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Visits to Arizona are generally limited to the northwestern corner of the state that encompasses one of the great natural wonders of the world, the awe-inspiring Grand Canyon. Although a major tourist attraction, it need not be the only reason to visit this ruggedly beautiful state.
Arizona has 27 State Parks and numerous natural wonders that provide access to a wide variety of activities, fauna and flora, and landscapes. The Sonoran Desert and Sagauro National Park feature typical desert scenery, with canyons, red cliffs, and sandstone pinnacles, coyotes and rattlesnakes, and the giant multi-armed cacti that typify the Arizonian landscape. The Painted Desert and the magnificent sandstone spires of Monument Valley in the northeast, the spectacular Red Rock Country of Sedona, and the mountains and forests of Flagstaff, are just some of Arizona's special natural attractions.
The desert is also home of the Wild West, the land of cowboys and Indians, prospectors, gamblers and dusty towns. The character of the Old West is epitomised in the old mining town of Tombstone, the site of the famous shootout at the OK Corral, where today staged gunfights, swinging saloon doors, and old wooden buildings bring to life the harsh cowboy past for visitors.
But Arizona is not only about cowboys and natural wonders. Two of the state's biggest metropolises are in the desert: the cities of Phoenix and Tucson, offering 21st-century comforts such as luxurious resorts, shopping plazas and golf courses. Accompanied by contiual air-con, these sprawling metropolises are oases in the desert. The region's continuous sunshine and dry desert air have attracted thousands of people with its restorative properties and expensive health spas, and made it one of the most popular places to retire in the US.
Outside the cities, the Native Americans who have lived in Arizona for centuries make up the majority of the population, and more than a third of the land is encompassed within Indian Reservations. Northeast Arizona is known as Indian country, where the Navajo and the traditional Hopi tribal groups reside, and is where the beautiful Canyon de Chelly, and numerous Ancestral Puebloan sites are to be found in the cliff walls and valleys. The Apache live in the southeastern mountains and were the last tribal group to concede to the US government. For those interested in Native American heritage Arizona is the ideal travel destination.
Arizona is home to some of America's most striking natural landscapes, making it one of the best road tripping destinations in a country. The iconic Route 66, or the Main Street of America as it became known, still attracts droves of travellers through Arizona. The state boasts some renowned natural sights, including Saguaro National Park, the Petrified Forest National Park, and the famous Grand Canyon National Park.
Unique physical features in Arizona include Monument Valley, setting the scene for many a cowboy movie; Cathedral Rock and the other peaks that form the backdrop to the desert town of Sedona; the 40,000-year-old Barringer Crater, the best preserved impact crater on Earth; the Canyon de Chelly, full of otherworldly sandstone formations; and the breathtakingly blue Havasu Falls of the Grand Canyon.
The surprisingly colourful desert landscapes are interrupted by Wild West-style towns, old mining centres, and Native American reserves. The old world charm is punctuated by the popular, sprawling cities of Phoenix and Tucson, full of resorts and top-quality modern amenities. Phoenix and Tucson, as well as charming Sedona, are full of interesting sightseeing attractions and act as the natural travel hubs for visitors to the state.
Taliesin West was legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright's winter home and school from 1937 until he died in 1959, aged 91. Today the facility can be visited as the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation with tours providing a general introduction to Wright and his hugely influential theories of architecture. The building has been constructed with the natural stone of the region, a reflection of Wright's philosophy that local materials should be used in design wherever possible. There are a range of tours available to suit your level of interest: for the rookie, a basic introductory tour is recommended, while devotees will want the behind-the-scenes exposé.
The Desert Botanical Garden gets high ratings not only for the size and range of its collection, but also the inventive ways visitors can immerse themselves in the desert. With about 21,000 plants representing 139 species, the Desert Botanical Garden was founded in 1939 to provide a fascinating and colourful introduction to the ethnobotany of the region. A highlight is the Plants and People of the Sonoran Desert Trail which allows you to make your own yucca-fibre brush and grind corn as the Native Americans once did. Over November and December the gardens are lit up at night by beautiful luminarias (candles inside small bags), meaning plenty of worthy photography material.
The Heard Museum is home to America's finest collection of Native American art, making this an essential attraction for visitors looking to gain an understanding of the country's original inhabitants. In total there are more than 39,000 works of cultural and fine art ranging across textiles, katsina dolls, pottery, jewellery, baskets, cradleboards, paintings, and sculpture. There are about 10 galleries with dynamic and imaginatively curated exhibitions. Don't miss the annual Guild Indian Fair and Market (March) which includes traditional dance performances along with arts and crafts. The museums signature exhibitions are 'Home: Native People in the Southwest' and 'Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories'.
The University of Arizona Art Museum is situated on campus as part of the Edward J. Gallagher Memorial Collection. It is home to an impressive permanent collection including works by Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, and Mark Rothko. The museum houses the C. Leonard Pfeiffer Collection of American paintings and the Samuel H. Kress Collection of European works, from the 14th to the 19th century. Temporary exhibitions are also hosted by the museum so check the official website to see what's available during your visit. The University of Arizona campus is also the location of the Center for Creative Photography, displaying various works by leading artists such as Edward Weston and Ansel Adams. Lovers of art in all forms will find a visit rewarding while in Tucson.
At the Tucson Rodeo Parade Museum, pioneer artefacts and a recreated Western Main Street represent what Tucson looked like, and what it had to offer in the way of businesses and services, back in the old days of the Wild West. The museum also has an inventory of about 150 vehicles, with everything from small buggies to wagons and coaches on display. The museum hosts the Tucson Rodeo Parade each February, which is great fun for those in the area at the time. Outside of Rodeo Week, the museum is sadly only open between January and March, with guided tours available daily at 10am and 1pm. There are hopes to extend the opening season once sufficient funds have been raised.
This historic Spanish mission in the Tohono O'odham Nation Reservation is located 10 miles (16km) south of the city (a 20-minute drive) and was founded by Father Kino in the 1660s. The present church, a remarkable building, dates back to the 18th century and remains the oldest intact European structure in Arizona, housing a number of impressive artefacts and murals. It is a National Historic Landmark and is still an active place of worship, where visitors can attend services should they please - check the website for a service schedule and note that the church may be closed to sightseeing tourists during times of worship. The mission has a small museum, which showcases artefacts and multimedia presentations on its history.
The DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun is an iconic Tucson landmark located at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains. Established by the famous artist, Ettore DeGrazia, the property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and features a museum of DeGrazia's work and an adobe chapel, called the Mission in the Sun, as well as striking murals, gardens, and the artist's home and grave site. Apart from the works displayed in the gallery, the property is strewn with sculptures and art installations by the artist renowned for having captured the spirit of the Southwest. Free public tours are available, but must be scheduled in advance. Check the official website listed below for details.
Trail Dust Town is built on the site of a 1950s Western movie set and is home to a vintage 1920s Fiesta del Presidio carousel and a museum dedicated to Western cavalry and dragoon military units. Designed as a replica of a 19th-century Western town, it has Old West souvenir shops, galleries, and restaurants, as well as a custom leather store, wooden sidewalks, a central plaza, shooting gallery, and a C.P. Huntington train. Hosting Wild West stunt shows and an annual cowboy show in late February, Trail Dust Town is a great place to visit, especially if you are travelling with kids.
The Tucson Botanical Gardens is a major attraction, and not just for the rich collection of cacti and desert wildflowers. An educational walk highlights the history of the native Tohono O'odham Indians and the work local scientists have done to preserve native seeds. Be sure to visit the traditional Mexican-American neighbourhood garden ( ), and relax on the shaded restaurant patio. The gardens are open seven days a week, all year, and provide a pleasant sample of the desert vegetation of Arizona as well as a taste of the indigenous culture. There are about 17 speciality gardens, as well as rotating exhibitions, and tours of the gardens are available.
Tom Philabaum is well known as one of America's foremost glass artists, with exhibits throughout the Western world. His gallery showcases and justifies this reputation with examples of his own work, also exhibiting over 100 other nationally and internationally celebrated glass artists. Aside from viewing the extraordinary exhibits, visitors are also welcome to watch glassblowing in progress and learn more about the craft in the studio. The gallery has been a great favourite on the Tucson art scene for more than 30 years and travellers interested in art will relish a visit to this creative gallery. It is also an exciting place to buy souvenirs.
The Valley of the Moon was designed to stimulate the imagination of children and to awaken creativity and spirituality in all visitors. Delve into a fantasy land in the desert, with historic Western sites in a magical setting, created by George Phar Legler in the 1920s. Mineralised rock cliffs, caves, pools, and garden miniatures have merged with tropic and desert flora to make what Legler called the 'Fantasy Touch of Three', referring to the worlds of Edgar Allen Poe, Lewis Carroll, and Robert Louis Stevenson. There are tours, shows, and a gift shop on site. The Valley of the Moon also hosts events ranging from weddings to concerts to yoga retreats. Although this unusual attraction may not be to everybody's taste, those travelling with children will no doubt find a visit rewarding.
Located surprisingly close to downtown Phoenix, the Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park is the site of the remains of a 1,500-year-old Hohokam village. The site is a National Historic Landmark and the largest preserved archaeological site in the region. Mysteriously abandoned around 1450, all that remains of the village is enclosed in a small museum with artefacts and exhibits showing daily life in the settlement. Hiking trails wind around the ruins and replicas themselves, so visitors should come prepared for the hot weather of southern Arizona. The site hosts the Pueblo Grande Indian Market each December, featuring more than 250 local artisans. For those who miss the market, there is a museum shop open year-round.
Arizona has mild winters and hot summers, with thunderstorms during the summer months between July and September. Extremes in temperature occur between day and night throughout the state, particularly in the desert areas where daytime temperatures of over 125°F (52°C) have been recorded.
During winter, temperatures average about 70°F (21°C), dropping to below freezing in the desert valleys at night. Summer temperatures vary from 80°F (27°C) during the day to 40°F (4°C) at night. Snow falls in the mountains, but not in the desert areas, and the mild temperatures in the southern desert attract many tourists in winter.
The official currency is the US Dollar (USD), which is divided into 100 cents. Only major banks exchange foreign currency. ATMs are widespread and credit cards are widely accepted. Banking hours are Monday to Friday 9am to 6pm
English is the official language of Arizona. Other languages include Spanish and Navajo
Tombstone is probably the most famous town in the Wild West, attracting thousands of tourists with its old Western-style buildings, saloons, stagecoach rides, gunslingers, dusty streets, and shootout re-enactments. Many Hollywood movies have been shot here against the rugged mountain backdrop. Originally a silver boomtown in 1877, it rose to notoriety in 1881 when lawmen Wyatt Earp, his two brothers, and Doc Holliday confronted a band of outlaws in a gunfight. This event has come to epitomise the spirit of the Wild West and the star attraction of the town is the O.K. Corral, one of southern Arizona's most visited tourist sites. There is a staged 30-second shootout each day at 2pm, and exhibits relating to the event inside the corral. The Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park features an old courtroom where several renowned trials took place, as well as some excellent exhibits, including alternative versions of the O.K. Corral shootout and a museum dedicated to the Tombstone Epitaph, the oldest newspaper in Arizona. Although a classic tourist-trap town, with souvenir shops and restaurants galore, many people love the Wild West atmosphere and the rugged setting of Tombstone, and relish the chance to play cowboy for a day.
A mile deep, 277 miles (446km) long, and up to 18 miles (29km) wide, the breath-taking grandeur of the Grand Canyon is so impressive that words simply cannot do it justice. One of the great natural wonders of the world, it was formed by the cutting action of the Colorado River over millions of years. The hard rock formations survive as great cliffs, pinnacles and buttes, and the different layers of rock span a range of colours: from purple, fiery-red and pastel-pink, to yellow, brown, grey and soft tones of blue.
Whether by foot or on horseback, from a plane or helicopter, aboard a raft down the mighty Colorado River or by merely gazing in awe from the rim, the canyon's seemingly infinite depths can be experienced in a variety of ways and is a sight not to be missed however one chooses to see it. The park receives hordes of visitors from around the world, who never fail to be transfixed by the sculpted rock shapes, the shifting colours that change with the light, and a tiny glimpse of the Colorado River far below.
The Grand Canyon National Park comprises two separate areas: the South Rim and the more remote North Rim. Separated by the 10-mile (16km) width of the canyon, it is a 215-mile (346km) drive from one Visitor Centre to the other. The South Rim is the most accessible and has more facilities, and as a result it attracts the bulk of visitors to its boundaries. The North Rim is higher in elevation, wetter, with thicker surrounding forests, is more remote, and is cut off by snowfall from October to May. Many people, however, prefer its comparative peacefulness and less-crowded lookouts.
Grand Canyon West has recently opened the Grand Canyon Skywalk, a glass-bottomed, horseshoe shaped deck that juts almost 70 feet (21m) from the canyon's rim. It gives visitors the sensation of being suspended amid the canyon's towering red rock walls above a faint sliver of Colorado River flowing 4,000 feet (1,219m) below. There is an additional charge for the Skywalk, which is not for those with a fear of heights. Another great way to tour the Grand Canyon is on the Grand Canyon Railway, a vintage steam train that winds its way around the area.
Both rims have numerous drives and walkways along the edge with various scenic viewpoints, and some hiking trails into the canyon where one can overnight at Phantom Ranch on the canyon floor. The impact of more than four million visitors a year to the South Rim, especially during the busy summer months, is one of overcrowding and traffic congestion; but seeing for oneself one of the most spectacular examples of natural erosion in the world more than makes up for any inconvenience.
There are also several educational and cultural attractions at the Grand Canyon, including the Tusayan Museum and Ruin (near Desert View), the Yavapai Museum of Geology, and the Verkamps Visitors Center.
In 1923, the first proper tours of Colossal Cave were conducted using ropes and lanterns. Today, more advanced and comfortable options are offered. The cave is considered dry or dormant, no longer producing crystal formations due to a lack of water. The preserved stalagmites, stalactites, and flowstone create a cavern of wonder visitors enjoy during guided tours which take just under an hour. The cave itself is only part of the attraction, as the Mountain Park is blessed with a variety of wildlife and some glorious landscapes. Western-themed horseback tours are a popular way to explore the park.
Kartchner Caverns State Park is home to one of the great natural wonders of the American west. There is no known record of the huge living cave being seen before the 1970s and the pristine conditions within have been carefully preserved. A remarkable feature of this cave is that it's a 'wet' or 'living' cave; the calcite formations are still growing and display a stunning variety of multi-coloured cave formations. Two different tours of the caves are available and there is a visitor's centre which details the history and geology of the caverns with interesting exhibits. Tours take between 90 minutes and two hours. Photography is not allowed in the caves but there are postcards available.
This world-renowned museum is more like a zoo, with the majority of the exhibitions outside showcasing the surrounding desert's creatures in their natural habitats. Exhibits include mountain lions, otters, coyotes, bighorn sheep, lizards, and a walk-in aviary. Located in the Sonoran Desert, the setting of the museum also offers awesome views of the surrounding mountain ranges, which visitors can enjoy while touring the botanical garden, natural history museum, art gallery, and aquarium. The gift shop has an excellent selection of Sonoran desert souvenirs. The interactive museum is a must for any visitor staying in Tucson for more than just one day, and kids will love seeing the animals and experiencing the desert landscapes.
Of the many natural attractions in the Tucson vicinity, Sabino Canyon is one of the most popular. This gaping divide in the Santa Catalina Mountains is the site where ancient Hohokam people constructed irrigation dams while mammoths still roamed the area. After a six-mile (9.6km) hike, enjoy swimming in the crystal clear pools at Seven Falls. When the weather is a little too hot for hiking, visitors can take a ride on the Sabino Canyon Tram, which takes a 45-minute tour with nine stops along the canyon. The canyon is a natural oasis in the desert and is home to a rich variety of wildlife, as well as beautiful landscapes.
The 1.5 million acre Lake Mead Recreation Area was created in 1936 as part of Roosevelt's New Deal programme. A popular excursion from Las Vegas or even Phoenix, Lake Mead is a haven for outdoor recreation like boating, swimming, canoeing, fishing, waterskiing, lake cruises, and even scuba diving. Five marinas ring the lake, ranging from small family-owned operations like Hemingway Harbor to large resorts like Forever Resorts at Callville Bay. The rest of the shoreline of Lake Mead is made up of rocky coves and sandy beaches good for sunbathing. Land-based activities like camping and hiking are available in the surrounding area. The Alan Bible Visitor Center, also known as the Lake Mead Visitor Center, provides information about activities and resources at Lake Mead. There are also some educational exhibits, including a garden of cactus plants native to the Mojave Desert. Lake Mead is formed by the giant Hoover Dam, a popular tourist attraction. Attracting nearly 3,000 people each day, Hoover Dam is an engineering marvel, standing 726 feet (221m) tall and 1,244 feet (379m) wide. The enormous dam supplies 90 percent of Las Vegas' water, and visitors can take guided tours of the facility.
Located in the northeastern corner of Arizona, Petrified Forest National Park was designated a national monument in 1906. The trees within the park are over 225 million years old, and have over that period transformed into brilliantly-coloured minerals, the world's largest concentration of petrified wood. Aside from the trees, there is a variety of wildlife to see in the park, including bobcats, coyotes, owls, porcupines, mule deer, and various desert lizards and rodents. There are several trails leading to popular sites in the park, making it a great place for desert hiking. Visitors should be aware that it is illegal to remove petrified wood from Petrified Forest National Park.
Kingman is a nostalgic tourist destination in Arizona. Located in the northeastern corner of the state, between the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas, the city is a popular fuelling stop between the two destinations. However, Kingman is most famous for having been a major stop along the celebrated Route 66. There are a few old buildings and museums dedicated to this era, including the aptly named Route 66 Museum, and though most of the road has been replaced by Interstate I-40, the longest remaining stretch runs from Kingman to Ash Fork. There are some good restaurants and bars in Kingman and wonderful hiking can be enjoyed in the area.
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