…Six lanes of traffic, in each direction, sizzle in the heat as we leave the Phoenix airport on the first day of our Southwest adventure.
…Saguaro cactus replace tall buildings as we happily depart the city. Did you know it takes ten years for a Saguaro cactus to reach an inch in height? By seventy, it can grow to six feet tall but won’t produce its first arm until it is 95-100 years of age. It’s understandable they are protected as a wondrous species.
…A candlelit Chapel in the Rocks fills us with serenity as we soak in the beauty and spirituality of the red rocks of Sedona. It has been my heart home since my first visit years ago.
…The panorama of blues, burgundy, and pinks of the Painted Desert at dusk have inspired artists for generations. We take photos but they disappoint, not quite capturing the array of colors.
…The Petrified Forest is a graveyard of fallen tree trunks, now calcified into a rainbow of crystals. Near-by are the petroglyphs of Newspaper Rock and the ruins of Puerco Pueblo. Paleontologists continue to try and piece together the stories of its residents.
…We travel through Navajo lands on our way to Canyon de Chelly. Squalid houses on barren land speak to the poverty of these native Americans. I question the old tires on the flat roofs. I am told the monsoon winds rip off the tin roofs. The tires hold them down. The contrast between the tiny homes and the majestic sandstone cliffs and spires of the nearby canyon is striking.
…Monument Valley is a magnificent red-sand desert bordering Arizona and Utah, known for its towering sandstone buttes. We are told we can drive through a section of it. We are not told the road is rutted out and, in some places, covered with six inches of sand. Our rental car wheezes and bumps but fortunately, we make it without having to get out and push. Later, we sit on the porch of our little rental house and watch the sun set over the buttes of the red valley. Unforgettable!
…Jerome is an old copper mining town, perched on the side of a hill. The houses slip down the mountain about an inch a year. The ghost town has become an artist mecca, filling the old houses with something better than copper – gorgeous jewelry, pottery, and paintings. On top of the hill is a huge structure known as the Asylum. Constructed of steel and concrete to withstand the winds, it was once a hospital for the 3000+ men who toiled in the mines; later a mental hospital and now a hotel and restaurant. The narrow, dark halls, period furniture and paintings are background for the stories of ghosts that do, we’re told, walk the halls at night. We were there for lunch so didn’t get to meet them.
…The Cicadas awakened me in the cowboy town of Prescott, serenading us with their unusual song. It repels birds, saving the large insects from being eaten. They can produce sound in excess of 120 decibels at close range, which approaches the pain threshold for human ears. As we wandered around Prescott’s quaint downtown area with its courthouse square, Whiskey Row saloons and interesting shops, the Cicadas sang on.
…The grandeur of the Grand Canyon defies description. The South Rim drive has pull-offs that allow you to walk to the edge and take pictures that don’t come anywhere near capturing its magnificence. The colors change from lavender to blue to gray to pink, depending on the light. The canyon also makes people a little crazy. They perch their babies on the rocky rim and step away to take photos. They fly drones into the abyss to try and get a closer view, even though it’s illegal to do so. They climb over barriers and hang over the side of the canyon even though signs clearly say, “Thou shalt not…” Several people have died there this summer from their own foolishness. At one overlook, a wrinkled Navajo woman sat under a tree, her beaded jewelry arranged on a smooth rock in front of her. She displayed a nearly toothless grin when we stopped to look at her creations. I, of course, brought several of them home. I had never seen the canyon at sunset, so in the evening, we rushed to the Watch Tower and oohed and aahed at the spectacle in the round, along with dozens of other tourists. The temperature dropped from 90 degrees to 40 in minutes as the golden crimson light left the canyon in darkness. We walked back to our car in silence, awed by wonder of it all.
SHARON CANFIELD DORSEY is an award-winning poet and author of four children’s books, two books of poetry and a memoir, Daughter of the Mountains. WATCH for a new travel book, Road Trip, debuting in November.