Let's face it: It's hard to be green in the desert. The desert simply is not a very sustainable place to build major cities. High temperatures and lack of water long precluded the development of arid landscapes. However, with the advent of air-conditioning, giant dams, and canals that can transport huge amounts of water hundreds of miles across the desert, cities such as Phoenix and Tucson have been able to grow into the sprawling metropolises of today. Unfortunately, in places where it often tops 120°F (49°C) in the summer, massive amounts of energy must be used to keep cool. Likewise, the scarcity of water in the desert Southwest would suggest that perhaps the Sonoran Desert is not the best place to locate large metropolitan areas.
For decades, resort hotels in Phoenix and Tucson have been criticized for their profligate water usage, and such criticism has yet to eliminate the vast acres of lawns that surround some of the state's resorts. Arizona is well known for its hundreds of golf courses, but those courses use up an inordinate amount of water. The state's guest ranches make great family destinations, but cattle ranching can be very damaging to the desert environment.
Slowly but surely, however, resorts, hotels, inns, and other businesses across the state are showing signs of turning green. In Phoenix, the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch has a solar hot-water system. The U.S. Green Building Council has given LEED certification to Tempe's hip Aloft hotel where, among other green features, drivers of hybrid cars get preferred parking spaces. In Tucson, there's a solar-powered pizza place and even a solar-powered bar, and in Flagstaff, there's a burger joint that uses beef from a local ranch. You'll find information on these and other eco-friendly restaurants and accommodations throughout this book.
While the desert, by definition, may not be very green, there are some things you can do to make your Arizona vacation a little bit more sustainable. Stay at a resort that uses native desert landscaping rather than one surrounded by thirsty lawns. Play golf on a water-conserving "desert-style" course; while these courses can be very challenging, they preserve the natural desert environment and save water. Some courses have even been certified by the Audubon Society as wildlife sanctuaries. See the World Golf Foundation website (www.worldgolffoundation.org) for details. If you're heading to Grand Canyon National Park, take the train and then use the park's free, environmentally friendly compressed-natural-gas buses to get around.
Volunteer travel has become increasingly popular among those who want to venture beyond the standard group-tour experience to learn languages, interact with locals, and make a positive difference while on vacation. Volunteer travel usually doesn't require special skills—just a willingness to work hard—and programs vary in length from a few days to a number of weeks. Some programs provide free housing and food, but many require volunteers to pay for travel expenses, which can add up quickly.
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.