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Off the beaten path in Arizona. (Photo: Rainer Jenss)

Spring Break Arizona, Part 2: Off the Beaten Path

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Off the beaten path in Arizona. (Photo: Rainer Jenss)

There’s an axiom our family tries to live by when traveling that makes perfectly good sense in theory, but is often hard to stick to: “Less is More.” The idea is to spend more time in one location rather than rushing around from place to place trying to see and do it all. When adhered to, we’ve been able to gain a much deeper appreciation for a place, which ultimately enriches the overall experience.

This well-intentioned principle was put to a serious test when we visited Arizona this past year. If we were going to scramble to visit all of the state’s major attractions, we vowed to at least experience them in a unique and memorable way. So we decided to get ourselves off the beaten path – literally!

Hiking the Superstition Mountains – We hired Just Roughin’ It to take us on a 6-hour, 9-mile hike of Rodgers Canyon (something I would recommend for families with older children/teens). Located outside of Phoenix, this day-long trek took us deep into the Sonoran Desert to see some amazing Arizona sites besides the Grand Canyon, including forests of beautiful Saguaro and Cholla cacti. The grand prize? A well-preserved ancient Indian cliff dwelling that the kids just loved to explore.

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Hot Air Ballooning – If  hiking isn’t your thing, you can get a bird’s-eye view of the desert from 6,500 feet in the air. Once she overcame her fear of heights, my wife actually enjoyed the unobstructed sight of Phoenix — and the mountains that cloak the city — at sunrise. The hour-plus flight, run by Hot Air Expeditions, was enhanced by a pilot who kept the kids amused. After touchdown, a champagne breakfast was served at the landing site, which in our case, was only about 50 yards from I-17.

Sedona Pink Jeep Tours – Hot-air ballooning is a primo option for taking in the natural splendor of Sedona’s “Red Rock Country.” Barring that, our boys where thrilled at the alternative: some real off-roading in a 4×4. Operating since 1960, Pink Jeep Tours has become a “must-do” tour in the Southwest, and for good reason. It’s a thrilling ride, as well as educational and awe-inspiring, especially if you go late in the afternoon when the mountains seem to catch fire below a setting sun.

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Sedona Segway Tours – Many people opt to explore the canyons surrounding the city on mountain bike. Our boys’ preferred two-wheeled conveyance, however, was a Segway. I must admit that riding one wasn’t as natural for me as it was for the rest of the family, but cruising around Sedona’s back roads was a unique — and environmentally friendly way to see the residential neighborhoods of this picturesque city.

Kayaking Lake Powell – When you’re vacationing in the Southwest in the summer, getting out on the water holds great appeal. And renting a houseboat to cruise through Glen Canyon on Lake Powell is a great way to do it. But if you don’t have the time to commit to a long-term rental, two-day options are available. Hidden Canyon Kayak gave us an abbreviated, yet no-less impressive, experience on the lake that included sleeping under the stars at an impromptu campsite along the spectacular shoreline. The highlight, however, was paddling through the narrow slots of the canyons, accessible only by kayak.

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument – Too many people who are rushing to see the Grand Canyon from the south side completely overlook this wonderful national treasure. Thanks to Steve, the owner of  El Portal, a terrific inn we stayed at in Sedona, we didn’t miss it. Kids have a blast walking through the incredibly surreal landscape of ash and lava, and get to learn about volcanoes first hand along the way to boot.

Rafting the Colorado River – Most people see the Grand Canyon from its rim, take a few pictures, and get back in their cars. But to really experience this natural wonder you need to get down inside it. Though the thought of barreling down class 3 or 4 whitewater might intimidate parents, there are operators, like Arizona River Runners, who run multi-day trips that are safe and appropriate for children as young as 8. You don’t even need any experience or have to paddle. Just bring your spirit of adventure…and a lot of sunblock!

Hiking the Grand Canyon – We chose another guided excursion with Just Roughin’ It to gain some local knowledge of the Grand Canyon and have all our hiking needs taken care of (this is especially valuable in the hot summer months when trekking even short distances can be challenging). We took the South Kaibab Trail to Skeleton Point. This out-and-back hike took us down one of the most well-kept trails in the national park to a place where we got spectacular views of the canyon – and a lunch spot that couldn’t be beat.

Check out Spring Break Arizona, Part 1, and follow Rainer on Twitter at @JenssTravel

Photos: Rainer Jenss