By Josephine Matyas
Why Arizona? Because an extraordinary mix of desert landscapes, the beauty of the canyon lands, the power of the Colorado River, and the magical ways that Native American and Hispanic cultures intersect, from the adobe architecture to the fiery cuisine, make Arizona a destination like no other.
A Timeless Landscape
About 40 per cent of Arizona is desert, and the state’s largest is the Sonoran Desert, a mixture of heat, beauty, flora and perfect stillness that seems to captivate most visitors. The gigantic saguaro cactus is the symbol of the Sonoran (it’s only found there); the instantly-recognizable sentinel of the Southwest. A great place to recommend is the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (outside Tucson) where coming face to face with desert critters (arachnophobia alert!) is a fun way to understand this spellbinding landscape.
Little-visited, but at the heart of what is unique about Arizona, is the Four Corners (the northeast part of the state, where it intersects with neighbouring New Mexico, Colorado and Utah). Here, Native peoples carry on traditional lifestyles, creating a rich tapestry of ceremony, custom and arts. Land and culture are tightly woven; the snow-capped San Francisco Peaks are home to the katsina spirits that guide the Hopi, the sandstone spires of Monument Valley mark the bodies of slain legend monsters, Navajo farmers still plant crops and herd sheep on the valley floor of Canyon de Chelly.
Arizona Office of Tourism
Arizona is also known for its canyons – more than five million visitors visit Grand Canyon each year, making it one of the most visited natural attractions in the world. Adventuresome travellers head for the back roads with local guides, hiking the mystical depths of narrow, twisted slot canyons like Antelope or Canyon X.
Scottsdale CVBThe Skies Above
There’s magic in the desert of Arizona. As the last light fades from the evening sky, stillness descends, and the heavens are filled with millions of twinkling stars. Astronomy and planetarium programs bewitch everyone from stargazing newbies to seasoned skywatchers.
And all the stars align for birders looking to check new species off their list. With such a variety of ecosystems – desert, pine forests, arid plateaus, remote canyons – hundreds of species of birds can be found as they migrate between winter and summer habitats.
Scottsdale CVBYour clients can take to the skies for their own birds-eye view. What could beat floating over a maze of red rocks, dipping into a mile-deep canyon, or spying the junction where green canyon waters merge with the brilliant blue of a lake? A hot air balloon ride, helicopter sightseeing tour, or ride in an ultralite plane can only be described as unforgettable!
A Land Of Cultures
Experience the cultural traditions of the Native Americans, Spanish and Anglos that blend into an intriguing mixture of story, language, festivals, food and art witnessed on Arizona tribal lands where visitors are welcome visitors and can enjoy everything from Pueblo dance ceremonies to the stalls at craft markets where you can negotiate the purchase of an authentic piece of jewelry.
History buffs can visit prehistoric ruins or centuries-old pueblo villages or Spanish missions. The shelves of historic trading posts are still filled with authentic wares. Many sacred sites are open to those who visit them with respect and an open mind.
National Park ServiceArizona’s colourful history also means a healthy dose of Wild West lore. Tombstone, “The Town Too Tough to Die,” stages mock gunfights in the streets – a nod to the infamous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral which lasted just 30 seconds but has been bringing tourists to the small town for over a century. Mining towns, ghost towns, dude ranches and movie locations all speak to the roots of Arizona’s Wild West image.
Happily Ever After
With a setting for every budget and every style, Arizona is the place to get hitched! From rustic ranch ceremonies to posh resort affairs (where no detail is spared), romance is in the desert air. With so much to do, such a variety of places to stay and such reliable weather, Arizona is perfect honeymoon country. Award-winning spas, championship golf courses, dude ranches, jeep trips, rafting trips and road trips – the challenge will be narrowing down a choice.
Arizona Office of Tourism
Feed the Soul
Culture-vultures can dive into a treasure trove of architectural finds just waiting to be explored. The collective history begins with the state’s prehistoric residents and their ancient cliff dwellings at sites like Canyon de Chelly or Montezuma Castle National Monument. The influence of the ancient peoples is reflected in the modern works of architecture – churches, hotels, resorts and museums – many designed by famous hands.
Tucson CVBThey like to celebrate in the Grand Canyon State and if you can think of a reason, there’s most probably a festival in the works! Mariachi band and dance performances honour the links to Mexican culture. The Tucson Folk Festival features more than 100 acts in two days. Birders congregate for workshops, hikes, tours and photography classes.
A Taste Of Arizona
Southwestern cooking is one of the fastest growing cuisines in North America…the dishes are distinctive and packed with the flavour influences of the Native Americans and Spanish conquistadors. Visitors who want to follow their taste buds can tour an olive mill, join the fun at an annual peach festival or fill their baskets at a pick-your-own farm. Kicking it up a notch, the Arizona Salsa Trail links communities that grow, produce and serve the spicy Mexican condiment.
Oenophiles looking for the ultimate escape need look no further than Arizona’s three distinct wine regions – the northern wine area of Verde Valley near Sedona, the Willcox region of southeast Arizona, and the Sonoita/Elgin region in the south part of the state. Three specific wine trails guide visitors through the regions – most of the stops are at small, family-run wineries where the owners and operators take time to meet and greet guests.
Only In Arizona
An old Spanish proverb promises “the lands of the sun expand the soul.” With more than 300 days of sunshine a year, Arizona is that land; the region’s extraordinary character can seduce even the most casual visitor and be experienced at these “only in Arizona” stops:
National Park Service