The first impressions of those new to the state of Arizona generally falls in two camps, awe inspired by the stunning beauty found at most every turn or the overwhelming sense that they have taken a wrong turn and arrived at that place warned about in Sunday school. My first impressions fell into the latter category.
Natives or those that have been here for a couple of decades also are divided into two camps. There are those whose awe is renewed with each sunrise and each sunset and those who vainly hold out hope that if they plant enough sod, spend enough time watering, and set the thermostat at seventy degrees they can transform their corner of the desert into something akin to the civilized world. In this group, I would be listed among the former.
In whichever camp you find yourself take a moment to reflect on the wonder that is Arizona. Is there anywhere on earth that has been more abundantly blessed by God with such an array of diversity and scenic wonder?
With the aid of Hollywood and countless cinematic epics the very name conjures images of a rugged, sun-scorched land shadowed by towering saguaros, scarred by deep, colorful canyons, and dominated by towering buttes, blazing multicolored sunsets, and mesas throughout the world. However, though countless artists and photographers have been able to capture snippets of this wonderland on postcards, in travel books and in films they have been unable to capture its essence.
The real Arizona is more than a land of truly stunning natural beauty and indescribable diversity. It is an ancient land where in shade-dappled canyons the entire history of the earth is there to be read. Crevices in these multihued chasms often frame ghostly ruins, remnants of the communities of the mysterious Anasazi, the ancient ones and petroglyphs line the walls of the canyons telling a tale no one can now read.
Towering snow-capped peaks serve as a backdrop for deep forests of majestic ponderosa pines, and Alpine meadows carpeted with a dazzling array of wildflowers are as islands in a sea of desert. The desert itself is captivating with vast moonscapes where stark, colorful rock walls stretch heavenward, in contrast to thundering deep-blue waterfalls. Buttes and mesas change color with the shadows of season or with the time of day.
Though urban sprawl threatens many treasures, including the lifestyle that makes Arizona unique in other ways, for those who take the time to seek out the road less traveled there are still rolling grasslands that are home to pronghorn antelope and cowboys who still earn their pay in the saddle and with a rope. Even though many rural communities have succumbed to the curses of the modern era that come disguised as blessings there are those such as Chloride and Crown King where the days when this was a raw territory can still be felt on the sage scented breezes.
Natural beauty is what one expects to find in Arizona. After all, it is a beautiful treasure chest of God’s finest handiwork. Nevertheless, there are other gems; diamonds in the rough that are as equally captivating.
In Quartzsite, there is a monument to the Arab camel driver “Hi Jolly”; highlighting the nearly forgotten chapter of United States Army that involved camels and the taming of a desert frontier. There is the charming mission church of San Xavier del Bac, which has served its parishioners for more than two centuries; the dusty streets of Tombstone; the quaint ghost city of Jerome, with its majestic views of the Verde Valley, Oraibi, one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in America, and the Palace Station on the old Senator Highway.
Route 66 may be an icon that attracts visitors from throughout the world but hidden here and there are quiet highways where the vintage neon signs that flash under star-studded desert skies still perform the task for which they were designed. There are also excellent zoos and botanical gardens, symphonies and five star resorts. Arizona is a rich tapestry of sights, sounds, flavors, colors, and cultures.
With common sense and a bit of sunscreen seeking out the wonders of this wonderland along the back roads will provide a lifetime of unequalled adventure. As a bonus the rich diversity of the state often makes it possible to enjoy any season in a weekend.
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