Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Day Four: Arizona

The desert is vast and sparse, dotted with patches of desert plants - including what looks like a desert cabbage tree and various low, scruffy bushes that range in colour from gold to a yellow-green. It is a harsh and barren landscape, save for the occasional snatch of blue, lingering like a mirage and then materilising into Lake Mead.


Here the Colorado river has been dammed, providing water for Vegas and southern California.  Its levels are low, a pale strip above the surface of the water denoting where once the levels lay. The south-west  is currently in drought conditions. Heat shimmers off the road, creating mirages of its own and the temperature is well into the 80s (farenheit).

Passing through the security checkpoint (a quick look and a nod and a wave on through) we visit the actual dam itself, pausing first to walk the footbridge from Nevada to Arizona and back again, before evading the many pedestrians to drive its length and up the summit on the far side. Once this was the main highway between Arizona and Nevada, now a new bridge removes the traffic - for the most part. Half the dam is in Pacific Time, the other half Mountain Time, and there are twin clocks displaying the difference. We do not look too closely, a fact that proves to be our undoing tomorrow.

The desert continues in its stark monotony. There is a beauty to it, but we are glad to be settled into our air conditioned Camry. We do pause at a wildlife viewing station to scan for mountain goats, the landscape is so bleak and sparse we can see for miles. What we don't see is any goats, although I spend a long time staring at a strange brown blob. It might be a log, or a rock, or possibly a bighorn sheep.

 For someone coming from a small country like New Zealand, where I've never been more than 5 hours from either the mountains or the sea (or both), the one thing that amazes me is the sheer size of this continent. From the car, we can see a 360 degree panorama, occasionally framed by mountains. It is so big and so open that you can drive for miles before finding a gas station or a rest stop. Although I take many pictures through the car windows, they all fail to capture the sheer scape of this land.

After a brief respite at a Wendys outside of Kingman (iced coffee for me, burger for Tim), we make a tricksy right turn across two lanes of traffic to head off north-east on the I-40 to Flagstaff.  Here the landscape gets steadily more forested and elk signs (or are they mule deer?) predominate. Jumbled piles of large rocks litter the landscape and the road is studded with isolated patches of potholes. Road carnage now claims actual animals - not just tyres.

I photographed the clock but failed to take note of the time...

As we rise into the higher elevation of Flagstaff (7335 feet) we enter into actual forest, with widely spaced trees, possibly aspen. Flagstaff is a delightful little mountain town/city nestled in amongst the forest. The buildings have an American Indian look to them - at least to my untrained South Pacific eyes. Upon the advice of the Lonely Planet, we find our way to a nifty little semi-vegetarian restaurant the Mountain Oasis, which resides in a quaint area of downtown Flagstaff, opposite the historic square. We have a very pleasant meal - mine of pineapple tofu with a banana chai smoothie. I am rather fond of the American food that I have eaten so far! It is good and filling and we experience again the American hospitality as the friendly staff member learns we are from New Zealand. She gives us some advice about the Grand Canyon, which is to be our destination tonight (and I cannot remember exactly what it is, so I just hope that we followed it).

We then make a brief trip across the road to the wee square, which is also rather charming. Although it is hot and dry, I am rather fond of Flagstaff and would like to return here one day.

Tiriki and I made a new friend.
 The road to the Grand Canyon takes us through woodland, where the road can go on straight for miles, but without a living soul in sight. Occasionally buildings loom off in the trees, but for the most part it is forest. Up ahead I see something moving by the side of the road, something large, and eagerly stare out the window as we pass it by, staring into the eyes of a russet-brown coyote. He shows no fear, merely standing there and watching, our eyes locking for the briefest of moments as we carry on past.

1 comment:

Anarchangel said...

It sounds like you got quite lucky with the temperatures!

Someone was telling me about Flagstaff the other day; I'd thought all of Arizona was desert and scrubland. I'm keen to check it out!