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What to do in Arizona

Updated: Sep 16, 2023

Grand Canyon, Oljato Monument Valley, Horseshoe Bend, Saguaro National Park. Experiences, information, mass tourism.

cactus flower
Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park

cactus and sun
Saguaro National Park

You know, when you're on a trip, it's inevitable, there are always places or things you hadn't planned on your itinerary and luckily, otherwise, traveling would lose all its meaning? Saguaro National Park is one of them for me. It was in Arizona that I saw my first cactus growing in the wild. I had only seen them in botanical gardens. I immediately loved this landscape so special for me, Canadian! I consider them as cute little animals, when I know very well that they are plants. The national park is truly an extraordinary place. I thought I would have to walk for hours to see a cactus, but it's actually a real forest, it's even the opposite, you have to be careful not to step on one of them. The park protects, among other things, one of the icons of the American West, the giant saguaro. It all makes sense when the sun goes down and automatically immerses us in a western movie.

I loved watching the shadows during the night of these gigantic plants, down to the small details of its defined thorns. It is also a place where you can observe various insects and the flowers of these original plants. After visiting this park, you are ready for the Tatacoa Desert in Colombia, where the cacti there are twice that size.

Gilbert Ray Campground

Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend  canyon with river
Horseshoe Bend

One of the most popular viewpoints in Arizona, its observatory is so conveniently located that sometimes I was asked if I had a drone for those particular shots. But drones are prohibited. It is indeed a popular vantage point because anyone can admire the beauty of this natural formation and get a beautiful shot.

Filming NOMADES was a pilot project for me and where I discovered what filming travel films was like. For the first time in my life, I was trying to do my job while thousands of tourists circled around me, some even placed themselves without embarrassment directly in front of my lens, as if I was not there. In the United States it was rather a difficult shoot because of that. Horseshoe Bend offers an incredible vantage point of the Colorado River and its geography…as well as groups of tourists eager to snap a photo. I spent a few minutes observing this phenomenon, which I did not realize before deciding to become a travel filmmaker. Fortunately on this site, there is enough space for everyone to have their point of view. This is not the case everywhere in the world, where queues are created to have the perfect location for a photograph.

I have a feeling that privilege is likely to change, as Instagrammable places like Horseshoe Bend are falling victim to their beauty. Actions must be taken to protect them and also protect these tourists from themselves, especially in places like these, or someone reckless and naive could kill themselves trying to take the best selfie. As far as I remember, there was no fence to prevent people from getting too close to the ravine.

Grand Canyon National Park

grand canyon with flying bird
Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is the visual definition of time itself. When we understand that it was the erosion of the Colorado River that created this landscape, we imagine that these lands must have been a day of a totally different view. It should have been called in reality "the gigantic canyon", or something like that. The qualifier "big" does not do it justice. Its depth, seen from above, is on average 1300 meters. Its length: 450 km. Its width varies between 5 and 30 km! The Grand Canyon is the spouse of mother nature. It is also a silent and mysterious historian, which opens up to us only if we are fully interested in it. The strata, once studied by geologists, tell the story of the continent over 1.7 billion years.Studies say that this natural ancestor began to form just shortly after the age of the dinosaurs, i.e. 65 million years ago years, due to a succession of lava and water erosion and violent earthquakes. It is however not the largest canyon in the world, but the Americans have certainly known how to arrange the points of sight to admire it since its inauguration in 1919. Nobody remains indifferent in front of this sight.I understood why it is classified in the world heritage of UNESCO by filming the sunset in Mather Point.

Grand canyon
Grand Canyon

If you plan to visit more than one national park in the United States

Money-saving tip: get the ''America the beautiful'' pass:

Please note that only national parks are included in this offer.

Which parks are included in the ''America the Beautiful'' pass?

Oljato Monument Valley

3 huge pillar in the desert oljato
Oljato Monument Valley

Straddling Arizona and Utah, this park is probably the most iconic western panorama in the United States. I have lost count of the number of films where I have seen this plan. John Ford was particularly in love with it, having used it for the first time in 1939. Since then, the whole world has imagined the Western United States on this unique view.

Monument Valley had interested me in relation to my film because of the counter-culture feature film Easy Rider, an iconic work from the hippie period. It depicts characters also venturing on an American motorcycle road trip. The writers wanted to stage the reality of the teenagers of 1960, its problems and tensions.

Oljato Monument Valley
Oljato Monument Valley

Obviously, this place is much more than that. It is mainly a natural beauty, a gift of nature. Oljato will remain etched in your memory forever. These particular rock formations are located on the Navajo Tribal Reservation. The largest sandstone mound reaches 300 meters.

During your visit, you can also encourage the Native American economy by buying handicrafts. This is a great opportunity to become aware of the tribes that live in this sacred region. They urge you to take advantage of this beautiful reddish land and are open enough to share it with you. We can feel in these places that nature dominates everything, despite its tourist attraction.

These rocks are alive, their shadows moving with the sun during the day. West, East Mittens and Merrick Butte seem to have fallen there by chance, forming a perfect triangle, standing like individuals talking. A mystical place that has probably inspired several Native American legends and shouldn't be avoided on your American road trip.

Leave everything and travel, become a nomad. Many people dream of it, but many also fear doing it. Be inspired by the adventures of an independent travel filmmaker who challenged herself to make 10 travel films around the world and become a full-time nomad.

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