So, you’re going to see the Grand Canyon, the most famous natural wonder in America. Since a Grand Canyon vacation is a bit of a road trip, which spans other regions outside of the national park, how about also glimpsing natural monuments, hoodoos, arches, natural bridges or caverns? How about all of the above?
Here’s a sampling of the unique rock formations that can be seen within a day’s drive of the Grand Canyon.
Click on the images to enlarge
1. Monument Valley
The valley is in both Arizona and Utah and is a famous and iconic landscape. Featured in movies and advertisements, Monument Valley is a stark, red desert landscape that is interrupted only by huge, towering monolithic red rocks, “monuments”, that jut upright throughout the valley. Some of these monuments stand over 1,000 feet tall. To get to Monument Valley, take Highway 163 from Kayenta, AZ. In addition to red rock monuments, more mesas and buttes can be seen by entering the Navao Tribal Park. The cost to enter is about $5 per person and is worth the money because you’ll get to enjoy views of the often-photographed East and West Mitten Buttes, and Merrick Butte.
2. Vermilion Cliffs and Paria Canyon
Located north of Grand Canyon’s North Rim, protected as a national monument. Access this unique landscape at Bitter Springs, AZ. From there, travel through Marble Canyon to Jacob Lake, then to Fredonia on Highways 89 and 89A. Visitors will enjoy the reddish, or vermilion-colored cliffs that jut out of the landscape. Popular highlights of this region include The Wave, Coyote Buttes, Lee’s Ferry, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and others.
3. Chiricahua National Monument
Many refer to Chiricahua National Monument as “Wonderland of Rocks” and it’s an apt description. Located 120 miles southeast of Tucson, this forest of rock spires was eroded from layers of ash deposited by the Turkey Creek Volcano eruption 27 million years ago. Visitors will enjoy rock formations such as The Organ Pipe. The 8-mile paved scenic drive and 18 miles of day-use hiking trails provide opportunities to discover the beauty, natural sounds, and inhabitants of this 11,985-acre site.
4. Tonto Natural Bridge
Tonto Natural Bridge, located about 10 miles north of Payson, AZ, in Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, is believed to be the largest travertine bridge in the world.
5. Wrather Arch
Wrather Arch in a 246-foot-wide arch located in northern Arizona. Although among the most impressive of arches in the U.S., and believed to be the longest natural arch outside of Utah, it’s not exactly accessible. Situated in Wrather Canyon, a small tributary of Paria Canyon, this arch is reached after hiking about 20 miles. (Good luck with that. The reward will be great to those who embark on the journey though?)
6. Mogollon Rim
A massive escarpment that drops 2,000 feet in places. Forming the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau, the Rim provides some of the most far-reaching views in all of Arizona. Views stretch all the way from its rocky precipice to Four Peaks of the Mazatzals, northeast of Phoenix. Mogollin Rim Country can be found in Payson, AZ, about mid-way between Scottsdale and Flagstaff, AZ. (Tip: To sound like a local who knows what you’re talking about: Mogollon is actually pronounced: mug-ee-yun)
7. Grand Canyon Caverns
Located along Historic Route 66 in northwestern Arizona, this is home to a natural limestone cavern that is 210 feet underground, and is the largest dry cavern in the U. S. Enjoy a 45-minute, three-quarters-of-a-mile guided walking tour. Or, for visitors who have less time, there is a 25-minute tour. Tours begin by riding an elevator some 21 stories to the base of the “Chapel of the Ages” cavern, the scene of numerous weddings throughout the years and a cave that’s large enough to hold two football fields! Immerse yourself as your guide teaches you the history about these natural wonders. An extra bonus: Visitors will see a variety of unique crystals. To get to Grand Canyon Caverns, take Interstate 40 to Seligman, at which point, head north on Historic Route 66 for about 20 miles, then turn left.
8. Kartchner Caverns State Park
Located in Kartchner State Park in southeastern Arizona, is home to caverns with world-class features. This “live” cave was discovered in recent history, in 1974, and is host to a variety of formations. Water trickles from the surface, where calcite formations continue to grow. Many of the features have been growing for tens of thousands of years! Visitors will see stalactites dripping down like icicles and giant stalagmites reaching up from the ground, and more, during a one-and-a-half guided tour through this intriguing underground landscape. (Total distance for the tour is about one half mile.)
To get to Kartchner Caverns State Park, from Tucson, head south and travel about about 40 miles east on Interstate 10, before turning right on AZ-90 for about eight-and-a-half miles. The State Park will be on your left.
(For safety reasons, children age six or under are not allowed on the Cavern tour)
9. Colossal Cave Mountain Park
Located 22 miles southeast of Tucson, in southern Arizona, is estimated to have almost 40 miles of cave tunnels. Currently two miles of them are mapped. Visitors can enjoy a tour of the natural wonder that will take them through six stories.