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Arizona: Under the Sun
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Arizona: Under the Sun
  Arizona Travel Tale

by Lorry Patton . . .

monument_valley_wide.jpg What can I say about Arizona that hasn't been said before? Surely you know that one of the seven wonders of the world, the much-photographed Grand Canyon, is chiseled out of its northeast corner. And if you've never seen film versions of Tombstone's Gunfight at OK Corral, or watched the saga of the Lost Dutchman of Superstition Mountains, you don't own a television set.

Perhaps you don't know about the Petrified Forest. It's located near the Hopi Indian Reservation, close to another wonder, the Painted Desert. The downed logs, strewn about the park, were verdant coniferous trees some two hundred (give or take a million) years ago. Time and elements turned them to stone. As for the Painted Desert, no manufactured dyes come close to the shades Mother Nature infused on the plateau layers over time.

Nature and time (and space) made an impression in nearby Winslow, too. It was a mere 50,000 years ago, when a good size chunk of rock fell from the sky. Pictures don't do the Meteor Crater justice. You have to see the 570 ft. hole to get the full impact of the colossal event.

Pictures, although magnificent, don't do justice to the landscape that surrounds the mystical town of Sedona, either. We were coming out of the Sonoran Desert heading north on I-17 when the hills of Oak Creek Canyon loomed before us. The sight made me swerve. The color is startling--the greens of the trees and the rusty-reds of the rocks--I couldn't tear my eyes away. Views of the mile-deep gorge of the Grand Canyon and the mighty Colorado River (looking like a trickle from so high up), have the same dizzying affect.

The mule-back hike to the canyon's bottom must be an exhilarating experience. (For an added thrill, the mules are trained (ha ha) to step close to the edge. Not too worry, though, they haven't lost a tourist in over a century). I know the canyon aerial flights are superb. They capture the entire scene, from the monolithic spires, to the ever-changing colors, the rushing waterfalls, the raging river, the canyon's unique flora and fauna, and the ancient Indian colony; and yes, you can get some great pictures, too. Charter scenic flights, with pickups at hotels and RV Parks, are the most popular source for air tours. Talk about a birds-eye view and photo opportunities.

You don't have to be a bird, however, to get a good view or a panoramic shot of Montezuma Castle. The 12th century Aztec-designed cliff dwelling is visible from your car right on 1-17 between Camp Verde and Sedona. Zoom in and imagine having to descend a 45- foot ladder every time you need something for supper.

For a desert state, water plays a major role in Arizona; I bet you didn't know that Lake Powell of Glen Canyon National Park winds through 96 major canyons and has 1,960 miles of shoreline. That's more than the entire Pacific coast of the United States. More likely you knew that Lake Mead National Recreation Area, on the bank of the Colorado River, is a bustle of activity.

We've been to Arizona several times over the years. Most of the time, we hang out around Phoenix and the communities of the Valley of the Sun; we're drawn to the warmth like the rest of the snowbirds. A particular visit stands out in Mesa. Our son Shawn was admiring a jumping cholla. He stood too close to the cactus and it seemed to jump onto his pant leg. When he brushed it away, it stuck on his hand. There he was, a grimace on his face, and I'm taking pictures. We ended up at the fire hall, picking away with tweezers.

Not necessary, we learned later, from a veteran cowboy. Get a comb and flip it away. He smelled of leather and horses, his boots were dirty and battered and a dusty wide-brimmed hat was pulled low over a face seasoned from too much sun. He chewed tobacco, spoke with a drawl and walked with a swagger. He was the first "real" cowboy I ever saw.

There are 23 Native American Indian reservations in Arizona. The Apache, Navajo and the Hopi, just a few of the 17 tribes, take up one-quarter of the state. Arizona is the first place I heard a Native American radio broadcast. I was flicking the dial when my ears caught a soft, low melodic voice. It set the mood for the beautiful silver and turquoise jewelry, the outstanding paintings and baskets we found in the gift shops.

Museums focusing on Native American folklore are found throughout the state, from the Heard and Pueblo Grande Museums in Phoenix to the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff. The Flagstaff museum boasts of housing one of the largest and most extensive collections of southwestern Native American arts, history, and culture anywhere.

Arizona is the first place I saw a roadrunner. It whizzed by with a vengeance just like on the cartoons. I didn't see a coyote, however, I did see snakes and scorpions and lots of rabbits. It's the first place I saw a Saguaro.

These dominating cacti, forever in the "hands up" position, can grow to 50 feet and live to be 200, what a shame that some are inflicted with knife wounds. The men in my life rode horses deep into the hills of Superstition Mountains one year. They came back with stories of paradise. Far from the human touch, the land is lush and blooming, thick with vegetation in every shape and color as far as the eye can see.

Once we drove up, up, up a scary road to Tortilla Flats and had a sudsy beer in an authentic Old West saloon. Another time we panned for gold with a prospector who wore red under woollies and black suspenders. We studied art galleries in prestigious Scottsdale and explored Carefree, a cool community with spectacular sunsets. We drove to Rawhide, a replica of an 1880's town, complete with general store, ice-cream parlors and staged shoot-ups; we drove to Tucson, where dude ranches and spa resorts are prevalent. We also toured Tombstone and the 1875 Territorial Prison in Yuma, imagining what it would be like to be stuck in the "hole."

Last year we went to Davis Camp near Bullhead City, parked our RV at the edge of Colorado River and roasted marshmallows over an open fire. We've fed the mules wandering the dusty streets of Oatman and took photos of the London Bridge in Lake Havasu. We just missed the gems and minerals show held in Quartzsite every January and February. It's world famous and thousands upon thousands of rock hounds attend the festivities every year. If it was anyplace else on earth, it would be hard to fathom, but then, this is Arizona, so what can I say?

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