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The tourism industry in ARIZONA has, literally, one colossal
advantage - the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River. It's the
single most awe-inspiring spectacle in a land of unforgettable
geology, and one of the few places in the world that you absolutely
have to see at least once in your life. However, the Grand Canyon
is by no means the most interesting or memorable destination
in the state. Indeed, in comparison to its inhuman scale, other
parts of Arizona have a more abiding emotional impact, precisely
because of the sheer drama of human involvement in this forbidding
but deeply resonant desert landscape.
Over a third of the state still belongs to the Native Americans
who have lived here for centuries, and who outside the cities
form the majority of the population. In the so-called Indian
Country of northeastern Arizona, the reservation lands of the
Navajo Nation hold the stupendous Canyon de Chelly and dozens
of other marvellously sited Ancestral Puebloan ruins , as well
as the stark rocks of Monument Valley . The Navajo surround
the homeland of one of the most stoutly traditional of all Native
American peoples, the Hopi , who live in remote mesa-top villages
. The third main tribal group are the Apache , in the harshly
beautiful southeastern mountains - the last Native Americans
to give in to the overwhelming power of the white American invaders.
Away from the reservations, Wild West towns like Tombstone
, site of the famed gunfight at the OK Corral, give a clear
sense of Arizona's characteristically rough-and-ready, pioneer
mentality; this was the last of the lower 48 states to join
the Union, in 1912. The cities , however, are not much fun.
In Phoenix , the capital, well over a million souls are scattered
over a 500-square-mile morass of shopping malls and tract-house
suburbs; Tucson is a bit more civil, but still wears thin after
a day or so.
Though the open spaces of southern Arizona can be harsh and
violent - most of the southwestern quarter, along the parallel
I-8 and I-10 highways, is used as a bombing range - the bleakness
is balanced somewhat by the many nature reserves which protect
its amazing flora and fauna, such as Saguaro National Park ,
just outside Tucson, with its giant cactuses, real-life roadrunners
and rare Gila monsters.
Arizona is better served by public transportation than much
of the Southwest, but it's still an effort to get around without
a car. Greyhound buses stop at all the major cities and at most
towns along the interstates, while Amtrak trains cross the state
on two of their transcontinental routes (via Tucson in the south,
or Flagstaff further north). Seeing the backcountry, however
- and especially the reservations - is all but impossible without
a car. The largest airport is at Phoenix, and assorted good-value,
short-hop flights cover the principal destinations. The only
worthwhile bus tours visit the area around Flagstaff.
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