Geotourism guide highlights best sites in southwest

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By Anita Mabante Leach

Horseback riders in the Patagonia area.

Arizonans are a lucky to live in a region where they can enjoy scenic, unspoiled desert habitats, a bounty of wildlife and picturesque towns that welcome tourists.

The area’s unique geography is a huge draw, one that government tourism agencies perpetually promote to out-of-state visitors.

Travelers who take care to vacation in places that sustain the geographical character of a region are engaging in what is called geotourism. The environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage and the well-being of its residents must be part of the overall tourism attraction to fit under this definition, a term used by National Geographic.

Arizona and Mexico have signed a National Geographic Geotourism Charter for the Sonoran region. The partnership promotes the towns, sites and attractions that define the Southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico, places where tourism dollars conserve the area’s resources, local culture and community.

Laura French, executive projects manager and multicultural representative for Arizona Tourism, says geotourism offers authenticity to outsiders while preserving community for residents.

“It was a unique opportunity that was presented through the Arizona-Mexico Commission’s Tourism Committee. We were tasked with doing a bi-national project that would really emphasize the relationship between Arizona and Sonora,” she explains. “National Geographic had just started doing the map guides, and this was an opportunity to do their first bi-national guide, so we were very excited to get involved and promote the Sonoran Desert.”

This is not just staying someplace to relax, but getting a real feel for the region. Using the guide, tourists who want more than a room will get a well-rounded experience.

“They can then be guided to places that are very authentic and unique to Arizona,” French says. “There’re a lot of tips on the map about buying from local vendors and leaving their dollars with people who are authentically Arizona. It’s the whole idea that there are geotourists and geo-savvy travelers who want this kind of opportunity — not just do these package vacations, but really get to know the core and history and protect the environment.”

French says Arizona Tourism is doing more beyond the map guide. A marketing campaign, Arizona Origins, is now incorporated in the state’s Web site Places as diverse as Pueblo Grande Museum, Los Dos Molinos restaurant and the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve are cited.

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