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Exploring the Unexpected on the Road in Arizona

The Grand Canyon State proffers an abundance of eclectic exploration possibilities.

By Alexandra Cheney |  November 29 2021


Lake Powell, a man-made reservoir on the Colorada River, in all its glory / ©Getty Images

Arizona’s bounty of rust-colored canyons and saguaro-laden vistas will easily enchant on a road trip, but it’s the unexpected that excites. Home to 22 sovereign American Indian communities, alpine forests and a robust collection of artists’ colonies, the Grand Canyon State proffers an abundance of eclectic exploration possibilities.

While pecans and citrus fruits flourish in the heat, it’s best to avoid the jaw-droppingly hot summers and instead opt for the shoulder seasons. (The delectable prickly pear margaritas, one of the state’s beloved delicacies, are available year-round.) It’s possible to find both chilly mornings and temperate afternoons thanks to the astounding variations in elevation — from some 12,600 ft at the summit of Humphreys Peak to 70 ft above sea level on the Colorado River — throughout the state.

The ideal vehicle for this Arizona journey is the Bentley Continental GT V8 Convertible; drop the top and prepare for an unhurried adventure beginning in the northernmost part of the state at Lake Powell.

[See also: Where to Enjoy a Long Weekend in Aspen]

Lake Powell

A man-made reservoir on the Colorado River, Lake Powell snakes along the Arizona-Utah border. Dive into its 2,000 miles of shoreline, which include sandstone-sculpted slot canyons, towering rock formations like Gregory Butte, and one of the world’s largest natural rock bridges, Rainbow Bridge. Rent a 2,400-sq-ft, four-bedroom, 75-ft Odyssey Houseboat with a waterslide, fireplace, full kitchen and rooftop hot tub from Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas (lakepowell.com).

It’s possible to self-pilot the boat, or hire a captain for the duration of your stay. An abundance of water toys, including ski tubes, wakeboards, water skis, kayaks and paddleboards, are available for rent. Depart from Wahweap Marina and glide through narrow red-rock passages, anchoring on remote, soft-sand beaches. From there, it’s a choose-your-own adventure. Up the road, Horseshoe Bend (nps.gov) is a U-shaped incised meander of the Colorado River. An easy half-mile hike to the overlook boasts views of the 1,000-ft drop from rim to the shimmering ribbon of river.

Grand Canyon

Head to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, a two-hour drive away, where pinyon and juniper trees survive with less than 15 inches of annual rainfall. Skip the area offerings and hire Abercrombie & Kent to create a tailor-made, private journey where options abound. A preferred operator and local expert, Ben Murphy of All-Star Grand Canyon Tours, Inc., guides rim-side walks, hikes for all levels and overnight glamping, and can arrange flightseeing or horseback rides.

Sedona

L’Auberge de Sedona Arizona suite

L’Auberge de Sedona is a must-stop during your Arizona road trip / ©L’Auberge de Sedona

Continue south a few hours and arrive mid-morning at L’Auberge de Sedona, situated on the banks of Oak Creek. Reserve a creekside suite cottage with an outdoor cedar shower and private terrace nestled under a canopy of sycamore trees. Head into town for lunch at ChocolaTree, a restaurant meets wellness center meets chocolate shop. Order a toppings-laden flatbread but save room for dessert. The not-to-be-missed truffles and raw chocolate cups are hand-harvested and then hand-ground at the outfit’s cacao farms.

Take every opportunity to enjoy the Continental Convertible, especially while navigating 89A, the main road through town. Begin on the north end of town at Clear Creek Trading Company, a Native American crafted, old-time trading post offering everything from Hopi wicker baskets to bone beaver skulls. Visit Mystical Bazaar for gemstone bracelets, talismans and amulets used for centuries to promote well-being and protection before driving on to Airport Mesa. Watch the sun set over basalt boulders and Sedona’s famed red rocks.

[See also: A Luxury Guide to a Long Weekend in Newport]

Wake before dawn to see the sun rise on Cathedral Rock Trail overlooking Red Rock State Park’s meadows of manzanita, juniper, and desert rock cliffs. Unwind with a L’Aromatherapy massage at the resort before heading to Jerome, a former copper mining camp. Carve through the canyons and across Verde Valley before rising onto Cleopatra Hill, a short but beautiful drive.

Turn up the Naim for Bentley stereo and enjoy the crisp, high-altitude air (and the heated, duo-tone, hide-trimmed steering wheel). Nellie Bly Kaleidoscopes and Art Glass is the largest dealer of kaleidoscopes in the world, and boasts an impressive selection of handmade marbles and dichroic jewelry. Smokehouse enthusiasts should head to Bobby D’s BBQ for a lunch of thick-cut baby back ribs, the house specialty.

Castle Hot Springs

Castle Hot Springs in Arizona

The Arizona resort of Castle Hot Springs has been a road trip pit stop since 1896/ ©Castle Hot Springs

Without question, the road (still 89A) leading out of town and into the Prescott Valley, with views of Woodchute Mountain, is an absolute delight of hairpin turns and undulating landscapes. It’s another couple of hours to Castle Hot Springs, including a jaunt down an unpaved road (don’t worry, the Bentley is more than capable) to a desert oasis.

Tucked against the Bradshaw Mountains, Castle Hot Springs dates back to 1896. A trio of natural hot, warm and cool spring pools are the main draw, accessible only to retreat guests and always open — floating in the geothermal, mineral-rich waters under the stars is an unequivocal must. At this inclusive resort sprawling over 1,100 acres, you can book a spring bungalow as well as a 120-minute Castle Signature Massage (ask for Robert). Harvest, the resort’s restaurant, sources items directly from the garden; think purple basil and onion ash. Take the farm tour for further gastronomic enlightenment.

Phoenix/Scottsdale

CIVANA yoga class

CIIVANA is the newest wellness destination in town / ©CIVANA Wellness Resort & Spa

Head east on the Carefree Highway to CIVANA, a little over an hour’s drive away. The newest wellness destination in town, CIVANA blends private wall yoga offerings with daily guided hikes (ask for Grace). Sprinkle in a hot/cold pool contrast-therapy suite, Aqua Vitality Circuit, and top it all off with meditation and sound bowls on the yoga lawn at sunset. Seeking a different vibe? The plant-rich (not based) restaurant also features a robust cocktail and wine list because, according to co-founder Marc Skalla, “that’s wellness too.”

Off property, Scottsdale is an artists’ colony bursting with contemporary art galleries. Silverwork, turquoise and cowboy boots are integral parts of the local wardrobe (often all worn together). Meander through downtown, starting with a stop at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, which features Knight Rise, a commissioned skyspace by Arizona-based James Turrell.

[See also: The Best Ranches in the US]

The Merchantile of Scottsdale features up-and-coming native designers. A stroll down East 1st Avenue brings you to galleries and jewelry stores. End the exploration at Francine in the luxury wing of Scottsdale Fashion Square. French Mediterranean cuisine meets Arizona desert in this chic space: start with the oysters, stay for the digestifs.

Find solace in a mountain suite at Sanctuary Camelback Mountain or a round of golf at The Boulders. With an elevation gain of 1,330 ft from trailhead to summit, Camelback Mountain’s Echo Canyon Trailhead is extremely difficult to hike but phenomenally rewarding, with 360-degree views of the valley. Tip: Show up before sunrise for a sweet reward from the local park rangers. Recover with a private house call crystal appointment or tarot reading with Corbin Chamberlain of Sage & Salt before indulging in the braised wagyu beef cheeks, Maple Leaf Farms spiced duck breast and agnolotti del plin, which pair perfectly with a bottle of Franciacorta at The Americano.

Tucson

Tanque Verde Ranch pool

Tanque Verde Ranch still operates as a dude ranch / ©Tanque Verde Ranch

Opt for a lunchtime arrival at Canyon Ranch, a straightforward two-hour trip southeast. For four decades, Canyon Ranch Tucson forged inroads into holistic wellness through diet, fitness and expert guidance. A set of recently launched ‘experience pathways,’ including optimal health exploration, personal discovery and lifestyle reset, to name a few, create a focused intent with curated services and activities.

With surpassed excellence when it comes to quotidian spa treatments, the resort allows you to explore deeper options like neuromuscular therapy or hypnotherapy. It wouldn’t be Canyon Ranch without the Life Enhancement Center, which explores every aspect of healthy living from soul to spoon. Relax in a luxury suite and make sure to dedicate a fair amount of time to relaxing and remaining strictly on property.

Bordering Saguaro National Park and the Coronado National Forest, the family-friendly Tanque Verde Ranch still operates as a dude ranch, with morning lope rides and a viewable evening roundup of the property’s roughly 150 horses. Check into a Rincon Vista Hacienda before exploring the bounty of outdoor activities, from mountain biking to desert photography hikes and all things equine-centric. Unwind with a prickly pear margarita and a ranch-style cowboy cookout.

All the gear

Bentley Continental GT V8 Convertible

Bentley Continental

A Bentley Continental GT Convertible on the road in Sedona, Arizona / ©Bentley

Traverse every landscape Arizona offers during your road trip, from snowy mountain roads to desert highways, with ease thanks to Bentley’s Active All-Wheel Drive system and 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged engine pushing out 542 horsepower. It takes 19 seconds to deploy the GT V8 convertible’s tailored roof at speeds up to 30 mph, allowing for uninterrupted travel. From $222,700, bentleymotors.com

Benchmade

Over 30 years ago, Benchmade became the first knife company to own and use a high-powered laser cutter, allowing for work with steels too hard to stamp. Technologically speaking, that makes the Oregon-based brand an expert in handling various super steels. Employing everything from milled carbon fiber to rubberized Santoprene for grips and handles, Benchmade’s products range from ultralight pocket knives (the Bugout) to fixed-blade adventure knives (the Puukko) and beyond. From $155 for the Bugout and $150 for the Puukko, benchmade.com

Mykita Leica Sunglasses

The debut sun collection combines Leica’s pioneering, optical-grade lens technology, culled from the field of sport optics, with Mykita’s functional design and lightweight frames. The result? A performance-driven, complete UV-protection collaboration capable of effortless transition between the slopes and the road. From $580, mykita.com/leica

Hoka One One

Hoka One One is relatively new to the hiking category; its latest Anacapa Mid GTX boot combines sustainable materials with innovation. There’s recycled polyester in the collar, mesh and laces, and soy-based polyurethane in the sockliner. The California-based brand pared back the extended heel, providing a familiar stride while reducing gait load. Add in a Vibram MegaGrip outsole and a total weight under 16 ounces, and you’ll want to lace up this lightweight, trail-ready hiker. From $170, hokaoneone.com

[See also: A Long Weekend in Santa Barbara]

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