One of the most ecologically diverse places on Earth, the cowboy state boasts no fewer than seven different types of habitat, ranging from sun-scorched desert in the south to snowy mountains in the north. Of its 113,998 square miles, only 15 per cent is privately owned, with the rest made up of a combination of national park, publicly owned forest and parkland, and Native American reservations. It’s got extinct volcanoes, huge ponderosa pine forests and most spectacularly of all, the Grand Canyon. With so much natural bounty to protect, it’s small wonder that green tourism is playing an increasingly important part in the state’s economy. And unlike Arizona’s other major source of cash – copper mining – it benefits the planet in more ways than one.

[…] It’s a place of almost unearthly beauty but until recently, could only be reached by car or plane. That there’s an alternative is largely thanks to the efforts of one man: Max Biegert. The Grand Canyon has had its own railway line since 1901 but by the 1980s, the route had fallen into disuse. […]Thanks to the Biegerts, and more recently, eco-tourism operator, Xanterra, the train is back and this time comes with a green twist: it’s powered by used cooking oil.

‘It’s definitely the greenest way to get to the Canyon,’ enthuses the railway’s director of sustainability, Morgan O’Connor. ‘There was a study done by Northern Arizona University that showed it was by far the most environmentally friendly way to go there. Because of it, 125,000 people a year aren’t driving their car.’ And getting to the Grand Canyon by train is more than just a green option: it’s also a highly entertaining one featuring a slapstick ‘train robbery’ and the chance to get a closer look at the wonderful surrounding countryside. […] ‘There’s still a lot more to be done in terms of sustainable tourism,’ qualifies Morgan. ‘But it’s at the heart of our [Xanterra’s] core mission.’

Read the full article at Conserving the Wild West: Arizona’s green dream – Green Living – The Ecologist.

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