Posted by: Alex MacGregor | August 1, 2011

The Road to the Grand Canyon

After a long hiatus from any serious traveling, Caroline and I decided to take a trip to Arizona. We picked this destination for a number of reasons: the Grand Canyon, my grandmother lives there, and going to the desert every once in a while is cool–that sort of thing. Caroline’s parents have always wanted to see the Grand Canyon, so they came along for that part of the trip too!

That’s one big cactus!

We were pleased to discover that, beyond the Grand Canyon, Arizona has a lot going for it in terms of beautiful mountains, classic old towns, and artsy enclaves. You can see all of this stuff in one easy trip down Highway 89A, which runs more or less between Phoenix and Flagstaff.

The first stop along this road is the city of Prescott (which apparently rhymes with Connecticut).

Prescott is a small city whose mile-high elevation makes it a welcome change from the swelter of Phoenix.

We also found it to have a beautifully-preserved and vibrant downtown. Unlike many western cities, Prescott is laid out almost exactly like an old southern town: a grid of streets with a main courthouse square in the middle.

Like any self-respecting town square, Prescott has the traditional bandstand (or gazebo–whatever you want to call it).

Saloon Row, seen from the main square, is a famous block of old saloons. A good number of them are still very old-timey but tame-looking (like the one below), while others look like sketchy dive bars that advertise before-noon drink specials. I’m on the fence about which sort of bar is more the more authentic saloon–what are your thoughts?

About an hour north–and over another mountain ridge–lies the old west town of Jerome.

Jerome is the epitome of the wild-west boomtown that’s frozen in time. The city was started by (and finished by) mining–did I mention it’s built into the side of a mountain?–and turned to tourism after it’s population and economy collapsed as mining was no longer profitable. The city has great old-west architecture and character…

…as well as some great views!

As usual, what’s cooler than the stuff that’s been converted into a tourist haven is the stuff that behind the scenes. Up in the hills, you can still get a glimpse of some old mining works:

And if you’re willing to make the hike above town into the old residential areas, where people are carefully rehabbing the handful of remaining homes, you almost entire a different world.

Instead of facing a street, these houses lead out onto a boardwalk!

Seems like a pretty inconvenient way to live–not having a street that really goes to your house and all–but the view is probably worth it!

Anyone looking for a fixer-upper?

Next up on 89A is world-famous Sedona, where beautiful mountain vistas compete for your attention with all-things-artsy. Want proof? Here’s Caroline standing next to some blushing javelina statues wearing leis, in front of incredible mountains.

The city’s natural location is absolutely stunning, although I found it difficult to find a place where I could really get a good view of it all. From a second-story ice cream shop, I managed to get a relatively clear view, but it ended up looking more like a postcard for this motel than anything. Oh well.

After a stroll through Sedona, you might find yourself in art-overload, in which case you’ll probably want to head out into aptly-named “Red Rock Country” for some scenic driving.

There’s no shortage of stuff to see:

And, in the distance, cathedral rock:

Sadly, the surrounding countryside seems to be in a bit of a state of growing pains. There are “No Parking” signs everywhere along the road (especially right where you want to pull over and take a picture). I did buy a pass to all the parks along the road (or so I thought), but it turns out the best parks were either state parks or national forest and thus excluded from the pass, and they were typically expensive: getting into Red Rock State Park would be $20–almost as much as the Grand Canyon!

Hopefully the region can figure out a way to have people freely enjoy the area and not have to spend $50 on parking at the various sites.

Past Flagstaff, storms gather over the gigantic San Francisco Peaks, at over 12,000′ in elevation.

Next stop: the Grand Canyon!


  1. Looks beautiful and interesting. Doesn’t Flagstaff get its share of snow? Do you suppose that all the no parking might be for more than the casual tourist?

    • I think Flagstaff does got a lot of snow in the winter, and it rained a good bit just while we were passing through. The weather is lovely in general, though. And yeah, it’s probably pretty common for people to try to pull off the road and skirt the parking fee during a camping trip!

  2. […] We did notice a couple of pleasant, historic buildings, but nothing like the character of Prescott. […]

  3. […] World, and filled with wealthy merchants and high society. (I can’t help draw a contrast with Jerome, Arizona, which is interesting because its mining rush was so rough-and-tumble and […]

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