Travel: Arizona

There are a number of ways to illustrate the quintessential "Arizona moment". We could be gazing across the majesty of the Grand Canyon, skimming Lake Powell's languid waters or even relaxing in the living room of the great architect Frank Lloyd Wright's desert home on the outskirts of Phoenix.

But instead this is the snapshot I will choose to begin with: we are barrelling towards Monument Valley's Martian landscape. Ahead of us is an arrow-straight and empty road disappearing into the distance. For me, it is a picture-perfect moment.

Indeed, Arizona, in the south-west of the US, has the sort of landscape for which the wide-angle lens was invented.

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Given that Arizona has branded itself as the Grand Canyon State, it is only fitting that what is one of the wonders of the natural world should be first on our itinerary.

En route, we stopped at Flagstaff, which sits on the legendary Route 66 – once the spine of the country, carrying freight and people from coast to coast.

Having started out in arid desert, we were now in a city high enough to accommodate two observatories, and our hosts Michael and Richard at the charming Starlight Pines B&B assured us that they were no strangers to snow.

Most visitors head to the south rim of the canyon, but our hosts tipped us off about the quieter northern edge, a worthwhile trip which took us past the dramatically named Vermillion Cliffs.

There are guided tours of the canyon, and accommodation overlooking it, as well as plenty of well-marked trails. We opted for a two-hour walk along the edge where we were mobbed by chipmunks, and had a close encounter with a family of deer.

While British tourists will be familiar with the Grand Canyon, to the north is another one of Arizona's geological marvels, Lake Powell. Actually, describing it as a mere lake does not do it justice: at its deepest, it plumbs a depth of 560ft (171m) and stretches for almost 190 miles, with a seemingly endless number of tributary canyons off it, so the scope for exploration and relaxing is immense.

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Powell was originally the Glen Canyon, through which the Colorado River flowed until the US government decided during the mid-1950s to dam and flood it, which took 17 years to accomplish. In doing so it created one of the country's most remote boating playgrounds.

While the area can be very busy during the summer, October is a perfect time to visit for both temperature and tranquillity – something that could be said for the state of Arizona as a whole.

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Our guides for the day, Carie and Steve, took us out from Antelope Point Marina to investigate the gorgeous pink-and-red banded sandstone tributaries and let us appreciate the full grandeur of the lake – just imagine sweeping through the Grand Canyon in a glider.

One of the lake's attractions, the breathtaking Rainbow Bridge, is so isolated that not until 1909 was it revealed by native Americans. A perfect arc of red stone sitting over a now-dry river bed, it was formed by the relentless pounding of the Colorado River over the millennia. The structure is believed to the tallest natural bridge in the world, reaching 290ft (88m), taller than the Statue of Liberty.

Rather than head back to dry land, though, we had as our hotel for the night that most American of transports: a houseboat. These babies are the last word in luxury self-catering: televisions in every bedroom, a covered bar area up top, with a hot tub and a slide.

We spent an idyllic evening watching the sun slowly fall into the hills, enjoying the silence. After dinner we slipped into the hot tub, stared at the night sky and counted shooting stars.

After a good night's sleep, we were on to our next destination in the heart of the Najavo territory, the iconic Monument Valley. A landscape familiar to anyone who has ever seen a John Ford Western, the valley's name is well chosen: monoliths of blood-red sandstone dominate the landscape like vast ancient alien starships. We took a day-long tour of the valley, staying overnight at Gouldings Lodge – where John Wayne and Ford stayed while filming – though there is also the recently opened View Hotel, which overlooks the valley and has a stunning vista.

Our visit to Arizona was topped and tailed with stays in the state capital, Phoenix. We loved the desert splendour of the Boulders Resort out in Carefree on the edge of Scottsdale. Built, as the name suggests, around a vast natural boulder-like rock formation, the Boulders is a golf and spa resort offering luxury accommodation in a stunning setting. We took advantage of the Golden Door Spa's facilities to expunge our long-haul flight aches before crashing out on our apartment patio, surrounded by cute little quails who hooted happily.

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On returning to Scottsdale, we went urban, staying in the Hotel Valley Ho in the heart of the district. Oozing Rat Pack retro style, the Valley Ho was the hotel of choice of visiting Hollywood celebs during the 1950s and 60s – Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood were married there. Recently refurbished, the hotel is the perfect base for investigating upmarket shopping areas.

Overlooking the town, cut into the brow of the McDowell Mountains is Taliesin West, the winter residence of modernist architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

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For anyone with even a passing interest in design or architecture, Taliesin is a treat: a bold architectural design, in Wright's own words, it is "a look over the rim of the world". Low-slung from the outside, spacious and airy on the inside, it was where he spent much of his most productive later years.

The guided tour gives you access to areas otherwise closed to the public, including the designer's living room, where we sat in the "Origami" chairs he designed and had built for himself.

Having satisfied our high-brow appetites, we decided to finish on a resounding populist note: lunch at the sports bar of musician and local boy, Alice Cooper, Cooperstown, where we reflected on our Arizona experience: 1,200 miles covered and a memory card's-worth of photos. We'd seen a lot, but we agreed that we'd barely scratched the surface of the Grand Canyon State.


Return flights with British Airways (, 0844 493 0787) to Phoenix start at about 580.

Rooms at The Boulders Resort (North Tom Darling-ton Drive, Carefree, 00 1 888 579 2631, www.theboulders. com) are from 185 per night; the Hotel Valley Ho (6850 East Main Street, Scottsdale, 00 1 480 248 2000,, start at 139; Gouldings Lodge (Monument Valley, Utah, 00 1 435 727 3231,, 123 and the Starlight Pines B&B (3380 East Lockett Road, Flagstaff, Arizona, 00 1 928 527 1912, from 103 a night.

The Forever Resort houseboats rental from 395 p/p, based on four people sharing for a minimum two night stay.

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Car hire was through National but our hire insurance was with Insurance4 for low-cost alternative to rental company policies. For further information call American As You Like It on 0208 742 8299 or visit

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• This article was first published in the Scotsman, Saturday April 10, 2010