Arizona's diversity and beauty still surprises and awes visitors. The popular image of barren wastes under a burning sun dates back more than a hundred years, when most early travelers kept to the south, avoiding potentially hostile tribes farther north. Hollywood perpetuated the stereotype, preferring to play out dramas across rippled sand dunes beneath soaring rock spires, rather than in flower-filled meadows. Yet the northern and eastern parts of the state have extensive coniferous forests and rushing mountain streams. Even desert areas can be astonishingly verdant, as both winter and summer rains refresh the Sonoran Desert, supporting towering saguaro and a host of other striking and adaptable plants.
Although not on the ocean, Arizona has a coastline hundreds of miles long! The placid waters of the Colorado River form the western shore with countless boating and fishing opportunities. Rugged cliffs inhabited by desert bighorn sheep rise above the river in Black Canyon, just below Hoover Dam, and in Topock Gorge, just above Lake Havasu. You can venture into these canyons in canoes and other small craft, because the lower Colorado River has no rapids. Also, two of the nation's largest reservoirs—Lake Mead and Lake Powell—lie in the northern part of the state, where their dark-blue waters contrast with the surrounding desert. Each reservoir has a very different setting: Lake Mead is in more open and mostly volcanic country, while Lake Powell lies deep in canyons of gracefully curved sandstone. Countless coves along both reservoirs offer quiet corners to explore. Between the two lakes, the Grand Canyon slices nearly a vertical mile into the geologic layer cake of the Colorado Plateau. You'll be impressed by the immensity and complexity of this majestic wonder as you watch the patterns and soft colors of the rock layers change during the day and into the golden sunset. Hidden wonders reveal themselves as you venture on trails or on a river trip into the depths.
Movements deep underground have uplifted much of northern Arizona into lofty plateaus. Here you'll see hundreds of well-preserved volcanoes, now quiet, which once blasted magma into the air. The starkly beautiful cinder cones and lava flows at Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, northeast of Flagstaff, look as if they had just cooled yesterday. Farther south in the state, shifting and faulting of rock layers created rugged mountain ranges. "Sky islands," the most spectacular of these, rise from the desert and provide cool-climate homes for rare species of plants and wildlife. Paved roads lead up some of the sky islands and all have great hiking possibilities. In winter, you can soak up the desert warmth in the morning and play in the snow atop a mountain in the afternoon. Mt. Lemmon, in the Santa Catalinas just north of Tucson, has the nation's southernmost ski area. All this churning of the Earth's surface has resulted in a great range of climates and vegetation zones—you can find ideal conditions somewhere in any season. The forested uplands offer delightful conditions in summer, the plains and rocky hills of the desert provide spring-like weather in winter, and almost every area enjoys a pleasant climate in spring and autumn. Elevations within this varied land extend from just 70 feet above sea level where the Colorado River enters Mexico to 12,633 feet atop Humphrey's Peak, a weathered stratovolcano in the north.
Native Americans know this land well, and some can trace their clans back thousands of years through legends and rock art. Tribes across Arizona represent many cultural traditions. You can explore their beautiful lands and perhaps get an insight into their beliefs. In northeastern Arizona, the Navajo have the largest population of all the tribes in the United States and a vast reservation renowned for its scenic splendor. The Hopi, surrounded by Navajo lands, have villages and traditions that date back more than one thousand years.
Arizona's cities provide a sophisticated art and entertainment scene, though never far from the natural world. You'll find the most varied cultural offerings, nightlife, and sporting events in the two largest metropolitan areas of Phoenix and Tucson. Arizona State University in the greater Phoenix area and the University of Arizona in Tucson add much to the energy of each place. Similarly, Northern Arizona University up north in Flagstaff makes this mountain town a far livelier place than its population figure would suggest. When you feel like getting away from it all, the many resorts let you do just that. You'll find most of them in the Phoenix and Tucson areas, where you can rest beside a pool in a beautifully landscaped setting, spend the day on an immaculate golf course, or ride your horse amidst saguaro-studded hills.
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