Part II: Much more for families to do in the Southwest

Wupatkied

This is the largest pueblo at the Wupatki National Monument near Flagstaff. You can see the multiple levels and rooms. (I had to shoot with an iPad so it's a little bit blurry.)

When you think about the Southwest and family travel, you immediately think of the Grand Canyon. While it is truly breathtaking, there is so much more for families to see and experience in Arizona and the Southwest.

This is part two of some fabulous places to visit in Arizona as you plan a trip West.

Near Flagstaff and not far from the Grand Canyon

You can see lava flow and the cinder cone at Sunset Crater which exploded more than 1000 years ago.

You can see lava flow and the cinder cone at Sunset Crater which exploded more than 1000 years ago.

Flagstaff is within a two-hour drive of the Grand Canyon and there are many National Park sites and other wonderful things there to share with your family.

The Lowell Observatory, founded in 1894, sits atop a mountain at the end of a railroad line. That railroad line enabled observatory founder Percival Lowell to transport his telescopes and equipment across the country. The observatory is where Pluto was discovered. It is also where the expansion of the universe was documented and observed for years before Edwin Hubble declared the discovery. The Lowell Observatory will be the home of the new and extremely powerful Discovery Channel Telescope, although at a different site close by with less light pollution.

There is a movie inside and lots of hands-on exhibits for the kids. However, my favorite part was actually seeing the old giant telescopes that the original scientists used in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The observatory grounds are a calm, relaxing place to visit and ponder if there is anything else out there!

From the observatory, we went to the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. The volcano erupted sometime between 1040 and 1100 but it looks like it could have happened in the last century. Because it is so dry and has so few microbes, the land does not regenerate the way it does in more humid climates, such as on Mount St. Helens. It is a classic cinder cone with lava flows and deep volcanic cinder deposits. You can hike through the flows and up a mountain where the ash landed. But they don’t let people hike up to the top of the cinder cone anymore.  The kids were fascinated and enjoyed exploring.

Near Sunset Crater is the Wupatki National Monument, which covers more than 35,000 acres and has multiple ancient pueblos on the land. Wupatki Pueblo was the largest pueblo around 800 years ago. It is so well preserved that you can clearly see the different rooms and levels to the pueblo. They had a community meeting area as well as a ball court. There is also a natural blowhole that the kids thought were amazing. Imagine what the ancient people thought of it.

Heading south of Tucson toward the border

Forty miles south of the Tucson, Kartchner Caverns isn’t really convenient to the Grand Canyon, but is well worth your drive and your time. Kartchner Caverns, which is a state park, is special because it is a live cave that is still forming, changing and growing!

The cave’s “speleothems” have been forming from dripping water for more than 200,000 years.  The colors and the formations vary depending on the minerals present and other natural factors. Cave “bacon” and soda straws are among the amazing formations.

The caves are minimally lit to avoid messing with the natural environment. (Our 4-year-old was a little bit scared.) You are not supposed to touch any of the cave. The microbes and enzymes from your hands can totally invade and screw up the natural formations. You enter through double air lock-type doors to keep the humidity in the cave and you walk over slight suction to pull any dead skin off of you before you enter the cave. Did I mention they are not fooling around about not screwing up this cave’s natural environment?

When we visited, the bats (about 1,000) were roosting in one part of the cave so you were not allowed in that part. (I’m not sure I want to go in that part after they leave though.)

The kids enjoyed it as much as we did. It is one of the best places we have ever visited. I cannot recommend it enough.

We headed from the completely preserved and organic Kartchner Caverns to the completely fake and touristy town of Tombstone. We thought it would be fun to visit this famous Western town where Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday had their famous gun battle against “bad” guys in the OK Corrall. (Who were the actual bad guys is widely debated in the town.)

Sadly it’s cheesy and touristy. You can pay to tour the historical site of the OK Corral. You can see the site and positions of the gunfight. They have the bedroom where Doc Holliday lived and a lot of interesting photos and artifacts. However we paid extra for the “re-enactment.” Do NOT pay for the re-enactment. It was awful, and we walked out.

There is so much to see and do in Arizona that doesn’t involved the Grand Canyon that I just want families to realize all the wonderful options they have when they plan their trip!

19 comments Add your comment

motherjanegoose

December 31st, 2011
7:28 pm

TWG…I am thrilled that you are able to enjoy these adventures with your family. Nearly every state has something interesting to offer and it is such a shame that many folks do not share the sense of adventure with their children. ( my parents did not but our family has done all sorts of things). HAPPY NEW YEAR and why not make a resolution to try something new this year…whether a day trip or a month long vacation. I LOVE TO LEARN NEW THINGS AND MEET NEW PEOPLE! Can’t wait to meet some new friends from this blog who have contacted me too!

someone needs a globe!

December 31st, 2011
7:35 pm

hmmm, travel ideas to the southwest?..middle of a recession.. .. 3000 miles….

Doesn’t phoenix have a paper?

Kathy

December 31st, 2011
9:07 pm

TWG……there is a big article in this month’s AAA magazine about the southwest. Want me to send it to you? Let me know and I’ll email you.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

December 31st, 2011
11:03 pm

Kathy — is there a link to it??? you can post here or email me at ajcmomania@gmail.com — Thanks!

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

December 31st, 2011
11:11 pm

MJG – I bought a special New Year’s Journal for the family today where we can write each year on New Year’s Eve what were the highlights of the year and what our goals are for the next year. The kids had a fun time remembering their favorite parts of the year and then we each had a heading a filled in our goals for the year. Lilina’s is to read by herself, which is an excellent goal for a 4-year-old. I put it with photo albums so we won’t lose it and each year we can fill it in. I think it will be a wonderful thing to have in 10 years! (A friend suggested to stick that year’s Christmas card in with it so you can see your photos and activities put on the card.)

djm_NC

January 1st, 2012
8:30 am

teresa this is one of the best blogs i have seen here. your writing skills really shine in this article! i have always wanted to travel out west and the writing of this really gives me the travel bug! thank you for sharing :) and have a happy new year!

happy new year to all the blog peeps….hope this year is blessed for all!

djm_NC

January 1st, 2012
8:32 am

and i love your idea of the family journal!! that will surely be treasured in years to come by all of yall!! i wish i had thought of that….great great idea!

motherjanegoose

January 1st, 2012
8:41 am

@djm…Happy New Year to you! I was just remembering yesterday that you had started your new job last year at this time. Hope you still love it. Happy New Year to all my blog friends and I look forward to seeing some of you in 2012!

Fred

January 1st, 2012
2:09 pm

motherjanegoose

January 1st, 2012
8:41 am
Happy New Year to all my blog friends and I look forward to seeing some of you in 2012!

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

…….. LOL and to the REST of you…………

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bKxodgpyGec&ob=av3e

:P mjg, couldn’t resist the creative edit………….

Fred

January 1st, 2012
2:12 pm

Actually I like the “real” version of that song more, but I don’t think TWG would………

djm_NC

January 2nd, 2012
8:38 am

@MJG–happy new year to you too!! its been a busy month and i havent been on here much…i moved to franklin–no more snowy mountain to worry about!! 4 minutes from work!!!!!!!!!!!!! a new grandson and one more due in feb!! and im loving my new job…thank you for remembering! i hope your family had a wonderful holiday!

Jeff

January 2nd, 2012
10:38 am

TWG, one of the things I love about yor blog is that it appears you truly try to open things up. As mentioned before, I’m a southern born and bread white guy. BUT I hate hunting, I hate big trucks, I hate racists, but I love Lewis Grizzard (for you old schoolers). Having travelled like MJG, I think the greatest thing about our country is the diversity that the good people and the good places bring. An old-school BBQ diner in the south is just as amazing as Boston Common, central park, Vegas, venice beach, south beach, and The Haight park district (look it up). I don’t hate any of them. We are who we are and the Americans I love the most, also love them all.

motherjanegoose

January 2nd, 2012
10:55 am

Happy New year Jeff!

I have met some wonderful people along the way too. Each new acquaintance adds something interesting. BBQ in the south, for example, is not the same as BBQ in Texas and the New England people I worked with thought a BBQ was simply grilling hot dogs and hamburgers….NOT.
On the flip side…we love the Italian food in Boston and the history/culture in Plymouth was fascinating. We try to visit each summer. This summer, we may need to go back to Montreal as we really enjoyed it.

I love southern BBQ but also enjoy a delicious Texas brisket that our friends from TX ( who live here now) make….delicious!

Fred

January 2nd, 2012
11:22 am

@Jeff and MJG: BBQ is not a verb and does not mean “cook out. It’s meat, prpared in a very special way. Merry New Year. (i’m currently making some as I type. A couple of Boston butts on my green Egg. Started at 4:30AM and it will be done around 6:00PM. Ya’ll are welcome to come on over and chow down with us, Ask soon enough and I can even throw a couple racks of ribs on, they only take about 5 hours).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ubTQfr_tyY

motherjanegoose

January 2nd, 2012
11:44 am

Fred…how nice of you but we have to get some things done around here. Perhaps we can schedule a picnic when the weather is good and invite those on the blog who are interesting and fun. I could recommend several folks and it could be a great time! We could all bring something to share!

Erin

January 2nd, 2012
5:01 pm

Have you considered taking the kids to the Carlsbad Caverns, Theresa? There’s plenty of cool stuff to do in southeast New Mexico … the Caverns are VERY interesting. There’s also Roswell and then Ruidoso and Lincoln County to the west, where there’s lots of history related to Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County wars and general Wild West history.

Albuquerque and Santa Fe also have plenty of cool stuff to do for kids as well as adults.

Erin

January 2nd, 2012
5:02 pm

Oops … I accidentally hit “report” on a comment above mine … ignore it, please!

usually lurking

January 3rd, 2012
1:00 pm

One of the best family vacations we ever had was 10 days in Arizona during spring break. Flew into Phoenix, drove up to Sedona, then the Grand Canyon, back to Phoenix for baseball opening day via Meteor Crater (”standing on a corner in Winslow Arizona…”), then down to Tuscon – hiked Picacho Peak on the way, visited the Desert Museum and the Pima Air & Space Museum.

pws

January 4th, 2012
8:08 am

I agree with Erin, Carlsbad Caverns is one of the neatest places we ever visited. Seeing the bats fly out of the cave in the early evening is them most awesome site! And my kids, who are now grown, still remember the Alien museum in Roswell, they still talk about that afternoon visit. Teresa, have you visited the ice cave? I think it was in Arizona, but it may have been just over the border in New Mexico.