Arizona is a desert! At least, that’s how I had it in my mind every time the name came up. On our drive out of the Phoenix airport, past the city traffic, the landscape that met the eye was true to my imagination. Dry, bald, and arid for as long as my eyes could see. I was prepared. So there was no disappointment here. The first 50 miles or so the landscape is true to this photograph – no color or character. It is after the first 50 miles out-of-town that you begin to understand the true meaning of a desert landscape.
I’m in love! All the way in – hook, line and sinker. Giant saguaro ( /səˈwɑroʊ/; ) cactus stick out like guardians of the land. They stand tall and straight, looking down on passersby. They are thick, round, and succulent. Their trunks are watery voluptuous. So much so that, if you were walking here and ran out of water to drink, you would definitely stop to try your luck with a poke (harming a cactus or cactus “plugging” is illegal as per Arizona law.) These thorny elders of the desert are home to many desert birds. If you look closely enough, you will see holes in these massive cacti trunks. These holes are homes to Gila woodpeckers, purple martins, house finches, and gilded flickers.
Homework on AZ was almost nil. This with a two in tow. Absolutely unprepared and relying on brochures and handing ourselves over to interesting detours and signage’s (Horse Thief Basin, Bloody Basin, Careefree Hghwy., Bumble bee, etc.), we drove on. Our first pique in curiosity was the Montezuma Castle National Monument. Heard of the Montezuma revenge? Well, this wasn’t even close to bed wetting or blood shedding nightmares. It was pure history! Sitting atop a hill, this castle cannot be accessed by foot, and therefore, the magnificence of the place will pass you if you don’t do some reading. It looked teeny-weeny, but the castle had 20 rooms and used to house 50 people. Absolutely desert-terrific! We were hooked. Out little camper-champ, who woke up at 5 in the morning was so excited about the whole vacation that he wanted more of the action. So we drove on. As dada, the chauffeur, maneuvered along the road, mama and baby got some shut-eye. When we opened our eye sleepy eyes, we had pulled over in Flagstaff for a pit stop. Flagstaff was greeeeeeen! Green in comparison to the rest of the what we saw earlier. It was past 1:00 pm when we reached Flagstaff and it was at a 65 degrees. The weather was bit chilly but absolutely delightful. We got out to stretch, but the stretch turned into a hoot and cheer from Neil in 2 seconds. Route 66 International Rally was underway and beautiful vintage cars made their way along downtown Flagstaff. I called it the luck of ignoramus. No planning, just happening.
Once the pit stop was over and discussions about the cars were well underway, mama, son, and dada were back in the car, packing it up towards the Canyon for the sunset. So we drove on in the hopes of getting into the Kaibab National Forest vicinity before 5:00 pm. We took a detour towards the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument area. We weren’t sure what to expect here, but I’m glad we stopped. Our first encounter with a volcano was in Maui, but that was something we watched from atop the mountain. This was a more touch and feel; up-close and personal experience. The NPS has done a commendable job of preserving the 3040 acres consisting of lava flows, lava tubes, cinder barrens, spatter cones, and an ice cave. Many of these features look as fresh and rugged as the day they were formed. It felt like we were on a mission into outer space. The scenery was truly extra terrestrial. The lava, mud, and rocks were all black against a cloudless blue sky. There were a handful of tress scattered here and there, and the cacti added to the scenery with their spring blossoms. Yes! There were flowers, but of a different kind. This portion of the road trip was fairly green. But as we drove on, the open, bald, parched earth with dry bushes and shrubs began to revisit the landscape. You know the kind that has you reaching for some water in spite of being in an air-conditioned car?
We did another detour on highway 89 towards the Wupatki National Monument. Coming from a land of rich architecture, history, folktale, and just so much culture, this was not something we were about to miss. We were steeped in this stuff when we were kids, and so little Neil had no choice but to follow tradition. We hauled our tired, sleepy, and achy asses out of the car and did the short hike towards the monument. This was simply stunning. The ruins of the red Moenkopi sandstone were built by wanderers and hunters. Amazing for people who didn’t want to settle. An array of cultures lived here – Sinagua, Kayenta Anasazi, Winslow Anasazi, and Cohonina people lived here around the 1064. The pueblo houses were built in 12th and 13 th century and housed over 300 people. How and why people lived here is something of a mystery. It is dry; there is little in terms of vegetation; and water was scarce. Walking among the ruins somehow had me believing what the Navajo and Hopi descendants believe– the ancestors still wander here as guardians of these ruins. The feeling was mutual between the three of us after the hike – a deathly quiet. I guess by now, sleep, hunger and thirst had taken over. We left Wupatki around 3:00 pm. After getting out of the monument area, the road was literally straight and uneventful. About an hour later, it was shopping at the historical Cameron Trading Post in Cameron!
The next post will be about Cameron and the Grand Canyon.