The tourism industry in ARIZONA has, literally, one colossal advantage – the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River, the single most awe-inspiring spectacle in a land of unforgettable geology. Several other Arizona destinations have a similarly abiding emotional impact, however, thanks to the sheer drama of human involvement in this forbidding but deeply resonant desert landscape.
Over a third of the state still belongs to Native Americans, who outside the cities form the majority of the population. In the so-called Indian Country of northeastern Arizona, the Navajo Nation holds the stupendous Canyon de Chelly and dozens of other Ancestral Puebloan ruins, as well as the stark rocks of Monument Valley. The Navajo surround the homeland of the stoutly traditional Hopi, who live in remote mesa-top villages. The third main group, the Apache, in the harshly beautiful southeastern mountains, were the last Native Americans to give in to the overwhelming power of the American invaders.
Away from the reservations, Wild West towns like Tombstone give a clear sense of Arizona’s rough-and-ready, pioneer mentality; this was the last of the lower 48 states to join the Union, in 1912. The cities, however, are not nearly so much fun. In Phoenix, the capital, well over a million souls are scattered over a five-hundred-square-mile morass of shopping malls and tract-house suburbs; Tucson is rather more appealing, but can still wear thin after a couple of days.
Though the open spaces of southern Arizona can be harsh, the bleakness is balanced somewhat by the many reserves that protect its amazing flora and fauna, such as Saguaro National Park, just outside Tucson, with its giant cactuses, real-life roadrunners and rare Gila monsters.Read More
The legendary Wild West town of TOMBSTONE lies 22 miles south of I-10 on US-80, 67 miles southeast of Tucson. Over a century has passed since its mining heyday, but “The Town Too Tough to Die” clings to an afterlife as a tourist theme park. With its dusty streets, wooden sidewalks and swinging saloon doors, it’s barely unchanged. While it’s much more commercialized than its counterpart in New Mexico, Lincoln, it’s also more fun. The moody gunslingers who stroll the streets these days are merely rounding up customers to watch them fight, but there’s enough genuine rivalry between groups to give the place an oddly appealing edge. The ideal time to visit is during Helldorado Days in late October (w www.helldoradodays.com), a bonanza of parades and shoot-outs, when the air is cooler and the sun less harsh.
- The Grand Canyon
The classic southwestern landscape of stark sandstone buttes and forbidding pinnacles of rock, poking from an endless expanse of drifting red sands, is an archetypal Wild West image. Only when you arrive at MONUMENT VALLEY – which straddles the Arizona–Utah state line, 24 miles north of Kayenta – do you realize how much your perception of the West has been shaped by this one spot. Such scenery does exist elsewhere, of course, but nowhere is it so perfectly distilled. While moviemakers have flocked here since the early days of Hollywood, the sheer majesty of the place still takes your breath away. Add the fact that it remains a stronghold of Navajo culture and Monument Valley can be the absolute highlight of a trip to the Southwest.
- Canyon de Chelly National Monument