Southwest Guide: Arizona

Raft a Class IV river through the desert, hike into the Grand Canyon for some yoga, get tipsy on Sedona’s new wine trail, and more.

Ride a Class IV River Through the Desert

The Salt River will never compete with the Colorado for rafters. It’s temperamental, remote, and runs only during shoulder season. But if you hit the river just right—in March, April, or May—the Salt transforms from a trickle to a torrent of Class III and IV rapids through a forest of saguaros.

See for yourself on one of Wilderness Aware Rafting’s new expedition-style raft trips. You could call it the executive summary of desert whitewater: Over two long days, rafters travel 42 miles (68 kilometers) through a wilderness area while rocketing through whoop-de-do wave trains. Between rapids they might spot nesting bald eagles, javelinas, bighorn sheep, and Gila monsters—the region’s colorful two-foot-long lizards. Amid the 1,500-foot (4,572-meter) stepped canyon walls and towering saguaros, 700-year-old Mogollon cliff dwellings hide in precarious cliffside nooks. Home for the night is a sandy beach where guides barbecue steaks, chicken, or ribs over a fire. Take a good look at it all now, because come June, the desert waterway quiets down to a mere trace of its former self.

Get Going: $430 per person,

DIY Potential: Moderate. It’s BYOB (bring your own boat) with lottery-style permits through the Tonto National Forest (

Explore Hopi Lands With an Expert Guide

The Hopi have a reputation as a mysterious people, keeping to themselves on their ancestral lands in northern Arizona. But with the December opening of Moenkopi Legacy Inn and Suites in Tuba City, Arizona, the tribe is reaching out. The hotel has 100 rooms in bright colors and a three-story lobby with a fireplace, but the selling feature is the surroundings.

Right from Moenkopi, Hopi anthropologist Micah Loma’omvaya runs customizable tours to remote locales on tribal lands. Start with a strenuous four-hour hike or, if you prefer, a run—Loma’omvaya is an ultrarunner—through Blue Canyon. The trail leads past the ruins of a historic trading post, a slim slot canyon with a hundred-year-old Anglo inscription, and rare geology such as blue shale and red-and-white-striped monoliths.

After a lunch of blue corn bread, a traditional stew, green chilies, and wild local tea, Loma’omvaya continues into even less frequented depths of the reservation, including the remote Taawa site with some thousand petroglyphs, and mesa-top Oraybi, the country’s oldest continuously inhabited community. There, guests can watch a basket-maker, potter, or weaver ply her centuries-old trade or simply soak in the hundred-mile views of the mesa-studded desert.

Get Going: Moenkopi Legacy Inn: doubles from $89,; Tours: from $80 per person per day,

DIY Potential: Low. Hopi lands require a guide.

Hike Into the Grand Canyon for Some Yoga

It’s known as the Grand Canyon glaze-over: when the views of this 18-mile-wide (30-kilometer-wide), mile-deep (1.6-kilometer-deep) chasm are so overwhelming, visitors simply can’t take them in. Arizona-based outfitter Discovery Treks has a calming solution—yoga. In 2010, the guide service is debuting custom yoga trips that combine the canyon’s best hiking trails with yoga sessions in dumbfoundingly scenic locales.

On the three-day Classic Hike to the River, hikers descend some 4,000 vertical feet (1,219 vertical meters) and 9.5 miles (15 kilometers) down the Bright Angel Trail to the Bright Angel Campground, then up to the cottonwood-enshrined oasis of Indian Gardens, and finally back up to the South Rim. Along the way, an instructor leads yogis and yoginis in restorative tree poses and downward dogs at Plateau Point, where views stretch across the deep wrinkles of the Grand Canyon, and on the beach along the murmuring Colorado River. (Post-yoga cool-off dip recommended.) The most important pose, of course, is savasana or corpse, best performed at night beneath a canopy of Arizona stars.

Get Going: Discovery Treks organizes custom trips only. Rates start at $895,

DIY Potential: High. Know your poses?

Learn From a Master Lensman in Hard-to-Access Red Rock

Photographer Kerrick James, one of only four sponsored Pentax shooters, has spent 30-plus years traipsing the Four Corners in search of the perfect shot. This year, he’s revealing his all-time favorite locales to a handful of lucky amateur photographers. (That’s you.)

The seven-day workshop, run with guide service Detours of Arizona, reads like an all-star roster of Southwest destinations. Kayaking along the Colorado River to the glowing, aptly named Emerald Cave in the Black Canyon and hiking in search of the perfect slickrock shot at Snow Canyon are only the beginning. The trip also hits Toroweap (the fabled lookout over the endless multicolored abysses of the Grand Canyon), Monument Valley, and Canyon de Chelly at the perfect times for photos: sunset and sunrise. Along the way shutterbugs camp, stay with a Navajo family, and sleep in wilderness lodges. “As a photographer, you’re looking for the heart of a place and the graphic elements that define it,” says James. After seven days, you’re sure to have found them.

Get Going: Tours: May 2-9 and September 19-26, 2010, from $3,850,

DIY Potential: High. But your photos won’t be nearly as good.

Get Tipsy on a River in Sedona

Most of us don’t need another reason to explore the verdant valleys and red rocks of the Sedona area, but here’s one: vino. The new Verde Valley Wine Trail connects six wineries, vineyards, and tasting rooms in the outrageously scenic Sedona area. Start with Sedona Adventure Outfitters & Guides’ Water to Wine Tour. On the four-hour trip, adventurous oenophiles paddle down the Verde River in inflatable kayaks—past limestone cliffs, sycamores, and the occasional elk—to Alcantara Vineyards, where vintners serve tastings of Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, and Nebbiolo, among other desert-loving varietals.

“This is not really touring as much as tasting, slowing down, and using all your senses to get to know a place,” says Alcantara owner Barbara Predmore. The nearby Cottonwood Chamber of Commerce offers wine-trail maps and advice on choosing your next mode of exploring this red rock playground: Hiking, mountain biking, canoeing, or ruin hunting?

Get Going: Tour: $129 per person,; for wine trail maps, visit

DIY Potential: High. BYO boat.

Kayak Lake Powell With a Reformed Houseboat Captain

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“Hardy” doesn’t begin to describe Maggie Cummins, a 53-year-old ex-cowgirl, mother of six, (de)converted missionary, houseboat captain, and kayak guide who launched the Page, Arizona-based outfitter Awesome Adventures in April. Her can-do, however, is precisely why she makes the perfect guide to Lake Powell, where she has searched for the most scenic and unfrequented locales for the last seven years.

A four-day trip starts at the Wahweap Main Launch Ramp in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, where Cummins meets guests with her 23-foot (7-meter) Sea Ox outfitted with a kayak rack, kayaks, camping equipment, and meals. (You bring the libations.) She’ll then motor to a far-out canyon of your choice, such as Secret or Twilight, where you’ll set up a tented base camp. What ensues is three days of kayaking up the skinny arms of Glen Canyon, sometimes as narrow as your boat’s width, scrambling up slot canyons, and leaping off rocks into glass-clear water. After the nightly barbecue, a campfire illuminates the 600-foot rust-hued cliffs that frame a window into the blinking cosmos.

Get Going: Tours: $795 per person,

DIY Potential: Low. No boat, no kayaks, no fun.

Cruise the Newly Open Navajo Nation

Stretching across more than 26,000 square miles (6.7 million square hectares) of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, the Navajo Nation is the largest reservation in the country. It is also, some might argue, the most scenic. As of late last year, the tribe decided to point out the best driving routes through its lands by producing detailed maps that point out the roads’ salient and often least visited stops.

Hit two of their 13 scenic roads by traveling south from the Utah-Arizona border on Highway 163 through Monument Valley and Kayenta, then looping west and cruising Highway 98 to Page. The two-day plan: Take in Monument Valley by enlisting the required Navajo guide and hiking three hours to the top of Hunt’s Mesa for a hawk’s-eye view of what the Navajo call the Valley of the Rocks. Stake your tent at the peaceful (and free) campground at Navajo National Monument, 70 miles (113 kilometers) southwest. The next morning, after hiking five strenuous miles to and from Betatakin, a spectacular and intricate ancestral Puebloan cliff dwelling deep in the monument, Naat’tisis’aan Scenic Road (Highway 98) beckons with views of precarious rock formations.

Get Going: Tours: $100 a day,; road maps available at Monument Valley’s visitor center,

DIY Potential: Moderate.

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