Despite the searing summer temperatures, the desolate deserts, and the lack of water, people have been drawn to Arizona for hundreds of years. In the 16th century, the Spanish came looking for gold, but settled on saving souls. In the 19th century, despite frightful tales of spiny cactus forests, ranchers drove their cattle into the region and discovered that a few corners of the state actually had lush grasslands. At the same time, sidetracked forty-niners were scouring the hills for gold (and found more than the Spanish did). However, boomtowns -- both cattle and mining -- soon went bust. Despite occasional big strikes, mining didn't prove itself until the early 20th century, and even then, the mother lode was neither gold nor silver, but copper, which Arizona has in such abundance that it is known as the Copper State.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Arizona struck a new source of gold: sunshine. The railroads had made travel to the state easy, and word of the mild winter climate spread to colder corners of the nation. Among the first "vacationers" were people suffering from tuberculosis. These "lungers," as they were known, rested and recuperated in the dry desert air. It didn't take long for the perfectly healthy to realize that they, too, could avail themselves of Arizona's sunshine, and wintering in the desert soon became fashionable with wealthy Northerners.
Today, the golden sun still lures people to Arizona; Scottsdale, Phoenix, Tucson, and Sedona are home to some of the most luxurious resorts in the country. Then there are those who come to Arizona on vacation and decide to make the move permanent, or at least semi-permanent. In the past half-century, the state has seen a massive influx of retirees, some of whom stay year-round in the pockets of Arizona where the climate is perfect year-round, and many thousands of others—the “snowbirds”—who leave the cold winters back east for 3 or 4 months in the state’s sunshine.
While the weather is a big draw, it's the Grand Canyon that attracts the most visitors to Arizona. However, the state has plenty of other natural wonders as well. The earth's best-preserved meteorite crater, the Painted Desert, the spectacular red-rock country of Sedona, the sandstone buttes of Monument Valley, and "forests" of saguaro cacti are just a few examples.
The human hand has also left its mark on Arizona. More than 1,000 years ago, the Ancestral Puebloans (formerly called Anasazis), Sinagua, and Hohokam tribes built villages on mesas, in valleys, and in the steep cliff walls of deep canyons. In more recent years, much larger structures have risen in canyons across the state. The Hoover and Glen Canyon dams on the Colorado River are among the largest dams in the country and have created the nation's largest and most spectacular reservoirs, although at the expense of the rich riparian areas that once thrived in the now-flooded desert canyons. Today, these reservoirs are among the state's most popular destinations, especially with Arizonans.
Just as compelling as Arizona's sunshine, resorts, and reservoirs are the tall tales of the state's fascinating history. This is the Wild West, the land of cowboys and Indians, of prospectors and ghost towns, coyotes and rattlesnakes. Scratch the glossy surface of modern, urbanized Arizona, and you'll strike real gold -- the story of the American West.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.