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The Grand Canyon State

On October 26, 1881 Wyatt Earp and his posse confronted the Clanton and McLaury brothers at the OK Corral, in what may be the Old West's most famous gunfight ever. Within seconds, three men were dead and two wounded. The setting: Tombstone, Arizona.

Tombstone was named when a friend remarked to the town's founder, prospector Ed Schiefflin, "the only thing you'll find out there will be your own tombstone." The silver lode that Schiefflin had discovered was exhausted within a decade, and indeed, the town probably would be a ghost town today, were it not for the shootout's enduring appeal. Instead, Tombstone, "The Town Too Tough To Die", attracts thousands of tourists every year, and the OK Corral is done up like an amusement park attraction.

Despite Tombstone's unlikely survival, Arizona is littered with ghost towns. Many of them are abandoned mining outposts or railroad junctures, the detritus of the prospecting boom of the late 19th century. A few predate the arrival of Euro-American settlers, such as the forsaken cliff dwellings of the Anasazi people in Arizona's Four Corners district, vacated for unknown reasons around 1300 CE. Yet the most eerie and affecting of all may be a more recent addition: the Airplane Graveyard, the informal nickname of Davis Monthan Air Force Base, near Tucson This is where old B-52s go to be chopped up in accordance with disarmament treaties, where row upon row of decommissioned fighter jets, helicopters, and transport planes are mothballed before they are stripped for parts or sold to foreign governments. The vast majority of these aging aircraft have served tours of duty during times of conflict, in Korea, in Viet Nam, in the Cold War, in the 1991 Gulf War, and others; it is spooky to contemplate all that they have seen.

But while humans and their machines advance and retreat with frightening speed, Arizona's greatest attraction is placid and eternal: the Grand Canyon National Park. One of the seven wonders of the world, no photographs, films, or written descriptions can prepare you for the scope of its grandeur. Imax films of running the rapids will get your blood pumping, but lacking the splash and the g-forces and the ache from the hike down into the canyon, they cannot approach the real thing. Whether hiking, rafting, or simply driving up to a vista and taking in the breathtaking view, no traveler can afford to miss their chance -- at least once in your lifetime, you need to experience the Grand Canyon.