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31 Things To Do Before You Kick The Bucket
"Every man dies. Not every man really lives." That quote, attributed to William Wallace, comes from the movie Braveheart, but it underlies the premise of that other popular movie. The one starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. The one that got us thinking about our lives, and what we'd like to look back on someday. Most of us want our time on Earth to have some kind of meaning. We want a challenge, a purpose, and to make some great memories. With that in mind, we've put together an Arizona-based bucket list that combines a little of each. Some of these things you may have done already; others, probably not. Take a look and hit the road. The clock is ticking.

By Kathy Montgomery

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Natural wonder
John Ford Point, Monument Valley
Photograph: Dave Drost

1. Experience Something Monumental
John Ford Point
Monument Valley has been the setting for movies as diverse as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Easy Rider and Forrest Gump. But it was John Ford who first made it famous. In 1939, Stagecoach made stars of John Wayne and Northern Arizona's dramatic buttes. It's fitting, then, that John Ford Point occupies the best overlook in Monument Valley Tribal Park, with views of Sentinel Mesa, Big Indian and the Castle Rock-Stagecoach group. A Navajo man in traditional dress often appears on a well-groomed horse to the delight of visitors. And, for a small fee, guests may also mount a horse and be photographed against the iconic backdrop.
Information: 928-871-6647, www.navajonation parks.org

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2. Camp with Mother Nature
Mitten View Campground
Longtimers mourn Monument Valley's Mitten View campground, which was replaced in 2008 by the 90-room resort The View. But the new campground, just north of the visitors center, still overlooks some of the most stunning landscape in the West. And there are some things a resort can't deliver, like the feeling of pitching your tent directly on hallowed ground. The campground is currently closed for renovations but will reopen in 2013. Though it will be updated, the price of admission will remain low. And watching the sun rise over the legendary Mittens? That's priceless.
Information: 435-727-5870, www.monument​valley.org/camping

3. Crash at the Iconic Rest Stops
El Tovar, Phantom Ranch, Indian Garden Campground
The Grand Canyon is home to some of the state's most famous lodging, and everyone should experience them at least once. Begin at El Tovar (Suite 6492 if you can get it), which the Santa Fe Railway built on the edge of the South Rim in 1905, and watch the sun set over the Canyon from the bar's outdoor patio. Spend your second night at Phantom Ranch, designed in 1922 by Mary Jane Colter. There's no happier place than the air-conditioned cantina after the long hike down. On your last night, climb to the oasis at Indian Garden and unroll your sleeping bag under the canopy of a cottonwood.
Information: 888-297-2757, www.grandcanyonlodges.com (lodges); 928-638-7875, www.nps.gov/grca (Indian Garden)
4. Get a Bird's-Eye View
There are many benefits to exploring Arizona from the ground. Hiking, biking, horseback-riding and road-tripping are great ways to experience the state's varied landscape. But there's something particularly spectacular about surveying the state from 700 feet in the air. Thanks to Maria Langer and her R44 Raven II helicopter, it's possible to soar over Prescott, Sedona and Lake Powell, then capture a bird's-eye view of Monument Valley, all within a few hours. As Langer says, "When you're flying, you can see things that are forgotten," but you won't soon forget an aerial tour of Arizona.
Information: Flying M Air, 928-231-0196, www.flyingmair.com
5. Get on Your Bike and Ride
Sedona is a great place to mountain bike (some say it's even better than Moab) for the same reason it's popular with four-wheelers. Sedona's famous red rocks are both beautiful and varied, with easy trails for casual riders and technical trails to test the mettle of the most experienced bikers. Head first to the Bike & Bean in Oak Creek Village. This unusual bike shop is as serious about its coffee as it is about its bikes. Here, you'll find fellowship, rentals and customized guided tours. And it's across the street from Bell Rock Pathway, which connects to some of the area's best trails. Order up a jolt of java, then get on your bike and ride.
Information: 6020 State Route 179, 928-284-0210, www.bike-bean.com
6. Get Peppered by Salt Water
Salt River Canyon
If the Salt River Canyon is called the mini-Grand Canyon for its stunning, striated walls, then rafting the Upper Salt might be the Cliffs Notes of canyon rafting. But white-water season here is as fleeting as desert wildflowers. From March through May, melting snowpack swells the Salt's course leading into Salt River Canyon Wilderness, turning this undammed stretch of river into the ultimate E-ticket ride. The 52-mile bridge-to-bridge trip from U.S. Route 60 to State Route 188 near Roosevelt Dam takes three to five days, passing nesting eagles, ancient cliff dwellings and blooming desert landscapes along the way.
Information: www.azroa.org
7. Celebrate the Solstice
Petrified Forest National Park
Nearly every ancient culture observed the solstice, and solstice markers are found throughout the Southwest. The Petrified Forest has dozens. The most accessible is a small, spiral petroglyph at Puerco Pueblo that marks the summer solstice. Each year around the solstice, rangers admit the public to watch a finger of light strike the petroglyph. The event marks the longest day of the year. But it's also the point at which the days begin to grow shorter — a reminder that our days are waning, and to value each one.
Information: 928-524-6228, www.nps.gov/pefo
8. Embark on an Epic Journey
Arizona Trail
This National Scenic Trail, which extends more than 800 miles across the state from Mexico to Utah, was the dream of a Flagstaff schoolteacher. Dale Shewalter first walked the distance, then quit work for a year to lobby for his life's dream. Although he didn't live long enough to see the trail's completion in 2011, many have followed in his footsteps, traveling the trail on foot, mountain bike and horseback. Some have tackled a segment at a time, taking years, and one man hiked it in 31 days. But all describe it as a life-changing experience.
Information: 602-252-4794, www.aztrail.org

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