Yeeh Haah! Arizona
16.07.2007 - 28.07.2007 45 °C
Welcome to the Wild West! A bit surreal to leave New York, hung over from a weekend of bright lights, late nights, dining and dancing to arrive Sunday night in the mountains of Arizona, where the only sound are coyotes howling under a moonlit sky.
Something about the South really brings out the hick in me. Driving around in my Dad’s 2 ton diesel pickup truck eating fried chicken (don’t ask). All I need now is a gun rack for the back window. Or I could tuck one in my boot as out here in Arizona, its not only legal to carry, you can conceal it as well. Saw a guy across the campground yesterday packing a 45, as you do. Puts every chipmunk within 10 miles into hiding.
Went hiking up at one of the lakes our first day, hoping to see some bear, but only found bear tracks. Stopped by to visit a few of the locals of the Tonto Forest, Eddie and Otter. Real mountain men. Met Otter first, named not for the furry river critter, but rather because he ought to do this and ought to do that. This was made quite apparent by the state of his trailer and his concern for personal hygiene. A lovely man resembling kind old Uncle Jesse from the Dukes of Hazard. He had mountain stories I could not even try to repeat.
Afterwards we headed to meet his brother, Eddie, who seemed surprised to see us as he stumbled out of his trailer, coming off of what I later learned was a wild mushroom high (the yellow and orange ones will hit you like 6 pack so I’m told). Eddie makes all of his own clothes which you can see and smell. Note, it’s best to stand a few feet back when he’s wearing the full buck skin pants, shirt and moccasin ensemble. Eddie proudly brought out his handmade spears (Even the local natives would have been impressed), his bobcat skin quiver to hold his arrow (also home made of course), and my personal favourite his fox coat, lined in buck skin and complete with the fox head on the shoulder. Anyone standing in line behind Eddie at the Laundromat would be in for quite a fright. Then again I’m not so sure Eddie spends much time at the Laundromat.
Eddie was a wonderful host, inviting us to sit and have a beer with him and Wade, and Cyclops, Wade’s one eyed pet goat. We sat outside on chairs Eddie had salvaged from the trash and given new life, much safer than entering the trailer, which from what I could see spilling out of it, was likely highly contagious. Wade wasn't much of a talker, as the local gossip says he's usually sloshed by breakfast. He just sat and drank his beer, silently stroking Cyclops' horns. When Cyclops turned 180 degrees to look at me, I was happy to note that he didn’t have one large eye in the middle of his forehead, but rather one good eye. Either way, his stare scared the crap out of our little dog, KC, and she slunk under my chair, willing us to go home. But Eddie was still busy showing me his collection of artillery. My Dad thinks it was some kind of weird mountain mating ritual. Within the first 15 minutes, he brought me out 3 of his best rifles. Only after he had me handle each one did he mention, oh yeah, be careful as they are loaded. That would have been good to know! This of course turned the conversation to ammo, which Eddie, surprise surprise, proudly makes himself. He threw off the tarp covering the picnic table and exposed several boxes of homemade musket balls. At least that explained the gunpowder residue on Eddie’s nose. His most prized possession, and rightly so, was his bear claw necklace he wore proudly on his chest. It was adorned with Indian beads, turquoise stones and of course about 8 bear claws. I met the rest of the bear (minus the bits he ate), on the floor outside the trailer, its face stuck in a frozen snarl. An interesting day to say the leats, with the biggest surprise probably learning that there was once a Mrs Mountain Man Eddie. I have renewed hope that there really is someone for everyone!
I am loving everything about the mountains. Especially the thunderstorms, which brew daily due to the summer heat. They're unreal, with the sound ricocheting off the mountains, and reverberating through the valleys. Sadly, they bring very little rain, as this area only gets about 8 inches of rain in a year.
After a few weeks of enjoying the isolation, we headed down to the Valley to Mesa, just outside Phoenix, where my Dad and Judy live. Sweet Jesus its 113 (45C) here in the shade, before breakfast! After the sun sets around 8:30 it drops to 100 and goes as low as 92 overnight. They even wet the air out here (I'm not joking!). They have these misters for restaurant and backyard patios that send mist into the air around you. Only in America!. I’m trying desperately not to spontaneously combust.
My friend Brian arrived on Thursday and we drove out to see the Salado Indians’ ancient cliff dwellings from about 1000 AD and I drove this 25 mile winding dirt road called the Apache Trail. It winds through the Superstition mountains along the Salt River, rising over 2000 feet, with no guard rails. It was absolutely terrifying, as Brian described it, being he was on the passenger side and practically hanging over the abyss. A harrowing, but beautiful drive that’s pure joy for the adventurous spirit. We arrived in Tortilla Flat, population 6, (estimated teeth from the locals I encountered - about 12) at the end of the road (this would definitely qualify as a head-in-the-oven town for those of you who know my criteria), white knuckled but feeling very much ALIVE! The town was once a stage coach stop in the early 1900s and now boasts a shop selling tourist spoons and thimbles and local prickly pear cactus ice cream (which tasted suspiciously like strawberry).
Our first night in the valley was full of excitement - encountering a coyote in the back yard on the evening dinner round, eyeing up KC and finishing up with a dust storm blowing through just before bed time.
You could only step outside for brief moments, with the dust blinding your eyes and clogging your nose and mouth. The dust storm marked the beginning of what they call the Monsoon season where they get half the annual rain fall in just over a month. I know 4 inches is not much, but when it comes all at once, onto the hard desert ground, it floods like a tropical Monsoon. Seems Bri and I have chosen and interesting time to head out camping in the desert!
We hit the road on Sunday heading North to Sedona. Bri had been there a few times before and knew a great secluded place to camp on a ridge overlooking the valley, miles up an old dirt road.
I came dangerously close to ending this and all future camping trips when I cam face to face with a skunk in the middle of the night. Thankfully I think I scared him just as much as he scared me so he didnt have time to collect himself and spray me before I darted back into the tent screaming for Brian.
Sedona is just as beautiful as everyone says it is, with the magestic Red Rocks lining the whole town. After 2 nights there hiking and taking in the views, we headed North to Utah. For 6 hours we saw little more than desert and dust, counting tumbleweeds along the way. I love the names of the little towns you pass through (some so quickly we missed them completely). Horsetheif Basin, Bumble Bee, Jackass Canyon. We stopped in one with a population of about 300 with and had lunch at an Amish kitchen (complete with a neon 'open' light in the window???). It was either that or travel another 100 miles to the BadAss BBQ.
We arrived in Moab Utah, gateway to Arches National Park. Get there if you haven't been. Surreal what water and wind can do to rock is you give it a little while. Like a few million years.
We camped in Jackass Canyon, on the banks of the Colorado river. The most spectacular bit was hiking along the mountain of rock at sunset to find Delicate Arch, teetering on the canyon edge.
No pictures can do this arch justice. Firstly, it is mammonth to how it looks in pictures, as the pics never have any people in it to give it perspective. Secondly, when the sun is setting sending a glow over the arch and into the canyon below, it's a captivating sight.
We relunctantly left the arch after an hour or so and hiked back and headed into Moab for some long overdue beers at the local brewery. Im a real fan of the local 'Dead Horse' brew. You can't 'beat' it! :-). Our stop at Canyonlands the next day was lovely as well but it does pale a bit in comparison to the Grand Canyon. After a few days in Utah we headed to Colorado. More ancient cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde and a day trip out to an old Gold mining town, Silverton, tucked in the mountains, about 12000 ft up. The cliff dwellings were quite impressive, making you climb 30+ foot ladders and crawl through 12 in tall tunnels to enter them.
Not a bad place to live if you dont mind sleeping on gravel in a a 5x5 room with a half dozen of your clan members. What's cooler, the cliff dwellings or my tat?
The wildlife here is amazing with wild horses, coyotes, mule deer and even mice, coming so close to you you could reach out an touch 'em.
The mice were oddly familar, having a few who came along for our road trip in our car. A bit startling and somewhat annoying when one kept asking 'are we there yet?'.
All and all a great trip. And wonderful to be out of mobile, internet and tv range for 2 weeks! Now it's back to the brutal Sydney winter where its about 70 degrees. Brrrrr.