Phoenix, Arizona, is a truly modern city—it didn't really boom until after World War II. Nonetheless, mixed among Phoenix's office towers and the abundance of resorts, spas and restaurants are museums dedicated to pre-Columbian, Native American and pioneer history. Though Phoenix proper is just one of several cities in the Valley of the Sun, it's the largest by far and serves as the center of the metropolitan area. The explosive, sprawling growth of the Phoenix metropolitan area—which includes Glendale, Mesa, Scottsdale, Chandler, Peoria and Tempe—is due in part to its attractive desert location (cacti and mountains are never far from view) and in part to the city's refusal to respect the limitations a desert imposes.

Visitors to Phoenix might be surprised by the air pollution all the development has generated. The heat, however, should not be a shock. It is the desert after all, and temperatures routinely top 100 F/38 C in summer and can reach the 90s F/32-37 C even in late spring and early fall. Despite the smog and heat, people go to Phoenix for year-round outdoor activities, as the area is home to more than 200 golf courses and the highly regarded Desert Botanical Garden. Plus, most days are cloudless, and the brilliant sun—which shines more than 325 days a year—is regarded as an asset, not a liability, by desert dwellers.

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