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Southern Arizona is where you'll find the old west and lots of desert

The Tucson Rodeo keeps cowboy culture alive in Southern Arizona
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Arizona's main airport, Sky Harbor International, is in Phoenix and is where most people will first set foot in Arizona. The arrival is dramatic, by day or by night, and after flying over the mountains and desert you arrive in a vast American metropolis. Phoenix is the 6th-largest city in the USA and one of the most rapidly growing cities in the States. But beyond the golf resorts and spas there is desert, the wild west, snakes and saguaro cactuses, rodeos and open roads, and a fascinating cultural mix of cowboys, Native Americans, and Spanish settlers.


Desert is what people expect to find in Arizona, and the Sonoran Desert spreads across much of southern Arizona. If they're here on vacation they probably also expect to find lush golf courses and luxurious spa resorts, which surround Tucson and its prosperous neighbor, Scottsdale. What can be surprising is that here also are places like the Tonto National Forest, which is the largest forest in Arizona and the 5th-largest in the United States. It covers an astonishing 2,873,200 acres (11,627 sq km) to the east and north of Phoenix.


The spa resorts and golf courses can be found in Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tucson, where not only are you promised 300+ days of sunshine a year but also unique courses surrounded by mountains and with giant cacti alongside the fairways.


Phoenix is Arizona's main city, and the 2nd-largest is Tucson, both in the southern half of the state. Phoenix has an elevation of 1,150ft (350m) whereas Tucson is at 2,389ft (728m) and therefore cooler in summer.


Phoenix is known for its golf and resorts, and also wonderful museums like the Heard Museum, which highlights Native American culture. By contrast, Tucson still has a wild west feel about it, with its annual rodeo a main attraction, alongside Old Tucson Studios (where western movies are still filmed) and the Desert Museum which explores and explains the desert landscape of Southern Arizona.


There are some very surprising things about Southern Arizona too. It has many observatories, like Kitt's Peak National Observatory, which has the largest collection of astronomical instruments in the world. It's where Arizona's main vineyards are located, and where you'll also find old Spanish missions like San Xavier del Bac ('the dove of the desert') and the Tumacacori National Historical Park, mid-way between Tucson and the Mexican border. It's a reminder of the mix of cultures which makes this part of the United States so fascinating.


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