Under the Phoenix Sun: Southwest Adventures for Students

I think that perhaps many people balk at the option of picking southwest destinations for their vacations. It's hot, dusty, and pretty sparse, right? Actually, not so.

The American southwest is rich in tradition and history leading back to the Ancestral Pueblo Native American tribes. Cities like Phoenix and Tucson may be hot but that equates to more affordable prices for you. Check out what we have for you here and imagine what kind of adventures you could have.

1. Phoenix


As the capital of Arizona (and featured in the title of this blog), Phoenix deserves some love at the top of this list. A desert beauty, Phoenix has a strong cultural atmosphere, acting as a proverbial melting pot to create something wholly American, wholly Mexican, and wholly Native American at the same time. Visit and discover the sophistication of a big city and the colorful vivacity of one surrounded by desert, close to the Mexican border.

If you decide to come, a day-trip or lengthy stroll through the Desert Botanical Garden is highly recommended to fully appreciate the flora and fauna of native Phoenix life. Phoenix is also a land of transplanted retirees, weird ones to boot, so check out the Tovrea Castle outside the city and see about one of their private tours. Cosanti, a Zen arts and natural compound, is another odd yet fascinating attraction built by a transplant. For true nature adventures, there's no better destination than Camelback Mountain.

Budget Tip: End of summer, early autumn is too hot for most travelers, driving away business and driving down hotel prices.

2. Tucson


Where Phoenix was the cultural gem of Arizona, Tucson is certainly the natural one. The city's barren beauty is highlighted by its position in the Sonoran Desert, cradled by mountain ranges. In the protected cradle, the city has thrived since it was first visited by native tribes over 12,000 years ago. It was the landscape that first brought in tribes several thousand years ago and today, this is what makes Tucson different from its Arizonan sisters.

Some of the natural sites you must see when visiting Tuscon includes the Saguaro National Park and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. While the national park is a gorgeous and lush (for the desert) collection of natural flora and fauna, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum combines all aspects of the desert, what makes her beautiful and diverse, and gathers them all in a single spot for you to enjoy at your leisure - and mostly in air conditioning. The complex includes a zoo, botanical garden, and natural history museum, covering all the bases of desert and Arizona life. Also, while you're in Tucson you don't want to miss out on the stunning Mission San Xavier del Bac church, built by Spanish Jesuits in 1770.

3. El Paso

Lying at the far end of West Texas, El Paso has soaked in generations of cultural and historic atmosphere, making it a lovely natural city yet unique, flavorful, and full of life. Proud of its cowboy history during the Westward Expansion, El Paso played Cowboys and Indians for real and several sites in El Paso commemorate the battles between the U.S. Cavalry and the various Native American tribes they encountered. Let El Paso tell you just how Texas it really is!

Let El Paso show you around West Texas with sites like the El Paso Zoo, El Paso Museum of Archaeology, or the El Paso Museum of Art. You certainly don't want to miss out on Hueco Tanks State Historic Site, a park just outside the city preserving the history of the native tribespeople who lived in this area. Also don't miss out on the Magoffin Homestead or the Missions Trail which leads you through three historic Spanish missions.

4. Las Vegas

Sin City may not seem student-friendly but it has a lot more to offer than just the vices. Like the other cities on this list, Vegas is set in the desert and offers an array of natural, charming desert attractions like the Valley of Fire State Park. Unlike the others on this list, Vegas is a crowd-drawer by the millions which means that the city has a lot more to offer in the way of dining, shopping, and entertainment. It's also one of the most affordable cities to visit for the low price of hotel rooms.

Aside from gambling and other non-student activities, Vegas has a lot going on. Free attractions are something Vegas shines at so if you're on the Strip, look in at the Bellagio for a free fountain show and go inside to see the Bellagio Conservatory, jump over to the Silverton hotel and their indoor aquarium, or take a tour of the Ethel M Chocolate Factory. Most major hotels on the Strip perform free shows like the Fall of Atlantis at Caesar's or Circus Acts at Circus Circus.

5. Albuquerque

The most populous city in New Mexico rounds out our blog on southwest adventures. Boasting 310 days of clear, blue skies and warm weather, Albuquerque is a popular destination for retirees. This doesn't mean it's not for young people though with the sheer number of youthful attractions, high energy recreational activities in the desert and mountains, and so much more. ABQ may not be exactly like it was portrayed in Breaking Bad; in fact, it's much nicer. Stop by and visit during the Chile Festival when the city is lit up and strung with strands of colorful harvested chile peppers or celebrate the Globalquerque Music Festival or the famous International Balloon Fiesta.

If it's museums you're wanting, don't miss out on the new Albuquerque Biological Park museum or the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History. The Rio Grande Zoo and the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science make for wonderful day trips among natural and exotic wildlife. For a recreational visit that's really out there, head outside of the ABQ to the Ice Cave and Bandera Volcano park.