Just as autumn began to lower the temperature, Rosie the RV crossed into Arizona. After living through a couple of decades of frigid Central Oregon winters, Courtney and I were hell-bent on avoiding snow this year.
Our first stop in the Grand Canyon State put us in Arizona’s answer to Bend, the town of Flagstaff. The city sits in the middle of an abundant old-growth forest, surrounded by towering volcanic cones and a desert ecosystem that mirrors the Central Oregon High Desert. Having just surpassed four months on the road, we were happy to enjoy a landscape that reminded us of home. However, our quest for warmer temperatures forced us south to Mesa.
We drove south via Interstate 17. Known for many things, this particular section of I-17 hosts a wild burro population that’s ballooned in the last 30 years. The interstate signs warn of wild burro crossings along with a few vivid displays of those warning signs gone unheeded. Keeping our eyes glued to the road’s shoulder for signs of animal crossings, we began to notice the sudden appearance of saguaro cacti, a sure sign of Southwestern desert.
The interstate traffic grew increasingly worse as we edged closer to the Mesa area. I couldn’t help but think that the stakes when driving in congestion seem higher when your vehicle doubles as your home. It’s quite a strange feeling to be trapped in traffic in a motor home, with the comforts of home readily available in your back seat. If you aren’t too careful, you might even thumb your nose at those less fortunate. It’s possible you’ll enjoy a refrigerated ice-cold soda while your traffic neighbor fights a sunburn in their drop-top weekend speedster.
The outer Phoenix corridor is a collection of identical strip malls and stores bringing inspiration to no one, but creature comforts to those who live there. Climbing up a short distance from the interstate, we arrived at our desert home.
Our collective family was feeling slightly jaded and thoroughly exhausted from a day of white-knuckled driving. Still, we remained excited by the prospects of our isolated and quiet campsite. Our home for the next two weeks was a secluded state park full of saguaros and other desert plants and animals.
As we’d settled in that night, I had all but convinced myself that Arizona was not for me. The heat was too hot, the biting bugs numerous and our dogs were covered in spiked desert seeds. My first Arizona sunset changed my mind immediately.
As the sun sank low into the west, I started to see gradients of color that I’ve never before seen in a sunset. Behind me lay a crystal blue sky and in front of me a vivid spectrum of oranges, reds, purples, and pinks spread out across the horizon. Even though it seemed as if it was still daylight, I could see a bright sliver of moon and Jupiter shining in the sky.
These Arizona sunsets remind me of the self-titled “Eagles” album cover, which includes their ultimate desert anthem, “Peaceful Easy Feeling.” I started to see my time in this place through a similar lens. Though the desert comes with its challenges, it also affords the time to reflect.
As our short respite in Mesa came to an end, we decided to make our way north to Sedona. The local population of Sedona supports a sizable quantity of mystics and natural healers, while a majority of the tourist population seems to be older snowbirds in search of their next golf outing.
Mesa helped plant the roots of the song “Easy To Love,” and they took hold in Sedona. The song is a reflection of spending time with someone you love and appreciate all that they contribute to your life. Sometimes it takes a desert to remind you of all that you have.
Our last stop in Arizona was the Grand Canyon, where we spent a few days adventuring deep into the desert canyon. It’s difficult not to think of John Wesley Powell or the indigenous people who spent time here, either as a resident or simply passing through like us. We timed our trip quite well as the quickly fading colors of fall foliage were abundant and mesmerizing. The gem of Arizona did not disappoint.
We’ve visited roughly a dozen national parks along our route and subsequently fallen for the National Park Service and programs. Their news tells a story about plans to privatize certain functions of the national parks system, and I can only assume that these legislators haven’t visited a park in recent memory. The spirit and freedom of these wild places should remain as is for generations to come. It’s my belief that these places are best enjoyed without food service and without technology. A weekend without cell reception is food for the soul.
The parks system plays an important role in protecting these natural wonders and transforming the American spirit. It would be a shame to witness a subsidization or degradation of these marvelous places.