Adventures in a rock star state: From cowboys and Monkees to kayaks and hot air balloons, Arizona is a destination like no other

The stunning red rocks of Sedona (Getty Images)

THE Grand Canyon is, of course, the must-see marvel of Arizona.

But Sedona is a bit of a rock star in its own right. It has been voted one of America’s prettiest small towns and is a year-round magnet with its mild climate and seemingly endless good weather.

The equally big draw are the rich, red rocks surrounding it and we got a close look with Sedona Hummer Tours.

Soon we are bouncing along on a bone-rattling 90-minute trip up into the hills. This isn’t an outing for those of faint heart or indeed frail of body.

There are sections – well, most of it actually – where it looks impossible to proceed and while the hardy Hummer takes it all in its stride, you’re thrown around in your seat quite a bit.

It was well worth it, though, with the views from the top unforgettable.

Back down on the Main Street it was easy to see why Sedona is so popular.

It had a real homely feel and everyone had a smile and a welcoming word.

That warm welcome has brought moviemakers to the town for almost 100 years with many ’30s and ’40s Westerns filmed around the town.

You can follow the story of these and that of the town’s establishment in a series of display story boards on a pretty walk, with the rocks again proving a bewitching backdrop.

A good rest up at the Andante Inn (andanteinn.com) and we were ready for the final stretch of our highway adventure to Scottsdale.

Mountain Shadows was originally built in the late 1950s, a favourite haunt of the stars and even used for TV series, The Monkees.

It’s the sort of place – as we saw on one of the photos in the smart lobby – where Lucille Ball would arrive by helicopter.

The backdrop of Camelback Mountain is wonderful and the two pools were the perfect place to cool off before dinner at the classy, but unstuffy, Hearth 61.

Mountain Shadows is 10 minutes from Old Town Scottsdale and we got our bearings by hopping on one of the city’s free trolley buses.

It’s all low rise, with more than a bit of the old Wild West to it, although Scottsdale Waterfront with its craft shops, restaurants and bars is a $250 million development that’s become a real visitor attraction.

The brilliant Musical Instrument Museum has around 10,000 exhibits from all over the world and the must-sees include the piano on which John Lennon first played Imagine, a guitar Elvis was strumming when the Beatles popped in and Taylor Swift’s stage piano.

By 7am the next morning we’d had briefings, donned a life jacket and were off down the Lower Salt River on a kayak adventure.

Don’t worry about rapids, this is the River Mild, not River Wild, and the next two hours were a gentle, glorious paddle.

Well, that was after we’d managed to find the trees along the shore a few times – this kayaking lark was harder than it looked.

Once we had the knack, though, it was a sheer delight. Blue dragonflies darted across the surface of the water and we saw half a dozen wild horses lapping water at the shore.

If there had been an early rise for the kayaking, our final Arizona adventure needed an even earlier alarm – but, wow, was it worth it.

We’d booked a dawn hot air balloon trip.

Pilot Mike told us to clamber in to the wicker basket and, with a roar from the burner, we were aloft.

At times we reached 4600 feet, at other times we seemed to skim the hilltops. Drifting peacefully over the Sonoran Desert with just a few jackrabbits scurrying below was just unforgettable.

And as we landed, a champagne breakfast was the final fitting toast to a simply stunning state.

Facts

Mountain Shadows have rooms from £137 per night mountainshadows.com

Arizona Outback Adventures kayaking from £103 aoa-adventures.com

Hot Air Expeditions morning balloon flights from £354 hotairexpeditions.com

For Arizona details, see visitarizona.com

For USA details visittheusa.co.uk

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