Category Archives: Getaways

Grand Canyon’s North Rim to Open for the 2014 Summer Season

Don Lawrence | North Rim, GC

Don Lawrence | North Rim, GC

Summer is (almost) here, and the Grand Canyon’s North Rim will officially be open for business tomorrow. Check it out:

The Arizona Department of Transportation will open Highway 67 to the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park on Thursday, May 15 by 8:00 am; and Grand Canyon Lodge North Rim, a Forever Resorts property, and Grand Canyon Trail Rides will commence their 2014 seasonal operations.

Grand Canyon Lodge North Rim operations include lodging, groceries, camper services, food services and a service station. All concessioner facilities will open at 10:00 am with the exception of the dining room which will open at 11:30 am for lunch. Lodge check-in will begin at 4:00 pm.

All services provided by the National Park Service, including the Visitor Center, Backcountry Information Center, and campground, as well as the Grand Canyon Association bookstore will be available on May 15th at 8:00 am. Visitors should be aware that the North Rim Entrance Station and campground no longer accept cash and only accept credit cards for entrance and camping fees. The first scheduled ranger program, Grand Canyon Geology, will be on the back porch of the Grand Canyon Lodge at 3:00 pm. The first evening program will be on May 15, at 8:00 pm in the Lodge auditorium. All ranger programs are listed in “The Guide” (North Rim: 2014 Season), a free publication distributed at the North Entrance Station, the North Rim Visitor Center, other contact stations in the park and online

The last day for most concessioner services will be October 15, 2014. The National Park Service will continue its operations including the North Rim Visitor Center and Bookstore, as well as the Backcountry Information Center through October 31. The last regularly scheduled ranger-led programs will be October 15, 2014. From November 1 through December 1 the North Rim will be open for day use (no overnight parking) unless snow closes Highway 67 prior to that date. From November 1 through December 1 pay-at-the-pump gas and diesel will be the only service available. Visitors will continue to have access to front country access points such as Point Imperial and Bright Angel viewpoints and the North Kaibab Trailhead (overnight parking allowed with a backcountry permit). Remote backcountry access points such as Widforss Trailhead, Point Sublime and North Bass will be accessible weather permitting and with a valid permit. Access to Cape Royal and Cape Final will be restricted. The North Rim campground will be closed to car camping but a few sites remain available to backcountry travelers with a valid backcountry permit. Contact the Backcountry Information Center for more information and to inquire about last minute permits available at Pipe Spring National Monument located in Fredonia, Arizona.

The North Rim lies at the southern end of the Kaibab Plateau at approximately 8,500 feet in elevation, and offers spectacular canyon views. It is approximately a 215-mile drive from the South Rim. Points of interest include Point Imperial, Cape Royal, Point Sublime, North Kaibab Trail, and Bright Angel Point.

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Weekend (Kids) Getaway: Mount Lemmon

Ray Minnick | Mount Lemmon

Ray Minnick | Mount Lemmon

The drive up Mount Lemmon has a lot to offer — spectacular views of the Tucson area, varied plant and animal communities, and cool weather just about any time of year. What it doesn’t offer is much comfort to those who are prone to getting carsick around winding, curving mountain roads, which is why my wife kept her eyes closed for most of the 30-mile drive from Tucson to Summerhaven.

But my 4-year-old son, Wes, loved it — which was good, since the whole trip was his idea. For quite a while, he’s been obsessed with roads and maps, and he recently found Tucson on a map and asked whether we could go there someday. He also expressed an interest in visiting Crater Lake in Oregon; I told him the Beaver State might have to wait, but we could knock out the “Old Pueblo” right away.

We drove down from Phoenix on an overcast Friday morning. After checking out Diamondback Bridge — true to its name, it’s a bridge that looks like a diamondback rattlesnake — we headed down Tanque Verde Road, then up Catalina Highway (also known as General Hitchcock Highway and Sky Island Scenic Byway).

A forest of saguaros marks the early part of the drive. Wes has a love-hate relationship with saguaros, by which I mean he loves them as long as he’s not anywhere near them. The safety of the car was enough for him to put aside his anxiety and enjoy the scenery, which changed from desert vegetation to ponderosa pines, then other evergreens and aspens, as we climbed higher.

What makes the drive ideal for young children is that there are plenty of places to stop along the way. We stopped at Windy Point Vista, which offers an incredible view of Tucson, but other viewpoints feature hiking trails, interpretive signs or views of the other side of the Santa Catalina Mountains.

In Summerhaven, near the summit of Mount Lemmon, we ate lunch at the Sawmill Run Restaurant, which has a kids menu. The town also provides a teachable moment for children old enough to understand the importance of preventing forest fires: Much of Summerhaven burned in the Aspen Fire of 2003, and the fire’s effects are still visible throughout town.

After a quick exploration of Summerhaven, we headed back down the mountain, then back to Phoenix, having crossed one destination off my son’s list. Wes now wants to visit Payson, another relatively easy drive for us … but if he ever notices Kayenta on his map of Arizona, we might have to do a little more planning.

— Noah Austin, Associate Editor


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Paved Portions of Forest Roads 300 and 105 Open Today

Some news from our good friends at the U.S. Forest Service:

Archie Tucker | Apache-Sitgreaves NF

Archie Tucker | Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests

The Black Mesa Ranger District on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests plans to open the paved portion of Forest Roads 300 and 105, access to Woods Canyon Lake and the Store on Thursday, March 20, 2014. At this time visitation to the Woods Canyon Lake Area will be for day use only.

Woods Canyon Lake Store and Marina will open to visitors but all developed campgrounds across the district will remain closed until May 1, 2014. However, visitors wishing to camp may do so along Forest Road 171, located 3 1/2 miles southeast of Woods Canyon Lake, behind the Mogollon Rim Visitor’s Center.  Other areas open for dispersed camping include: Larson Ridge on Forest Road 237 directly west of Forest Lakes; Forest Road 300, east of Forest Lakes in the Black Canyon Lake area; and Forest Road 122. No water or developed facilities are available in these dispersed areas and campers are reminded the Apache-Sitgreaves is a ‘Pack-it-In, Pack-it-Out’ forest. We ask that visitors be considerate of others by maintaining a clean campsite during their stay and removing all evidence of their visit when departing.  Leaving trash in the forest is illegal, unsightly, and can be deadly to wildlife.

The gravel portion of Forest Road 300 beyond Woods Canyon Lake will remain closed until Friday, March 28, to allow road crews to complete a significant reconstruction project. This ongoing construction project is being done to provide a higher quality road surface for users throughout the 2014 recreation season.

Forest visitors should come prepared for changing weather conditions. Roads may be muddy and impassable at any time of the year and four wheel drive vehicles are recommended. Carry extra clothing, blankets, food, water, and a cell phone. Even when road surfaces are dry, shoulders and dispersed campsites may still be saturated and muddy. Please check ground conditions before leaving developed roads and avoid creating ruts and other resource damage.

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Forest Service Offers Three Additional Cabins for Rental

The Palisades Ranger Residence Cabin

The Palisades Ranger Residence Cabin

Looking to getaway from the daily grind or just searching for some peace and quiet? Well, our friends at the Forest Service might have what you’re looking for. The national forests of Arizona’s Rooms with a View cabin rental program offers both comfortable and rustic accommodation in several national forests. And now, Coronado National Forest has added three more cabins to its roster. Check it out:

The Coronado National Forest has completed the  renovation of three cabins located on the Douglas and Santa Catalina Ranger Districts. The Portal Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) House and the Portal Bunkhouse are located in Cave Creek Canyon, Approximately 1.5 miles west of Portal, Arizona. The Palisades Ranger Residence Cabin (pictured) is located within the Palisades Administrative Site, 20 miles north of Tucson in the Santa Catalina Mountains.

Recreation fees will include day and overnight use of each of the cabins. The Portal CCC House ($125.00/night) has four rooms and can accommodate up to five people. The house contains two bedrooms (one with a full size bed, the second with a set of bunkbeds), one bathroom, a living room/kitchen combination, a fully-equipped kitchen, and an outdoor patio.

The Portal Bunkhouse ($100.00/night) with its three rooms can accommodate up to four people. The bunkhouse contains one bedroom (with a bunkbed and twin bed), one bathroom, a living room/kitchen combination, and a fully-equipped kitchen.

Palisades Ranger Residence Cabin ($125.00/night) has five rooms and can accommodate up to four people. The cabin contains one bedroom (with a bunkbed), one full bathroom, a dining room, a living room, a fully-equipped kitchen, and an enclosed yard.

Reservations may be made by contacting the Forest Service National Recreation Reservation Service, ReserveAmerica, 1-877-444-6777 or beginning March 19.  (The Portal Bunkhouse will not be available for rental until April 16.)  In addition to the daily rental fee, a $9.00 service fee will be charged for each reservation. The reservation service also has information about renting and reserving other Forest Service facilities, including those offered under the Arizona “Rooms with a View” Cabin Rental program.

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Weekend Getaway: Meteor Crater

Meteor Crater. The structure at the center is an old mine shaft. | Noah Austin

Meteor Crater | Noah Austin

“They really should call it ‘Meteorite Crater,'” I told my wife as we drove toward Meteor Crater. As she’s learned during our three years of marriage, I tend to fixate on minor verbal distinctions. In this case, though, the distinction isn’t minor: If you’re describing a flying rock from outer space, it’s an asteroid before it enters Earth’s atmosphere, a meteor when it’s in the atmosphere and a meteorite if and when it hits the ground. The latter is what happened about 50,000 years ago, when a 300,000-ton rock made mostly of iron slammed into this middle-of-nowhere spot. I’d been wanting to visit the crater since I’d moved to Arizona in 2000, but this past weekend, when we went on an overnight trip to Flagstaff, was the first time I’d had the chance.

Clearly, our guide on the one-hour walking tour around the rim of the crater had heard other comments about the name. According to him, “Meteor Crater” is the name the U.S. Postal Service gave the site, but the crater’s official name is “Barringer Meteorite Crater.” It’s named after Daniel Moreau Barringer, who came to the site in 1903 and spent the next 26 years trying to prove that the nearly mile-wide crater was formed by a meteorite impact. Definitive proof of that came in the 1960s, long after Barringer’s death.

Scientists think 80 percent of the 150-foot-wide meteorite was vaporized when it hit the ground, but the remaining 20 percent was scattered around the area. Pieces of it have been found several miles from the crater, and the largest one is on display at the visitors center.

The crater itself is considered the best-preserved impact crater in the world, owing to the area’s relative lack of precipitation. The price of admission includes the optional tour, which stops at three points along the rim for discussions of the crater’s formation, geology and human history. It’s about a mile round-trip, and there are some ups and downs, but it’s mostly paved, and my wife, our 4-year-old son and I didn’t have any trouble. The surrounding land is a cattle ranch, so don’t be surprised to see cows grazing on the outer rim.

There’s plenty more to see at the visitors center, including a museum, a 3-D film showing how the crater was formed, and a gift shop. And pictures don’t do Meteor(ite) Crater justice. Whatever you want to call it, it’s an impressive sight.

— Noah Austin, Associate Editor

Meteor Crater is located south of Interstate 40 between Flagstaff and Winslow. From Flagstaff, go east on I-40 for 35 miles to Meteor Crater Road (Exit 233). Turn right (south) onto Meteor Crater Road and continue 6 miles to the visitors center. Admission is $16 for adults, $8 for children ages 6 to 17 and free for children ages 5 and younger. For more information, call 800-289-5898 or visit


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Visit a National Park for Free on January 20

Montezuma Castle National Monument | Courtesy of National Park Service

Montezuma Castle National Monument | Courtesy of National Park Service

If you aren’t working on Monday, January 20, why not visit one of America’s 401 national parks, monuments and recreation areas? And here’s a bonus: There are no entrance fees at the parks that day in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Only 133 national parks normally charge entrance fees. The Arizona parks on that list are:

So, enjoy free entry at those parks next Monday! If you’d like to stop worrying about entrance fees altogether, the National Park Service offers an $80 annual pass that covers all national parks. It’s a must for anyone making more than a few visits to our nation’s parks every year.

Other fee-free days in 2014: February 15-17 (Presidents Day weekend), April 19-20 (opening weekend of National Park Week), August 25 (the National Park Service’s birthday), September 27 (National Public Lands Day) and November 11 (Veterans Day). For more information, click here.


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