Cowboys, yuppies and snakes in Northern Arizona

After a variety of forest adventures, I met up with my Dad in California for my first foray into the desert. We borrowed a slightly beat up convertible from my uncle, threw some camping gear in the back, and set off on a week long adventure through Arizona and Utah.

The first few hours of the journey consist of rolling through the California desert, which is made up of a long freeway and a lot of nothing sort of places. The road is punctuated with weird little abandoned buildings in such barren places that it’s a surprise that someone bothered to build something there in the first place. Even the few towns the we pass really make me wonder why people decide to live in places like this. One of the only towns out here is Desert Center. A sad little place that looks like it decided it could really be a pretty nice place if only there were some nice palm trees to liven the place up. Unfortunately the trees they optimistically planted have all died, so now it’s a sad little town, AND is framed by dead palm trees. There are plenty of desert areas that are really cool, but driving this section of the I-5 is not one of them. The heat is blistering, even driving fast with the windows down. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for people crossing through here before cars. I’ve been reading a book called Guns, Germs, and Steel, which has been talking about how geological barriers slowed the spread of food production in North America. It’s easy to be a bit disbelieving if you’re just looking at maps, but actually spending a day in a place like this convinced me of the author’s points pretty quickly. It’s an unforgiving environment and it just goes on and on.


Saguaros in the Arizona desert

All this is a means to an end luckily, and the landscape changes as soon as we cross the border into Arizona. The heat remains but the desert becomes much more interesting with saguaros and other interesting cacti dotting the landscape. It’s funny that the saguaros seem to obey borderlines… There are still plenty of weird little towns but they’re much less depressing. My favorite is a place called Hope that tried to have a witty farewell sign, but apparently doesn’t house a single person with good grammar and ended up with “Your now beyond Hope”. Nice.

Hope, AZ


The landscape changes with the elevation and by the time we set up camp for the night just out of Prescott, we’re out of the desert and up in the pine forest. We head into Prescott proper the next day, a cute little historic cowboy town full of old saloons that still have bullet holes in the walls from the old days. The day we arrive is also the Prescott Western Heritage Fair. There are lots of old cars around and people dressed in very convincing old time costumes, so we even get to see cowboys wandering down the historic streets.

Our next stop is Jerome, old ghost town that people eventually moved back into which is now a popular tourist spot. It has a lot of character, the old buildings look like something straight out of a western and are all practically hanging off the side of a cliff. It’s a Saturday unfortunately and the town is so busy that it’s hard to appreciate it properly. We don’t stop for long but resolve to stay longer on our way back when it will (hopefully) not be so busy.

Sedona, AZ

Red rocks at the traffic lights in downtown Sedona

From Jerome we head down into Sedona where the red rock country begins. The landscape around here is just stunning. It seems so strange to drive down little urban streets with the impressive red rocks rising up all around. I can see Sedona would have been a lovely little town once. Unfortunately the new age yuppies have well and truly moved in which ruins the mood of the place a little (“Hire a guru to open the vortex! Only $599!!!”) but there’s a reason why they like it so much. The surrounding country is so beautiful that it retains a lot of its majesty regardless of what’s going on in the town.

Red Rock Crossing - Sedona, AZ

Red Rock Crossing – Sedona, AZ

Our original plan was to camp beside Oak Creek just out of Sedona, an old favorite from my Dad’s childhood, but like in Jerome, Saturdays are totally packed, and after one pass through the canyon we abandon all hope of finding a campsite here. We do stop for a wonderful dip in the river and a cold beer though. After two hot days on the road the creek is absolute heaven.

Oak Creek - Sedona, AZ

Going for a dip in Oak Creek

Fresh from the river, we begin our climb into the mountains towards Flagstaff. We stop at a cool viewing point at the top of the climb for an awesome view down Oak Creek Canyon. I dash over to get some photos and am just lining up a shot when I feel some sort of creepy crawly on my toes. I flick my foot vigorously in disgust, sending my jandal flying in the process, and see a tiny red striped snake go soaring over the wall. Holy shit! I thought it was just an insect or something. It’s not until afterwards in the car that I notice two little pin pricks on my toes. The little guy bit me! He was so small that his fangs barely got through the skin but for a while I’m wondering how long it takes for snake venom to kick in. I feel fine a few hours later though so he either he wasn’t venomous or none of the venom got in. Actually since there were no real consequences the whole thing was kind of cool. Now I can say I’ve been bitten by a snake. No adventure is complete without a bit of casual snake bite.

Oak Creek Canyon

The view down Oak Creek Canyon (post snake bite)

The road to Flagstaff has us driving head first into a rainstorm, which is awesome at first watching the ominous clouds roll through and fork lightning striking down. Flagstaff is pretty cold because its up so high though, and the thought of setting up camp on the cold wet ground sends us running to motel room for the night. Town is pretty busy because there’s a festival on in town, so we end up at Whispering Winds, which I’m sure must be the worst motel in Flagstaff. On the plus side, I’m pretty sure staying at a shitty motel on Route 66 is a fairly quintessential American experience, and we wake up sans bed bugs, so no harm done. Horray! After a decent $3 breakfast we drive around in circles for a while trying to get back on the highway, but eventually find our way and we’re on the road to the Grand Canyon!

To be continued…

Listening to: White Noise – Murder By Death


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