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Fun and Interesting Places to Visit in Arizona

1. Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park. Located just west of Superior, along US Hwy 60, in southeastern Arizona, about 60 miles east of Phoenix, it is the largest and oldest botanical garden in the state -- and one of the oldest west of the Mississippi. The 392-acre gardens and park are located in the Sonoran Desert, along Queen Creek and beneath the towering volcanic remnant of Picketpost Mountain -- and are home to more than 250 species of birds, as well as various mammals (deer, fox, rabbits, squirrels, and skunks), as well as reptiles. It includes a visitor's center, gift shop, picnic area, greenhouses, and a 1.5-mile loop trail through various natural areas. The arboretum was founded by William Boyce Thompson, a mine engineer, who wanted a dessert plant research center and living museum. After visiting the arboretum, consider a drive along the Gila-Pinal Scenic Byway along Hwy 60. Campgrounds are located about 7 miles away at the Oak Flat Campground in the Tonto National Forest. Official site: Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park.

2. Chiricahua National Monument. Located in southeast Arizona, near the border with New Mexico, about 115 miles east of Tucson, this 11,985-acre "Wonderland of Rocks" awaits your visit. Visitors will find the 8-mile Bonita Canyon Scenic Drive and more than 17 miles of day-use hiking trails, as well as horse and stock trails, which provide opportunities to see extensive hoodoos and balancing rocks, the result of an immense volcanic eruption about 27 million years ago. Check out the visitor center, built by Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) masons in the late 1930s, which includes exhibits on geology, natural history, archaeology, and cultural history -- as well as a bookstore. Two picnic areas have tables, grills, and restrooms. A visit is not complete without a stop at the historic Faraway Ranch, which was home to Swedish immigrants in the late 1800s. Limited (no hookups) camping is available in the Bonita Canyon Campground. The Chiricahua National Monument Historic Designed Landscape, covering about 80 percent of the monument, is listed on the national Register of Historic Places. Official site: Chiricahua National Monument.

3. Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. Located in southwestern Arizona, about 63 miles southeast of Quartzsite, this 665,400-acre refuge (80 percent of which is designated wilderness; second largest in the state), includes gentle foothills as well as sharp, needlepoint peaks of the Kofa mountains, and was established in 1939 for the protection of the desert bighorn sheep, which live in two ranges (the Kofa and Castle Dome Mountains). Other animals found in the refuge include birds, jackrabbits, badger, cougars, kit fox, Sonoran pronghorn, and desert tortoise. Be sure and take the Palm Canyon Trail (1-mile RT), which leads into a canyon in which you can see the California fan palm, the only native palm in Arizona. Another possible hike is up to Big Eye Canyon and view historic mining structures or spend the night in one of two historic cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The name for the refuge comes from former gold mine, King of Arizona (Kofa). It is managed by the U.S. Department of Fish & Wildlife. Official site: Kofa National Wildlife Refuge.

4. Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. Located on (and across) the border of eastern Arizona and Utah, this 91,000-acre Navajo park offers some of the most dramatic and mesmerizing light, rich in red hues, of clusters of vast sandstone buttes, ranging from 400 to 1,000 feet above the valley floor, as well as mesas and spires and windblown sand. The area was once a lowland basin that became a plateau. A self-guided scenic drive (along Hwy 163) of Monument Valley leads to over looks of the park's most famous formations. Definitely check out the View Hotel and Restaurant, which also includes a tent and RV campgrounds. Stop at the visitor center, which includes an extensive gift shop, and is one mile east of U.S. Hwy 163 on the Arizona-Utah border. From the visitor's center, you'll be able to see the Mitten buttes and Merrick Butte; other landmarks are only accessible by paid, guided tours. Lodging is also available outside the park in Kayenta, about 22 miles south. Official site: Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park.

5. White Mountains. Located in the central-eastern part of the state, near the New Mexico border, part of the Colorado Plateau high country, with communities including Show Low, Pinetop-Lakeside, Greer, Springerville, Eager, and McNary, and within the Fort Apache Indian Reservation and Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, as well as Lyman Lake State Park (which includes the 1,500-acre lake, at 6,000 feet elevation). This four-season wonderland offers a landscape similar to the Pacific Northwest, with thick forests of spruce, pine, oak, and aspen trees, as well as 400 miles of rivers and streams, and more than 50 lakes. The highest point in the range is Mount Baldy, at 11,400 feet. Visitors will find a wealth of recreational activities, lots of Ponderosa pines, and plenty of places to camp. The White Mountains Trail System is a series of 25 to 30 interconnecting, multi-use trail loops, ranging from the community of Vernon on the east and stretching to Clay Springs in the west, and including five parks (Fools Hollow Lake, Woodland Lake Park, Big Springs Environmental Study Area, and Billy Creek). Learn more: White Mountains.

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