North America

Phoenix – Bring your sense of spirit!

Photo credit: Visit Phoenix

Desert character. It can’t be conjured, landscaped or kindled with twinkling bulbs. John Ford knew that. So did Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis L’Amour.

Spend a few days in Greater Phoenix and you’ll understand, too. America’s fifth-largest city still has cowboys and red-rock buttes and the kind of cactus most people see only in cartoons. It is the heart of the Sonoran Desert and the gateway to the Grand Canyon, and its history is a testament to the spirit of puebloans, ranchers, miners and visionaries.

This timeless Southwestern backdrop is an ideal setting for family vacations, weekend adventures or romantic getaways.

One can enjoy resorts and spas infused with Native American tradition, golf courses that stay emerald-green all year, mountain parks crisscrossed with trails, sports venues worthy of the Super Bowl and a spectrum of dining spots, boutiques and fashionable malls few regions in America can match.

Phoenix is the capital of Arizona as well as the most populous city in the American Southwest. Founded in 1871, it has become the region’s primary political, cultural, economic, and transportation center.

Over time it has merged with the neighboring cities of Scottsdale, Tempe, Glendale, Peoria, Chandler, and Gilbert to form the Greater Phoenix Metropolitan Area.

Phoenix is a modern, sprawling city set in the middle of the sun-baked, saguaro-studded Sonoran Desert. Things are different in the desert. The sky is bigger. The stars are brighter. The sunsets stop you in your tracks.

Why would anybody want to start a city in the middle of a desert? The answer is, surprisingly, agriculture. The Salt and Verde Rivers of central Arizona were exploited for large-scale agriculture by Native Americans as early as the 11th century. The area that now encompasses Phoenix was a center of the Hohokam culture, which built large canal systems and a network of towns and villages, whose remains may be viewed in the city to this day. Settlers discovered the remnants of the Hohokam culture in the 19th century. The city’s name reflects its history as a city “reborn from the ashes” of the previous settlement.

The city is relatively new, with explosive growth that has pushed the population from 6,000 in 1900 to 1.5 million today. But it’s also very old. The first inhabitants arrived at the beginning of the first millennium, as the Hohokam tribe moved north from Mexico.

Phoenix was named after the mythical bird that rose from the ashes in mythology to reflect the revitalization of the Hohokam lands by white settlers who arrived in the 1850s, four centuries after the Native Americans left for reasons that remain unclear.

The city gets sunshine 85 percent of the time and has highs above 100 for 110 days a year and above 110 for 18 days a year.

Photo credit: Visit Phoenix/Grand Canyon Railway

Phoenix is known for its resort and retirement lifestyle. But you will probably be surprised to learn that the average age of residents is 31, six years below the U.S. average.

So … you may not be surprised to learn that …

  • Phoenix – and Arizona – attracts some 30 million visitors each year!
  • There are some 200 golf courses in the Greater Phoenix area
  • Phoenix is one of only 13 U.S. cities with franchises in all four major professional sports leagues: Phoenix Suns (NBA), Arizona Diamondbacks (MLB), Arizona Cardinals (NFL) and Phoenix Coyotes (NHL)
  • Phoenix is home to the largest municipal park in the world. South Mountain Park and Preserve covers more than 16,500 acres and has more than 50 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails.
  • There are six lakes within a 75-minute drive of Phoenix.
  • Arizona is home to 23 reservations representing 21 different Native American tribes.

Phoenix is, quite simply, a fun place to visit, and certainly unique in America. Hence, you will want to explore and learn about the area to satisfy your interests.

Greater Phoenix’s geological splendor, Native American history and Western sensibilities lend distinct character to the city’s cultural offerings. So take some time to visit a museum or two (or three!). Phoenix’s museums are thoughtfully designed and well maintained, and most take advantage of the sunny weather with skylights, sculpture gardens and outdoor gathering spaces.

The Heard Museum is arguably Phoenix’s most famous museum. The traditional and contemporary art on display provides insight into the culture of American Indian tribes native to Arizona and the Colorado Plateau.

The Phoenix Art Museum is the largest fine-art museum in the Southwest. Its permanent collection includes American, Asian and European masterpieces, as well as contemporary works, fashion and photography. There are more than 17,000 works in all. The museum is noted for its Western American collection, with pieces by artists such as Albert Bierstadt, Frederic Remington and Ernest Blumenschein.

As its name suggests, Desert Botanical Garden is an outdoor museum that showcases desert plants – and not just those native to the Southwest. Among the succulents that adorn the garden’s 50-acre grounds are endangered desert species from around the world, including Dali-esque trees from North Africa and sprawling cactuses from Mesopotamia. In winter, Desert Botanical Garden adorns its paths with more than 8,000 handlit luminaria bags for Las Noches de las Luminarias, a Phoenix holiday tradition. The garden is nestled among the red sandstone buttes of Papago Park, not far from leisurely hiking trails and the Phoenix Zoo.

And to be entertained and enjoy a pleasant out you can plan your evenings accordingly. With more than two dozen theater groups in Greater Phoenix, there is no shortage of dramatic entertainment. The city offers everything from Broadway plays to lyric opera. The Herberger Theater Center is the home of Ballet Arizona, the Arizona Opera Company and the Arizona Theatre Company. The Phoenix Theatre, founded in 1920, is the nation’s longest continuously running Community Theater. Another notable auditorium is Arizona State University’s Grady Gammage Auditorium, which is considered to be the last public commission of renowned architect Floyd Lloyd Wright; it provides a stage for hit Broadway musicals, grand opera, dramatic productions and university lectures. The Phoenix Symphony Orchestra, which has been performing for more than 56 years, now makes its home at Symphony Hall in downtown Phoenix.

But the Greater Phoenix area is all about the great outdoors, and being outdoors. As such, while you are here you simply MUST take advantage of the region and myriad activities. Whatever your interest, or to try something new and adventurous, get out and play!

Golf. Golf. And more golf …

Photo credit: Visit Phoenix/Tony Roberts Photography

Surrounded by picturesque mountains on three sides and covered by a canopy of near-perpetual blue sky, Phoenix and its neighboring communities can boast of some 200 well-manicured courses. Many of those courses were designed by the greats, and most don’t have merely one signature hole, but several. Some courses occupy desert canyons where civilization feels a world away, while others belong to luxurious resorts where golfers can indulge themselves with a post-round spa treatment.

Greater Phoenix’s golfing roots are a century old. In 1910, nine holes were laid out on oiled dirt at the Ingleside Inn in then-sleepy town of Scottsdale. Early courses were built near canals and irrigated by flooding them with canal water. These days, Scottsdale is home to the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which annually attracts 500,000 boisterous fans to the TPC at Scottsdale, making it the best-attended event on the PGA Tour. Since taking over as title sponsor of the Phoenix Open, Waste Management has put an increased effort in reducing energy usage and increasing recycling, making the Phoenix Open the “greenest” tournament on the PGA Tour.

One Phoenix golfing experience not to be missed is Arizona Biltmore Resort’s Scots-flavored Links Course, one of two layouts next to the only resort to be inspired by the genius of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. And for those golfers who want to hit the greens as soon as they touch down in the Desert, there is Raven Golf Club at South Mountain. Its parkland course is lined with mature pines and located just minutes from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. (Another popular 18-hole option is located at The Legacy Golf Resort, just across the street.)

There are also eight affordable municipal courses that accommodate a variety of skill levels. The city’s Papago Course, recognized as one of the top municipal courses in the region, affords golfers views of beautiful red-rock formations on every one of its 18 holes.

Whatever course(s) you may choose – target, parkland or oasis – you can expect beautiful conditions thanks to 310-plus days of annual sunshine, an average temperature of 85 and some of the most progressive irrigation techniques in the country.

Take a Hike or a Bike

Photo credit: Visit Phoenix

Three major mountains buttress Phoenix, providing visitors an outlet for every grade of high-desert pursuit. Hikers can traverse 50 miles of trail at South Mountain Park and Preserve, the largest municipal park in the United States; mountain bikers can climb to the top of McDowell Mountain then hurtle back down again; and climbers can leave their chalky handprints on the granite “hump” of Camelback Mountain.

Phoenix is the gateway to one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World: The Grand Canyon. Visitors who touch down at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport are only a scenic daytrip away from the canyon’s South Rim. Those who seek a quicker and more dramatic route to the Grand Canyon can book an aerial tour that will take them sweeping over the 277-mile geologic marvel in an airplane.

Whether you climb the 1,000-foot rise to the summit of Camelback Mountain or embark on a quick outing to the top of Piestewa Peak, you will be rewarded with expansive views of the valley below. On Phoenix’s southern frontier is South Mountain Park and Preserve, where a labyrinth of trails exposes hikers to native flora as well as cultural treasures such as ancient Indian petroglyphs. This landmark is popular among trail runners, mountain bikers and those who enjoy horseback riding. There’s also a road to the summit, so cyclists and motorists can enjoy the view.

Or take a Horse …

For many visitors and locals, there’s no better way to connect with the land, soul and heritage of the Southwest than exploring the region on horseback. Remote riding trails are scattered throughout the area and its unpopulated outskirts. You can book a daytrip with one of many local outfitters, spend a week in the rustic environs of a dude ranch, or take advantage of the open range at a full-service resort with its own equestrian center.

So … as you are contemplating your next trip, you can consider Phoenix, a destination where you can relax your way – almost any way. Just bring yourself, a good camera and a sense of spirit!

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