An Insider Guide to Arizona Adventure

I write because I want to inspire. I want people to return to their wild roots from time to time to clear their heads and revive their hearts.

And I think Arizona is a wonderful place to start.

My goal is to make awesome friends and go to incredible places. So, that being said here are some of my favorites that I hope you'll consider sharing with your favorite people.

Adventure is out there. Go get it.

 

Old Senator Highway outside Prescott

After winding up the 17 through highland desert heatwaves and low shrubs clinging to life amid the throbbing sun, it takes a lot of willpower to dodge Gurley Street and the the welcome sign of a sweating pint on the corner of Montezuma Street and Courthouse Siesta Square. But a true adventurist knows a cold whiskey coke parked high up in the solitude of Old Senator Highway just a whisper shy of Prescott's shout is well beyond the wildest dreams.

This delicate stretch of road swims through the frozen era of Mount Vernon Avenue's historic homes, skirts the prestigious hilltop estates of Prescott's shadow and quietly returns to the wild just outside Goldwater Lake.

A careful eye will scope the perfect setting for a one night recovery from the city streets and the perfect place to park it for the night.

 

Watson Lake, Prescott

Paddle hard. Rest Easy.

Rally the troops and kayak on what appears to be the moon. The hidden coves and islets of Prescott's Watson Lake are perfect for a day trip and rental gear on the shore is more than reasonably priced. 

 

Tonto Natural Bridge outside Payson

Like a page out of Tolkien's imagination, this place has Rivendell- esque falls that crest a 153 ft. tall, bulbous, slippery cave underway, making it the largest Travertine (limestone) bridge in the world.

The rippling pools and subtle wind sing through the cuts of time and dance upon the gentle creek below.

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Find your throne among the cold chasms and take in a moment of marvel.

 

Blue Ridge Reservoir outside Strawberry

Tie up a tent,  kick off shore and paddle through the veins of the Mogollon Rim with a couple cans dangling in the water. Get your blood pumping with a few daring leaps of faith or stay the course to secure the best campsites of the day. 

Spots are yours for the taking in the clearings that span the arterial nooks and crannies of the main pulse.

Set up shop for a picnic or bundle up for the night.

My brother in law, Timmy Ham, showed me the place a few months before we were brothers in law. He usually rides his motorcycle up to his parent's cabin in Happy Jack and goes rogue in the Reservoir to brew up new ideas for his brand, IAMSLOTH.

 

SR 87 

Just drive it.

Any which way you go you're sure to experience a page of Arizona's story that most will never know.

And don't be afraid to get out and walk on thin ice. 

I've driven the route a few times with my dad but I have to admit, Zach Papuga ( has been my best guide. Dude has a killer eye for adventure and a wild soul.

 

Horsethief Lake, Crown King

After picking the sand out of your teeth and wiping the desert out of your eyes from way back in Bumble Bee, fix your gaze upon the mysterious mining town clinging to existence far up in Crown King on the last leg of the 59.

If you brave the serpent's spine of untamed road and beating heat, survive the "masses" in Cleator and make it to the top, you'll fall in love.

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Crown King shouldn't exist. It's pure perseverance...and a saloon. When Phoenix has 110 degree waves straight off Satan's sack, Crown King has thunderous curtains of hail and patches of unruly snow nestled under the pines. It's a roll of the dice every time and the journey will leave a few good dings in your beloved car.

Car scars = dings with stories.

Kick one down, slam a burger at the bar and make way for Horsethief Lake, Crown King's little secret.

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Or, take a girl there on your first date. Pack cheese and wine. Fast forward a year she's your awesome wife.

Got her.

 

West Fork Trail of Oak Creek Canyon

This one is another Kurbat gem which deserves a tip of the hat to my old man. My dad's been raving about this trail for years but only taking the qualified few to this wonderful place.

My sister and her pup have the place memorized like the back of their paws but I've yet to have the same experience twice.

West Fork is an easy hike but what it lacks in strain it well than makes up for with scenery, solace and seasons--which don't show themselves in most corners of our state--except for the brilliant pages of Arizona Highways.

I've seen sunrise orange burst through the leaves of fall and dipped my toes in the snowmelt streams of late spring. I've sipped cider from the country store and picked apples across the creek. We've taken naps on logs and braved boulders bigger than homes.

This trail adds years to your life one step at a time.

 


Wet Beaver Creek, outside Sedona

One of my personal favorite spots to take the out-of-towners.

Tell 'em to pack a swimsuit and fill up a camelback and then some.

It's two steps out the parking lot-- caddy corner to Sedona across the 17-- onto the trail, but it's a long, exposed haul to the red rock cathedrals that goliath the swimming holes past their careful watch. There's bountiful opportunity to breeze through your water supply and tote the "are we there yet mentality" as the creek wades just in ear shot but shy of view.

And just like that, the death march gives way to the oasis below; a cliff jumping mecca and beautiful fishing hole that plunges deep into the wild beyond.

Dunk your head and trudge through waist high waters to the therapeutic cadence of the creek against the rock.

 

Horseshoe Lake, Pinetop 

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My childhood summers were founded on shooting BB guns, catching snakes and exploring the White Mountain wilderness outside my grandparent's cabin in Pinetop in my Grandpa's white Ford.

It's no wonder the area has a special place in my heart.

Nearly every afternoon around 3 the symphonies of thunder proclaim their name and roll over the area, washing everything anew. 

I went back last summer with my friends to disregard trespassing signs and part a sea of cattle like Moses of the mountains. As we made way through the pasture and up the rolling hill, the lake revealed its winding path ahead and blessed us with its beauty.

Sunrise Lake is a great place up there for a siesta, too.

 

Lava Tubes, Flagstaff

 N35° 20' 32.1714", W-111° 50' 8.196

Lace up the shoes, throw on a windbreaker and a beanie and double check the batteries in the Petzl. After traversing the forest road (linked above) for what feels like a small eternity outside of Flag, you'll finally turn off and find the less-than-stellar entrance to the tubes.

In fact, you'll probably second guess that you're even at the right place. After all, it's just a hole in the ground with some haphazard rocks strewn spherically around the abyss, unlike much of the state's trademark tourist billboards and entryways that assure you to the point of annoyance, that you've reached your destination like Mother Nature just opened some grand theme park.

Dive right in and you'll understand the understatement with pleasant surprise. These lava tubes steal your senses in one fell swoop as darkness consumes your wonder. It's not until your headlamp meets the dripping facades like some half finished painting where damp strokes left their streaks. The tubes still creak and moan of the lava that shaped their existence and with over a mile to explore there's more than enough time to lose and find yourself again and again.

For a real experience, turn off your lamp and see the darkness for what it is--a total escape some hundreds of feet below the forest floor.

 

Roosevelt Lake wilderness

Resident wild man, Zach Papuga, (who I also mentioned before) also let me in on this killer lake. Yeah the water is fun and refreshing, but playing redneck for a day-- drinking guns and shooting Coors-- in the surrounding wild makes you feel a lot like you're part of the real Wild West and suddenly the idea of a horse sounds a whole lot better than a car.

Then again, it might just be the Coors.

You didn't hear it from me, but the best views are from atop the windmills.

My photographer buddy Daniel Kim made a case for the north side of the lake, too. He stole us away for some awesome engagement shoots up that-a-way as the leaves were in limbo.

He's another fan of our state and documents it better than anyone I've ever known.

 

Mt. Lemmon outside Tucson

It's hard to spend most days at the University of Arizona campus when Mt Lemmon and the Rincons are calling your name. 

A testament to wind and time, these giants pulled on my heartstrings every day I sat in a classroom. From their majestic evening glow of lavender, to the winter fog that cloaks the summits in uncharacteristic snow, these ranges do not make sense in Arizona.

My wife stole me away for a surprise picnic on my birthday this year, just days before our wedding.

With wind chapped ears and nose, we sat--feet dangling over the heavens--and braced ourselves for our greatest adventure yet. 

Wine never tasted so good.

As a hawk dove past our heads like a missile and we were reminded that life on the edge is pretty damn sweet and nature seemed to agree.

From camping to climbing or just a place to see outside yourself, Lemmon and its sister Rincon are incredible. Just keep an eye out for wildlife in the Rincons. My buddies, Tyler Leach, Jacob Busch and I followed mountain lion tracks up the better part of the mountain on a backpacking trip my Senior year.

We kept the fire blazing as we didn't want to look anything like the deer carcass we'd passed earlier in the journey.

 

South Mountain Park

A quick drive to the top makes for one of Phoenix's premiere sunset vantage points with panoramas of the entire valley, but the real treat lies within the remnants of the recreation that's survived the urban sprawl tucked just beyond the South Mountain's south side.

It's a mountain biking, long boarding, bouldering, hiking haven that somehow, much of Phoenix's 3.25 million residents choose to forget is in their own back. Save the occasional flight coming to rest at Sky Harbor, it's easy to forget you're a stone's throw from society and all its stresses.

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My good friend Bill Taggart (yeah, the spray artist) spent many summer days sneaking away to the bouldering problems to clear our minds and the chimneys.

If you can't spend a whole day traveling, look no further than your own backyard.

Rapid Fire

Sheep's Crossing, Weavers Needle, Havasupai Falls, The Superstitions, Devil's Bridge, Fossil Springs, The Grand Canyon, Wickenburg Narrows, Grasshopper Point, 

WHERE IS YOUR FAVORITE AZ ADVENTURE?

Comment below!


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