Adventuring in Arizona

Greetings friends and family!

As I write this, I’m camped in the middle of nowhere, New Mexico, with a hot spring about 10 metres away from my door. Not a bad deal for eight dollars. My last newsletter was a bit of a doozy, and I want to say thank you to everyone who reached out and offered kind words and support. I know, I probably didn’t respond to you; I was, as the kids say, “going through it.” But I am immersed in so much love, and I appreciate you all, and I love having a reason to write about everything I’m seeing and doing, knowing that at least a few people are living vicariously through me. So thank you!

I’ve had the pleasure of exploring many more pockets of Arizona since I last wrote. Over American Thanksgiving I headed to the Tonto National Forest, east of Phoenix. There I camped amidst ponderosa pines with butterscotch-scented bark. Other than the ever-present ATV traffic of holidaying families, I spent a few days hiking, relaxing, and trying (unsuccessfully) to meet some of the elk who had been pooping all over my campsite. Side note: why is it that Americans, after spending 3 hours a day confined to their cars on interstate highway commutes during the week, spend their weekends getting into slightly smaller, much louder cars and go driving for fun? These are expensive hobbies, ones that people orient their existence around by buying ATVs and ATV trailers and trucks with which to pull the ATV trailers and RVs with which to camp while scouting out new ATV trails – and at its core, it’s still just driving around.

Hugging the pines

After Thanksgiving I decided to head north and see how far I could get before freezing to death. As it turns out, not very far! I decided to skip Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon after I awoke one morning to find my olive oil frozen solid. Sedona was a treat, though. The massive red rock formations are, to my mind, some sort of divine architecture, beyond the imagination of man. As you walk around a butte or a mountain it takes on ever new shapes and forms: a courthouse, a skyscraper, a church, a city block. Each rock changes height, mass, scope and majesty as you circumnavigate it, and so you’re always awestruck and looking upwards. I did some fantastic hiking around the Courthouse and Bell Rock formations, and then woke up very early one morning to scramble up Cathedral Rock by flashlight in time for sunrise. I watched the sky lighten as the sun rose over a distant butte, its first rays transforming the landscape from flat and featureless rocks into red and richly textured palaces and castles.

The mighty courthouse

Heralded as a New Age Mecca, there are apparently “energy vortexes” around Sedona where you’re supposed to feel a great, crackling magnetic energy. It’s all part of the Sedona vibe, along with the crystal shops and the fake Mexican village they built in the 1970s to convince tourists to buy overpriced handicrafts. I dutifully visited three of the vortexes and eagerly awaited an “Eat, Pray, Love” moment, but felt no unfolding of the universe. At one vortex, a leathery man with shining, white teeth handed me a rock that had been filed into a heart, and told me it was “composed of hundreds of pieces of energy” and was a gift “from the heart of Mother Nature to your heart.” That was the closest I got to any sort of spiritual experience in Sedona – but that’s not to say I didn’t derive immense pleasure from the natural beauty of the land.

I am grateful for how much easier it has gotten to meet people since I started travelling alone. Granted, it might have something to do with the fact that I’m a smoking hot blonde chick. Yes, many of the people I meet are rather eccentric old men, but I’m realizing that I am myself an eccentric young woman, and I am now part of the herd of eccentric drifters that end up in the margins of American society and sleep in their cars on the edges of civilization. In Sedona I shared a mesquite campfire and a bottle of vodka with a guy who lost his job delivering seafood in California when Covid came down, and now lives in his minivan. At a campsite one night, I met two young guys who earnestly warned me about the dangers of skinwalkers. I met a guy in a parking lot who works remotely from his van and, despite being an awkward 60 year old guy, has an immensely popular TikTok account. Just yesterday I shared a hot spring with a one-thumbed Jeep tour guide (“Jeeper Jeff”) from Moab who seemed a little drunk for 3 pm on a Tuesday, but hey, that’s life on the road! My new rule of thumb is: if he lives in a vehicle and is from the Southwest, he’s got a good UFO story. I can sense it. Like, last night the elderly caretaker of the hot springs told me about a golden orb of light that visited the area 25 years ago and caused the mysterious disappearance of a pregnant woman’s 4-month-old fetus. It’s an instant conversation starter, and has become my favourite way to get to know someone.

Since Sedona I’ve spent a bit of time in the southeastern part of Arizona. I walked the cow fences of some high plains ranchlands and felt my first rainfall in a month under the spread arms of a mesquite tree. I watched the migratory sandhill cranes fly to their feeding grounds and hiked amidst the pinnacles and hoodoos of Chiricahua National Monument. I drank a mini-bottle of champagne at the top of a mountain as the sun set on my birthday, and then watched the Geminids meteor shower send a streak of light across the night sky every minute or so.

Golden hour sunset in Chiricahua National Monument

This southeastern patch of Arizona is comprised of what I call “white truck towns”. These are towns centred around an industry (mine, cement plant, cattle) where every resident is a man that drives a gigantic white pick-up truck. No idea where the women are. The main street is made up of rough saloons and long-term occupancy motels. Men wear cowboy hats not as an affectation or costume but because it’s part of the uniform. Invariably, an auto parts business will have a large sign that proclaims “Here in [Town] we stand for the flag and kneel before God” or “Trump 2024” or “Blue Lives Matter”. At one such town’s annual Christmas Lights Parade, in which people decorate tractors and horses and semi-trucks with whimsical Christmas lights, the cop car got the loudest applause even though he didn’t even put any Christmas lights on his vehicle! Nevertheless, these towns have good diners and cheap Mexican food and nice people. When I went for a burger on my birthday in a white truck town, the three waitresses put a candle in my deep-fried cheesecake and sang to me with genuine delight. No, I did not cry, but I came pretty damn close.

On a personal level, I’m doing alright with all the solitude. It’s not so much good days and bad days as good hours and bad minutes – it’s just that the bad minutes tend to blot out the good when you’re in them. The trick is getting yourself out of them. But I love the way I’m living now: I love waking up clueless and making it up as I go, I love the people I meet in my little fringe of society, and I love all the new trees and birds and animals I’m discovering. I’m still having fun, and I’m staying safe, and I’m figuring it out!

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