A great thing about Flagstaff is that the Grand Canyon is an hour north, and Sedona/Red Rock state park is an hour south. Since the Grand Canyon was closed, I went south to Sedona. I put on some classical music as I drove south on 89A, which wound back and forth through the forest. When I hit a clearing, the sun opened up through the trees, and I saw the red rock for the first time. It was like a religious experience. If I did go to church, I would want it to be out in nature just like this place.
I continued driving an hour through the forest to the first viewpoint. There were three or four huge red rock formations next to an overhanging bridge. A small creek was flowing through the bottom of the canyon. I parked next to a line of cars on the side of the road and headed into the canyon for the two-mile hike to the riverbed. I was so giddy I ran the two miles down the hill, stopping to photograph the rock formations from every angle possible. I arrived at the bottom sweaty and out of breath. Too much smoking in bars in the south. I took off my shoes and socks and ran into a small creek running down a hill, jumped in, waded down the river a ways, and then just stood still in the water and listened.
When I hiked back to my car, there was a guy parked next to me with the same Subaru Legacy, packed with the same items in his backseat. We both had a bike, some clothes, a sketchbook, a backpack, sandwich bread, and peanut butter and jelly. We introduced ourselves and started talking about our trips. He was a bit more advanced travel-wise than I was. I was staying in motels, and he was camping every night off the beaten path. He’d been traveling off and on for 2 years. He was studying visual art during the in-between times and sketching as he traveled. He mentioned that most of the rangers don’t bother with people like him when he camped in undesignated sites. He would just wait until after 5pm when the rangers got off work, park on the side of the road, and hike down to the nearest clearing to pitch a tent.
A fellow traveler
I wished I was brave enough to travel the way he did, pitching a tent wherever I saw fit and sleeping in the forest every night. I suppose I haven’t really shaken the urban side of me that craves hot showers, a big bed, and a wifi connection. After we talked, he picked up his pack, shook my hand, and walked down the same trail I’d just come up from to set up camp somewhere at the bottom. I promised to friend him on Facebook, and felt like crap when I somehow lost his information on the way back to my motel.
A friend told me to drive up Airport Road to get a great view of the area, so I drove over and parked along the side of the road. There was a vantage point of the entire valley, surrounded by red rock. I hiked around the cliffs for a few miles taking pictures as I went until I got to the top of a large rock, where I sat down and let my feet dangle off the edge. I laid back on the rock and rested for an hour.
I drove an hour further south to Jerome, a small former mining town founded in the late 19th century. In the 40s and 50s it became a ghost town. Hippies revived it some in the 70s, and by the 80s and 90s the town had become a bit more populated. By the time I got there, it was somewhat of a tourist town. Don’t get me wrong, I still think it had a lot of charm, and kept most of it’s faded, crumbling buildings, but it cleaned them up to look more like monuments than the real thing. Most of the older buildings were trinket stores and galleries for wealthier tourists.
I stopped in the only bar in town to get a beer, and to see what the bars were like in an abandoned mining town. People go to bars to get drunk, yes, but I think its also for the free conversation. I listened to the four or five folks at the bar talk about their day and chimed in here and there. Then they proceeded to tell me all they knew about the town, and suggested I stay at the local motel and hang out with them, unfortunately I had to be on my way.
A friendly bartender in Jerome
I left feeling like I’d picked up more information than I could have anywhere else, and made a couple friends, all for the price of one beer. They were construction workers with blue-collar jobs, just like the miners that this bar was originally built for over 100 years ago.
When I arrived in Jerome, I realized my iPhone was completely dead. I have been reliant on this device through my entire trip. I’ve used it for GPS directions and maps, finding restaurants/bars/motels, listening to music, and posting pretty pictures on social media sites. I was stressed and immediately felt cut off from everything. It’s weird how reliant we are on these devices nowadays. I generally adopt every new technology that comes around, but I kind of wish I was able to navigate without it, like my father and my grandfather did. They lived fairly easily without them, and before 2008, so did I. You just follow the signs on the road, right? So, for a stressful hour and a half trip back to Flagstaff, I followed the signs on the road. I proudly thought, “Hey maybe I can just turn off my iPhone and travel like my father did!” About ten minutes later, I gave up on this notion and plugged it into the charger at the motel.