Arizona is a land of contradictions. The lush forests and majestic mountains of the northern part of the state gradually flatten out southward, giving way to the harsh, alien landscapes of the desert in the south. Green and blue transition to red and brown in the landscape; sunsets cast harsh, beautiful shadows across the ground, giant saguaro standing sentinel around the clock in the Sonora Desert.
The state is best known as the home to the Grand Canyon and one of the earliest American national parks, Grand Canyon National Park. One of the seven natural wonders of the world, the canyon stretches 277 miles in length and up to 18 miles across at its widest. Standing on either side of the canyon, five million visitors per year can see strata exposing millennia of the Earth’s hidden history. The Colorado River has carved steadily downward over the years, revealing beauty and science and the red and brown bands of time itself.
There are multiple ways to see the canyon. Some choose to navigate the river by raft or canoe, enjoying stretches of flat water and some of the best white water rapids in the world. Others like the canyon floor too but prefer to see it on horseback. For a bird’s eye view, helicopter flights are perennially popular and increasing in attraction is the Grand Canyon Skywalk. Opened in 2007, the Skywalk is a semi-circular viewing platform that protrudes over the canyon edge at an elevation of 1,450m (4,770 feet). As well as being a major feat of modern engineering, it offers amazing views across along and down the canyon.
The Arizona landscape lends itself to extremes. Meteor Crater, near Winslow, is one of the best-preserved meteor strike sites in the world. Viewed from its surroundings, the ragged edges of the crater stretch an impressive 150 feet toward the sky. But when viewed from above or from within, the monumental dimensions of the displacement are revealed. The crater is more than 550 feet deep and measures nearly one mile across. Was this the meteor strike that killed off the dinosaurs? Maybe not, but it definitely moved the world, and left its mark forever.
All of the natural majesty packed into Arizona’s borders supports one of the most inclusive societies in the nation. The state holds the nation’s largest concentration of Native American language speakers, with Navajo and Apache the most commonly spoken in Arizona households. The Heard Museum is an interesting showcase of Native American ethnography in Arizona. The border with Mexico contributes to a thriving Latino community. As the last continental state to join the union, Arizona was the last frontier to be settled. Populations in Arizona trace a proud heritage to Germany, Italy, Ireland, and England, creating a melting point of cultural influences. People from every walk of life make their way to Arizona to enjoy the climate, the scenery, and the vibrancy of life in the Grand Canyon State.
Of course, Arizona has a long standing association with the Old West – the time of gunslingers, cowboys, saloons and pioneers. The heritage is proudly showcased in various museums and exhibitions around the state. One of the most famous names of the Wild West is Boot Hill and visitors can pay their respects at the notorious cemetery. For a journey back in time to explore life in Arizona in the early 20th century, the Slaughter Ranch Museum is a fully restored homestead, while the Fort Bowie Historical Site tells the story of the conflict between the U.S. Army and the Chiricahua Apaches. All over the state there’s an eclectic collection of heritage sites that includes mines, ranches, hotels, railways and monuments to significant people and events in the life of Arizona.
Arizona’s multiple personalities come out when visitors venture into the cities. In sharp contrast to the stark beauty of Arizona’s natural features, the cities are modern, sprawling, and bustling with life. The cities comfortably coexist with the mountains and with the desert. The architecture doesn’t compete with the landscape, but delights with the contrast between rural and urban, between the natural and the manmade. It is especially interesting that the same landscapes inspired the novels of Zane Grey and the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. There is no winner and no loser here; citizens partake of both worlds, creating a whole that is more than the sum of its parts. A desert hike in the morning, and five star dining in the evening? No problem.
Hiking or hunting, rafting or rappelling, biking or bird watching, kayaking or climbing, the natural splendor of Arizona is a happy home for the outdoors activist. Endless miles of rivers change from calm flows to raging rapids, and ribbons of smooth blacktop stretch out before your exploring wheels. Whether you prefer to pound the pavement of city streets or to grind down graveled back roads in the countryside, there is always something new to discover in wild, wonderful Arizona. The state’s climate promotes year-round enjoyment for her residents, and provides a welcoming embrace to visitors. In fact, you may never want to leave.
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