The skies were a bright blue as we headed south on our way to Tucson AZ the morning of September 28. The contrast between the vermillion cliffs of Sedona and the tree-studded hills and valleys along Interstate 17 was dramatic. We stopped for a hearty breakfast at Matt's Big Breakfast in Phoenix, once featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.
After breakfast we hopped onto Interstate 10 and arrived in Tucson in the late afternoon. It was Arizona hot in the high 90's, so we laid low, settled into our hotel, and did some laundry before noshing on a light dinner of crispy cauliflower and meatballs with goat cheese at Postino Wine Cafe.
The next morning we visited the nearby Saguaro National Park and drove along the Cactus Forest Scenic Loop Drive. The Saguaro is the classic species you think of when you hear the word "cactus" - with its huge arms raised to the sky. This place is just filled with them - one more majestic than the next. In less than an hour you've seen just about enough of this vast desert landscape.
By late afternoon we were on our way back north on the very scenic 2-lane Arizona Route 77. It too was studded with stately saguaro's - many bigger than the ones in the National Park. In one stretch the road rose into the mountains, winding back and forth, and gave us amazing views of the Salt River Canyon - part of the Tonto National Forest.
We settled in for the night in Holbrook AZ and in the morning visited the Petrified Forest National Park. This place presents a unique desert landscape that is reminiscent of oversized elephants sleeping in the fields amid stout mesas and crazy rock formations.
218 Million years ago, the "Crystal Forest" was a rain forest located in what is now Costa Rica. The continent shifted northward and the Colorado Plateau lifted about a mile above sea level, turning it into today's desert landscape. The fallen rain-forest trees were transformed into quartz replicas that shattered like brittle pieces of chalk as they rose to the surface. What you see now appears to have been carefully sawn logs, in beautiful quartz colors, strewn everywhere you look.
The park was also the site of the ruins of Puerco Pueblo - a large stone Pueblo community inhabited 800-900 years ago. There are also intricate stone carvings - or petroglyphs - left by the ancient Pueblo artists.
While nowhere near the majesty of Zion, Arches, or the Grand Canyon, these lesser-known National Parks are certainly worth a visit. In just an hour or so, you can enjoy something unique and move on.
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Nancy McCabe &