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The multi-armed saguaro cacti is perhaps the most quintessential symbol of the American Southwest
The multi-armed saguaro cacti is perhaps the most quintessential symbol of the American Southwest
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Phoenix and Scottsdale Spotlight

No longer the Wild West, but plenty of adventure just the same

By Elissa Richard

February 7th, 2007

Just like the mythological bird that rises from its own ashes – from which the city borrows its name – the Greater Phoenix area has risen into something that couldn't have been envisioned just half-century ago: one of the most popular tourist destinations in America, attracting 13 million aspirant desert birds annually who flock to this desert oasis to spread their wings, relax, indulge, and renew. The most recent census deems Arizona the fastest growing state in the nation and this pulsating desert metropolis, now the fifth-largest in the US, is at the epicenter of an incredible real estate, business, and tourism boom. Unfolding on a scale that ensures its status beyond mere mirage in the midst of the eerily beautiful Sonoran Desert, Greater Phoenix – also known as the Valley of the Sun – encompasses a 2,000-square mile area that spills over from the capital city of Phoenix to include some two dozen outlying and burgeoning communities like chic Scottsdale and youth-infused Tempe.

Visitors are principally drawn by the 300+ days of annual sunshine, when, coupled with the low humidity, makes for a wonderfully temperate year-round climate (save for a smattering of hotter-than-heck days during the summer months) and, upon arrival, are mesmerized by the region's Sonoran Desert setting. Outdoor adventurers have a chance to commune with a wonderland of jutting mountain peaks and rock formations; an exotic palette of wildlife (from coyote to javelina and gila monsters to tarantulas); and abundant native vegetation, including the multi-armed saguaro cacti, perhaps the most quintessential symbol of the American Southwest. There's certainly no shortage of ways in which to appreciate the surroundings, whether teeing off on one of the 200+ area golf courses, heading out on an off-road jeep or Hummer tour, hot-air ballooning, hiking, biking, horseback riding, or rock-climbing. While sun-drenched outdoor activities are plentiful, the area's cosmopolitan and cultural attractions refuse to be outshined: Visitors can check out Scottsdale's and downtown Phoenix's trendy art galleries, peruse world-class museum collections, dine in award-winning restaurants, admire unique desert architecture, shop upscale boutiques, and discover the area's Native American roots. Greater Phoenix is also located near some of Arizona's most scenic destinations, making side trips to the dramatic red-rock landscapes of the artsy, New Age-y city of Sedona or to the majestic Grand Canyon a breeze.

If you find yourself with three days in the Valley, take in the compulsory highlights – the Desert Botanical Gardens, the Heard Museum, and Taliesin West – and plan a half-day encounter with the stunning Sonoran Desert environment, be it by hot-air balloon ride or via a jeep or Hummer tour. Of course, relaxation is key – schedule a treatment at a local spa or just sip margaritas poolside at your resort. Golfers certainly won't want to miss playing 18 holes at one of the Valley's famous desert courses, while night owls can cap off a long day with a pulsating evening of club-hopping in downtown Scottsdale. Five days is better still, allotting you time to wrap your mind around the local arts scene by visiting the Phoenix Art Museum, the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, and a handful of the abundant art galleries. Indulge in a more thorough sampling of the great outdoors – plan to head out hiking, biking, or horseback riding. You'll also have time to collect some shopping bags around Greater Phoenix and to go out for a night on the town on Tempe's Mill Avenue. A week will leave time for exploring some of the amazing Arizona attractions that lie within close proximity – the crowning glory of these being the breathtaking Grand Canyon, followed closely by sublime Sedona. Bid farewell to the notion that Phoenix and Scottsdale are some Wild West cow towns – though the spirit of the Old West still pervades, today this desert city is one of glitter and gleam.

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