I liked Alpine and Nutrioso in AZ when I drove through the region for work on a Hotshot crew in New Mexico. Nice woodsy areas make the southwest shady and cooler (I am from Oregon and have a preference for trees.) Flagstaff is nice, but overpriced. Good elk hunting in the Mogollon plateau area of NM. Also nice country on the outskirts of Santa Fe NM. South of Reno (Carson City, Gardnerville, etc) can be more affordable, and provide access to the eastern Sierra. Sounds like a road trip is in order to see some areas to help inform your choice.
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Have you considered the GI desert combat boot style? I never thought I'd wear them. However, last winter I scored a great pair at Good Will for under $10. They are among the best fitting, most comfortable boots I've owned. I worked in the high Nevada desert one summer, and wish I had been wearing a pair of these boots. They would be perfect for field geologists or others working rough terrain. The sole is by Vibram, not the hard black one but a softer rubber. Support and comfort are excellent. If you check into these, I suggest you avoid the cheaper imports and go for a USA-made pair from one of the government contractors. The cheaper imports might work for you, but they might also fall apart on your first trek. Youi can see a variety of these boots on e-bay as an introduction to the type - both domestic and offshore products.
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