More than 30,000 acres of desert surround the area that’s presently known as Phoenix. Given the paucity of water, it’s hardly surprising that the Hohokam people who originally inhabited the area were eventually uprooted by a prolonged drought. When Civil War veteran Jack Swilling came through hundreds of years later, he saw the ruins of the Hohokam’s canals and set about building a new irrigation system to take their place. A town quickly sprang from the formerly barren desert. No name fit this town better than Phoenix, an allusion to the mythical bird that literally rose from the dust.
Swilling’s early canals are still in use today: the Arizona Canal Trail runs alongside one of Maricopa County’s most vital waterways and provides cyclists with 16 miles of scenic pathways. The trail passes landmarks such as the historic Arizona Falls and the Wrigley Mansion, and it’s secluded enough to keep the city noise at bay.
If city noise is actually what you’re looking for, Phoenix’s downtown will readily oblige with its eclectic mix of things to do. The city’s proximity to Mexico has always influenced its cuisine, but in recent years James Beard Award-winning chefs have introduced the flavors of Asia and Europe to the downtown culinary scene. Less edible works of art are on display at the Phoenix Art Museum, which holds one of the Southwest’s largest collections. The unveiling of Her Secret Is Patience, a stunning outdoor sculpture designed by Janet Echelman, has finally given the city its signature artistic landmark.
Phoenix is one of the country’s largest cities—at more than 519 square miles, it even outranks nearby Los Angeles. This size explains how the city is able to accommodate nearly 60,000 hotel rooms, more than 200 golf courses, and upwards of 30,000 acres of desert preserves.
The Sonoran Desert, where Phoenix is located, is the hottest in North America. Here, explorers can admire—from a safe distance, of course—the world’s only population of wild Saguaro cactus or ascend mountains such as the 2,608-foot Piestewa Peak, which is home to more than 50 species of birds.