an early sunrise hike on the the Airport Mesa Trail Loop we set off for our long drive to the Grand Canyon making several fabulous stops along the way. Our first stop as secretly planned unbeknownst to the kids who were happily watching a DVD and had already been fed a sandwich, was to the trendy, hip college town of Flagstaff about an hour’s drive north of Sedona. We knew that there were tons of delicious foodie restaurants and found a perfect venue for lunch.

Sedona, Arizona

A Sunrise Hike in Sedona

Sedona is a truly magical place. Blessed with a rugged, red-hued landscape of mountains, rock formations and canyons, the awe-inspiring beauty of Sedona is best seen on foot. A morning hike in Sedona is a spectacular way to start off the day as you can watch the sun slowly light up the brilliant red mountains and the shadows dance away. Furthermore, it may be one of the few times that you are hiking alone meaning you will receive the benefit and joy of finding peace and solitude while enjoying an incredible view.

One of the best sunrise hikes in all of Sedona is the Airport Mesa Trail Loop that literally circles around Sedona’s small mountaintop airport affording dramatic 360-degree views of the city and her magnificent, unusually shaped rock formations.

Sedona, Arizona

Sunrise in Sedona

The hike starts off of Airport Road and meanders a gentle 3.5 miles from start to finish. Depending upon how fit you are and how many stops you make to take photos of the breathtaking views, the hike takes a little over an hour to an hour and a half.

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Sedona, Arizona

The Changing Light in Sedona

Although my parents have lived in Tucson for over 20 years and I’ve been a frequent visiter to Arizona, I had never made it to Sedona except for when I was a child. Last week, during a family vacation to see my parents, my husband and I decided to include a short road trip with our two kids, spending three glorious days in Sedona and the Grand Canyon. Traveling through northern Arizona made us realize what we have been missing. Stunning, achingly beautiful landscape that offers endless opportunities to hike and enjoy the wonders of the great outdoors.

We set off from Tucson in the morning with the kids happily watching a movie during our four-hour road trip. I laughed at the memory of the days when I was a child and we packed our family of five in our wood-paneled diesel station wagon during the days before electronic entertainment. All we did was fight the entire way! Despite the drawbacks, the invention of DVDs and iTouch games has had some advantages especially during travel!


First rest stop along the way to Sedona, Max smiles for the camera.

Located in the northern Verde Valley of Arizona, approximately 232 miles (373 kilometers) northwest of Tucson, Sedona is one of the most geologically diverse areas in Arizona along with the Grand Canyon. Sedona is world-renown for her awe-inspiring beauty of red and orange-hued rock formations, canyons and mesas that formed millions of years ago when iron-rich rivers dried up and left deposits of crimson-colored iron behind in the sandstone. The sensational striated canyons and unique rock formations can be easily spotted from the highway as you drive into the Sedona.

We arrived in Sedona around early afternoon and immediately our jaws dropped in surprise and delight at her surreal beauty. Sedona is like nothing we have ever seen. She is simply stunning!

Sedona Arizona

First glimpse of a gorgeous red-hued rock formation in Sedona.

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A Hike along Mount Baldy Trail

“The mountains are calling and I must go”. – John Muir

The White Mountains of northeast Arizona are home to the largest freestanding Ponderosa Pines in the world, a dramatic difference to the lunar landscapes, canyons and cactus desert that covers much of the state. The White Mountains are breathtakingly beautiful with air so fresh that is makes your lungs sing. Peace, serenity and connecting with nature are the main pastimes here and there are many fabulous hiking trails to find it.

The most well-known and beloved hike in the area is the 14-mile roundtrip hike to the sacred Mount Baldy. At 11,4000 feet, Mount Baldy is home to some of the oldest, most beautiful Douglas Firs in the world. Some of them are over 350 years old. Three years ago, my dad, my son Max and I did a three generational hike along the Mount Baldy Trail. Yesterday, we decided to repeat history and do it again. There was no way we could do the entire hike with a nine-year old but we were able to hike to the first lookout with a magnificent view of the forest and horizon.

We rose early to the morning sun lighting up the pine tree tops lining the White Mountains. The morning sky was a magnificent blue with not a single cloud in the sky. That would surely come later. In late August, the White Mountains are at the tail end of monsoon season where the magical clouds slowly appear, form and become bigger, whiter, brighter and then darker before they release their angry water.

We took the White Mountain Scenic Byway for a little over an hour, driving through some of the other small towns along the way. We passed through meadows, fields of wildflowers and lots of Ponderosa Pines (some dating over 700 years old!). It was a beautiful ride that took us through some unbelievable scenery. I had to pinch myself to remember that we were in Arizona as we had left the desert and cactus long ago.

We arrived at the start of the trail around half past nine. The sky was brilliant and the gentle breeze smelled of pines. It was completely still and quiet save for a few birds chirping off in the distance. It was a beautiful day for a hike.

Mount Baldy Arizona

Mount Baldy Arizona

Max at 9 years old.

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flowering trees

Springtime in the Desert

This week’s Photo Challenge is to celebrate Spring in photos. Sadly, here in Minnesota we have had the wettest April in 130 years and our Spring is very far behind. We don’t even have leaves on the trees yet nor do we have our gorgeous spring flowers. Instead of lamenting on how awful the last six months of weather has been here in the nordic Midwest, I thought I’d share some beautiful photos from our Spring break trip in early April to Tucson, Arizona.

Springtime in the desert is one of the most beautiful places to be. If you have never been to the Southwest before in the spring, it may sound ironic that spring inside a desert can be green. Yet Arizona experiences a beautiful, green spring with tons of rebirth, brilliant flowering plants, trees and cactus, and song birds from all over the place heading north for the summer. It is a wonderful time to visit Arizona.

Here are some of the lovely Spring photos I took during our recent visit to Tucson. You will see that it is the perfect time to visit!

Cactus are budding and blooming…

Desert Cactus buds

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Sonoita Arizona vineyards

An afternoon visiting Southeastern Arizona’s vineyards in Sonoita

Believe it or not, Arizona produces wine. In fact, Southeastern Arizona is home to 19 family-owned vineyards some which have been in business for over 25 years. As a true wine-lover I must admit I was a bit skeptical about Arizona wines. But an afternoon spent wine tasting in lovely Sonoita proved my early convictions wrong. Not only is this straw-colored, rugged landscape lovely, the mix of quirky to elegant vineyards are definitely worth a visit.

Sonoita Arizona wine country

This golden yellow landscape sits at roughly 5,000 feet.

Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway Tucson Arizona

An Afternoon Hiking at Mount Lemmon

If you have never been to Arizona, you may be surprised to know that the state is not only covered in cactus and canyons. Known as one of the sunniest places in United States with its fair share of desert landscape, Arizona is also home to over 193 mountain ranges with several over 10,000 feet and the highest point being Humphrey’s Peak ( elevation 12,633 feet) near Flagstaff.

Home to the largest Ponderosa Pine forest in the United States, the flora and fauna of Arizona is quite diverse and offers a fantastic number of amazing hikes ranging from the immense Grand Canyon, to the cactus-coated desert and rugged, pine-scented mountain tops.

The Southwestern city of Tucson where my parents live, is a true hikers’ paradise as the city is almost completely surrounded by mountains. There are five major mountain ranges in Tucson, each with its own flavor and appeal. To the north of downtown Tucson lies the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains which slowly rise to almost nine thousand feet. To the east lies the Rincons which are less rugged than the Santa Catalina Mountains and the Santa Rita Mountains which rise to the south. To the west lie the craggy Tucson Mountains and to the northwest lie the fifth mountain range, the Tortolita mountains.

Nestled high above the Catalina Foothills lies a spectacular place for a day trip: Mount Lemmon. At 9,157 feet, Mount Lemmon is the highest point in the Santa Catalina Mountains and is part of the Coronado National Forest. It is a special place affording stunning views and a nature lover’s retreat.

A drive from balmy, sunny Tucson up to Mount Lemmon is the perfect way to find peace and also a little winter in Arizona. On top of Mount Lemmon is an actual ski resort which is hard to believe. Yet the Mount Lemmon Ski Area receives about 57 inches of snow annually and its short but steep runs offers “winter on demand” for those living in the desert town below.

Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway Tucson Arizona

The last look at the desert landscape before the cactus disappear and the pines arrive.

Around an hour and fifteen minute picturesque drive from Tucson brings you to another world. As you climb up the breathtaking Santa Cathalina Mountains following the Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway, slowly the desert landscape begins to disappear and suddenly majestic ponderosa pines line the road. The views along the way are arguably some of the best in Southwestern Arizona with sensational views of the city below and the shadowed mountains in the distance.

Drive to Mount Lemmon. Tucson, Arizona

The drive from Tucson to Mount Lemmon is breathtaking and there are many lookout stops to pull over and take pictures.

The landscape is dramatic. I find the raw beauty to be serenely peaceful and divine. As you climb higher and leave behind the cactus, you enter instant winter or “winter on demand” as my parents like to call it.

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Barrio Hollywood

Exploring Tucson’s Barrios: Hollywood

During my past two visits to Tucson at the end of November and December, I checked out several of downtown Tucson’s historic barrios (neighborhoods). I have been visiting Tucson for over 20 years and it was my first time to venture into Tucson’s historic past. Currently there are 34 National Register Historic Districts in Tucson and 6 more that are pending.  I soon discovered that each barrio was unique and had its own flavor. The architecture also was quite diverse with some homes dating back to the 1860s when Tucson began as the city it is today.

Screen Shot of Downtown Tucson's Barrios from The Downtown Tucson Partnership.

Screen Shot of Downtown Tucson’s Barrios from The Downtown Tucson Partnership.

After checking out El Presidio barrio, the oldest neighborhood in Tucson, we walked southwest to Barrio Hollywood, an equally fascinating place. The barrio was settled around 1920 by mostly Mexican families and today the neighborhood is filled with vibrant, colorful buildings and family-owned restaurants.

Here are some of my favorite homes and buildings I saw. I loved the brightly hued colors of the doors, windows and stucco. It reminded me so much of homes I’d seen while traveling in Guatemala and Honduras. While some were renovated and fully repaired, other homes were in disarray and needed some repair. Again, I enjoyed the crumbling colors of paint on some of the buildings. If I closed my eyes, I could imagine what it looked like when it was built.


El Presidio Tucson

Exploring the Barrios of Tucson: El Presidio

Tucked away discretely behind the tall buildings of Downtown Tucson lies the oldest barrio of all: El Presidio.  This neighborhood is where Tucson all began as a modern-day city. Although Tucson was established thousands of years ago by the Hohokam Indian (c. 700-900 A.D.), in the 1700’s Tucson was taken over by Spanish missionaries and soldiers establishing Tucson as an important Spanish colonial outpost.

El Presidio. Tucson, Arizona

Entrance to El Presidio Museum and site.

In 1775, Captain Hugo O’Conor who was of Irish descent but working for the Spanish army, selected a piece of land to the east side of the Santa Cruz River to build a presidio, or fortress.  The Presidio San Agustín del Tucson was built over the next eight years with adobe walls which enclosed an area to protect people inside the fort from Apache attacks.  Inside the presidio were homes, barracks and stables as well as a cemetery and several plazas. (Source: City of Tucson historical files).

El Presidio. Tucson, Arizona

Mural painting of El Presidio. Tucson, Arizona

El Presidio remained intact until 1856 when the Americans entered Tucson and it was no longer needed. Soon after, it was dismounted and the last standing wall was torn down in 1918.  Parts of the original walls of the presidio have been uncovered during various archeological digs and today a small museum remains on the site of the original presidio. ”The Old Pueblo,” as the adobe-walled Tucson Presidio became known, became one of Tucson’s beloved nicknames for the city.

El Presidio. Tucson, Arizona

El Presidio. Tucson, Arizona

El Presidio. Tucson, ArizonaSurrounding the original grounds of El Presidio lies Tucson’s first barrio (neighborhood) to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. El Presidio is where Tucson began and many of the structures date from the 1860s on after the Presidio was torn down. Homes, shops and stores line El Presidio barrio today and most remain as they were originally built in architectural styles common of that time period ranging from Spanish-Mexican, Anglo-American to Eclectic.

Walking down the streets of El Presidio reminded me of being on a street somewhere in Central America. Buildings were colored in bright hues of pinks, reds, greens and creams, and were all in various stages of disrepair which added to the charm and picturesque nature of this part of town.

El Presidio TucsonRestaurants….and art

El Presidio TucsonA must visit in the El Presidio barrio is The Tucson Museum of Art followed by lunch or dinner at the delightful, bohemian Café á la C’Art. Recently named on Food and Wine‘s list of the best museum restaurants in the country, we randomly stumbled upon this gorgeous Southwestern eatery all by chance, and what an amazing treasure of a restaurant it is!

Step inside the restaurant and you are bound to be surprised….

El Presidio Tucson

Yet I enjoyed the beautiful back terrace for enjoying our delicious lunch. El Presidio TucsonEl Presidio TucsonI loved my grilled portabella mushroom sandwich with goat cheese. El Presidio Tucson

Just a few steps behind the restaurant is the entrance to the Tucson Museum of Art. El Presidio TucsonAfter a fulfilling, savory lunch it was time to walk it off and tour El Presidio barrio. Once again, I was thrilled to see so many lovely murals and many noteworthy historical homes and mansions set from another era in time.

El Presidio Tucson

Exploring this historic barrio is fascinating as many of Tucson’s oldest homes dating from 1860 to 1920 remain. The architecture of the homes are exceptionally interesting given they were constructed in the styles prevalent of the times including Sonoran, Transformed Sonoran, Transitional Territorial, Mission Revival and Craftsman Bungalow (Source: The Tucson Historic Neighborhood Guide).   The homes are a sharp contrast from the typical Tucson home made either of stucco or adobe style which makes a visit to El Presidio barrio all the more fun.

El Presidio Tucson

El Presidio Tucson

El Presidio TucsonEl Presidio TucsonEl Presidio TucsonEl Presidio TucsonEl Presidio TucsonEl Presidio Tucson

Are you a history buff and craving more information on El Presidio’s past? If so, I found these sites with really cool historical information that I used to help write the post:

Getting there:

El Presidio Historic District is roughly bounded by W. 6th St., W. Alameda St., N. Stone Ave. and Granada Ave. in downtown Tucson, Arizona. The Tucson Museum of Art, 140 N Main Ave., offers tours of the historic block in the district on which the museum is located. Call 520-624-2333 or visit the museum’s website for further information.

Tucson Museum of Art, 140 N. Main Ave, Tucson, AZ 85701. (520) 624-2333.

Café á la C’Art, 140 N. Main Ave., is open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. Dinner is served from 5 to 9 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays.

Murals in Downtown Tucson, Arizona

Discovering Historic Downtown Tucson

I have been visiting Tucson, Arizona for over 20 years and have always adored her gorgeous desert landscape, rugged mountains, and lovely southwestern charm. It is no wonder that Tucson is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts who come to play golf, bike, hike, and explore nature. The sun shines down across the city for over 350 days a year making Tucson a gorgeous place to visit especially in the heart of a Minnesota winter.

For years I’ve been enjoying Tucson’s many hiking trails, restaurants and shopping areas surrounding the luxurious Foothills part of town yet during a recent visit I decided it was time to branch out and explore. A local art store provided my inspiration. There I saw a painting of one of Tucson’s many barrios (neighborhoods) and realized that there was an entire part of Tucson that I had never seen before and it looked fascinating.

On a beautiful Saturday morning instead of putting on my hiking shoes, I grabbed my camera, a map and launched off in pursuit of my curiosity and wanderlust. I headed down the valley to the heart of Tucson’s past, to the old, historic Downtown Tucson and her neighboring barrios (neighborhoods) which in recent years have been undergoing a major regentrification and rebirth of their own right. A few hours exploring and I was convinced that during my next trip to Tucson I’m headed back to the barrios.


Arizona Sky

I found some remaining pictures from my recent visit to the Sonoran desert of Arizona. Every night, the sunsets are magical and unique. It is my most favorite time of day and so insanely peaceful that all my worries seem to fade away with each brilliant ray of light and color splashed across the sky.

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science”. – Albert Einstein

Sunset over Sahuaro

“When you focus on the goodness in your lives, you create more of it.” – Oprah Winfrey

Arizona Sky

“Don’t wait for the last judgment – it takes place every day.” – Albert Camus

Arizona SkyAnd finally the last drops of light disappear beyond the horizon…

Arizona Sky

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