Say Sonoran Desert and some think of sand dunes and Lawrence of Arabia. Those who know think of Phoenix as a fresh oasis centered in this vast expanse, filled by nature with fascinating plants, animals, and unparalleled scenery.

In the city of Phoenix the Desert Botanical Garden affords a close-up look at characteristic desert dwellers including the many types of cacti that thrive in an arid land. Coursing into this valley is the Salt River, fed by runoff from the White Mountains, which creates the earliest whitewater rafting season in the country.

Getting out into the desert in a jeep provides a more personal look at the desert. The winding Apache Trail ends at impressive Roosevelt Dam, and primitive trails into the McDowell Mountains are pathways to spectacular vistas of Phoenix below. Horseback rides on dude-friendly mounts or more spirited steeds meander through South Moun- tain Park, the largest municipal park in the world. Perhaps nothing can compare with the bird's-eye view from a colorful hot air balloon rising with the sun into a desert dawn.

Within a drive of an hour or so from Phoenix, Native American Indian ruins tell vivid stories of ancient inhabitants. Tuzigoot, Casa Grande, Monte-zuma Castle and others offer a peek into the past. Within city limits in the shadow of giant jets, the ruins at Pueblo Grande show traces of the Hohokams, revealing the ingenious canal system that enabled their agrarian society to flourish.

The state's huge manmade lakes, Mead and Powell, along with local Phoenix lakes such as Pleasant, Canyon, Saguaro, and Apache, provide opportunities for a variety of water sports and boating. Lake Havasu, formed by damming the Colorado River, attracts aquatic enthusiasts, fishermen, and nature lovers with miles of shoreline.

To the north, the red rocks of Sedona and steep walls of Oak Creek Canyon create some of the state's most celebrated scenery. The pine-forested Mogollon Rim is a massive, 200-mile wall of sedimentary rock created 600 million years ago. The vistas it creates are legendary. And the incomparable Grand Canyon, one of the world's great wonders, remains the state's centerpiece of tourism. default.htmdefault.htm