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  4. North America
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  8. The Southwest


In the Southwest US are the desert mountains, plateaus, and canyons of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Nevada.

Desert animals come to mind—lizards, eleven species of rattlesnakes, and the venomous, but non-threatening, Gila monster (pronounced “hee-la”)—who live in the arid landscape among the giant saguaro cactus, Joshua trees, fossilized trees of the Petrified Forest, and majestic canyons. The cactus wren nests for protection within the thorns of a saguaro cactus; tiny tree frogs live in its mountains; turquoise, copper, and silver are abundant in its rock.

Arizona is home to the Grand Canyon, the resort city of Sedona, the artsy city of Tuscon, and its sprawling state capital, Phoenix. Arizona and New Mexico are known for the Navajo Nation and other land reservations of Native American tribes, such as the Apache and Pueblo peoples.

Utah is home to the Great Salt Lake with its state capital, Salt Lake City, as well as the red rock canyons of Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Arches National Park. Nevada is not only known for its casino and entertainment cities of Las Vegas and Reno; it is also home to the Great Basin National Park and the most mountainous state with over 150 named mountain ranges.

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Carson City (state capital), Reno, Lake Tahoe, Las Vegas, Valley of Fire, Great Basin, ghost towns, Burning Man’s Black Rock City (leave-no-trace festival)


Salt Lake City (state capital and largest city), Park City, Wasatch Mountains, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arches NP, Canyonlands NP, Zion NP, Bryce Canyon NP, Glen Canyon


Phoenix (state capital and largest city), Tuscon, Sedona, Flagstaff, Grand Canyon, Navajo Nation, Saguaro NP, Petrified Forest

New Mexico

Sante Fe (state capital), Albuquerque, Taos Pueblo, Acoma Pueblo, Carlsbad Caverns, Chaco Culture, El Malpais, White Sands



Carson Valley
Photo by Ali Giaudrone


A state known for gambling and casinos, Carson City is the state capital in the valley at the eastern base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains where eastern Lake Tahoe lies within the corner of the state. Nearby, the city of Reno was dubbed “the biggest little city on Earth,” while Las Vegas is the state’s largest city and casino mecca, drawing millions of tourists each year. Near Vegas (the common name), the Valley of Fire State Park is named for its red sandstone formations. Infamous Burning Man event of self-expression is a leave-no-trace festival held each year at the temporary Black Rock City in the northwestern state.

The arid Great Basin region of the US comprises Nevada as the most mountainous state which boasts over 150 named mountain ranges with over 30 peaks exceeding 11,000 feet in height. Most of its mountains are rocky and arid, popular for hiking, each with distinct biomes and rock formations. The Sierra Nevada Mountains beyond Nevada’s western border create a rain shadow effect across the entire state. This barrier prevents many Pacific storms from reaching the mountainous high desert.

Rich in metal ores, Nevada was once a destination for prospectors who built many settlements during the gold and silver rush of the 19th century, only to abandon the hundreds of still remaining ghost towns once the well ran dry, so to speak. Today the state remains the largest producer of silver and gold in the country, but a drive along its delolate highways evokes an eerie feeling within me.

The ill effects of human activity scarring Nevada are also seen around Walker Lake, once popular, now abandoned. Farming irrigation diverted its source, the Walker River. In turn, its salt levels increased, which toxified the water and decimated its fish and bird population.

See the official Nevada Tourism pages.


Arches National Park
Photo by Joshua Sukoff on Unsplash


Salt Lake City, the state capital and largest city, is named for the Great Salt Lake and its salt flats in northwestern Utah. South of Salt Lake, the city of Provo and its surrounding communities sit on the shores of Utah Lake. Park City is a popular ski resort in the Wasatch Mountains of the Western Rockies.

Wondrous rock formations abound in southern Utah. The eastern city of Moab is a gateway to Arches National Park. Beyond are Canyonlands National Park, Monument Valley, Glen Canyon, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon National Park, the Grand Staircase, Zion National Park, and Dixie National Forest.

The state is named for the homeland of the Ute Natives who maintain the Uintah and Ouray Reservation. The Navajo Nation expands into southern Utah from Arizona and New Mexico.

See the official Utah Tourism pages.


Grand Canyon West
Photo by Ali Giaudrone


Phoenix is the state capital and largest city, the fifth-largest in the United States. Sedona is a popular resort nearby in the Verde Valley with red sandstone rock formations. Tuscon is the gateway to Saguaro National Park. Petrified Forest National Park sits between the Hopi and Navajo Nations in the northeast corner and the Apache Nation to its south.

The Colorado River slices through the northwest corner of the state for over 275 miles, exposing a billion years in layers of jagged, copper-colored rock cliffs in the Grand Canyon accessed from the city of Flagstaff.

Along with protecting its natural wonders, Arizona has designated the most land of any US state to several native tribes—among them are Navajo, Apache, and Hopi people. For thousands of years, Pueblo peoples honored the canyon as a holy ground for pilgrimage. Today, Grand Canyon West is tended by the indigenous Hualapai Tribe, Havasupai Tribe, and Navajo Nation.

See the official Arizona Tourism pages.


Photo by Joonyeop Baek on Unsplash

New Mexico

Sante Fe is the state capital northeast of Albuquerque, New Mexico’s largest city. Taos Pueblo has been designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site, popular for its adobe pueblo architecture along with Acoma Pueblo. Carlsbad Caverns is a national park in the Guadaloupe Mountains of the southeastern state, Chaco Culture National Historical Park is thick with pueblos and ancient ruins.

New Mexico’s more severe landscape includes El Malpais, a barren volcanic field, and the extremely rary gypsum dunes of White Sands National Park that was used as the nuclear bomb test site in 1945.

See the official New Mexico Tourism pages.

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