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Spring Travel | Globe Magazine

An Arizona vacation to please the whole family

From baseball to energy vortexes and rafting the Colorado River, a family of four hits some Southwestern highlights.

The surreal landscape of Lower Antelope Canyon.
The surreal landscape of Lower Antelope Canyon. Stan Grossfeld/Globe staff

IS IT POSSIBLE FOR EVERYONE in a family of four — ranging in age from 8 to ancient — to get what they want from a weeklong vacation in the Southwest?

My wife wants to feel the mysterious energy vortexes at Sedona and see the Grand Canyon hassle-free. My son wants to go to an Arizona Diamondbacks baseball game, and my daughter, she loves swimming. I’m up for anything, but hate crowds and waiting in line. Our goal is to drive from Phoenix to the Utah border and back in one week without civil war breaking out.

Tempe, just east of Phoenix, is a perfect place to start. The average highs in April are in the low 80s, and so our first priority is to get some pool time pronto. That’s why Phoenix Marriott Tempe at The Buttes (602-225 9000; marriott.com) is a good first stop. Less than 5 miles from Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport, it’s carved into a hillside and has dramatic views of the mountains and the city. Features include a hot tub, waterfalls, and a swimming pool with an underwater window for out-of-the-ordinary vacation photos. Our room, for $212 a night, is steps from the pool. (You may want to avoid booking rooms that face Interstate 10.)

There’s a bonus if you stay here during Cactus League training: The roof deck overlooks Diablo Stadium, spring home of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Nearby Scottsdale is very chichi, with perhaps more spas than Boston has Dunkin’ Donuts. Consider it gold dust meets gold card. Old Town is famous for its art galleries, Native American turquoise jewelry, leather goods, trendy boots, and cowboy hats. It’s also a foodie capital. For dinner, try the innovative Cowboy Ciao (480-946-3111, cowboyciao.com), and be sure to order the Stetson Chopped Salad. Not in the mood? Go for sushi at Ra (480-990-9256, rasushi.com)

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On the way back to Tempe, my son, Sam, and I detour to Phoenix to take in a Diamondbacks game at Chase Field. During the game, no more than 16 raindrops fall before they close the retractable roof. Sam gets hungry and orders the massive 18-inch D-Bat Dog. It’s a 3,000-calorie corn dog wrapped in six slices of bacon, filled with jalapenos and melted cheese, and dipped in batter and deep-fried ($25). It looks like a breaded candlepin served on a bed of potato chips, and it disappears in less than two innings.

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The author’s son, Sam, with a D-Bat Dog at Chase Field.
The author’s son, Sam, with a D-Bat Dog at Chase Field. Stan Grossfeld/Globe staff

The next morning, the four of us head north on Interstate 17 toward Sedona — an easy two-hour drive. We make a quick stop to see the prehistoric dwellings at Montezuma Castle, then drive through Red Rock State Park, where the fiery rocks rising against blue sky will take your breath away.

Once in Sedona, we head for the Amara Resort and Spa, a boutique hotel and an oasis of comfort nestled just off the main drag. Rooms at the Amara (928-282-4828, amararesort.com) start at $319, but we were able to get one for $265 by booking through a travel website. It includes complimentary yoga classes, a wine hour, and free shuttle service. After hiking, we snare one of those cushy outdoor canopy beds and relax by the saltwater pool.

Sedona’s natural beauty is seductive, and the town is a lure for those seeking an alternative universe. Here you will find every kind of yoga guru, psychic healer, tarot card reader, and crystal expert. In April, the desert flowers bloom, and their scent lifts the spirits.

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Our mission in Sedona is to find vortexes — energy points in the earth that are said to make your hair stand on end. Friends back home recommended that we search at a place called Bell Rock, a 4,919-foot butte that appears to rise straight out of the desert floor.

The author’s daughter at Bell Rock.
The author’s daughter at Bell Rock. Stan Grossfeld/Globe staff

We set out as a determined group, but it’s Stacey, my wife, who has the desire and the energy to complete the journey. Lying down on a plateau near the top, she waits, hoping to sense the vortex. At first she feels something, though afterward she wonders if maybe she was just dizzy from the strenuous climb. Later that day I also experience what I think is a vortex moment, but it turns out to be that second margarita at the Elote Cafe (928-203-0105, elotecafe.com), whose Mexican fare includes great smoked pork cheeks.

The whole family loves the open-air Pink Jeep Broken Arrow tour (pinkjeeptourssedona.com), Arizona’s equivalent of a Disney adventure ride (and a favorite of Red Sox second baseman and Arizona resident Dustin Pedroia). It takes you up to the top of the red hills that line the outskirts of downtown. Think of it as a roller coaster ride on boulders. At $99 per person ($84.15 for kids 12 and under), it’s a bit pricey, but unquestionably a highlight of our trip.

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Leaving Sedona, we take the scenic 89A north through Slide Rock State Park to the majestic Grand Canyon. (Tip: Find lodging inside the park. That way you can wake up before dawn, watch the sunrise paint the canyon, and be back in bed by 8 a.m. That’s what I call a great vacation moment.)

We had hoped to stay at the historic El Tovar Lodge, but it was booked months in advance. Only by checking the website every day were we able to snag a reservation at the Yavapai Lodge East (visitgrandcanyon.com/yavapai-lodge), a glorified Days Inn set in the pines. The mile-long walk from the lodge to the canyon rim is nicely offset by the affordable price: $124 per night.

The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is a crossroads of the world. Nearly 5 million people visit the national park annually. For us, the best moments are spontaneous, like watching the London-broil reds and browns of the canyon fade to black after sunset. (Remember to bring a flashlight). Or walking with a herd of mule deer that ignores us. Or eating at El Tovar and pretending Teddy Roosevelt is going to charge past the mounted moose head and into the dining room.

If it’s too crowded during the day, hike toward the Desert View Watchtower, where the crowds thin out but the beauty remains. At one point, Sam sits on a stone wall near the tower and dangles his legs into the Grand Canyon. He takes a 10-second video that becomes part of an Earth Day story on Snapchat that gets 7.7 million views!

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We want to see the canyon from the Colorado River, so that we can look back up at nature’s magnificent handiwork, but we don’t have the time to take a weeklong rafting trip. Instead, we journey north to the little town of Page and the base of the Glen Canyon Dam. There, we take a relaxing half-day raft trip (888-522-6644, raftthecanyon.com) on the river (adults $86, $76 for kids under 12; there’s also a $6-per-person National Park Service river use fee). The raft stops along the way so we can view petroglyphs carved into the rock, but the highlight is the amazing Horseshoe Bend, where the Colorado River makes a dramatic hairpin turn. Viewing the bend from above can be just as rewarding, and it’s free. Turn off Highway 89 (look for a sign between mile markers 544 and 545), then follow an easy hike to the edge of the canyon.

The Colorado River’s Horseshoe Bend.
The Colorado River’s Horseshoe Bend.Stan Grossfeld/Globe staff

A 10-minute detour on the way back to Page takes us to the world-famous Antelope Canyons. These magical slot canyons, located on Navajo land, are accessible only with Navajo guides ($20 per person, $12 for kids 12 to 7), and visitors can choose either the Upper or Lower Antelope. We choose the Lower Antelope because it’s larger and less crowded. Making your way through them is like being inside a giant seashell: orangey, smooth, serene, and sensuous. It’s also noticeably cooler just below the surface, which is a relief in the desert heat.

Back in Page, I discover the stunning 18-hole Lake Powell National Golf Course (lakepowellgolfing.com), which mixes incredible views with dirt-cheap prices ($52 for 18 holes with a cart, $24 for kids under 17). On the dramatic back nine, you’ll encounter the par-3 15th hole, dubbed “Cliffhanger” because its tee is perched 120 feet above the green. An ominous sign warns golfers: “Caution! Cliff Edge.”

We stay at the Courtyard Page for $219 per night (928-282-4828, marriott.com) and eat at the highly recommended Big John’s Texas BBQ (928-645-3300, bigjohnstexasbbq.com), a converted gas station with great barbecue and a country hoedown atmosphere. Try the half rack of smoked baby back ribs for $13.25.

The ride back to Phoenix includes a stop in Flagstaff for a stroll on old Route 66, also known as the “Mother Road.” It was once the main artery between Chicago and LA. It flourished at a time when families hopped into automobiles seeking adventure on the open road. “Get your kicks on Route 66” said the old Bobby Troup song, and for at least a week, everyone in my family got a kick out of the grandeur and beauty of Arizona.

MORE PHOTOS FROM ARIZONA:

Pool time in Tempe.
Pool time in Tempe. Stan Grossfeld/Globe staff/Boston Globe
Dad tees off at Lake Powell National Golf Course.
Dad tees off at Lake Powell National Golf Course. Sam Grossfeld/az80
Desert flowers after a quick morning rain.
Desert flowers after a quick morning rain. Stan Grossfeld/Globe staff
Mather Point in the Grand Canyon around sunset.
Mather Point in the Grand Canyon around sunset.Stan Grossfeld/Globe staff

Stan Grossfeld is an associate editor of the Boston Globe. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.