Put the Grand Canyon in outermost Outer Mongolia, with access limited to caravans of Przewalski’s horses, and a certain coterie of L.A. residents would happily endure any and all hardships to get here, if only to gain Instagram hegemony over less adventurous friends. As it is, the South Rim is but a day’s drive east via I-40. Such proximity undermines a deeper appreciation—a genuine respect—for Grand Canyon National Park’s place among the planet’s drop-to-your-knees-and-behold-creation destinations. That’s why you need to go in winter: The August masses are gone (visitation drops 80 percent), and the canyon loses the one-dimensional, screensaver familiarity of summer. As you hike eight miles along the Rim Trail from Hermit’s Rest to Grand Canyon Village, the low-angle sun brings the labyrinth’s rock strata, infinite promontories, and curving alcoves into high definition. If it storms, consider yourself fortunate. The delicate snow buries yuccas to their spear tips and glazes the canyon’s obelisks and amphitheaters as they float above fogs filling the mile-deep void. Even if the weather gets nasty (at 7,000 feet the South Rim receives, on average, 60 inches of snow), you can keep busy. The park is home to the highest concentration of buildings by legendary Southwest architect Mary Jane Colter, including The Watchtower, with its Kaibab limestone walls and 1930s-era murals. Colter also designed the interiors for the cocktail lounge at the chaletlike El Tovar Hotel ($178-$440), the canyon’s most majestic building. El Tovar’s rooms (only a few have canyon views, among them the Colter Suite) don’t rise to the rough-hewn grandeur of its log lobby or dining room, where beams arc overhead. But dinner at El Tovar is the closest thing here to Ahwahnee-level elegance, and not even Yosemite can match the nightcap waiting outside along the South Rim: the Grand Canyon aglow under moonlight, with elk silhouetted against the snow.
Take Your Time: Points Along the Road From Phoenix to The Grand Canyon
At visionary architect Paolo Soleri’s Arcosanti, daily tours explore the eternally unfinished desert compound of eccentric concrete structures, a laboratory for Soleri’s theories of blending architecture and ecology. A visitor’s center, with an atrium café, sells the famous Soleri windbells produced at a bronze foundry here.
MONTEZUMA CASTLE NATIONAL MONUMENT
No, the Aztec ruler never built an Arizona country hideaway. The Sinagua people constructed the cliff dwelling around 1100, occupying the site for 300 years. Eleven miles away is another Montezuma misnomer—Montezuma Well, an oasis-like limestone sinkhole near other cliff dwellings.
A lively creative community spared this former mining hamlet from the typical sarsaparilla-and-shoot-out ghost town schlock. Jerome Artists Cooperative Gallery, in the 1917 Hotel Jerome, is a showcase for local talent. So is 15.quince Grill & Cantina, with its wall of painted steer skulls and chile-forward New Mexican dishes.
OAK CREEK CANYON
Skip the interstate between Sedona and Flagstaff and take a meandering route through this forested gorge on Highway 89A. There are turnouts galore above the tumbling creek, and Garland's Indian Jewelry offers primo shopping for high-quality Southwest art.
Jeep tours are fine, but to really appreciate Sedona’s deep-hued, eroded red rock formations, hike Soldier Pass, where trails lead through Arizona cypress and juniper to the terraced grotto of Seven Sacred Pools. Then taste the New Age at Simon's Hot Dogs, where toppings range from toasted sushi nori to sweet pineapple.
At Lowell Observatory there’s a steampunk cool to domes made of exposed ponderosa pine and the Jules Verne-style Pluto Discovery Telescope. In the Southside District, Tinderbox Kitchen and Annex Cocktail Lounge serves rebooted comfort foods in a breezy space.