Sunday, February 25, 2007

Time Travel in Northern Arizona

Those who think that the days of adventure are past do not display familiarity with that portion of the southwest north of the Grand Canyon often named the Arizona Strip. Separated from the south by the Grand Canyon, the AZ strip may be considered an extension of southern Utah by culture, geography, geology and history. The strip was once cattle country although the ranchers often had to build their own dams to bring water to the cattle. Schoolhouses had one room and children went to school on horseback. Many of those children are still alive, plying the dirt roads in four-wheel drives and covering in hours what once took days to transverse. Instead of sitting in rocking chairs, these octogenarian children rock back and forth in their mechanical bark-a-loungers while scaling the rocks and sandy washes that serve as superhighways through the red dust. Not even ATV folk venture here; it's much too boring for them. But for these time travelers, it's all theirs because it's all basically home.

When access to the north side of the Grand Canyon is a sea of mud left over from the transient winter snows, four wheelers head out for alternative destinations. This time the goal was a landmark named Elephant Butte. Cruising past the (in)famous twin towns of Hilldale and Colorado City, polygamist settlements made famous by recent national media attention, the sheet metal caravan turned onto a road that led them into Arizona and back into southern Utah again. Since the intrepid leader of the group had forgotten which road to take (having been that particular way as much as twenty-five years before), Elephant Butte remained at a safe distance. But now a new destination loomed; the remote terrain along the southern border of Zion National Park.

The caravan moved upward through mesquite forests interspersed with black sage, rabbit brush and an occasional Ponderosa pine. Snow covered the sandy track where no tire tread had crossed in days. Finally at a sandstone outcropping the vehicles gathered to park, and their inhabitants moved slowly up a short incline. At the very top was a viewpoint to be matched by none other in the country. A deep cleft some one thousand plus feet high opened up below a rocky point chiseled with pioneer petroglyphs. In the distance floated the edge of Zion; in the middle distance rugged red cliffs plunged into the darkness; under the point, a sheer drop plummeted into the bottom.

The rest of the trip was uneventful, maybe even tiresome to relate. Suffice it to say that there are places worthy of wilderness status, to be given over to the eagle and the deer. There are places where motor homes are accommodated and even welcomed. Yet there are places still where the young at heart can exchange their creaking joints and worn out muscles for magic machines that take them where no one else wants, or cares to go. Places like these belong to them. I call them the time travelers.

By Christine Oravec