Arizona is the “Grand Canyon State”, a land of mountains, breathtaking canyons, and hot desert stretches dotted with light green cacti. While this describes most of Arizona, it does not describe all of it. Most people are unaware that the north-central region has an altogether different landscape, one covered in cool pine forests, trout river streams, blue lake waters, and meadows of wildflowers. In fact, the temperatures in this region marked by the Colorado plateaus regularly drop below -0ºC (30ºF) during winter. But even in the vast, hot deserts of Arizona in the south, you’ll find patches of lush greenery thanks to the state’s efficient irrigation network, which draws water from sources like the Colorado, Verde, Aqua Fria, and Salt rivers. These oases of farmable land grow cotton, vegetables, and fruits like cantaloupes and watermelons, altogether accounting for more than $6.3 billion worth of agricultural production each year -- simply incredible for a state few people would describe as being fertile.
Arizona, however, while not naturally blessed in the agricultural arena is a land fated for tourism. The Grand Canyon is considered one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. This massive canyon is a steep-sided gorge that has been carved for millions of years by the Colorado River, in some sections as deep as 1.6 miles and as long as 275 miles. The spectacular vistas of breathtaking peaks and lush desert terrain contrasted by the crystal-clear waters of the Colorado are captured by millions of cameras each year. And many of these photographs taken can be seen perennially plastered all over websites, postcards, stamps, and travel magazines. Does the Grand Canyon really deserve this much attention?
Beyond the Grand Canyon, the desert stretches into another highlight of Arizona – the Petrified Forest National Park, which also encompasses the Painted Desert. Both feature rock formations, mesas, buttes, and petrified logs projecting colors of red, gold, blue, and even violet – a visually striking geological display. More fascinating, though, are the ancient Native American petroglyphs carved into the rock surfaces, the Native American cliff and cave dwellings, the Indian homes constructed out of petrified logs, and the prehistoric fossils of amphibians, reptiles, and dinosaurs.
Arizona is also home to another freak of nature, the Barringer Meteorite Crater, which has carved a giant hole into the middle of a plain in the Colorado Plateau. This crater is one of the largest and best preserved in the world, measuring 570 feet deep and a mile wide.
In addition to geological attractions like canyons, badlands, and meteorites, Arizona also has its fair share of man-made tourist sites like the resort city of Scottsdale, widely considered a premiere golf and spa destination in the U.S, or Phoenix and its modern urban offerings. This “Valley of the Sun", the sixth largest city in the U.S., flaunts world-class museums, art galleries, and upscale shops, as well as cultural and sporting events.
All told, Arizona is a formidable destination for tourists. And its unique landscape, sunny climate, and laidback western lifestyle attracts not just vacationers, but permanent residents, too. Today, Arizona continues to be one of the fastest-growing states in the U.S., just as it has been for the last 50 years.