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ASK JOURNEYS: Arizona amazes with its art, history, geography

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At the Grand Canyon, visitors can peer over the edge into the abyss of the valley below.

RON PRADINUK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

At the Grand Canyon, visitors can peer over the edge into the abyss of the valley below. Photo Store

For me, it was akin to entering heaven without a halo. To go to a prime golf destination and leave my golf clubs behind seemed almost sacrilegious.

But my first trip to Arizona this past December was about golf, with 10 games in 10 days on 10 different courses (www.winnipegfreepress.com/travel/duffers-delight). That was paradise past and for this trip with my wife, who doesn't golf, we decided to explore the other avenues of what makes Arizona such a popular destination.

And explore we did. From downtown Phoenix to old (and new) Scottsdale to the Sedona area and beyond all the way to the Grand Canyon, we tried to do it all. In so doing we discovered one of the best museums we have ever experienced. Referred to as MIM, the Musical Instruments Museum holds much more than the name would suggest.

It's true there are ancient and modern music makers from around the world. And the possessions of the past and present greats that enriched our lives and influenced our youth are all on display. But it is the style of the audio and video presentations that keep people there for hours.

As you move from one exhibit to another the audio automatically shifts as the unit picks up the music of the next presentation. From Elvis Presley to Hank Williams to displays of over 10,000 instruments from 200 countries, you can read their histories, see their instruments and hear their sounds on those very instruments that are laid out before your eyes.

While modern Scottsdale may have been shaped by the high-end shopping experiences of Hollywood's Rodeo Drive, Old Scottsdale, with its historical buildings mirroring an old western town, has been transformed into a quiet and unique destination area for those seeking fine art, local history and dining experiences.

Even the sidewalks are marked to let you rediscover Scottsdale's past or to lead you through a modern era with some of the finest sculptures and art treasures you will find anywhere.

It's a two-hour drive to Sedona, where the elevation make it an excellent escape from the heat that can envelope the Phoenix region as summer heat penetrates.

Even as you approach the Sedona region you realize quickly you are about to experience geography you may never have seen before.

Red rock buttes rise up before you like giant fingers reaching up to the sky, with hues of colour that must have been drawn by nature's paintbrush.

A tour with an organization called the Pink Jeep Company took me into a now protected park nearby. At the edge of one of these mountain-like protrusions lay the ruins of an ancient tribe of Sinagua Indians, with its hieroglyphics and remaining structures reaching out with stories of their past.

When western movies were the rage during the 1950's, '60s and into the '70s, Sedona was the centre of a film industry that saw the great actors of the day there on a regular basis.

Burt Lancaster, John Wayne and Elvis Presley were just a few of the names that helped build the reputation of the area not just for films but for the welcoming place it was for tourists.

Today it is tourism that drives the economy, with accommodations ranging from brand names such as Best Western and Super 8 to the upscale but absolutely unique L'Auberge de Sedona overlooking Oak Creek, with its individual cottages occupying some of the best views of the red rock mountain ranges.

Only a few kilometres from Sedona, a formative wine industry is slowly taking its place as a potential new economic generator.

Page Springs, the first winery started only 10 years ago by a Chicago entrepreneur, has been followed by a number of others who have found the weather and topography of the region perfect for growing grapes.

As we drove up to the Page Springs property, I remarked it looked a lot like what we saw in Tuscany, Italy.

As our week drew to an end, and knowing I might never get that close again, I felt a magnetic pull to visit a site whose photos and story have always intrigued me.

It was a two-hour drive to the Grand Canyon, but its call owned me and I had to see it first-hand.

The drive to the Grand Canyon is amazingly easy, with the hairpin turns I expected only on the first 20 kilometres of highway out of Sedona. Even as I approached Grand Canyon National Park the land was still flat, causing me to think I might have made a wrong turn.

But once inside the park and on the rim of the canyon, the view is majestic and overwhelms the senses. Along the rim there are many protrusions into the canyon that are fenced in, making it safe for the public to view the panorama around them.

At the same time, for the brave if not foolhardy, there are places where it is easy to climb down onto a rock face and peer down at the emptiness below as they stand and peer over the edge.

I don't know when I will get back to Arizona but this visit, even without the golf, was as enjoyable as the first. I await the next opportunity to return.

Forward your travel questions to askjourneys@journeystravel.com. Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre and can be heard Sundays at noon on CJOB. Previous columns and tips can be found at www.journeystravelgear.com or read Ron's travel blog at www.thattravelguy.ca.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 22, 2014 E2

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