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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
Kayaking Emerald Cave, Black Canyon
Photograph: Kerrick James

9. See Green
Emerald Cave, Black Canyon
Sometimes, timing is everything. So it is with this unexpected jewel, located 2 miles from Willow Beach, below Hoover Dam on the Colorado River. For just a few minutes each afternoon, the light fills this tiny grotto at just the right angle to bounce off the volcanic rock beneath the water, creating the feeling that you're suspended over a giant, glowing emerald. The magical, mystical experience is a good reminder of the ephemeral nature of beauty and how fleeting is life itself.
Information: www.squidoo.com/hoover-dam-float-trips

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10. Flock to the Birds
Each winter, nearly 40,000 sandhill cranes inhabit Southern Arizona's Sulphur Springs Valley. The undulating clouds of 5-foot-tall birds heading out in search of food each morning are a magnificent sight. In the evenings, they return to the wetlands around Willcox, where couples sing in synchronized duets and dance their running, jumping, flapping jig. Watching them reminds us that there's a time for work, a time to play, and for everything a season.
Information: 800-200-2272, www.wingsoverwillcox.com

11. Countdown to Takeoff
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
For 100,000 years or more, California condors made the Vermilion Cliffs their home. But by the time Europeans arrived, these birds had mostly headed for the coast. By the 1980s, the entire species was headed for extinction, saved only by a successful captive-breeding program. Since 1996, scientists have been reintroducing condors to these cliffs every year on the last Saturday in September. Soaring on their 9.5-foot wingspan, the enormous, prehistoric-looking creatures are large enough to see without an assist from a pair of binoculars.
Information: 435-688-3200, www.blm.gov/az
12. Ride an Ancient Highway
Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Most national parks have long been emptied of their Native inhabitants, but Canyon de Chelly is a rare exception. The 900-year-old ruins belonged to the Anasazi, but their ancient petroglyphs mix with more contemporary contributions from the Navajos, who have lived there for 300 years — it's still home to some 80 Navajo families. Take a Jeep tour led by a guide who grew up in the interconnected series of canyons. It's an intimate, cultural experience that transcends history.
Information: 928-674-5500, www.nps.gov/cach
13. Hug a Very Big Tree
Circle Z Ranch
In the Southwest, cottonwoods are precious. The sight of their bright-green leaves signals water, and the western yellow-billed cuckoo, northern flicker and turkey vulture depend on cottonwoods for survival. A cottonwood on the Circle Z Ranch in Patagonia is considered the largest in North America. It's certainly the most magnificent. Nearly 100 feet tall, with a circumference of 42 feet, it would take seven adults touching fingers to circle it. The fortunate guests at this historic ranch get to ride out to this gentle giant on Sonoita Creek and picnic under its 108-foot spread.
Information: 1476 State Route 82, Patagonia, 520-394-2525, www.circlez.com
14. Feed Your Soul
Garland's Lodge
Dinner is a highlight at this beautiful, historic lodge in Oak Creek Canyon. Each menu is assembled with the care of a guest list for a dinner party, with attention to how each dish will contribute to the whole. Dinner always starts with warm, oven-fresh bread, paired with the day's soup. In the spring and early summer, salads take advantage of fresh greens from Garland's gardens. The main course might be apple-glazed stuffed pork or salmon with ancho-lime glaze followed by sumptuous, house-made pies and cobblers incorporating heirloom fruits from Garland's orchards. In the background are the rippling sounds of Oak Creek, from which all this goodness flows.
Information: 8067 N. State Route 89A, Sedona, 928-282-3343, www.garlandslodge.com
15. Hook Up in the River
Lees Ferry, Glen Canyon
The famous stretch of the Colorado River between Glen Canyon Dam and the Grand Canyon is one of the best trout fisheries in North America, with more trout per mile than any other American river. The water flows clear and cold along this 15.5-mile stretch, where 12- to 24-inch rainbow trout are common. An added bonus is the beauty of Glen Canyon, with its towering sandstone cliffs and redbud trees that bloom in spring.
Information: Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, 928-608-6200, www.nps.gov/gcra; Lee's Ferry Anglers, 800-962-9755, www.leesferry.com
16. Get Your Hands Dirty
Grand Canyon Field Institute
Studies show that service contributes to our happiness. Lucky for us, the nonprofit Grand Canyon Field Institute offers a whole roster of service-based classes where students can make a difference by restoring the Canyon's habitat, conducting botanical or hydrological surveys, or investigating archaeological ruins. In last year's hands-on archaeology class, a small group worked with National Park Service scientists to excavate a historic site. All of which goes to show you can learn to be happy.
Information: 866-471-4435, www.grandcanyon.org/fieldinstitute

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