Best for deserts: Arizona

From high-level trekking in Morocco's Atlas Mountains to rubbing shoulders with A-listers on Hollywood Boulevard, and from rural retreats off Tuscany's beaten track to jet-set hang outs for Moscow's super-rich, our writers have been to the ends of the earth to find a world of inspiration

For the fifth largest state in the Union, Arizona is spookily under-populated. Only five million people live in its 113,000 square miles, and most of them in the cities of Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff. The essence of the state, as the traveller soon discovers, is its mountain ranges, canyons, mesas, buttes and spires – terracotta-reddish, lunar plains of wind-scoured, water-eroded, volcano-blitzed rock. No wonder the Native Americans worshipped the land spirits; no wonder 19th-century European settlers mythologised cowboy life and invented the drama of the Noble Horseman, framed against the wildest landscapes they'd ever seen. No wonder that writers, searching for a made-up name for a no-horse town, came up with "Nowheresville, Arizona".

Today, you can shop for hours in Scottsdale – the Bluewater of Phoenix – and find charming hotels and classy restaurants under the Camelback Mountain or amid the chakras and vortexes of Sedona, America's spiritual capital. But luxury, comfort and retail therapy aren't the point of visiting Arizona. The point is to be on the move, by car or on horseback, gazing at the unrolling vistas of astounding scenery, at scrubby desert and waving sagebrush, Colorado plateau and Navajo reservation, as you gradually realise the entire state is on a kind of ramp.

Down south on the flat plains around Tucson, near the Mexican border, you're barely above sea level, and the heat is intense. North of Phoenix, heading for the Martian extravagance of the Grand Canyon, you find yourself getting out of breath (and considerably chillier) 7,000 or 8,000 feet above sea level. There are mountains and desert in both regions, but visitors with sedentary lifestyles will have a less breathless time down south.

You can try refusing to join in the cowboy schtick, but it'll get you in the end: you'll acquire the boots, the hat, the shirt and possibly the horse too – dude ranches are popular, taking in beginners and seasoned equestrians alike. You'll find mock-ups of Western bars everywhere, hammy shoot-outs in the street in Tombstone (home of the OK Corral), studio back-lots where they once filmed classic Westerns – and ancient bunkhouses, where they serve green-chilli burgers with tequila shots and Don Camino beers, and a grizzled guitarist will play Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Freebird" in the style of Seasick Steve, while couples dance a two-step under a chandelier hanging from a tamarisk tree.

Tucson, the second city, and the heart of the southern desert regions, is charmingly small-scale and manageable, a good-natured town that basks in a 500-square-mile valley surrounded by five mountain ranges. Its few skyscrapers seem rather an irrelevance. Visitors will head instead for the gleaming white cathedral, the groovy shopping precinct of Sixth Avenue, the old "Barrio" business district, the El Presidio Historic District, and the brilliantly garish Congress Hotel, where John ("Public Enemy No 1") Dillinger was nailed by the G-Men in 1934.

And then it'll be time to get back into your Mustang convertible and hit Interstate 10 again, hurtling into the ancient desert with the Santa Catalina mountains ahead of you and Saguaro National Park, with its 200-year-old cactuses, on either side; or you'll take the popular 120-mile round trip of the Apache Trail, to gaze at the Superstitious Mountains and the Roosevelt Dam along the way. You could resign yourself to just driving all day through this wonderful territory of golden deserts and sudden pine forests, noting the ridiculous place-names – Bumble Bee, Horsethief Basin, Badger Springs, Dead Horse Ranch – and looking forward to your next chilli burger and beer.

Or you could think, "Sod all this tourism", embrace your outlaw spirit, unleash the bad-ass in your soul and light out west on the I-8 freeway heading for Yuma on the extreme western border, the home of the famous cowboy prison, where you can meet the legendary 3.10 train, full of hardened criminals like yourself ...

Empty quarters

* Follow in the footsteps of Moses on his route into Egypt's wilderness on a desert trek that takes in Mt Sinai and the rock where he made water flow. Overnight under the stars in the Blue Desert. Seven days from £475 not incl. flights (20 per cent invested in local projects). Bedouinpaths.com

* Set in the lunar landscape of Chile's Atacama Desert, Explora is a wilderness lodge surrounded by snow-capped volcanoes, salt flats and pre-Inca ruins. Inside, Andean tapestries contrast with hi-tech telescopes; visibility here for star-gazing is unparalleled. 00 56 23 952533; explora.com

* Namibia's Little Kulala Lodge is the only man-made feature amid 21,000 hectares of red sand dunes in the Namib Desert. Thatched canvas chalets have wrap-around verandas and viewing platforms, but for superlative vistas take a dawn hot-air balloon ride. Namibweb.com/lkulala.htm

* There is no desert quite like Oman's Empty Quarter. Follow in the footsteps of Thesiger with Pioneer Expeditions' new "full moon desert trek", guided by Bedu tribesmen, and learn how to tend camels, seek out desert foxes and use the stars as guides. 0845 0047 801; pioneerexpeditions.com

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £32,000 Uncapped

    £22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £10,000 Uncapped - Part Time

    £7500 - £10000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness chai...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Marketing / Digital Marketing Executive (CRM, Eve...

    Recruitment Genius: Receptionist / Sales / Customer Service Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: The role is likely to be 4on 4 off, days and ...

    Day In a Page

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones