For the 50+ Traveler

A former software development project manager, Donna Janke now devotes her time to travel and writing. She gets excited when she discovers delightful attractions in unexpected places. She finds fascinating stories everywhere, be it in her own backyard or halfway across the globe, and loves to share those stories through her writing. When not on the road, she can be found at home on the Canadian prairies. More of her stories can be found on her blog Destinations Detours and Dreams.

Arizona evokes images of deserts, mountains and canyons. You may be surprised to discover wine trails, flowers, and waterways.

1. Scottsdale Waterfront

Palm trees line pedestrian walkways on either side of a canal in Scottsdale's Waterfront area. Here you'll find public art, fountains, restaurants, outdoor cafés, specialty shops, cultural events, and high-rise residential buildings.

The Soleri Bridge and Plaza, by renowned artist and architect Poalo Soleri, adds a dramatic flair to the east end of the Waterfront near Scottsdale Road. This cable-stay pedestrian bridge is anchored by two 64-foot tall pylons. Not only do the pylons look impressive, they form a solar calendar with two smaller pylons on the Plaza. Every day at solar noon, the sun casts a shadow through the six-inch gap between the sets of pylons. The shadow is longest at winter solstice, while shadow is cast at summer solstice.

As you linger in a cafe overlooking the canal or walk the pedestrian pathways, you may want to consider the connection the modern Waterfront has to the ancient past. That connection runs deeper than the presence of a solar calendar. The canal is actually part of an ancient, sophisticated system of waterways built by the Hohokam Indians, who lived in what is now the greater Phoenix Valley between 300 BC and AD 1450. When settlers came to the Valley in the late 1800s, they dug out the overgrown canals, built a new canal head and used the system to irrigate their crops.

Scottsdale waterfront
Scottsdale Waterfront. Donna Janke.

2. Arizona Wine Trails

Arizona's world-class wines have been served at the White House and at James Beard dinners. A region's weather and terrain affect the taste of its wine. Due to its primarily dry climate, Arizona experiences erratic swings in temperature between midday and midnight. This Diurnal Effect produces bold and flavorful grapes.

The state had three major wine-growing regions.

Unique rocky soils and stressful growing conditions force vines at the dozen wineries in northern Arizona near Sedona and Cottonwood to develop less abundant but more intensely flavorful fruit. The nearby Verde Valley Wine trail winds its way through red rock mountains, cottonwoods, and quaint historic towns.

Meanwhile in southeastern Arizona, on the eastern edge of the Sonoran Desert, more than a dozen wineries on the Wilcox Wine Trail produce high quality grapes too. This is cowboy country with a long agricultural history.

Located an hour south of Tucson, Sonoita is Arizona's only official American Viticultural Area (AVA) - a designated wine-growing region distinguished by geographic features. The mountain grasslands of the Sonoita/Elgin area are home to fourteen wineries and vineyards.

Each of these trails makes for a pleasant day trip. You can also sample Arizona wines in urban settings, with five wineries/tasting rooms in the Phoenix area and two in Tucson.

Use the maps provided by The Arizona Wine Growers Association to explore the wineries of Arizona.

Arizona Sonoita area winery patio overlooking mountain grasslands
Charron Vineyards patio, Sonoita area. Donna Janke

3. Lighthouses

You may not expect to find lighthouses in a landlocked, desert state, but Lake Havasu City is actually home to more lighthouses than any other U.S. city. The fully functional lighthouses are one-third scale replicas of famous East Coast, West Coast, and Great Lakes originals.

Lake Havasu was created in 1938 when the Parker Dam was built on the Colorado River. In 2000, a group of Lake Havasu City boaters formed a Lighthouse Club to address the need for navigation aids on Lake Havasu's twists and bends. The first lighthouse, a replica of West Quoddy Lighthouse in Lubec, Maine, was dedicated in June 2002. Today there are twenty-four others in operation.

The lighthouses on the west side of the lake are replicas of West Coast lighthouses, while those on the opposite bank take their inspiration from the East Coast; lighthouses on islands are based on models from the Great Lakes. As per coast guard navigational regulations, lighthouses on the west coast use a green beacon and those on the east coast use red.

A map of lighthouse locations is available at Lake Havasu City Visitor Center. Approximately half are accessible by land, while the others can only be seen from the lake. Sunset Charter and Tour Co. offers two-hour narrated boat tours of the lighthouses.

Lake Havasu lighthouse replica
Lake Havasu replica lighthouse. Flickr / Dorian Wallendercredit

4. London Bridge Isn't Falling Down

It may seem odd that you have to go to Arizona to see London Bridge, but them's the breaks. The bridge that spanned the Thames River in London, England between 1831 and 1968 is now in Lake Hvasu City in western Arizona. This bridge was the second replacement for the twelfth-century bridge that spawned the nursery rhyme "London Bridge is Falling Down." Unfortunately, replacement #2 also had issues, and began sinking about an inch every eight years. In 1967, the City of London placed it on the market.

Lake Havasu City founder Robert P. Mulloch bought it up. As the bridge was disassembled, each block was numbered so that it could be reconstructed after it was shipped overseas. A mile-long channel was dredged under the bridge, which was initially built over dry land. Original lamp posts, made from cannons once belonging to Napoleon Bonaparte, light causeway.

An "English village" along the river underneath the bridge contains lanes, shops, and restaurants. The Lake Havasu Visitor Information Center conducts walking tours explaining the history of the bridge.

London Bridge in Lake Havasu
London Bridge in Lake Havasu. Donna Janke

5. Roses in the Desert

Nearly 9,000 rosebushes fill a garden on the grounds of Mesa Community College in Mesa, Arizona. The garden, a collaborative effort between the college and Mesa-East Valley Rose Society, is open to the public free of charge every day.

The colors and scents of a plethora of roses soothe you as you walk through the garden. There are tea roses, Floribunda roses, Grandiflora roses and many hybrid varieties. Signs in the bed identify the various varieties. The Julia Child yellow rose looks like butter, while the Wild Blue Yonder rose is a deep reddish-purple and the lightly fragrant Bob Hope rose exudes a cheerful red. Signposts in several places identify a phone number and a stop number. If you call the phone number and enter the stop number, you can listen to a recorded message providing more background on that particular area of the garden.

The rose garden is situated along Southern Avenue at the northern end of Mesa Community College, 1833 W. Southern Avenue in Mesa. According to the Rose Garden web site, the best times to visit are in late March, April, May, or June, and November or December.

bed of rose and orange roses
Mesa Community College Rose Garden. Donna Janke

While there are plenty of conventional attractions to draw visitors to Arizona, we hope we've convinced you that there's more to the Sweetheart State than meets the eye.