Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Arizona Years

For ten years my wife and I lived in Arizona, specifically in the Paradise Valley area of northeast Phoenix.  We didn’t live in Paradise Valley, which is next to Phoenix and not in Paradise Valley, but in Paradise Valley that is in Phoenix and not in Paradise Valley.  I don’t know any other way to say it.  Maybe I should say we lived in northeast Phoenix and leave it alone with that.

As a hunter and fisherman I was in paradise (okay, I’ll leave this word alone now), but I rarely hunted or fished during those years.  Honestly, there was just too much to see and do, and the outdoor sports morphed into travel and photography.  A few minutes from our home brought us into the beauty of the Sonoran Desert where our eyes could feast on some of the most intriguing flora and fauna in America.  (I think I will qualify that by stating I have seen very intriguing flora and fauna just about everywhere, but the Sonoran Desert is very, very different from most other places.)

At first we were taken by the hummingbirds that kept feeding at the blooming tree in our front yard (I never did determine what kind of tree).  We put up a hummingbird feeder on our porch so we could get a closer view of them, and it was then we noticed there were a number of different kinds of hummingbirds.  Soon we were researching the tiny birds at the library (long before we had internet), and the more we learned, the more we wanted to learn.

Our research led us into a love of the desert wildlife that I cannot begin to explain.  Watching a red-tailed hawk circling, hunting for a meal was just as fascinating as observing the burrowing owls living under a sidewalk at a nearby mall.  A rain would bring out millions of frogs that would disappear again before the water drained into the soil.  Hiking to an ancient Native American ruin and finding a Gila monster sunning itself was a thrill.  Even an inner tube float down the Salt River provided a fish’s view of the eagles flying from the cliff high above.

Soon our ventures out across the state searching for new discoveries became almost an obsession.  The old west was still alive and well just off many of the back roads.  The vistas of the Navajo reservation were endless.  The mesa villages of the Hopi were a step back in time many hundreds of years.  The Grand Canyon deserves its name.  The petrified forest and painted desert are beyond description.  And the list of places goes on and on.  Sahuaro National Park, Tombstone, the Dos Cabezas Wilderness, Organ Pipe National Monument, Prescott, the Salt River Canyon, the Mogollon Rim, the Tonto National Forest, Oak Creek Canyon, the hummingbirds of Ramsey Canyon, and many other places named and unnamed.

While driving through the Petrified Forest, we stopped to observe an antelope wandering beside the road.  It was taking its time, but eventually walked within twenty feet of our car as it crossed the road in front of us.

Driving north on the Black Canyon Highway out of Phoenix, we decided to take a remote exit and just see what was down the road.  In less than a hundred yards the road changed from concrete to asphalt to dirt, but we kept driving.  At about 4 miles we realized the road was a bit too rough for our car so we turned around to return to the highway; however, our way was blocked by hundreds of horses.  I stopped the car and we watched and photographed for nearly an hour before they wandered away.

On the Hopi reservation we decided to drive up the narrow road to First Mesa and the village of Walpi.  We arrived to discover a ceremony was about to take place, and we were allowed to attend (but no cameras).  We were guided into an area among the pueblos where we privileged to witness the continuation of centuries of history.

Tubac and Tumacacori.  Canyon de Chelly.  Mission Xavier del Bac.  Lake Powell, Navajo Bridge, and Lee’s Ferry.  Superstition Mountains and the Lost Dutchman’s Mine.  And the Apache Trail.

We drove up to Monument Valley and over into Utah to spend the night in Mexican Hat.  Our goal was to explore some of the Anasazi ruins around the Four Corners area, but we were in such awe of what we found we couldn’t absorb much of anything.  A week later we returned to Phoenix with a carload of purchased books and headed straight to the library to search for more.  This adventure alone occupied us for many years.

Yes, I did some hunting and fishing, but very little beyond a few trips to a lake or river to throw a line in for a few hours, or some sporadic dove hunting when the season opened.  Something changed when I moved to Arizona.  I had always appreciated the beauty of nature, but until now I had never understood grandeur.  Yes, I had seen it before.  Never had I been awed before.

Unfortunately, time passes quickly, and Arizona is now a distant memory for both of us.  Fortunately, for once in my life I took photos.  Thousands of photos.  Someday I’ll sort through them.

Update:
Just a couple of weeks ago we returned to Phoenix for the passing of a friend.  It’s been just over twenty years since we visited the area, and much was the same and much was changed.  Areas we used to drive to in order to escape the city are now housing tracts.  A shopping center is on top of the land where I used to target practice.  Dirt roads are now 6-lane streets.  Rawhide village has been moved to a reservation.  Oaxaca village is just gone.  All very sad.

On the other hand, the hawks still sit on top of the telephone poles surveying the land for some meal to wander by.  The sky at sunset is still unbelievably colorful.  Saguaros stand erect everywhere.  The small town feel of the Phoenix has been replaced by tall buildings and freeways, but just a few minutes from the edge of the city one can still imagine the days of the early Spanish explorers, the Apaches and other native Americans, the miners, and of course the Old West.

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