It's hard to believe that Phoenix was once a sleepy desert town populated only by cacti and cowboys.
The advent of air-conditioning and airplanes has turned the Valley of the Sun into one of America's hottest vacation destinations - especially when most of the country is cold. Consider these facts:
With 1.4 million residents, Phoenix is the fifth-largest city in the USA.
More than 13 million people visit annually, arriving on more than 20 airlines.
There are 55,000 hotel rooms, 200 golf courses, and almost no rain (7.66 inches of annual rainfall, an average annual high temperature of 85, and 325 sun-filled days per year).
Though Phoenix sits in the heart of the Sonoran Desert, its elevation is 1,117 feet (much higher than any point in Florida) and six lakes are within a 75-mile drive.
The city is home to the world's largest municipal park: South Mountain Park covers 20,000 acres and includes more than 1,700 acres of traditional park land.
The nine major-league baseball teams that train in Phoenix for six weeks (starting in mid-February) are the Angels, Athletics, Brewers, Cubs, Giants, Mariners, Padres, Rangers, and Royals.
The Arizona Diamondbacks, who train in Tucson, play an 81-game home schedule in Phoenix.
Other area sports include three pro golf tournaments, the annual Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (college football), and occasional Super Bowls (2008 is next).
The area has teams from all of the Big Four sports plus arena football and the WNBA.
City museums feature Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture, Native American art, area history, the world's largest collection of desert plants, and the largest collection of fire-fighting equipment on the planet - in something called the Hall of Flame.
Phoenix Sky Harbor International, the world's sixth-busiest airport, also has one of the largest airport art collection (200 permanent pieces).
By 2008, Metro light rail service will link the airport to the convention center and athletic facilities via a 20-mile arterial route, with another 27.7 miles of suburban track to be completed by 2028.
For further information, contact Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau, One Arizona Center, Suite 600, 400 E. Van Buren, Phoenix, AZ 85004 (Tel. 877-CALL-PHX or 602-253-4415, Fax 602-254-6500, www.visitphoenix.com).---
Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is president of the North American Travel Journalists Association, and a frequent contributor to AAA Traveler and USAirways Magazine.