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Arizona has one colossal advantage - the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River. It's the single most awe-inspiring spectacle in a land of unforgettable geology, and one of the few places in the world that you absolutely have to see at least once in your life. Most of Arizona's compelling natural attractions are in its northern reaches, but the southern half of the state holds ninety percent of its people in the cities of Tombstone, Tucson and Phoenix - The state capital.
The I-40 interstate crosses the center of Arizona, skirting the Navajo Reservation that fills the northeastern corner of the state. The narrow strip of land to either side can be extraordinarily beautiful, with double rainbows reaching across the desert plain and fiery dawns blazing along the horizon, Flagstaff makes a base for several interesting excursions - to ancient Native American sites and the New Age mecca of Sedona , but above all to the Grand Canyon.
Although five million people come to see the GRAND CANYON OF THE COLORADO every year, it remains beyond the grasp of the human imagination. No photograph, no set of statistics, can prepare you for such vastness. At more than one mile deep, it's an inconceivable abyss; varying between four and eighteen miles wide, it's an endless expanse of bewildering shapes and colors, glaring desert brightness and impenetrable shadow, stark promontories and soaring, never-to-be-climbed sandstone pinnacles. The overlooks along the rim all offer views that shift and change unceasingly from dawn to sunset; you can hike down into the depths on foot or by mule, hover above in a helicopter or raft through the whitewater rapids of the river itself; you can spend a night at Phantom Ranch on the canyon floor, or swim in the waterfalls of the idyllic Havasupai Reservation . And yet that distance always remains - the Grand Canyon stands apart.
Until the 1920s, the average visitor would stay for two or three weeks. These days it's more like two or three hours - of which forty minutes are spent actually looking at the canyon. The vast majority come to the South Rim - it's much easier to get to, there are far more facilities (mainly at Grand Canyon Village ), and it's open all year round. There is another lodge and campground at the North Rim , which by virtue of its isolation can be a lot more evocative, but at one thousand feet higher it is usually closed by snow from mid-October until May. Few people visit both rims; to get from one to the other demands either a two-day hike down one side of the canyon and up the other, or a 215-mile drive by road.
The deserts of northeastern Arizona, popularly known as INDIAN COUNTRY , hold some of the most fascinating pre-Columbian ruins in North America, in the most striking settings imaginable. The cliff palaces of Canyon de Chelly , and Betatakin and Keet Seel in the Navajo National Monument, are among the greatest architectural achievements of the Ancestral Puebloans , made that much more special by the fact that the lands on which they stand are still lived on and worked by their heirs, the Hopi and Navajo.
The NAVAJO NATION , the largest Native American reservation in the US, fills most of the region, lapping over into western New Mexico and stretching to include the majestic sandstone pillars of Monument Valley in southernmost Utah. Although the migrant Navajo have embraced the American Way - driving pickup trucks and wearing baseball caps - you get a very real sense of