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The closest town to Monument Valley is Kayenta, a cluster of gas stations, motels and restaurants at the junction of Hwys 160 and 163. Like Monument Valley, Kayenta is part of the sprawling Navajo Reservation, at 27,000 square miles the country's largest reservation, which spills across state lines into Utah and New Mexico. Hwy 163 leads to Monument Valley and the 17-mile loop around it.

The Monument Valley loop ($5) is a dusty, bumpy dirt road that winds beneath the sandstone formations, most named for the objects or animals they resemble, from the Mittens to Elephant Butte. Budget about an hour and a half for the drive.

Patagonia-Sonoita Scenic Road: For the birds (and wine)
Arizona's Mountain Empire - tucked between the Mexican border and the Santa Rita and Patagonia mountains - is a breezy haven for bird-watchers and wine-tasters. Hwy 83, the road running through the region, is a scenic alternative to I-19 between Nogales and Tucson.

From Nogales, pick up Hwy 83 north. The first stop for bird-watchers is Patagonia Lake State Park. Hawks, eagles, turkeys and great blue herons have all been spotted here.

Adobe-lined Patagonia is the best place for burgers, Mexican food or Elvis-inspired pizza before venturing north to the wineries. Several tasting rooms are clustered on Elgin Road 20 miles east of Hwy 83. For an extended drive that takes in more bird habitats and a ghost town, drive east on Hwy 82 until you hit Hwy 80, the road to Tombstone. Back in Sonoita, the original drive continues north through oak trees and grasslands. If real life beckons, leave swaying grasslands behind, finishing this bird-watching boondoggle at I-10 with a short drive west to Tucson.

Amy Balfour is co-author of Lonely Planet's new, fully-updated Arizona travel guide.

 

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© 2011 Lonely Planet. All rights reserved. The article ‘Arizona’s top five scenic drives’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.

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