The must-see state of all the southwestern states is by far Arizona. That’s why I’ve saved writing about it until now, the last in this series. It is a gorgeous state, chock full of an unseemly variety of exotic landscapes including the lesser-known and infamous and overwhelming Grand Canyon. Drive off the interstate and startle your mind with red rock parks, mountains of dizzying heights to plains and desert. View indigenous Saguaro cacti and those of every shape, color and form imaginable. We spent a total of six days covering the vast state and certainly will return during another season for comparisons sake and to take in the rest of the sites we missed this time.
Can’t say much about the city as we arrived local time 7:00pm and immediately drove our rent-a-car north in the direction of Sedona passing Paolo Soleri’s famous architectural experiment Arcosanti. Stopped in a real cowboy bar, spoke to the locals, drank a Coors, watched them shoot pool while eating stuffed jalapenos (with cream cheese) and cursing one another as screeching C&W wafted from an authentic 1950’s Wurlitzer. Spent the night in a shabby motel for $32.00 for two with a ventilation system that could’ve set off the tornado watch for the area.
Montezuma Castle Tuzigoot & Montezuma Well
Up at 6:00am with jetlag we dug into a rancho breakfast at the local cowboy & Indian diner before heading up Route 17 to our first stop The Montezuma Well .I needed four cups of American coffee to compensate for the weak imitation of pure java. The Well was home to Hohokam and Sinagauan Indians around one thousand years ago. The large pueblo dwellings near the castle – a 20-room five-story dwelling built in the early 12th century are Aztecan in origin.
Taking Hwy. 17 via Route 179 to Sedona my husband and I went hiking in the fabulous Rim Red Rock Mountains. There were no tourists to be found. The sage green cedar bushes against the fluorescent red rocks are a color combination of winning proportions. The brownish-sienna-red rocks stun the eye. The painted lines and shadows encourage one to meditate on the sensation of blending in with the earth, as a chameleon, to drench in the rainbow of nature’s wonderment. So visually appealing and enticing was this landscape I tried to recapture it by collecting small bits of cacti, brush, bush and stone only to find that outside the realm of Arizona’s sunlight the colors faded and lost their luster. While walking through the Red Rock Mountains my imagination was stimulated in every possible direction. I could easily have become an interior decorator.
Sedona was founded in 1912 and was little more than a backwater until the seventies when some New Age Harmonic convergence people “founded” it as an energy center.
Predictably the whole place (save for nature) reeks of Woodstock, San Francisco and Amsterdam 1968.Still, I bought a few medicine wheels and new age healing books, although I did not go as far as buying “Feng Shui for Dogs”.
Grand Canyon Village
From Sedona we headed up north to Route 64 passing Flintstone Village. We opted to have a yabba dabba do time at the Grand Canyon since it was one of our main points of interest on this trip. For almost two decades I’ve lived outside the United States and if it weren’t for my European husband perhaps I never would have seen one of the Seven Wonders of the World nor discovered the beauty of my birth country. Thanks JL!
The village sits on Kaibab National Forest land. Upon arrival at the entrance of the grand park we checked into a Holiday Inn and literally ran across the road to witness an authentic Hopi tribal dance, performed for tourists no doubt every Friday evening. Full headdress was worn and video in the background supported the non-verbal movement.
Grand Canyon South Rim
It snowed until the great canyons were covered in a wintry white snowsuit. The unlikely blizzard passed over the early morning mist after we took a 3-kilometer walk along the majestic, capital “M” south rim. Witnessing glorious sites, caves, caverns, riverbeds and enormous canyons the meaning of the word synchronicity came to life. At once I saw two ravens kissing, crows, elk, deer so tame, a mountain mouse with a huge bushy tail burrowing in a 6,000-foot high cave. Jean-Luc and I stopped to meditate on a cliff. The air pristine, the formations undulating stillness and largesse posed an impossible presence to ignore. The futility of mankind next to nature humbled us. By the time we quietly oohed and aahed ourselves into exhaustion the next wave of rain and snow tumbled down like an enormous blanket of fluffy white carpeting!
We took the free village jitney bus back to our lodge, The Bright Angel Lodge that boasted the one decent restaurant amongst lodges. We ordered shrimps and steak and a great Californian red. For two persons the dinner cost less than $65.00 – what a bargain! We asked the waiter if we could have a “doggie bottle”. He woofed yes in acknowledgement. Tel: (520) 638-2631 for reservations.
Navajo National Monument
Leaving Grand Canyon on Rte. 64 east to Rte. 89 we passed Tuba City on Rte. 160 heading northeast towards the Black Mesa near the Navajo National Monument. Here one finds the best-preserved 700-year old Anasazi cliff dwellings in the whole region. Betatakin ruins are the most accessible and open all year round. It is a remote canyon best seen with binoculars. I found a grinding spot where Navajo’s used to prepare their meals of grain.
Hopi Indian Reservation
Driving north from Rte. 160 to Rte. 4 go south to border the Hopi Indian Reservation, a country in and of itself. You will be quite fortunate to witness a Hopi ritual – spiritual, dance of sacrifice etc. and that is only if you are invited. Do not take photographs of the people without permission. Sketching, audio recording and other disturbing activities are strictly forbidden. You may see a dance on weekends in one of the many plazas. Call the Second Mesa Cultural Center at (520) 734-2401 or the Hopi Tribe’s Cultural Preservation Office at (520) 734-2244 or visit www.nau.edu/~hcpo-p.
Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Located on the Navajo Indian Reservation off Rte. 191, this canyon is more than a thousand feet tall, surrounded by cottonwood trees, fruit trees and a labyrinth of cliff dwellings, craggy rocks and streams. It is unspoiled and hotel bookings during high season must be made well in advance. You can drive north towards the Canyon del Muerto or south tracing the Canyon de Chelly (pronounced “shay”) from the visitor center and a round-trip in either direction is roughly 40 miles (64 km) at a leisurely pace. However if you plan on stopping at all the vista points it can take at least half a day to see the exceptional rock art, dwellings, riverbeds and other natural wonders.
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Canyon de Chelly, a well-built esthetic rendition of adobe architecture. Worth the stopover, at the Garcia Trading Post, BIA Rt. 7, Chinle, AZ, tel: (520) 674-5000 or fax: (520) 674-8264.
Hubbell Trading Post
South on Rte. 191 halfway from Chinle and the highway is the still functioning Hubbell Trading Post. In 1868 after the Navajo’s were freed and returned from New Mexico, white traders set up a post offering the Navajo’s goods from the outside world in exchange for pottery, blankets and jewelry indigenous to the Navajo. The building site is the original trading post and is operated by Navajo today. Call (520) 755-3475 for more information.
Continuing south on 191 until Interstate 40 west to an incredible natural wonder seen nowhere else on earth, one comes across the Painted Desert, so named due to the colorful stripes of white, gray, peach, pink, red and sienna clays blended into the badlands. The Painted Desert outlines much of northeast Arizona and straddles the Petrified Forest
The forest contains an extraordinary amount of horizontally flat laying petrified wood, rich in dinosaur bones and fossils extending 300 feet beneath the earth. The logs are exposed to the atmosphere and lie in haphazard profusion yet are eroding so quickly as to become extinct. Visit http://www.untraveledroad.com/USA/Parks/PetrifiedForest/ for more information.
Saguaro National Park
Following Interstate 10 west towards Tucson we exited at 281 Colossal Cave to reach one of our final destinations.
You’ve all seen those long tall spiky looking cacti in Westerns with arms outstretched to heaven. Better known as “monarchs of the Sonoran Desert”, I never knew the name of these cacti until visiting the Saguaro National Park. This park, preserved since 1933 is home to the richest variety of desert wildlife in North America. Saguaro can live upwards of 150 years however survival is precarious as animals eat the seedlings undermining the trees chances to live. The best season to visit the desert is between October through April when temperatures are between 60-70 F or 17-20 Celsius. Tel: (520) 733-5158 or (520) 733-5153 for more parks information.
Biosphere 2 Center
North of Tucson on Hwy. 79 tucked in-between the Oracle State Park and the Oracle junction sits Columbia University’s failed (non-profit research and education center) experiment dedicated to understanding the Earth and its environment, Biosphere 2.
Completed in 1991 this complex was supposed to represent the brilliant advances in environmental science. Five main biomes or self-contained systems: rainforest, savannah, desert, marsh and ocean were to be recreated. Eight live “biospherians” were sealed into Biosphere 2 and basically survived for two years in isolation. Only a few glitches forced outsiders to contend with the lack of oxygen as CO2 levels rose. The story goes that those inside couldn’t keep the oceans clean and were so hungry planted bananas in the rainforest whereby destroying other life forms. Still worth the visit, you can take a 2.5 hour tour inside the capsules and pyramids. Check out www.bio2.edu or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Call: (520) 896-6471.
The very last stop prior to our departure at Phoenix Airport was at the only bar in this small jailhouse town and farming community. There are three detention centers and practically the whole population in town works for the criminal justice system. We met Deb, Joe and his father who bought us rounds of Coors at the Florence Bar and had a memorable time singing along to tunes pumped out of an original Wurlitzer.
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