Phoenix is in the southwestern United States, in the south-central portion of Arizona; about halfway between Tucson to the southeast and Flagstaff to the north. By car, the city is approximately 150 miles (242 km) north of the US-Mexico border at Sonoyta and 180 miles (290 km) north of the border at Nogales. The metropolitan area is known as the "Valley of the Sun", due to its location in the Salt River Valley. It lies at a mean elevation of 1,086 feet (331 m), in the northern reaches of the Sonoran Desert.
A photo showing the skyline of Phoenix, looking north. It shows the various buildings of the downtown area, as well as Sunnyslope Mountain in the background
Northern skyline, downtown Phoenix, Sunnyslope Mountain clearly visible in background
Other than the mountains in and around the city, the topography of Phoenix is generally flat, allowing the city's main streets to run on a precise grid with wide, open-spaced roadways. Scattered, low mountain ranges surround the valley: McDowell Mountains to the northeast, the White Tank Mountains to the west, the Superstition Mountains far to the east, and both South Mountain and the Sierra Estrella to the south/southwest. Camelback Mountain, North Mountain, Sunnyslope Mountain, and Piestewa Peak are located within the heart of the valley. On the outskirts of Phoenix are large fields of irrigated cropland and Native American reservation lands. The Salt River runs westward through the city of Phoenix, but the riverbed is often dry or contains little water due to large irrigation diversions. The community of Ahwatukee is separated from the rest of the city by South Mountain.