The Coast News Group
A five-hour drive east of Phoenix and at an altitude of 8,500 feet-plus, the White Mountains provide relief from Arizona’s three-digit summer temps. The area has many scenic hiking trails and camping sites, and is typically uncrowded. Photo by E’Louise Ondash
ColumnsHit the Road

Arizona: ‘Worst’ place to live, a great place to visit

Oh, dear. Arizona got slammed — again — by business channel CNBC.

For the second year in a row, the network’s annual study put the Grand Canyon State at the top of the list of “worst places in the country to live.” 

The reasons: poor air quality (the famous dry heat makes for greater air pollution); low health resources; low inclusiveness; and high crime. In addition: Arizona’s less-than-stellar education resources and quality rank last among the 50 states, according to other studies.

A few of my couple-dozen relatives who live in Arizona — the teacher; retired Arizona State University faculty member; a politically active Army vet; a city employee; and a married, gay business owner and neighborhood activist, to name a few — will agree with these rankings for various reasons.

However, this is a travel column, so I’ll forgo that discussion. Despite my family’s displeasure with the state’s social attitudes, my relatives have put down roots, like their neighborhoods and have cemented social circles.

Most also are outdoor enthusiasts who love Arizona in the late fall, winter and early spring. Likewise for my husband and me. We head to Arizona several times a year, always seeing family but saving time to explore, because the state has been and still is a great place to visit.

Arizona has a lot to offer visitors — attractions and experiences that go way beyond swank desert resorts.

The town of Jerome, a historic mining town in the hills two hours north of Phoenix, boasts a set of resident ghosts. It’s also a favorite of artists who helped revive the town several years ago. Photo by E’Louise Ondash

Here are a few of the lesser-known Arizona gems we’ve discovered through the years:

The White Mountains — top of my list because, at 8,500 feet-plus, the area is beautiful, cool, green and absurdly uncrowded. First-class hiking, camping, birding and easy-to-spot wild-animals.

Southeast Arizona — an area that includes the historic mining town of Bisbee and the Copper Queen Mine; the wondrous Kartchner Caverns; Arizona Wine Country (yes, there is such a thing); Kitt Peak National Observatory (temporarily closed because of the pandemic); and the artsy, colorful town of Tubac.

Jerome — a picturesque, historic mining/ghost town hanging from the side of a mountain.

• Urban parks — fine desert trails and photo-worthy landscape within city boundaries: South Mountain Park/Preserve in Phoenix. More than 16,000 acres, three mountain ranges and 50 miles of trails; McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale. Demonstrates the phrase “lush desert” throughout its 35,000 acres. Get up close and personal with magnificent saguaros, which grow only in the Sonoran Desert. Papago Park in Phoenix. Massive sandstone buttes are the backdrop for many and mostly easy hiking/biking trails.

Salt River — a 200-mile river that provides water for the 4 million-plus residents of the Valley of the Sun, also is the source of many recreational activities. Most notable: kayaking and tubing adventures on the lazy stretch that flows through Mesa (40 minutes east of downtown Phoenix), suitable for even beginners. Good chance to see wild horses grazing in the river. Who knew?

Tuzigoot and Montezuma Castle national monuments — located 22 miles from each other and less than two hours north of Phoenix. These well-preserved pueblo ruins and prehistoric cliff dwellings tell of the culture and life of Arizona’s early peoples. Both easily accessible and thought-provoking.

Dark Sky locations  — 19 designated Dark Sky communities and parks ideal for stargazing. Includes Petrified Forest and Grand Canyon.

In case you were wondering, the other nine “worst states to live in,” according to CNBC’s study, are Texas, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Missouri, Louisiana, New Mexico, Indiana, Tennessee and Nevada. Don’t shoot me; I’m just the messenger.

For more photos and discussion, visit