The desert highway spat up an endless row of white lines, the tongues of a thousand Gila monsters; scarlet clouds dragged slowly across the sky, each the haunted spirit of a Navajo warrior banished to a reservation.
It had been 17 years since I visited the canyon by which all canyons are measured -the Grand Canyon- and it was a culture shock of sorts. After years of being immersed in california water-wars, I suddenly found myself in a land so parched it might as well have been mars.
Miles of giant wind turbines stood sentry on a shimmering horizon, an army of ghostly apparitions wildly spinning their arms creating 'green' energy for white men. Like a painted, galloping steed, the RV rolled on.
River after river lay choking in the dust, sandy riverbeds telling a forensic story of insatiable greed, welcoming us with skull and crossbones to an arid land where spirit is slave, and mindless development is king.
Unable to be saved by the bell, the heat scored a TKO as we pulled into the KOA; a campground at what was once Apache Junction. Exhausted and dehydrated, we hooked up and lay down.
Razing Arizona, part II
Shade was a no-show. There were no mature trees around, and all I could do was lay and sweat. The foundry-like temperatures were tough on my dog, and I promised him our stay would be brief in this land of Saguaros and skeletons.
Phoenix is a land under assault, development springing up everywhere, Apache Junction leading the way. A large conduit called the 'Central Arizona Water Project' stood bursting to its brim with deep blue water sparkling in the Arizona sunshine, all stolen from dying rivers and vanishing aquifers.
Newly framed houses stood unfinished, speaking of new water demand, and all in the shadows of dinosaurian rock formations who deserved better. I pictured a future where these rocks would be carved into the likenesses of 21st century America's architects of oblivion: Bush, Cheney, Rove, Gonzalez and Condi.
We sought shade elsewhere, finding it at a cookie-cutter convenience store more suited for suburbia than the land of Geronimo. The dogs trudged through the heat like toys on low batteries as I went inside, opting to fill my 'big gulp' with ice rather than liquid. It was the kind of debilitating heat where nothing moved, save the multitudinous grasshoppers that were seemingly everywhere.
"It is an Indian legend that the locusts signal coming monsoons", said a native woman behind the counter.
I returned to stand in the shade of a tall palm under which we had parked. Looking up, I discovered the secret of this lone tree; upon closer inspection, it was really a cell-phone tower! Ugh. Enough was enough. I said an Earth-prayer for the Quail living on the construction site next door, loaded up, and headed north to Sedona.
Razing Arizona, part III
Just before leaving the land of the Apache, we stopped to eat at the Apache Junction Diner, where the special was not-so-good broasted chicken.
"Any questions?", asked the waitress.
"This is Apache Junction, right?" I asked.
"Yes", she replied.
"Then where are all the Apache's?" I asked further.
She answered by singing 'Somewhere over the Rainbow'. The more I thought about it the less I liked it. I paid the bill, and told her the tip was also 'somewhere over the rainbow'.
The Scenic Route
As promised, I guided the RV due north, jamming up Highway 17 and taking scenic 89A as soon as I got the chance. The temperature dropped quickly and we soon left the last Saguaro behind us. With each passing mile, the scenery became more dramatic, until large rock formations stood atop giant hills like jeweled crowns.
We entered Sedona at sunset, as gargantuan boulders clapped their hands to a timeless geological symphony; a place so mystical, we parked the RV in front of a sign that said:
your car being towed'
One of the great things about driving an RV is it's pretty hard to tow.
Hidden in the shadows of several tall trees, we fell heavily asleep, and dreamed the dreams of the black lotus.
Razing Arizona, part IV
Red Rock Jam
'MONDAY NIGHT MUSIC' said a sign hand painted in letters scrawled on a huge white sheet, flapping in a late-evening Sedonan breeze. 'ACOUSTIC', it continued, draped across the front of the 'Old Sedona Grille'.
"What day is it?", I asked.
"Its Monday night", came Sandra's answer. "Are you going to jam?".
"Maybe. Let's go in for a drink- I'll bring my guitar and we'll see".
Sedona is a magic place. Many call it a vortex where dimensions overlap, allowing for passage back and forth. Others see it as a profit center to be subdivided, sold and carved up for development like Aunt Loretta's pumpkin pie at 5:00PM on Thanksgiving.
We headed inside, ate a great dinner on the patio, and then took a table in the club downstairs. A stack of business cards sat on the seat, someone obviously having lost them there. On the stage, a dark-haired and sullen-eyed singer belted out tunes, one of them was called 'I Broke up with you Last Night' and it went:
"I broke up with you last night...
Take a hint and stay away"
The guy was a lot of fun. I looked down at the business cards and saw they said:
'Sedona-Verde Valley TIMES, local news from all points of view, Tommy Acosta, Editor'.
Cool, I thought- a reporter. Soon, the set ended and the guy made his way through the tables, finally landing at ours. "Tommy Acosta", he said.
"Joey Racano" I answered, handing him his own cards. The vortex at work.
We hit it off instantly, and jammed together and seperately for the remainder of the evening. It really felt good to cut loose. You know what they say; 'what happens in Sedona stays in Sedona'!
Razing Arizona, part V
Call of the Canyon
The next morning found us ambling west on I-40. We passed an interesting rock formation I call the 'Mummy's Teeth'. If you were half an inch tall, standing on a mummy's tongue, and inside his mouth, that is exactly what it would look like- big, square, half- decayed boulders, all lined up like molars.
Although we hoped to stay well north of Los Angeles, the warmth still had us making a bee-line for the coast- but everything changed 300 yards before the Highway 64 interchange; there was a flurry of discussion and at the last second I decided to take it north- north to the Grand Canyon!
The 50 miles to the canyon was an education in itself; scarred mountains lay crying and disemboweled, nameless men in black hats having absconded with their golden guts.
All along the road, forests no sooner sprang up than were cut down, having been rendered defenseless by drought against dangerous imported diseases. We pushed on.
Soon, hawks circling high above heralded our arrival at Grand Canyon Camper Village, where we met a charming gentleman named Robert Schmeck. He stood in the welcome hut behind a wooden desk, dressed in the uniform of the canyon- Roy Rodgers cowboy shirt, bolo tie, and a bright smile. He kept no less than three (3) spare cowboy hats lined up at the ready, blue, gray and brown.
About 80 years young and still smiling the mischevious smile of a teenager, he showed us a photo on the wall of a handsome young couple, one of whom wore that same smile, and I read a thousand thoughts in his bright blue eyes.
"That's my beautiful wife", he said quietly. "She passed away recently. We were together for 50 years".
I placed a hand on his now frail shoulder, nodded, smiled, and said to him- "Success!"
Razing Arizona, part VI
Soon after taking our spot in the campground, it became painfully obvious that all was not well in the land of Geronimo. Every 10 minutes, a brightly painted helicopter would buzz us a noisy fly-by as it whisked another in an endless line of sight-seers out and over the canyon. This unwelcome background noise was eclipsed every half hour by the cacophany of a huge and loud sight-seeing plane roaring directly over our campsite; again, whisking folks up, out and over the canyon. It was an extreme example of unbridled commercialism; the commodification and loving of, our public lands to death.
After hooking up, we headed out into the surrounding woods, where we soon found ourselves face to face with a family of Elk! I know from experience that Elk are not deer- they are huge, heavily muscled and can kill your dog. We snapped a photo of their youngster and gave them a wide berth.
Our saunter was soon cut short by large drops of rain as dark clouds began to roll over the dry canyonlands, and the monsoons foretold by swarming locusts pounced on us like a puma. We spent the night counting the seconds between bright flashes of lightning and bass-tones of booming thunder.
Razing Arizona, part VII
Canyon of Canyons
Canyon of canyons, rock streaked with red
the sound of your lightning shook me in my bed
Hard rain and bold thunder went on and on
but all was forgiven, by your misty dawn!
At first light, we headed the last miles to the Grand Canyon, where her south rim wore heavy mist as a veil. So stunning a site as to render cameras useless and words inadequate, I stood before her majesty and cried. It was early enough that we had her mostly to ourselves and we bathed in her riches.
Two of our wolf-pack ran out before us, loping down the monolithic steps that led only to a precipice. Reaching the edge, they slanted their eyes in a knowing way, casting the longest gaze of their canid lives. I was happy they could see this.
I saged us all, snapped a few photos, and we headed back.
Razing Arizona, epilogue
Children under a canopy of stars, we are caught so easily in the day-to-day trap of self importance. Lands such as Arizona lay spread before us as a reminder of who we really are and what we truly must become.