By Jill Frier
Arizona is known for its abundant natural beauty and majestic scenery. Many of our fantastic natural resources and awe-inspiring historical sights are specially preserved for the public as National Monuments. While National Parks are created through acts of Congress and must be large enough for broad recreational and educational use by the public, National Monuments are created by presidential declaration and have historic, prehistoric, or scientific interest.
There are officially 22 National Park Service units in Arizona, visited by nearly 12 million people and bringing in around $1 billion in economic impact annually. Thirteen of these areas are designated as National Monuments, and many of our favorite sites are just a short drive from the Valley of the Sun.
Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, Coolidge
Just south of Chandler on the way to Tucson, you will find one of the largest freestanding prehistoric structures built in North America. Although its original purpose remains a mystery, this site is culturally and scientifically significant. It may have been gathering place, a community, or a waypoint marker for an extensive system of canals and trade routes. Regardless of its original purpose, the majestic “Great House” at Casa Grande Ruins is a well-preserved piece of Sonoran Desert history and a must see National Monument in Arizona.
Montezuma Castle National Monument, Camp Verde
If you want to head north of the Valley of the Sun, Montezuma Castle National Monument is an easy stop off Highway I-17 near Camp Verde. One of the best-preserved and most easily accessible cliff dwellings in North America, this is a beautiful place to stop on the road between Phoenix and Flagstaff. Take a break or have a picnic and enjoy the shady trees near the Verde River while taking in a breathtaking piece of Southwestern history.
Tonto National Monument, Roosevelt
East of the Valley and nestled in the cliffs overlooking Roosevelt Lake, the Tonto National Monument allows visitors to hike up hilly terrain and view ancient Salado-style cliff dwellings in the pristine setting of the Tonto National Forest. The Lower Cliff Dwelling is open to the public year-round, accessible by a paved but steep path up the mountain. The Upper Cliff Dwelling is only accessible by a 3-4 hour guided tour, so plan to book your visit in advance. This National Monument is a bit off the beaten path, but its historic significance and the breath-taking views of the Sonoran Desert and Roosevelt Lake are worth the journey.
Tuzigoot National Monument, Clarkdale
Another fascinating example of the history of desert people in the Southwest is Tuzigoot National Monument. Visitors cannot only see the ruins of an ancient village built by the Sinagua people, they can walk through the rooms and touch the walls of the structure. The monument is north of Phoenix just outside Cottonwood, nestled at the foot of the mountain near Jerome. Tuzigoot is a fantastic day trip for sightseeing and a definite stop if you are planning to visit the Verde Valley.
Walnut Canyon National Monument, Flagstaff
Just south of I-40 outside of Flagstaff, Walnut Canyon National Monument is a scenic and historic place to visit in the tall pines of Northern Arizona. Take a hike among the ruins and cliff dwellings in the upper elevations on both easy rim trails and more difficult trails down into the canyon. This National Monument allows visitors to walk along canyon walls and through the actual pueblos of prehistoric desert inhabitants. It’s an amazing site to stop and enjoy between Phoenix and Flagstaff.
Each of the National Monuments in Arizona is a special place to visit. All have important historical significance and provide breathtaking views of Arizona’s scenic natural landscape. To find these and other Arizona National Monuments, visit nps.gov.
The next time you want to get out of Phoenix for a day or weekend trip or are seeking an outdoor adventure in the Grand Canyon State, consider visiting one or more of these National Monuments. Also, be sure to check Ladybug’s Blog at ladybugsblog.com for more ideas on great places to visit in Arizona.