Bright Lights, Big City: The Southwest

Author: Alecia Pirulis

Lake Powell Utah

Deep red canyons, cactus arms with feathery spines, cloudless skies of topaz, and cowboys on horseback – the American Southwest is often defined by its landscape and history. And while the area’s deep canyons, vast deserts, and soaring mountain peaks are beautiful, this area is also home to several major cities. People flock to the Southwest for the amazing parks and sunsets as well as the booming economy and vibrant job market, so pull on some cowboy boots and get moving to your new home in the Southwest.

Phoenix, Arizona: As the largest city in Arizona and one of the largest in the nation, Phoenix is home to well over one million people. “The Valley of the Sun” is located in the northeastern section of the Sonoran Desert and summer temperatures hover around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The city, which incorporated in 1881, was founded by a Confederate soldier named Jack Swilling who headed west in the 1850s. Phoenix, the state capital, has a large number of government employees. Other major employers include Arizona State University and several Fortune 500 companies. Known for its golf courses and water parks, Phoenix is also home to several museums, a thriving music scene, and beautiful parks. South Mountain Park, the world’s largest municipal park, covers 16,500 acres. The Desert Botanical Garden contains over 21,000 plants, including 139 native species that are rare, threatened, or endangered.

Tucson, Arizona: Travel two hours southeast of Phoenix and you’ll find the beautiful city of Tucson. Located about an hour north of the Mexican border, Tucson is surrounded by stunning parks. Saguaro National Park is on the eastern side of Tucson while Tucson Mountain County Park is on the west side. Kartchner Caverns State Park, San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, Patagonia Lake State Park, Tumacacori National Historical Park, and Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge are south of the city. Tucson is home to the University of Arizona and is the second-largest city in the state. Beautiful and historic neighborhoods weave throughout the cityscape. The most well-known, El Presidio, is the oldest neighborhood in Tucson. Other historic neighborhoods include Barrio Santa Rosa, Armory Park, and Barrio Historico. The Pima County Courthouse, the Hotel Congress, the Art Deco Fox Theater, the St. Augustine Cathedral, and the Rialto Theatre are some of the historic attractions located downtown.

Las Vegas, Nevada: While “Sin City” may be most famous for gambling and live shows, there’s more to the city than neon lights and slot machines. This glitzy diamond in the desert may rely heavily on tourism, gaming, and conventions, but casinos aren’t the only Las Vegas hotspots. Museums in Las Vegas include the Neon Museum, the Las Vegas Natural History Museum, and the Las Vegas Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement. Local artists and musicians are featured in the downtown “Arts District” on the first Friday of every month. Broadway shows, opera performances, and orchestra concerts all take place at Smith Center for the Performing Arts, and restaurants and shops line the city streets. Once you discover what really happens in Vegas, you’ll definitely want to stay there.

Salt Lake City, Utah: When this mountainous city was founded in 1847 by Mormon leader Brigham Young, it was part of the unorganized Utah Territory. Today, the “Crossroads of the West” is a busy city with a strong tourism industry based mainly in skiing. Salt Lake City is also a major banking area, while other businesses include government, transportation, and trade. It is also home to the University of Utah, Westminster College, and Eagle Gate College. The city is the headquarters for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and sites open to visitors include Temple Square, home of the historic Tabernacle and the Tabernacle Choir. Ski resorts are world-class and include Snowbird, Park City Mountain Resort, Deer Valley, Alta, Solitude, and Brighton. Trolley Square is the ideal shopping destination with restaurants and boutiques along cobblestone streets and featuring renovated trolley barns.

Albuquerque, New Mexico: Straddling the Rio Grande, Albuquerque’s charms begin with its beautiful landscape. Located in central New Mexico, Albuquerque isn’t one of the larger cities in the Southwest; in fact, the city’s population is just over 552,000, making it number 57 on the list of the nation’s largest cities. But Albuquerque is home to the University of New Mexico and Kirtland Air Force Base, and it is the location of some amazing sights, including the awe-inspiring Balloon Fiesta. Petroglyph National Monument is located along the city’s west side – this must-see destination is a series of dormant volcanoes featuring hundreds of archeological sites and roughly 24,000 symbols and designs carved by Native Americans and Spanish settlers dating back 700 years. The city itself was founded in 1706, and the downtown area contains many buildings from the 19th century. Old Town Albuquerque dates back to 1706 and features 10 blocks of historic adobes around a central plaza. This popular shopping and tourist destination is filled with restaurants, shops, and art galleries.

El Paso, Texas: Located in west Texas along the border with Mexico, El Paso sprawls along the Rio Grande across from the city of Jarez in Chihuahua, Mexico. El Paso is home to the University of Texas at El Paso and Fort Bliss, one of the US Army’s largest military complexes. First explored by the Spanish in the 1500s, El Paso was settled in the late 1600s and it remained in Spanish control as part of New Mexico until the US took it over in 1848. Two years later, El Paso became part of Texas. Today, El Paso is an important city, home to over 70 Fortune 500 companies. El Paso’s list of cultural attractions is also impressive: the El Paso Museum of Archaeology, the El Paso Museum of Art, the El Paso Museum of History, the historic Plaza Theater, and the El Paso Zoo are just some of the area’s famous destinations.

Denver, Colorado: Located just east of the Rocky Mountain’s Front Range, the Mile-High City is one of the country’s most elevated cities, one mile above sea level. The city celebrates its outdoor beauty with over 200 parks. Red Rocks Park, which is home to the world-famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. When residents aren’t enjoying the natural beauty around them, they are enjoying a strong economy – Denver has one of the largest metro economies in the country. And, as the pioneer of the “fast-casual” restaurant craze, many popular chain restaurants were founded in and are based in Denver, including Quizno’s, Smashburger, and Chipotle Mexican Grill.