The Grand Connection is AOT’s profile series designed to connect Arizona’s tourism industry through the experiences and insights of those who drive it. We’ll include leaders, but these profiles aren’t limited to only those in the executive office. We’re striving to bring you perspectives from all across our amazingly diverse industry. Everyone has something to share and an experience from which we all can learn.
THE GRAND CONNECTION: ROGER NAYLOR, TRAVEL WRITER
As a freelance travel writer focused on Arizona for more than two and a half decades, Roger Naylor’s descriptions of the amazing sights and experiences waiting to be discovered here have no doubt influenced a trip or two to the Grand Canyon State.
For someone who considers writing about Arizona his “dream job” and fondly thinks of the 48th state as his “big beautiful backyard,” it should come as no surprise that he’s authored hundreds of articles, books and visitors’ guides about the state. He fell in love with Arizona like many people do - by exploring it himself.
As a freelancer, Roger can chase his passions all over the state and remains alert for fresh ideas for new articles.
Even though Roger has spent a career finding eloquent words to describe Arizona’s beauty, he admits that finding the perfect ones is the ultimate challenge. Fortunately for us, since his efforts are a true labor of love, he’s dedicated to continuing trying!
What attracted you to become a travel writer focused on Arizona?
It felt like destiny. This is my dream job. I knew I was going to be a writer as a kid when I first read Mark Twain. And soon as I arrived in Arizona as a college student I knew this would be my home. For years I wrote humor articles for newspapers and magazines around the country. Meanwhile, I was living an incredible life—hiking, camping, and exploring every corner of Arizona. And I realized that’s what I wanted to write about!
So I wrote for Arizona Highways. Then I became the freelance travel writer for the Arizona Republic. Soon I was writing books, and writing for the Arizona Visitor Guide, Sedona Visitor Guide, Scottsdale Visitor Guide, and more. When Grand Canyon National Park turned 100 they had me write their official centennial guide. I write Arizona articles for publications like USA Today, The Guardian, and Country Magazine. I’m a travel writer who never travels. I just write about my big beautiful backyard.
During your multi-decade career, what do you consider to be your most impactful projects?
I’m very proud of all my books and I think they encourage people to explore Arizona in more depth. My book Arizona’s Scenic Roads and Hikes features all 27 officially designated scenic and historic highways in the state, paired with great hiking trails, and locally-owned places to eat and stay. My previous book, Arizona State Parks highlights each of our award-winning parks and their vivid blend of history and scenery, plus the small communities where they’re located. I like to get people delving into the marrow of Arizona because that’s where you find such surprises.
How challenging is it to find the right words to convey Arizona’s visual beauty and amazing experiences to readers?
It’s the ultimate challenge and one I’ll never quite master. The sun goes down at Grand Canyon setting the horizon ablaze and streaking the terraced formations in haunting colors and velvety shadows. I can describe the scene but I’ll never get it completely right. I hike in tall-cactus desert on a warm sun-splashed day in the dead of winter amid fields of golden poppies. I’ll never be able to express the joy that gives me. But it’s fun to keep trying. And if I get close enough to entice folks to experience these things for themselves, then I’ve done my job.
Given that you’ve written so many great pieces already, are there any past projects that you would want to explore further?
Yes, almost all of them. The more I learn about a place, the more fascinated I am. I want to keep exploring. Years ago, I traveled to Yuma to write about their riverfront development. That led to another story about their agritourism initiatives, which led to a story on their medjool dates and date shakes, which led to a story on their amazing food truck scene. While there, I discovered Castle Dome City and Ghost Town and wrote about them. Then I did a story on Yuma Proving Ground, where most military systems are tested. That’s the way it is where ever I go in Arizona. Beneath every story more tales are always lurking.
What do you look for when deciding where or what to write about next?
I chase my passions all over the state and try to be alert to fresh ideas. When I make a discovery I’m eager to share it. If I’m smitten with a park, town or tour, if I’m wowed by a new trail or restaurant, then that enthusiasm will come across on the page. I’m writing about Arizona, the great love of my life. If I’m not having fun, I’m doing something terribly wrong.
From your perspective, which opportunities should Arizona’s travel and hospitality industry pursue during the next 5 years?
Eco-tourism and sustainability will continue to be significant engines for the travel industry and Arizona should lead the way. Niche travel is increasingly important and that’s good news for Arizona because of our incredible diversity. We’re a world-class destination for hikers, mountain bikers, birders, kayakers, foodies, stargazers, history buffs, lovers of Native American art, and so on. Pursue all those groups and more.
Also, in five years—on November 11, 2026—Route 66 turns 100. Since we’re the state that saved 66, kicking off the preservation movement, and have the longest unbroken stretch of the Mother Road in existence, this should be ground zero for a huge celebration.
Which Arizona tourism experience (that you haven’t had yet) are you looking forward to doing?
I haven’t made it to Havasupai Falls yet. A series of exotic emerald waterfalls that look like they were plucked from a tropical island are hidden deep within the Grand Canyon on the Havasupai Indian Reservation. Of course, they’ve been closed to tourists during the pandemic and won’t reopen until at least 2022. The trip requires long-term planning, which is not my strong suit. But one of these days, I’ll feel the cooling spray of those magical cascades.