5 Arizona road trips for the casual adventurer

All paved roads, no hard hikes and each is within 2 hours of Phoenix.

Sometimes you just get the urge to hit the road and take a drive.

Or, maybe you’re hosting relatives or guests and you get the urge to tell them to hit the road. Just for a little while.

Either way, we’ve got you covered. Here are five day trips within easy driving distance of Phoenix.

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Mission San Xavier del Bac

The history and beauty of this church on the Tohono O’odham Reservation about 10 miles south of Tucson are well worth the drive.

The mission was founded in 1692 and the current church was built between 1783 and 1797. An earthquake in 1887 and a lightning strike in 1939 have damaged the structure but ongoing restoration efforts have kept it functioning.

The mission is a classic example of Spanish Colonial architecture and is the oldest intact European structure in Arizona, according to its website. It was part of New Spain and Mexico before the land where it sits became part of the United States in 1854.

The museum features a 20-minute video that explains the history and purpose of the mission. The video offers a good base of information for a self-guided tour through the rest of the museum. There is no admission charge for the museum, which is open from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.

After the museum check out the mission’s gift shop, which is open most days from 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

Masses and most other church functions are open to the public. Keep in mind that the church is still an active parish serving its community.

Details: 1950 W. San Xavier Road, Tucson. Free. 520-294-2624,

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Montezuma Castle National Monument/Montezuma Well

This five-story structure in an alcove at Montezuma Castle National Monument was built by Sinagua Indians. (Photo: The Republic)

The first question likely to come to mind when viewing this incredible site is: How on Earth did they do this?

After learning a little more about the structure high in an alcove you’ll probably ask: Why is it named after Montezuma?

The monument is a 20-room, five-story dwelling constructed in a limestone bluff. It was built by the Sinagua people more than 800 years ago and believed to be abandoned about 200 years after that. Early European explorers who came across the site thought it were built by the Aztecs, which is how it came to be named after the famed Aztec leader.

President Theodore Roosevelt declared it a national monument in 1906. You can learn the site’s history in the museum and visitor center, and there are frequent ranger programs, guided walks and cultural events.

A few miles northeast of the castle is Montezuma Well, a flooded limestone sinkhole fed by underground springs. The Sinagua people used the water there to irrigate crops and you can still see some of their dwellings and irrigation systems.

Details: Take Interstate 17 north to Exit 289 in the Verde Valley. Head east about a half mile, then turn north onto Montezuma Castle Road. 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. $10, free for age 15 and younger. No charge at Montezuma Well. 928-567-3322,

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This city possesses an otherworldly beauty and that’s not just because of its supposed mystic properties.

Millions of people have come to Sedona just to check out one of the many vortex sites. These vortexes are areas that are said to be swirling with the Earth’s energy, as evidenced by twisted tree trunks and other signs of power.

If you’re not into that kind of thing, chances are you will still be in awe of the sights. The area is awash in scenic hiking trails and other recreation opportunities. A few easy trails are Bell Rock, the West Fork of Oak Creek and Airport Mesa.

If you tire of the scenery, there are plenty of other things to do. Explore the variety of shops Uptown and in the Tlaquepaque Arts Crafts Village. When you get hungry, restaurants serve everything from coffee to quick snacks to high-end dining.

Traffic can be an issue, particularly on weekends, but if you’re looking for a quick getaway with a dramatic change in scenery, Sedona is a good option.

Details: Take Interstate 17 north to Exit 298 and head west on State Route 179.

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Superstition Mountain Museum

A church at Superstition Mountain Museum glows under a blustery Superstition Mountain Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013 in Apache Junction. (Photo: David Kadlubowski/The Republic, David Kadlubowski/The Republic)

Even if you’re not interested in the legend of the Lost Dutchman of the Superstition Mountains or the story of an abandoned gold mine, you’ll enjoy this museum.

In addition to the story of Jacob Waltz, the Lost Dutchman, and his gold mine (don’t bother looking for it, it’s not there), you’ll learn about the rocks, minerals and creatures (past and present) of the area. And about the Native peoples who have called the region home.

But did you know there used to be a movie studio in the area? Apacheland Movie Ranch near Gold Canyon specialized in westerns. Actors such as Jack Nicholson, Steve McQueen, Stella Stevens and Elvis Presley made pictures there.

What is now known as the Elvis Chapel (it was featured in the movie “Charro!”) was moved from Apacheland to the Superstition Mountain Museum grounds after surviving two fires. A barn and gallows from Apacheland are also at the museum.

If you’re in a contemplative mood, walk a labyrinth on the grounds. And starting Nov. 19, you can check out the model train displays of the Superstition Mountain Museum Railroad.

Details: 4087 N. Apache Trail, Apache Junction. 9 a.m.-4 p.m. daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. $5, $4 for age 55 and older, free for children 17 and younger with a paid adult. 480-983-4888,

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Verde Valley wine country

For the Arizona Wine Growers Association / Verde Valley Wine Consortium, it’s about building an economic base in the rural areas of our state. Or as they put it, becoming a “catalyst for transformative change” in Cochise, Santa Cruz and Yavapai counties through specialty agriculture and other needs of an emerging wine industry that is already attracting tourists to rural Arizona. (Photo: Center for the Future of Arizona)

By now it’s no secret that Arizona is home to some impressive vintners.

Much of the state’s wine production takes place in Willcox and the Sonoita-Elgin area of southern Arizona. But the Verde Valley has several wineries and numerous tasting rooms.

Tasting rooms line Main Street in Old Town Cottonwood, and there are a brewery and distillery if your taste runs more to beer or liquor.

The Verde Valley Wine Trail offers a map to seven wineries and eight tasting rooms in Clarkdale, Cornville, Cottonwood, Jerome and Sedona.

Be sure to have a designated driver if you plan to return the same day. Cottonwood has plenty of restaurants and some tasting rooms also offer food, so treat your driver to a meal. Or at least buy them a bottle or two to enjoy once they get home.

Details: Take I-17 north to Exit 287 at Camp Verde, then head west on SR 260.

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