LOCATED along the banks of the Salt River, Phoenix-Arizona's state capital-is saddled between dramatic mountain ranges. Year-round sunshine and mild temperatures make Phoenix one of America's premier desert cities. Located 1,117 feet above sea level, Phoenix is warm, sunny, and usually dry. Year-round, the temperature averages 72[degrees] F (22[degrees] C) and low humidity makes summer heat less oppressive than in other hot climates.
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With so many sunshine-filled days, Phoenix is the perfect place to experience outdoor activities. Horseback riding, mountain biking, and hiking are great ways to explore the Sonoran Desert, as is a rugged jeep ride. The nearby Verde or Salt rivers are ideal for afternoon tubing or rafting, and thrill seekers can soar high above the desert plateau in gliders or hot-air balloons to get splendid views of Greater Phoenix-an area comprising 22 cities, including Scottsdale, Tempe, and Mesa.
For almost 25,000 years, American Indians had this area to themselves; the Hohokam Indians were settled in what's now known as Phoenix. In the mid-1500s, the Spanish Conquistadors arrived to search for the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola in this vicinity. Although they found little gold, they introduced the natives to cattle and horse raising and various new agricultural crops and techniques. Until the mid-1850s, the American Indian tribes accepted the few miners, traders, and farmers who settled there. As the number of white settlers grew, however, the tribes resented the encroachment on their land and battles broke out. The ensuing decades were an ordeal for Arizona's natives, many of whom survived to live on reservations; today, about 300,000 American Indians from 21 tribes live on Arizona's 23 reservations.
The present city of Phoenix originated in 1860 as a small settlement on the banks of the Salt River. One of the city's first settlers gave Phoenix its name, predicting that a great city would arise from the ancient Hohokam ruins like the legendary phoenix bird that was said to have risen from its own ashes.
With the construction of its first railroad in 1887, Phoenix drew settlers from all over the United States. In 1889, it was declared the capital of the Arizona territory.
Today, Phoenix is the sixth-largest city in the United States, with an estimated 3.2 million people living in the metropolitan area.
Although Phoenix is a modern metropolitan city, it hasn't forgotten its past, as evidenced by its Southwestern architecture and American Indian cultural influences that are interwoven with the sophisticated lifestyle of its residents. The area's past is preserved in several ancient ruin sites, including Pueblo Grande Museum.
Various other museums offer indigenous history and art, as well as imported works. The Heard Museum in downtown Phoenix is well known for its American Indian art exhibits, including the nation's largest kachina doll collection. The Phoenix Art Museum, host of the Cowboy Artists Show, has a permanent collection of 16,000 paintings, sculptures, costumes, and other works of art from the 15th through 20th centuries.
Visitors will also enjoy exploring the Arizona Science Center, the Phoenix Museum of History, the Hall of Flame Fire Fighting Museum, the Scottsdale Center for the Arts, and the Champlin Fighter Aircraft Museum.
Greater Phoenix offers attractions and activities for the entire family, including the Phoenix Zoo, Desert Botanical Garden, and Big Surf water park. To relive the Old West experience, visit Rawhide-an authentic 1880s western town with old-fashioned shoot-outs-or venture on a gold-panning expedition.
Visitors seeking the performing arts can find everything from Broadway plays to lyric opera in Phoenix. The Herberger Theater Center plays host to many performances, including Ballet Arizona, the Arizona Opera Company, and the Arizona Theater Company. The Phoenix Theatre, founded in 1920, is the nation's longest continuously running community theater. The Phoenix Symphony Orchestra has been performing for more than 35 years with a season that runs from fall through spring.
The city offers many opportunities to enjoy other music as well, including rock, jazz, country, and more. Some of the nation's best-known artists appear at America West Arena, Bank One Ballpark, the outdoor Cricket Pavilion, Grady Gammage Auditorium, Red River Music Hall, the Sundrome, and at area nightclubs.
For more than 20 years, the National Basketball Association's Phoenix Suns were the only major-league sports team in town, but as Phoenix grew, so did its reputation for big-time sports. Greater Phoenix earned its first major sports title in 2001, when the Arizona Diamondbacks earned a World Series title in their fourth season of play. Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky's involvement with the Phoenix Coyotes further invigorated the city's sports scene. Now Greater Phoenix is one of only eight markets to boast professional teams in football, basketball, baseball, and hockey and is home to one of the original Women's National Basketball Association teams. Phoenix also hosts college football's Fiesta Bowl and the Thunderbird Balloon Classic, where more than 100 brightly colored hot-air balloons fill the skies above Scottsdale each November. Phoenix International Raceway is the scene of Indy Car and NASCAR events; Manzanita Speedway features drag racing; and Firebird International Raceway offers both car and boat racing.
No description of Phoenix would be complete without mentioning golf. Dubbed by the National Golf Foundation as the "Golf Capital of the World," Greater Phoenix is considered one of the world's top golf destinations. Phoenix's warmth, desert plant life, and varied playing experiences-including everything from tight target to lush oasis courses with desert, mountains, or the surrounding urban landscape as a backdrop-make Phoenix golf unique.
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There are 200-plus golf courses in Greater Phoenix and more than 300 throughout the state of Arizona. An average of more than 325 mostly sunny days a year provides a perfect backdrop for the 11 million rounds of golf played every year.
Resorts, dining, and shopping
Dozens of self-contained resort communities mix shops, restaurants, activities, and luxury accommodations into the perfect destination. Four Greater Phoenix properties earned the 2003 American Automobile Association Five-Diamond rating, two of which are among the nation's top golf resorts. The Boulders Resort and Golden Door Spa in Carefree is a tranquil, Southwestern-styled resort nestled into the naturally formed boulders of the Sonoran Desert, which makes each hole of golf at The Boulders a scenic wonder. The Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North also boasts an award-winning setting for golf lovers; the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess is the home of the PGA Tour's Phoenix Open. Marriott's Camelback Inn has received a Five-Diamond rating since 1977-one of only four resorts in America that can make that claim-and has proven to be a long-standing favorite destination for visitors enjoying Arizona's unique Southwestern hospitality.
The atmosphere of Phoenix restaurants ranges from casual cowboy to sophisticated city. Diners can taste a bit of the Old West by sampling a mesquite-grilled steak at one of the many restaurants specializing in authentic Southwestern cuisine. Tantalize your taste buds by indulging in various foods, including Fusion, Italian, Chinese, Mexican, Continental, Thai, and Moroccan, prepared by some of the world's best chefs. Greater Phoenix also boasts two five-star restaurants: Mary Elaine's at The Phoenician and Marquesa restaurant at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess.
Shoppers will find a wonderful selection of beautifully handcrafted American Indian turquoise jewelry and elegant leather goods at the exclusive shops and galleries in Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tempe. Everything from the latest in fashionable apparel to collectible artwork is available at one of Greater Phoenix's many large shopping malls, from the Arizona Mills factory outlet mall to Scottsdale Fashion Square-the largest shopping mall in the Southwest.
Day trips around Phoenix
Arizona is often described as a land of contrasts because of its changing scenery and activities. You can swim and play tennis in the morning in Phoenix and spend the afternoon fishing, hiking, or sightseeing in the cool pines of Flagstaff or the White Mountains. In the spring, you can even snow ski in the morning and attend a major-league baseball game on the evening of the same day. Greater Phoenix, with its convenient central location, is ideally positioned for day trips around the state.
* Grand Canyon. This breathtaking sight is a 5-hour drive from Phoenix. One of the world's seven natural wonders, the Grand Canyon offers spectacular vistas of canyon walls that have been sculpted from earth over the millennia by the Colorado River. Take a nature walk or mule ride into the canyon or drive around its scenic edge. The North Rim is open from mid-May through October, depending on weather conditions; the South Rim is open year-round.
* Sedona. Located 2 hours from Phoenix, the cultural community of Sedona is a mecca for art lovers and collectors. Surrounded by the towering red sandstone cliffs of Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona's deep red-rock buttes provide a beautiful backdrop to boutiques and art galleries selling authentic American Indian and Southwestern arts and crafts.
* White Mountains. Located in the eastern part of the state and a 4-hour drive from Phoenix, the White Mountains offer many attractions in climate 30 degrees cooler than Phoenix. Summer activities include camping, fishing, mountain biking, hiking, and horseback riding. In the winter, area resorts offer outstanding downhill and cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and ice fishing. Much of the area is on American Indian land, including the Hon-Dah Casino. Rodeos, cultural festivals, and parades are common events in the region.
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* Apache Trail. This world-famous trail was used by Apache Indians as a shortcut through the mountains to reach early Salt River settlers. Most of the trail is unpaved but can be easily driven in most vehicles. The trail features volcanic debris, cliff-sided canyons, sparkling lakes, towering saguaro cacti, and a vast array of wildflowers. The ghost town of Goldfield, the Old Western town of Tortilla Flat (population, 6), the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Tonto National Monument, and Weavers Needle Lookout are a few interesting points along the trail. Other scenic stops include the Lost Dutchman State Park (perhaps you'll find the legendary lost gold mine!!) and Roosevelt Dam. The Apache Trail is a 4-hour round-trip drive from Phoenix.
* Lake Powell. Located 282 miles from Phoenix (about a 5-hour drive), Lake Powell is 186 miles long and claims 1,960 miles of shoreline, more than the entire Pacific coast of the United States. Water sports of all kinds are popular on the lake and although accommodations with spectacular lake views are available, adventurous types may opt for a houseboat rental. Houseboats range from 36-foot vessels with basic amenities to 56-foot crafts with everything you'd find at a resort hotel.
* Biosphere 2. What started out as a scientific experiment is now one of Arizona's most popular tourist attractions. This 31 1/2-acre, glass-enclosed environment is designed to support 3,800 species of plants and animals for 100 years in its own self-sustaining biological systems. A 2-hour drive south from Phoenix, the Biosphere offers daily tours.
Whether you want to pamper yourself at a top resort; play golf at one of the area's lush courses; hike or bike one of the numerous mountain trails; spend all day in downtown Phoenix enjoying the many museums, shops, and restaurants; or take a day trip to one of Arizona's scenic locales-Phoenix offers a multitude of cultural and recreational activities.
To find out more, contact the Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau at 602-254-6500 or go online at http://www.visitphoenix.com.