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By Bayard R Fox
The dramatic beauty of Arizona is hard to match. Seeing it on horseback is electrifying and far more satisfying than glimpsing it from cars and planes.
The emotional experience of Arizona's ancient geological marvels can be overwhelming. Some of them have inspired paintings, literature, music, movies, marriages and visions. The Grand Canyon, Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelly are stunning enough to warrant separate rides.
- The Grand Canyon covers approximately three thousand square miles, most a mile below sea level. The Colorado River flows through this colorful and massive rift in the Colorado plateau, which is also host to hundreds of vertebrates.
- The iconic sandstone buttes of Monument Valley rise a thousand feet above the Colorado plateau just west of the four corners area. These famous rock formations have been used in many commercials, movies and videos.
- Canyon de Chelly, meaning the canyon in the rock, consists of Navajo lands now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. One of the park's most distinctive geologic features is Spider Rock, a sandstone spire 800 feet tall.
But there's more.
Arizona is also a state with strong cowboy traditions. This is plain to see in the old working ranches that dot the countryside. Some of them boast fine horses and many borrow from the tradition of the vaquero. The western saddle used by American cowboys today came from Spain via Mexico to Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and California.
The Navajo, whose traditions dominate this area, have preserved their ancient culture here for centuries. Their lasting important influences include handcrafts, music and animal husbandry.
Riding Arizona on horseback gives you the chance to see the country upclose while enjoying a historic and natural mode of transportation. Some of the best terrain for invigorating gallops is in the west, and Arizona has more than its share. On horseback, you can get into the heart of a place at a comfortable pace to see what the mass of tourists miss. It is their great loss and your gain.
Around the world, local people are far more likely to open up to horseback riders than to tourists spilling out of buses and cars. A ride in Arizona is a chance to experience geology, flora, fauna, culture and legend that simply cannot be apprehended in a flyover or a drive by.
Bayard Fox has been riding for 70 years on six continents and has ridden enough miles to circle the globe several times. He is owner and founder of Equitours Worldwide Horseback Riding Vacations. He and his wife also own the Bitterroot Dude Ranch where they raise and train Arabian horses.
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