Just a few reasons that we think Arizona is like no other place on Earth: the saguaro, a giant cactus only found in this region of the world and an emblem of the Southwest; petroglyphs millions of years old, the ancient markings of 22 tribes (Arizona's original inhabitants); natural formations like sky-high spires, red-rock mesas and volcanic hoodoos; and, of course, the Grand Canyon. The best way to preserve the wild beauty of Arizona’s rare species of flora and otherworldly landscapes? Practice Leave No Trace by enjoying these treasures without touching them.
Where to See Plants Unique to Arizona
More than 40 native plants, including 12 varieties of cactus, are protected by the Arizona Department of Agriculture. One of the most protected is the saguaro, whose iconic arms can take decades to grow. Please resist the urge to touch, pluck, move, pick flowers or remove leaves from Arizona’s plants. Instead, enjoy a close-up view of the state’s native flora at these places.
Desert Botanical Garden. This 140-acre garden in Phoenix displays 50,000 plants, such as cactus, aloes, agaves and rare and endangered desert species.
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. In Ajo, this UNESCO biosphere reserve is the only place in the country where the organ pipe cactus grows wild. You’ll also see 31 other species of cactus.
Picacho Peak State Park. Every March, this park near Casa Grande explodes in color as Arizona’s native wildflowers—poppies, brittlebush, lupine—reach full bloom.
Saguaro National Park. Take in the sight of nearly 2 million saguaros at this 92,000-acre park in Tucson. The park’s impressive collection of 6,000 species of plants ranks it second to the Amazon in biodiversity.
South Mountain Park and Preserve. South Mountain Park in Phoenix is one of the largest municipal parks in the United States, with more than 16,000 acres of Sonoran Desert and three mountain ranges.
Petroglyphs and Artifacts
From the Ancestral Puebloans to the Mogollon, Indigenous cultures have called Arizona home dating back 12,000 years ago. Evidence of their cultural symbols can be found painted and etched on boulders, cliffs, rock faces and canyons. See these ancient markings and preserved relics at designated sites. It’s illegal to touch or take artifacts, but you can often find souvenirs at on-site gift shops and through local artists.
Petrified Forest National Park. At this park near Holbrook, you’ll see plant and animal fossils from the Triassic Period. Don’t pick up the petrified wood from the ground; buy it from the gift shop. Not only does stealing the wood result in a fine, but it’s also been said that thieves find themselves cursed with bad luck after taking fossils from the park.
Rock Art Ranch. This family-owned property in Winslow welcomes visitors via reservation to tour one of the best-preserved collections of petroglyphs in the world.
Tribal lands. You’ll need a guide to visit Navajo Nation or Hopi Tribal Land. Both are rich with rock art etched by ancient indigenous tribes. On Navajo, Canyon de Chelly National Monument is one of the few sites where you can see both petroglyphs and pictographs. On Hopi, the Taawaki/Dawa Park displays thousands of petroglyphs from 200 BC.
Natural Rock Formations
Whether they’re balancing red rocks or towering hoodoos, Arizona’s rock formations are works of art centuries in the making. No matter the size—even small stones—it’s important to leave them where they are since moving the rocks can damage fragile ecosystems, cause soil erosion and disturb the homes of animals. To appreciate some of the more spectacular rock formations, visit these spots.
Chiricahua National Monument. Known as the Wonderland of Rocks, this Southern Arizona monument’s rock spires, or hoodoos, have eroded over millions of years from volcanic ash.
Indian Gardens Paleo Site. Here, taking home rocks is actually encouraged. At Payson’s Indian Gardens, dig for limestone fossils of small invertebrate organisms from 300 million years ago.
Red Rock State Park. This 286-acre nature preserve in Sedona features the region’s famous red sandstone canyons and rock spires.
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. In Flagstaff, see tiny cinder rocks and 900-year-old blocks of a’a basaltic lava. Because new soil is still forming between the cinders, stick to the trails and leave the lava rocks as they are.