National Parks Service
An extraordinary mix of desert landscapes, canyon lands, cool pine forests and the power of the Colorado River create a range of ecozones…and a generous sampling of ecoadventures and green travel opportunities. No other region in North America offers the broad spectrum of life zones found in Arizona. It is all connected by the Arizona Trail, a nationally designated, 1,300-kilometre scenic route linking the state’s mountains, deserts, canyons and forests from north to south. www.aztrail.org
Arizona is known for its canyons – more than five million people come to Grand Canyon National Park each year, making it one of the most visited natural attractions in the world. The new Trail of Time is a 4.65-km geologic interpretive trail along the South Rim – each metre of the trail represents one million years in geologic history. Adventuresome hikers can head off the beaten path, walking rim-to-rim through the mile-deep gorge.
AOTLocal guides lead hikes through the hauntingly beautiful, red sandstone slot canyons of Antelope Canyon and Canyon X, where the power of water has sculpted the dramatic curved walls. At sunrise and sunset the canyon walls glow a warm red.
The spellbinding Sonoran Desert sprawls across much of southern Arizona and it’s here you find that iconic sentinel of the desert, the multi-armed, saguaro cactus. The best introduction to the desert ecosystem is at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, a world-renowned zoo, botanical garden and natural history museum near Tucson. In the nearby Catalina Foothills, the elegant Hacienda del Sol Guest Ranch is a Tucson landmark, recognized by National Geographic as a geotourism destination. After a day of eco-exploration, guests can relax in The Grill, the ranch’s award-winning restaurant named “Tucson’s Most Romantic Dining.”
Metropolitan Tucson CVBA landscape of dramatic red buttes, spires and deep canyons define the high desert of the Four Corners region (where the northeast part of the state intersects with New Mexico, Colorado and Utah). Popular activities include rafting the Colorado River through Grand Canyon or exploring the ruins of ancient communities at Canyon de Chelley or Wupatki National Monument. Nature shows her true colours watching the colours shift on the surrealistic landscape of The Painted Desert, and exploring the world’s largest and best preserved collection of petrified wood at Petrified Forest National Park where the stories of climate and geological forces are told in the logs captured as colourful crystal patterns of petrified wood. Skirting the sagebrush-studded border between Arizona and Utah, Monument Valley’s dreamlike landscape of red spires, buttes and mesas is explored by driving or hiking the loop road. Near the south border of the Four Corners region, two natural disasters have left their mark: Meteor Crater (two kilometres wide and 60 storeys deep) is the spot where a meteorite crashed into the Earth; and Sunset Crater National Monument is an eerie landscape of deep cinders and lava flows, left behind when an ancient volcano blew its top a millennium ago.
There’s a spiritual beauty to the startling red rock spires and buttes of Sedona. New Age gurus claim that the spectacular sandstone formations contain intersections of high energy called vortexes. Sedona Trail Finder is an interactive database of more than 100 Sedona-area trails with the ability to match each hiker’s ability to the perfect trail choice.
The evenings can be a chance to recharge and luxuriate: Grand Canyon, Sedona, Page and Lake Powell all offer a range of hotels (from the historic El Tovar National Park lodge on the canyon rim, to the AAA four-diamond Adobe Grand Villas in Sedona where fresh baked bread is prepared in your villa upon arrival). The Grand Canyon Caverns & Inn claims “the world’s largest, deepest, darkest motel room.” Sixty-one metres below the surface, the new Grand Cavern Suite is entirely devoid of any natural light or sound.
The Skies Above
As the last light fades from the sky, stillness descends over the desert, and the heavens are filled with twinkling stars – it’s hard to beat the show put on by the moon and the constellations. Blessed with temperate weather and clear night skies, the state is an astronomer’s dream, and home to a wide variety of observatories, night-time astronomy programs and events to bewitch everyone from stargazing newbies to seasoned skywatchers.
The new San Pedro Valley Observatory in Benson offers a high-quality, educational astronomy experience with three brand-new telescopes.
Metropolitan Tucson CVBAt the Kitt Peak National Observatory southwest of Tucson, the collection of 26 telescopes includes the world’s largest solar telescope. Guided tours and nightly observing programs provide a great chance to view planets and distant galaxies.
In the clear mountain air above Flagstaff, the historic Lowell Observatory houses the 13-inch Pluto Discovery Telescope, used in the discovery of the distant dwarf planet. In 2011, the new seven-storey Discovery Channel Telescope will start operations. Solar viewing, portable planetarium shows, telescopes and guided tours are all part of the educational programming.
Skygazers who don’t want to stray beyond the city limits can visit the Dorrance Planetarium at the Arizona Science Center in downtown Phoenix. The facility is one of only five in the world to use NanoSeam dome technology, for an immersive experience.
Observing the show in the night sky has become a popular activity at resorts that are offering special weekend stays with an astronomy theme. Sunglow Ranch, The Boulders Resort, Camelback Inn, Four Seasons Resort in Scottsdale and JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort can all make arrangements for stargazing experiences.
On A Birdwatch?
With a temperate climate and a wide diversity of ecozones, Arizona is a bonanza for birders looking to check new species off their list (in fact, birding is southern Arizona’s number one activity).
In the desert, pine forests, arid plateaus and remote canyons, hundreds of species of birds pass through a green corridor as they migrate from northern nesting grounds to southern wintering climes. Birding hotspots like Ramsey Canyon Preserve, the Huachuca Mountains, Verde Valley and Sedona attract serious birders who return year after year.
This year, two areas of the state received Global Important Bird Area designations by BirdLife International, an alliance of conservation organizations and the leading authority on the status of birds and their habitats. The Chiricahua Mountains in the southeast corner of the state and Anderson Mesa, southeast of Flagstaff in the Coconino National Forest, were identified as important habitats of globally threatened bird species.