Arizona 2023 bucket list: Best adventures — and pizza! — to try this year
You’ve already made your New Year’s resolutions. Maybe even broken a few. Now it’s time to start making travel plans for the new year.
With all of 2023 stretching before us, the possibility for adventure seems endless. Arizona offers something for everyone with its selection of dirt roads and quiet parks and dark skies and quirky towns and intriguing museums along with some tasty restaurants. There are plenty of reasons for road trips over the coming months. So pack a bag and gas up your ride. The highway is calling.
Here are a few suggestions for some of the very best things to do in 2023.
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1. Pay respects at Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park
June 30, 2023, will mark 10 years since the Granite Mountain Hotshots perished in the Yarnell Hill Fire. To honor these 19 brave men, visit the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial Park near Yarnell.
A hiking trail climbs up the grassy slopes past commemorative plaques containing a photo and story of each firefighter. From a high ridge, a second trail descends through a shallow canyon to the fatality site. The complete hike is 7 miles round trip.
For those unable to hike, a visit is still worthwhile. The parking lot contains memorial signs, photographs and a bronze statue of a wildland firefighter.
Details: 2 miles south of Yarnell on southbound State Route 89. Free. http://azstateparks.com/hotshots.
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2. Explore Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument sits on the border with Mexico and preserves 500 square miles of Sonoran Desert. Gentle valleys that bristle with forests of saguaros stretch between ranges of craggy mountains. All told, 31 species of cactus can be found in the park, including the namesake organ pipe. This is the place for those looking to escape the general hubbub of civilization.
The Ajo Mountain Drive is a 21-mile one-way loop that puts some of the park’s best scenery on display. The graded gravel road, generally suitable for sedans, climbs from the valley floor into the foothills of the Ajo Mountains. It skirts past carved canyons, sharp cliffs and hiking trails. Note: Ajo Mountain Drive is temporarily closed for a road improvement project. It's expected to reopen in late January.
Details: About 130 miles southwest of central Phoenix on State Route 85. $25 per vehicle. 520-387-6849, www.nps.gov/orpi.
3. Stargaze at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff
On nearly every Saturday throughout the year, Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff holds its Meet an Astronomer event from 7 to 10 p.m. On hand will be a Lowell astronomer, planetary scientist or researcher ready to offer a guided tour of the cosmos and answer questions. Guests are treated to real-time images of planets, stars, galaxies and other celestial objects displayed on a large television screen outdoors with the observatory’s MallinCam. Perched atop Mars Hill, historic Lowell Observatory is where Pluto was discovered. So keep a sharp eye out during your visit for fresh new heavenly bodies. The Meet an Astronomer event is included with a general admission ticket ($29 per adult).
Details: 1400 W. Mars Hill Road, Flagstaff. 928-774-3358, www.lowell.edu.
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4. Grab a pizza at the new Velvet Elvis in Patagonia
Designated an Arizona Treasure back in 2005, this Patagonia eatery was already a popular foodie destination. In late summer 2022 it moved to the other side of the town park into a lovely restored building and was renamed Velvet Elvis at La Mision.
Now the setting is as lavish as the food. With high ceilings, Mexican folk art and walls covered by murals and colorful paintings, Velvet Elvis at La Mision is a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach. They still feature designer and gourmet pizzas plus tapas, salads, calzones and specialty entrees.
Details: 335 McKeown Ave., Patagonia. 520-394-0069, www.velvetelvislamision.com.
5. Celebrate a centennial at Pipe Spring National Monument
Sitting amid the vastness of the Arizona Strip, Pipe Spring National Monument tells the history of the region from the ancestral Puebloans to the Mormon pioneers. Water gushing from Pipe Spring sustained Native people for 1,000 years. Mormons later came across the sacred water and in 1870 began building a fort built atop the spring, two sandstone buildings facing a courtyard and enclosed by sturdy gates.
On May 31, 2023, Pipe Spring will celebrate 100 years as a national monument. Several events are planned leading up to the centennial but it is worth a visit anytime for a vivid look at American Indian and pioneer life in the Old West.
Details: 406 N. Pipe Spring Road, Fredonia. $10 per person. 928-643-7105, www.nps.gov/pisp.
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6. Camp at Parker Canyon Lake
Tucked away in the Canelo Hills 25 miles southeast of Sonoita, this secluded 130-acre lake makes a peaceful year-round getaway.
Although just a few miles from the border with Mexico, Parker Canyon Lake sits at 5,400 feet elevation — higher than Payson — and contains both cold and warm water species, including rainbow trout, largemouth bass, sunfish and channel catfish. A 5-mile trail circles the shoreline, and a cozy store offers supplies and boat rentals.
On a slope overlooking the water, Lakeview Campground sites are spread among a stand of oaks and junipers. There are no utility hookups. Maximum camper length is 36 feet.
Details: About 190 miles southeast of Phoenix on State Route 83. Day-use passes are $8 per day or $10 per week. Camping costs $20 per night. 520-378-0111, www.fs.usda.gov/coronado.
7. Bite into history at Lutes Casino in Yuma
A downtown Yuma institution, Lutes Casino was built as a general store in 1901. It became a pool hall around 1920, making it the oldest in the state. Today, it looks like a flea market exploded inside the barn-like hall with assorted collectibles gobbling every spare inch of space.
Paintings and posters cover the walls, neon signs and mannequins dangle from the ceiling. Locals and tourists pack the place for the sandwiches and burgers — like the Special, a loaded cheeseburger and hot dog creation that is a special kind of delectable sin.
Details: 221 S. Main St., Yuma. 928-782-2192, www.lutescasino.com.
8. Treasure hunt in the Arizona Copper Art Museum
Copper has always been the most precious metal pulled from Arizona mines. That story springs to life in stunning ways at the Arizona Copper Art Museum in Clarkdale.
The museum covers the origins and history of the metal and shows some of its many uses. More than 5,000 objects dating back through the centuries are on display including art, architecture, drinkware and religious artifacts.
There’s also an exhibit of “trench art,” intricately carved artillery shell casings created by World War I soldiers hunkered down in muddy trenches between battles.
Details: 849 Main St., Clarkdale. $9.75. 928-649-1858, www.copperartmuseum.com.
9. Shop till you drop at Quartzsite gem shows
For much of the year, Quartzsite is a quiet sun-baked desert outpost in western Arizona. But winter brings snowbirds arriving in fleets of RVs. An epic swap meet breaks out for the season with vendors selling rocks, jewelry, handmade crafts, tools, arthritis cures and just about everything else.
This is also when some of the largest gem and mineral shows in the country take place, attracting rockhounds from around the world. Upcoming shows include:
- Jan. 18-22: QIA Pow Wow Gem & Mineral Show.
- Jan. 20-29: Tyson Wells Sell-A-Rama.
- Jan. 21-29: Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show.
- Feb. 3-12: Tyson Wells Arts & Crafts Show.
- Feb. 10-12: Gold, Treasure & Craft Show QIA.
10. Challenge yourself at the Bisbee 1000 stair run
The longest outdoor stair-climb race in the country traverses the hills of Bisbee. On Oct. 21, the 32nd annual Bisbee 1000 The Great Stair Climb spreads across this old mining community tucked away in the Mule Mountains of southern Arizona.
Participants tackle nine staircases with more than 1,000 stairs to surmount, spread over a 4.5-mile course. These historic stairs are the winding concrete bones that hold Bisbee together.
Hard-core competitive types come out for the race but others approach it with a more artistic flair. Plenty of folks show up in costumes. Others just go for the scenic adventure of roaming the hills and seeing a side of town they otherwise might miss, kind of like a sweaty home and garden tour.