Arizona Tours That Take You Into the Past

By: Nora Burba Trulsson

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July 3, 2011

Take a trip to some of Arizona's best historic sites, from pre-historic ruins to turn-of-the-century mining towns.

About the author

Nora Burba Trulsson

Nora Burba Trulsson

Nora Burba Trulsson is a long-time Arizona resident and a freelance writer specializing in travel, food, lifestyle, architecture and design topics. Her articles have appeared in Sunset, Arizona Highways, Vegas Seven,, Valley Guide, Scottsdale Magazine, United Airlines Hemispheres, Westjet's Up!, Renovation Style, Beautiful Homes and other publications and websites. She can be reached through

Experience History at Tonto National Monument and Flagstaff

On a sunny winter day, a small group of hikers wends its way up a steep, wildflower-strewn hillside above Roosevelt Lake in central Arizona. While there are views to snap, owl’s clover to admire and even exercise-induced endorphins to experience, the main event of this three-mile, round-trip trek is a history lesson. The destination? The remote upper ruin of Tonto National Monument, where an experienced guide details the lives of the agrarian Salado people who inhabited this cliff dwelling between the 14th and 15th centuries.

While not many can hold a candle to the lung-expanding qualities of the Tonto National Monument trek, guided history tours abound in Arizona, designed to pique the interest of everyone from the casual visitor to the fervent history buff.

In Northern Arizona, you can take a tour of Flagstaff’s Riordan Mansion, a 13,000-square-foot estate, to learn about the two brothers, both lumbermen, and their families who built the Arts and Crafts-style manse in 1904. Your guide will point out everything from the log slab walls to the Riordan family portraits. Flagstaff is also the starting point of the Museum of Northern Arizona’s Ventures programs, which include guided bus tours to the historic Hopi villages of Walpi and Oraibi.

See Historic Arizona at the Grand Canyon and Phoenix

At Grand Canyon National Park’s South Rim, take time out from hiking and admiring the scenery to join in a ranger-led tour. In winter, you can learn about an ancestral Puebloan village at the park’s Tusayan Museum, explore the 1904 Kolb photography studio perched at the canyon’s edge or ponder human history with a short walk along the rim. As the weather warms up, the parks offerings include more and different types of tours.

You can tour another palatial home, the Rosson House Museum, located in Heritage Square Park in downtown Phoenix. Docents take you through the restored, two-story 1895 Victorian and tell the tale of Dr. Rosson, a physician and one-time mayor of Phoenix.

Tour Jerome – one of Arizona’s Spookiest Ghost Towns

Jerome, in North Central Arizona, has evolved from mining boomtown to ghost town to arts colony and, as such, offers plenty of historic buildings and sights. Walk the town on your own, or return in October, when the local historical society does its popular Ghost Walk, with costumed guides reenacting creepy mysteries under a moonlit sky.

Mine for Copper and Search for Ghosts in Bisbee

Another mining town, Bisbee, hugs the border of Mexico in southern Arizona, and is best known for its Queen Mine tour. Don a mining helmet and a yellow slicker, then hop into a small train that trundles you deep under the Mule Mountains for a look at what life was like for 18th- and 19th-century copper miners. Your guides? Retired miners.

You can also find aboveground tours in Bisbee, such as a walking tour with archivist and historian Michael London and the Old Bisbee Ghost Tour, which visits old haunts on weekend evenings. In the nearby “Town Too Tough To Die,” you can float along on the Tombstone's Gunfighter & Ghost Tour, which revisits shootouts and houses of ill repute.

If you have a sense of adventure and access to a four-wheel-drive, join the Arizona Historical Society’s Rio Colorado division for caravan-style treks to remote ghost towns and natural history sites around Yuma and the Colorado River. The rough roads and primitive conditions will no doubt make you appreciate just how far history has brought us.

(Updated by the Arizona Office of Tourism – 2009)

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