Arizona, the sixth largest state in the United States of America, is a unique combination of diverse landscapes, rich history, and an eclectic culture.
Also known as the Grand Canyon State, the state was once home to several Native American clans.
One of the ‘four corners state’ (other three being Utah, Colorado, New Mexico), Arizona has immense opportunities for various kind of outdoor activities.
Whether it is tracking a glow-in-the-dark scorpion amidst the Sonoran Desert, exploring the Lower Antelope Canyon, ballooning over the desert, or exploring the rural mountains, the state has all the ingredients for a perfect holiday.
Apart from the many outdoorsy wonders known to the world, Arizona has a lot of treasures that most of us don’t know about.
Though some things are better left untouched, some demand our attention – because they deserve it!
Let’s explore some of the hidden gems in Arizona and see what the state has in store for us.
1. “Fireflies” The Yayoi Kusama Infinity Room, Phoenix
Displayed at the Phoenix Art Museum in the Contemporary Art Wing, “Fireflies” is a 25-square foot exhibition of mirror-lined walls, a black Acrylite roof, a polished black granite floor, and 250 LED lightbulbs that are programmed to alternate colors creating an ethereal experience that can overwhelm anyone’s notion of time and space.
Created in 2005, the exhibition is the brainchild of Yayoi Kusama, an 86-year-old Japanese artist who rebelled against the strictness of Japan and decided to live her life in the ‘Big Apple’ where she explored the bold Avant art scene and hung out with personalities like Joseph Carnell and Eva Hess.
Kusama once wrote to Richard Nixon offering him vigorous ‘physical intimacy’ in lieu of stopping the Vietnam War.
Currently back in Japan for her mental health concerns, the artist works voluntarily from her hospital and retains her title of “one of the greatest living artists of all times.”
2. The Domes, Casa Grande
Established to facilitate computer manufacturing in the 70s and 80s, The Domes are located at Casa Grande and are known to have become a center of satanic worship and ritualistic witchcraft.
Although the initial project never took shape and the foundation lays half-built and left to rot, the remnants of the unfinished construction looks quite fascinating, especially the ‘flying saucer’ look-alike structures.
Locals often claim to warn everyone of going into the tunnels for they believe that they carry bad omen, however, nothing substantial has been proven yet (except for the underage drinking and creepy rumors).
Though there is a “No Trespassing” sign by the structure, a little detour to the Domes won’t be so bad for your health (keep away from the tunnels if you wish).
3. Pumpkin Spring Pool, Littlefield
Arizona’s Grand Canyon is no secret.
In fact, if it weren’t for the Grand Canyon, the state may not even matter so much on the ‘tourist radar’. However, amidst all the great landscaped wonders that the historical geology offers, a section, looking much like a pumpkin, appears rather tempting to jump into and soak yourself.
The pumpkin-like structure, known as the Pumpkin Spring Pool, stores the most poisonous water in the Canyon.
The deadly but architecturally unique pool has taken shape from limestones and replicate not only the shape and color of the vegetable but also has matching stripes.
The water, which looks like it is full of minerals, is actually a ‘witch potion’ made of lead, copper, zinc and an incredibly high amount of arsenic.
Though limited exposure may not be downright fatal, swimming is a no-no.
And, don’t even think of drinking it (unless you have a death wish!). But, don’t miss a photography tour of the Pool – it is 100% worth it.
4. Grand Canyon Caverns Underground Suite, Peach Springs
Imagine hell decides to break loose while you are touring the world-famous Grand Canyon! Where would you go? How would you hide? What would you eat and drink? Don’t Worry.
President John F. Kennedy has you covered!
Apparently, then-President John F. Kennedy was a man with farsightedness and an amazing plan (of course! He was the President so he had to be). The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1961 fueled the President’s mind with an idea to build a safe haven for the evacuees, and thus, to protect his fellow countrymen, he ordered the construction of the Grand Canyon Caverns Underground Suite.
While the bombs never dropped (thank heavens!), the Underground Suite, located 220 below the Canyon surface and designed to house over 2,000 people, is equipped with emergency ration supply to feed the refugees for a month.
Additionally, the Suite also houses double beds, TV, a record player, a mini library, and running water.
Currently owned and operated by the Grand Canyon Cavern Motel (found above ground), this rodent-free, zero-humidity, Suite is available to rent for $800 a night.
It may seem a little extravagant (perhaps not given it is the safest and the quietest room in the world), a night here is undoubtedly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
5. Apache Death Cave, Winslow
On the Old Route 66 lays one of the most terrifying caverns in Arizona history – the Apache Death Cave.
As the story goes, in 1878, a group of Apaches decided to attack a Navajo community who camped by the banks of the Little Colorado River.
When the leader of Navajo tribe, the second largest of its kind to be federally registered in the country, received word of it, sent his men to avenge the deaths of his fellow tribesmen.
After an unsuccessful attempt was made to destroy the Apache raiders the first time, Navajos got hold of them anyway when a second attack happened.
All hell broke loose on the Apaches and revenge was served.
Since then, no Apache men ever have set foot in or around the Death Cave.
6. Mystery Valley, Kayenta
A sun-dried valley tucked away in the corner of Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, the Mystery Valley is a relatively unfamiliar and moderately challenging stretch of desert which is till date regarded sacred by the tribe.
A captivating section of Monument Valley, the Mystery Valley is believed to have been totally submerged underwater by geologists.
Home to an intricate assortment of superb geological formations, scattered artifacts, and petroglyphs, this hidden gem offers some of the most breathtaking views of the surroundings.
Formed because of erosion by water and wind over a million years, Mystery Valley was once home to Anasazi tribe, and, was later inhabited by the Navajo aka Diné tribe who still own the area and rule it as per their tribal laws.
Access to the Valley is only permitted under the supervision of Diné guide.
7. Valley of the Moon, Tucson
Once known as “The Mountain Gnome”, Valley of the Moon was the creation of a postal clerk, George Legler, who started the project in the 1920s with a vision to create an imaginary world where kindness and peace could be harbored.
While working as a clerk, Legler decided that he wanted to do something different with his life, something noble, and hence, decided to create the project.
He started with buying the land in 1917, and with the support and aid of some of his close friends, began giving life to his dreamland.
‘The Valley” was constructed to have enchantingly winding paths, hidden caverns, and towers and walls made of boulders.
Legler, along with his friends, continued expanding the fantasy world and offered tours of the land of the moon.
After the man behind the vision fell too ill, a group of Catalina high school students, in 1967, befriended Legler and offered to maintain and preserve the site.
It is now operated by the George Phar Legler Society.
8. Arcosanti, Mayer
Construction on Arcosanti began in 1970 by architect Paolo Soleri who wanted to create an experimental urban development based on a concept he referred to as ‘arcology.’
Based on his idea of how an urban development could be built and improved without destroying the earth, Arcosanti was meant to house over 5,000 residents.
Even though lack of proper funding has resulted in the development of the project to slow down, workshops and classes organized to promote the site attract students and enthusiasts from all over the world.
Additionally, funds are being raised by the sale of artistic items created inside the concept-community.
The organic and elaborate structure or Arcosanti includes a chain of apartments, a five-story visitor center, a ceramic apse, a public swimming pool, and an outdoor auditorium.
9. The Wigwam Village #6, Holbrook
The American Southwest seems to always render a nostalgic feeling to the citizens of the country and anybody remotely familiar with Arizona’s ‘Cowboy’ history of the 1950s.
First created by Chester E. Lewis in 1950 as an homage to the American Southwestern culture, the Wigam Motel (as it was formally named) offered a series of clean, safe, and budgeted guestrooms that were modeled to resemble teepees.
The developers of the project preferred “wigwam” over “teepees”, and, thus, they came to be known as the “Wigwam Motel.”
Run by the Lewis family, The Wigwam Village #6 isn’t the only one of its kind (there is #7 and #2), but, it is definitely the most iconic of them all.
10. 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, Tucson
First things first, you just can’t waltz your way into the largest military aircraft cemetery in the world! You need to sign up for a tour of Space Museum and Pima Air.
And, let’s say you have managed that.
So, here is what to expect in an aircraft burial ground –
In Tucson, Arizona, on the grounds of the Davis-Montham Air Force Base lays what can be easily termed as an “Airplane lover’s paradise.” Formerly known as the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (long for AMARG), the 2,600-acre huge space is filled with lines and lines of retired aircrafts.
Popularly known as the “Boneyard”, AMARG houses almost every kind of plane that has ever been used by the US Armed Forces since World War II.
B-29 and C-74 (from after the WWII), B-52 Bombers (Cold War), F-4 fighter (Vietnam War) share space with civilian aircrafts such as 707s.
11. Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive-In, Seligman
Who doesn’t know of America’s obsession with life-like road trips? And, even if, let’s say you didn’t, there is no way you haven’t heard of the Route 66 at least a hundred times so far.
Located on the longest stretch of Route 66, Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive-In takes your highway cruising to whole new level of humor.
Juan Delgadillo built this now-landmark in 1953 as an eatery to serve fries and burgers on the same plate as jokes and laughter.
Built mostly out of junk from a railroad yard, the diner came into attention when Delgadillo sliced the roof of his car and decorated it with quirky stickers and a fake Christmas tree.
Though redecorations and architectural improvements still happen inside and outside, the Drive-In refuses to sober down on their eccentric jokes (and trust us, it’s better this way!).
What adds to the nostalgia and humor are the hundreds and thousands of souvenirs that passing travelers like to leave here.
12. Curious Nature, Phoenix
Let’s face it – Arizona is arid and soaked in sun.
Canyons, rock formations, and deserts are alright but a taxidermy shop?
Much to your surprise (and ours), Curious Nature is a small but elaborate taxidermy emporium secretly tucked away behind an unpretentious storefront in the city’s art district.
The ‘dead-animal’ display has an ever-rotating list of preserved animals which include a frozen toad, octopi, squid, bison testicles (huh!), and strangely adorable preserved ducklings.
Additionally, Curious Nature is home to certain species you wouldn’t think of looking for around a desert.
A floor-to-ceiling cabinet displays animal skulls arranged as per their size.
Sea stars, geodes, framed insects, anatomical art, and educational books on taxidermy scatter around the room.
Though there are other such stores in the United States, this unexpected shop in the middle of Arizona is definitely worth a visit.
13. Abandoned Jerome Post Office, Jerome
Jerome, perhaps the ‘largest ghost town in the United States’ as well as the ‘most vertical’ (standing 5,200 feet above sea level), has been lost in time more than once.
But, the town’s mysterious resurgence on the face of the earth is a story one appreciates, like the many artsy corners and historic houses in the city.
One place that gets overlooked, probably because it still stays lost in time, is the Jerome Post Office – a huge structure located close to the town’s parking lot that now fades slowly into oblivion.
Truth be told, it is perhaps not the safest edifice to set your foot in (the structure is decaying and totally unpredictable), however, even a visit from the outside can be a reminder how fast a community can perish and how irrepressible it could be.
14. The Shady Dell, Bisbee
Found at the intersection of Highway 80 and 92 in Bisbee, Arizona, The Shady Dell came about in 1927 as a trailer park and camping area for travelers wanting a break in their journey to relax for a while.
What started as simple campground has now transformed into a vintage collection of trailers that double up as well-equipped, modern guestrooms.
The Shady Dell houses nine classic travel trailers, some of which are a 1950 Spartan Manor, a 1951 33-foot Royal Mansion fitted with dinner-style breakfast booth, martini glasses, leopard carpet, and a series of 78rpm records, and, of course, the highly popular 1947 Tiki Bus Polynesian Palace.
To complement the antique vibe, vintage-radios play radio programmes from the era, televisions broadcast only in two colors, and magazines and books from the time décor the area.
15. Cinder Lake Crater Field, Flagstaff
Cricketers and footballers practice on the fields, racers practice on the tracks, boxers train at the rings, where do astronauts go? Most importantly, where did the first ones to the moon train?
NASA chose the former volcano for its spongy volcanic gravel which closely felt familiar to that of moon rock.
The scientists at the organization, in an attempt to match the moon’s surface as best as they could, mapped the satellite’s craters and created the Cinder Lake Crater.
It took several scientists, endless studies, and series of well-orchestrated dynamite blasts to create the perfect pothole where lunar rovers and future astronauts could practice.
Though a lot of the field has been filled in due to erosions and destroyed by four-wheelers, some of the craters still remain.
16. Large Binocular Telescope, Safford
Why do you think human beings and animals have two eyes instead of one (like the minions)? No idea? Well, firstly, so that you have a spare if you lost one, and second, it expands our ability to see far and see deep.
Telescopes or Binoculars help us do the same thing, only 50 times better.
And, LBT or the Large Binocular Telescope installed in the Arizona Pinaleno Mountains is as great as it gets, perhaps even the best since it is highly likely that it is the ‘Largest Telescope in the World.”
LBT was made with two 27-feet-across, giant-like mirrors which weigh 1.77 metric tons each, and were crafted at Steward Observatory Mirror Lab located near University of Arizona and is one of the only few places on earth capable of doing something like this.
Together, the giant-eye like mirrors provide resolution of 75 feet and a clarity which is reportedly better than Hubble Space Telescope – you know the one in SPACE!
17. Jack Rabbit Trading Post, Winslow
Arizona has two things (among several others) that make it super famous – the Grand Canyon and a stretch of road that falls on the historic Route 66 map.
And so, it isn’t surprising that the stretch holds more than one Arizona treasure.
Jack Rabbit Trading Post, a souvenir shop from the 1940s, located on I-40 that runs through the state, is marked by a giant fiberglass rabbit that is open for you or your little ones to hop onto.
As iconic as it may be to the route, the store has seen several ups and downs, including the creation of the interstate, the rise and fall of Route 66, and being passed on from one owner to another.
However, James Taylor, the original owner, was a clever business man who saw to it that the store held its post.
In an advertisement attempt, he put up billboards and hand-painted signs of the iconic Jack Rabbit along the major chunk of the route (from Arizona to Missouri) and a “HERE IT IS” billboard just next to the store.
18. Rose Tree Museum, Tombstone
Originally supposed to be a part of the collection at Rose Tree Museum located at the prominent wild west town, Tombstone, Arizona, the rose bush in the backyard of the museum has outgrown the popularity of the museum.
A gift from Scotland, the bush was initially a cutting from a Lady Banksia Rose and planted in the garden in 1885. The shrub received the status of the “World’s Largest Rose Bush” in the 1930s and has continued to grow ever since.
The bush (that looks like a canopy) now covers over 5,000 feet of space and is held up by a strategically placed series of steel and wooden supports.
Next time, you want to take your family out for a picnic – do it under the world’s largest rose bush-come-tree.
19. Chloride Ghost Town, Chloride
So, you have heard of the strangely-named Santa Claus town, but what you didn’t perhaps hear about is this typical Wild West village known as the Chloride Ghost Town which is way more than just a ‘tourist trap.’
Look closer and you will find a town that is decorated with peculiar giant murals and wonderfully inexplicable junk collection.
Established in 1862, Chloride was once a thriving mining town with over 75 mines and 5,000 villagers.
Gold, silver, and turquoise were dug up from the grounds of the town for over six decades until a fire burnt down the town in the 1920s.
In the next two decades, Chloride was nothing but a ghost town.
Thankfully, the Ghost Town is trying to rise from the dead.
In fact, Chloride houses the only all-female gun fighting troupe in the world.
Among the town’s bizarre artistry, a gas tank turned flamingo, a tin man with a blue helmet riding half a motorcycle, a glass bottle tree, and a caterpillar made of bowling balls make for brilliant photography.
20. Her Secret Is Patience, Phoenix
Named after a famous Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, Her Secret Is Patience is an enormous art installation created by Janet Echelman and displayed at Phoenix Civic Park Space.
At 145-feet tall and 100-feet in the space, the giant structure has been made of polyester twine netting, galvanized steel, and a careful combination of lights.
The brainchild of Echelman, the exhibit is a joint effort of architects, lighting designers, planners, engineers, and fabricators.
Inspired by the state’s cloud shadows, the art installation has been crafted to resemble ‘shadow drawings.’ The structure moves with breeze during the day and lights up with various colorful lights during the night.
That’s not all, the lights change color according to the season.
21. Area 66, Yucca
Built in the 1970s to be a restaurant and nightclub as a part of an experimental real-estate project, Area 66, as it has been named by its new owners, is a huge golf ball-like structure with a 40-foot-diameter.
To believe that it was supposed to be anything but a strange-looking museum is almost impossible.
Maybe, it is for this reason that the ‘golf ball house’ has been remodeled and will soon be open to the public as a museum!
Entry inside is prohibited but taking pictures of even the exteriors seems totally worthwhile.
Area 66 once housed bedrooms, bathrooms, a living room, and a kitchen – a total of 3,400 square feet of space.
22. History of Pharmacy Museum, Tucson
Opened in 1966, the History of Pharmacy Museum in Tucson, Arizona is the prized collection of a former pharmacist from the town, Jesse Hurlburt.
The Museum is a collection spread over four-floors of some of the weirdest pharmaceutical objects.
History of Pharmacy Museum comprises numerous drug containers, pharmacy books, over 60,000 bottles, and other related pharmaceutical equipment.
Old wood counters and shiny brass instruments add to the museum’s collection.
Among the many oddities that are housed in the History of Pharmacy Museum is a glass jar that is filled with John Dillinger’s (yes, the gangster) old chewing gum.
23. Humphreys Peak B-24 Wreckage, Flagstaff
Humphrey Peak is the highest point in Arizona and tucked away near it are the remnants of a B-24 Liberator Bomber, which belongs to the US Army Air Force.
The bomber plane crashed near the summit on September 25, 1944, and killed all the eight members on board.
The crash site, highly inaccessible, remained the way it was with parts of the engine and the metal body scattered all around.
It’s not so easy to locate due to the treacherous boulder field and trail that leads to the crash site, but once found it will give you a sense of accomplishment that not many can claim.
Even if you do not make it to the main crash site, the remains of the wreckage can still be found around the area.
24. Ella’s Frontier Trading Post, Joseph City
Among the many trading posts set along Route 66, Ella’s Frontier Trading Post has a bit of an unsure past.
The original trading post, called the San Diego’s Old Frontier Trading Post, was constructed by Frederick “San Diego” Rawson, a man of many talents – taxidermist, former circus clown, and an on-and-off poet.
Rawson built the structure out of old telephone poles.
The story gets a little confusing after this.
A version claims that the Trading post was sold to Don Lorenzo Hubbell or perhaps to his son, who may have later sold it to Ray Meany, the Hawaiian bandleader, and his wife, Ella Blackwell.
However, another theory states that it was sold straight to Ray and Ella.
Despite its dodgy history, the trading post belonged to the couple by 1947 and was renamed as The Last Frontier.
After Ray and Ella divorced, Ella got the trading post and changed its name to Ella’s Frontier Trading Post, one that still sticks.
The site stands abandoned and dilapidated since after Ella’s death in 1984.
25. Abandoned Longhorn Grill, Amado
Constructed in the 1970s, the Longhorn Grill was the craftsmanship of an innovative entrepreneur who clearly appreciated the strength of giant skulls and unique architecture.
Resembling a gigantic cow skull with SUPER BIG horns that rests against a massive rock, the edifice was built to act as a clothing store, a bait shop, and a roofing company.
In 1993, the space was turned into a steakhouse – a business that most aptly matched the personality of the building.
Last reported it was a restaurant which shut down for business in 2012.
The Longhorn Grill has been known to have no residents since then, and though it is said to host for parties and the like, the structure looks highly deserted and out of operation.
Take as many photos as you like but think twice before trespassing into an abandoned animal skull of this reputation.