I used to think Arizona was just sand. Then I had the chance to take a car from Las Vegas to Mesa for a quick road trip and discovered there is so much more. I was easily reminded where I was by the iconic Saguaro cacti sprinkled along the terrain. Mesa holds one of the world’s most diverse desert wildlife with over 3,000 different plant species. That was a hard fact to believe when it averages only about 8-inches of rainfall per year. Mesa alone is home to 22 different Native American tribes and has a deep-rooted history of mining during the wild-west, which makes it a center of unique cultural and natural experiences to explore. Check out the images from my road trip and see for yourself.

1

The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is obvious but cannot be skipped. I figured it was big but I was taken aback by the scale of it all. Taking one of the less popular trails, Cedar Ridge, with a series of winding switchbacks got me close to the vegetation, animal life, and the changing colors as the sun moved through the sky.

2

Dude ranches

Dude ranches are specifically geared toward visitors experiencing ranch life, like a western themed resort. Many people at Ranchos de los Cabelleros were with their families to escape city life. Standard attire for the dining room was a cowboy vest and a true western bola tie.

3

Bygone main streets

Route 66 was one of the first roads built for the American highway system. The town of Williams appears to be a relic holding ground for everything from the 1920s. I couldn’t walk down a single street or alley without seeing “Route 66” plastered on a street sign or store window. Kitschy, yes, but that doesn’t take away from the thrill of driving the actual route. Put the windows down and turn up the radio, already.

4

Western education

I was in a bit of a rush to really soak in western life before hitting the cities, so a trip to the Desert Caballeros Western Museum was my best bet. The artwork was a “boot and collar” heritage that’s instilled in Arizona culture.

5

Horses

I arrived to Mesa and immediately got on a horse, because that seems to be what you do in Mesa. Each horse had their own personality, and I had the pleasure of riding “Snowman,” who needed a bit more convincing to move forward than the rest.

6

Trails

I dismounted horses and got on a bike next. I took on the trails at Usery Mountain Regional Park with Arizona Outback Adventures. Desert trails are much different than other trails since a layer of gravel rock sits on top of the hard surface below. I had a few spills, but luckily avoided cactus plants.

7

Kayaking

So this whole time I’m thinking of deserts and dude ranches when it turns out there’s a whole system of lakes and rivers that make up the Lower Salt River Recreation Area in Tonto National Forest. Our guide, Lindsay, took us through a leisurely paddle down level 1 rapids just as the sun was setting along the river.

8

Mexican food

I was burning the candle from both ends on this trip, so I didn’t feel bad about chowing down on a few tacos and burritos. There’s a great food scene in metropolitan areas of Arizona, and it’s a great way to get social too. Try on a Hacienda de Rosa’s for size - if you’re hungry enough.

9

Goat yoga

It is exactly what it sounds like: yoga alongside goats. Downward dog becomes much more difficult when you have a grazing animal on your back, but their hooves offered just enough pressure for a simultaneous back massage. Turns out, Arizona Goat Yoga is the largest Goat Yoga experience in the world. Why do it? Hardcore advocates say that yoga outside with animals is good for the soul on a whole other level, others say it’s just fun to have a goat climb your back or snuggle up mid-pose.

10

Saloons

I made my way to Goldfield Ghost Town, a reproduction of a western gold-mining town that includes its own underground mine tour, daily gunfights, and a genuine saloon featuring Cowboy Dan, a patriotic cowboy who has a sixth sense for a glass that needs topping off.

11

Steamboats

Canyon Lake is a man-made lake that’s only a short drive from the city. The Dolly Steamboat took me and a throng of visitors around the shoreline to watch the colorful rock faces glide by with a few wild goats grazing amongst the cliffs.

12

Hummers

Stellar Adventures picked me up in a Hummer H1, a near copy of the military-grade M998 Humvee. I suddenly found myself on a roller coaster ride down old mining trails as the sun began to set.

13

The Sunset State

I witnessed why Arizona is known for its magical sunsets. It seemed like the light was fighting to stay in the sky as it slowly creeped away over the horizon. Colors changed in a way that spoke true to the land with a glowing red that resisted fading. I left Arizona already planning a return trip: there’s a lot more here than I ever would have guessed and I can’t wait to explore it more.

All photos are the author’s.

Visit Mesa sponsored this trip.

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