The state capital and largest city in Arizona, PHOENIX holds only minimal appeal for tourists. When it began life in the 1860s, it must have seemed like a good idea. The sweltering little farming town stood in the heart of the large Salt River Valley, with a ready-made irrigation system left by ancient Indians (the name Phoenix honors the fact that the city rose from the ashes of a long-vanished Hohokam community). Within a century, however, Phoenix had turned into what writer Edward Abbey called "the blob that is eating Arizona," acquiring as it did so the money and political clout to defy the self-evident absurdity of building a huge city in a virtually waterless desert. Now the sixth largest city in the US, it has filled the entire valley, engulfing the neighboring towns of Scottsdale, Mesa and Tempe in the process, with over a million people within the city boundaries and more than two million in the metropolitan area. Arizona's financial and industrial epicenter may just be getting into its stride; boosters claim the megalopolis will one day stretch 150 miles, from Wickenburg to Tucson.
The city's phenomenal rise was originally fueled by its image as a healthy oasis, where the desert had been tamed and transformed into a suburban idyll. While retirees still flock to enclaves such as Sun City , Phoenix now has a deserved reputation as the most unpleasant city in the Southwest - Las Vegas with no casinos, or LA with no beach. Above all, it's hot ; between June and August daytime highs average over 100°F, making it the hottest city outside the Middle East.
In winter, when temperatures rarely drop below 65°F, tourists from colder climes arrive in large numbers. They pay vast sums to warm their bones in the luxury resorts and spas, concentrated especially in Scottsdale, that are the modern equivalent of the 1930s dude ranches. Unlike golf, tennis and shopping, sightseeing rarely ranks high on the agenda - which is just as well, since there's a good deal of truth in the charge laid by Phoenix's older arch-rival, Tucson, that the city is sorely lacking in culture and history. Apart from the Heard Museum 's excellent Native American displays, and Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture studio at Taliesin West , Phoenix is short of must-see attractions. In fact, if you're on a touring vacation, you'd miss little if you bypassed it altogether; a day at one of the city's plentiful upscale malls is probably as authentic and enjoyable an experience as Phoenix has to offer.
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