Going Home: The American Southwest

Sunday, August 30, 2015

I grew up in Arizona and love the desert, but this hasn't always been the case. When I was a teenager, I hated the irrepressible heat of the Arizona summer. I thought cactus was an annoyance, the desert was too barren, and that southwest architecture and stucco houses were ugly. To make it worse, my family had cars with NO AIR CONDITIONING! What were we thinking?! To save money, my dad bought a cargo van instead of a passenger van so it had no windows, no air conditioning, no seats, no seat belts, no nothing except the absolute basics. Basics here means motor, wheels, steering wheel, front windshield. My dad used a hacksaw to cut out squares from the sides of the van for windows and covered them with plastic sheeting. These windows did not roll down. Did you catch that? The windows DID NOT ROLL DOWN! I only now realize the insanity of it all- driving in the desert summer heat with no air conditioning and windows that don't roll down!? Insane. And they were sealed around the edges and bolted on so that the van looked like a heavy duty, industrial army vehicle. My dad installed seats that he found at the local dump. For a nicer touch, he added floor-to-ceiling industrial carpet. Such was our family van. During the summer months as the outside temperatures reached 115+ Fahrenheit, it was like a sweltering oven. Add 6 kids and you have the recipe for a Watkins Family road trip!

It's funny how things you hated when you were younger, you can end up loving. Or at least looking back with fond memories. I've grown to appreciate the barren beauty of the desert and the family road trips. The cactus forests, the tough desert critters (geckos, roadrunners, scorpions), and the late summer monsoons. The dark grey, thundering clouds filling the expansive sky in the afternoons as the wind picks up and you watch the lightning-filled thunderclouds move closer. It was exciting in a way and provided some relief from the blazing hot day.

So for part of my 6 month wanderings, I've come back to Arizona. I took a week for a solo road trip down Hwy 1 in California, through Big Sur, across Las Vegas, into northern Arizona, Navajo country, Grand Canyon, and eventually Mesa, where my parents live. I did some hiking along the way, visited Antelope Canyon, Coyote Butte, and camped at Lake Powell. There's nothing like the vast, expansive desert landscape to bring me home.

So here's my homage to the great American Southwest and the beauty of desolate places.

Antelope Canyon- you have to get a guide to see this place since it's on the Navajo reservation. The canyon is small and they have lots of visitors, so I felt very rushed going through. Not quite the peaceful meandering that I would've liked, but I managed to get a few great shots. This place is a golden treasure.

The Wave at Coyote Butte- After a 3 mile hike in mostly uncharted territory, you arrive at The Wave (if you were able to follow the directions carefully). Bring a compass- it's a little tricky, but worth it. Layers of sandstone have compressed over millennia and then been carved out by wind, rain, and flash floods.

I have so many great photos of this trip, that I'll have to spread my photos across a couple posts.....more to come.


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