Arizona Feature

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Hiking

Arizona has a wealth of awe-inspiring natural landmarks. So you can hike in and out, up and down, or around beautiful and varied landscapes, into canyons, to a mountain summit, or just along a meandering trail through a desert or a forest.

Wherever you go, make sure you're well prepared with water, food, sunscreen, a good hat, and a camera to capture your achievement. Be sure you have a decent pair of hiking shoes, and check the weather report first. Storms can roll into the desert quickly (particularly during monsoon season), and you don't want to get caught in a flash flood or dust storm.

From the long-heralded trails such as Bright Angel in the Grand Canyon to iconic Camelback Mountain in Phoenix, there's a summit or path in every corner of the state waiting for you.

If waterfalls are your thing, check out the Grand Canyon's Havasu Falls, a fairly strenuous 10-mile hike that descends 3,000 feet to splashing pools of turquoise water.

The highest of the four peaks that comprise San Francisco Peaks is Mount Humphreys, the ultimate goal for hikers seeking the best view in the state. Timing an ascent can be tricky, though, as the snow in Flagstaff sometimes doesn't melt until mid-July, and by then the summer rains and lightning come almost daily in the afternoon. Go early in the morning and pay attention to the sky.

For some archaeology, Walnut Canyon National Monument, just a few minutes east of Flagstaff, has a paved and stepped trail descending 185 feet into an island of stone where you can explore prehistoric cliff dwellings. The climb out is strenuous.

Water Sports

You don't miss the water until it's not there, but Arizonans do their best to ensure that the well doesn't go completely dry. Dams and canal systems help to fill vast reservoirs, and the resulting rivers and lakes provide all manner of water-sport recreation. Of course, this is a state that considers floating in a pool or soaking in a hot tub "water-sport recreation." You can have it "easy," you can have it "rough," or you can have it "fast."

Easy is a week on a houseboat on a lake. Houseboats are available for rent on major lakes along the Colorado River, as well as on Lake Powell, Lake Mead, and Lake Havasu. On smaller lakes motorized boats are prohibited, but kayaks and canoes make for an enjoyable excursion along the pine-covered shorelines. You can even take a rowboat out on Tempe Town Lake, or bake in the sun while taking a lazy float down the Salt River just east of Phoenix

Rough is a river raft trip. There are nearly two-dozen commercial rafting companies offering trips as short as three days or as long as three weeks through the Grand Canyon. Options include motorized rafts or dories rowed by Arizona's version of the California surfer—the Colorado River boatman. The Hualapai Tribe, through the Hualapai River Runners, offers one-day river trips. Don't let the short duration fool you: the boatmen take you through several rapids, and thrills abound.

Fast involves a speedboat and water skis or Jet Skis. Both are popular on major lakes and along the Colorado River. You can go from dam to dam along the Colorado, and on lakes the size of Powell and Mead you can ski until your legs give out.

Desert

Arizona has a desert for you; actually, it has more than one. The trouble is, any desert is inhospitable to life forms unaccustomed to its harsh realities. People die in the desert here every year, from thirst, exposure, and one inexplicable trait—stupidity. Using good sense, you can explore any stretch of desert in April and May and experience a landscape festooned with flowers and blooming cacti.

To experience the desert without running the risk of leaving your bones to bleach in the sun, there are two exceptional alternatives: the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix is a showcase of the ecology of the desert with more than 4,000 different species of desert flora sustained on 150 acres. A walk through here is wonderfully soothing and extremely educational. You'll be stunned at the variety of color and texture in native desert plants. It's much more than saguaro cacti. Be sure to check out the butterfly exhibit.

There's also the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, which isn't really a museum but a zoo and a botanical garden featuring the animals and plants of the Sonoran Desert. If you want to see a diamondback rattlesnake without jumping out of your shoes, this is the place.

And, of course, there are long drives in which you can see the wide expanses from the comfort of your car. Early spring brings the flaming-red blossoms of the ocotillo and the soft yellow-green branches of the palo verde, and the desert will be carpeted with ephemeral flowers of pink, blue, and yellow.

Along U.S. Highway 93, south of Wikieup in northwest Arizona, you can see the desert in its most abundant display, but there are countless other places, as well.

Native American Culture

John Ford Westerns and the enduring myths of the Wild West pale in comparison to the experience of seeing firsthand the Native American cultures that thrive in Arizona. You can stop at a trading post and see artisans demonstrating their crafts, visit one of Arizona's spectacular Native American museums, or explore an ancient Native American dwelling.

Hubbell Trading Post and Cameron Trading Post are on Navajo reservations, while Keam's Canyon Trading Post is on the Hopi Reservation. The Navajo Village Heritage Center in Page offers an opportunity to understand life on the reservation.

The Heard Museum, in Phoenix, houses an impressive array of Native American cultural exhibits and has, quite possibly, the best gift shop in town if you're looking for something truly special and authentic. The Museum of Northern Arizona, in Flagstaff, has collections related to the natural and cultural history of the Colorado Plateau, an extensive collection of Navajo rugs, and an authentic Hopi kiva (men's ceremonial chamber). The Colorado River Museum, in Bullhead City, focuses on the history of the area and includes information and artifacts pertaining to the Mojave tribe. Chiricahua Regional Museum and Research Center, in Willcox, focuses on Apache culture.

The Montezuma Castle National Monument is one of the best-preserved prehistoric ruins in North America. Tuzigoot National Monument is not as well preserved as Montezuma Castle, but is more impressive in scope. The Casa Grande National Monument is a 35-foot-tall structure built by the Hohokam Indians who lived in the area.

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