I remember a different Arizona than the one we are seeing today with its expansion of gun rights, anti immigrant reactions, closing of ethnic study programs and its super charged political rhetoric.
No the Arizona I remember was back in 1993 when Bill Clinton was president and John McCain was still a maverick symbolic of his state’s brand of at that time moderate Republicanism.
My wife Jeri and I traveled there the day after I completed three days of bar exams. I was physically and mentally exhausted from the stain of the exam process cramming three years of law school into 6 weeks of review and three days of exams.
We landed in Phoenix and rented a car for the week and drove to our hotel in Scottsdale where the closest we came to a gun mentality was a Wild West show that included a steak dinner. I remember soaking in the hotel pool and Jeri looking up at a digital reading and saying its 1:15 already and my replying that it wasn’t the time but the temperature. While here we visited the botanical gardens and the Heard Museum. Then we drove north through the desert.
We spent time at a hotel in Sedona that was on a summit whose road upward passed many groups of New Age people gathered at spiritual vortexes. We went to a church built out of the region’s red rock, went horseback riding and hiked here as well. My spirits were beginning to be rejuvenated.
We continued onto Flagstaff a scenic city that had banned smoking citywide years before most other places making it a somewhat progressive place. We told the waiter at a local restaurant that this was a nice town you have here. He became insulted saying this wasn’t a town but a city. We explained to him that New Yorkers called every nice place a town including the Big Apple, it was a term of endearment, you know like the Sinatra song that went, “my kind of town.”
We explored the lava flow of a dormant volcano here and then shot up to the Grand Canyon. Words or cameras cannot capture the magnificence of this awe inspiring vista. I should point out that I started out on what would be a 1,500 mile journey through the state driving madly well above the speed limit blasting classic rock out of the car radio along endless stretches of highway slowly relaxing as we progressed further along into the state until my driving returned to safer speeds as the stress left me.
Our next stop was the Navajo Nation. Along the way we stopped at a Native American trading stand where we purchased turquoise jewelry. We slept that night in Tuba City after a Native American guide showed us ancient dinosaur tracks embedded in solid rock. Upon our arrival in the nation we began reading our Tony Hillerman mystery novels whose settings were here on the nation land.
We drove next to Monument Valley with its beautiful buttes. It was here that many John Wayne movies were made as well as other Westerns. We drove around in a jeep driven by a huge Navajo who chanted and sang Native American spirituals the entire tour.
From there we went to Canyon de Chelly where we hiked down into the canyon and visited an Anasazi ruin built into the face of a cliff. That night we watched Native American dancers well into the wee hours while talking with fellow travelers from around the country of all things a good hotdog.
The next day we drove up to the Hopi Nation atop the mesa and experienced their quiet spiritualism. The trip ended back in Scottsdale after stops in Winslow along Rt. 66 and Meteor Crater. It was as if I had been reborn after the bar exam ordeal and in a few month I became a lawyer and dreamed of one day returning to practice law on the Navajo Nation.
That is the Arizona I remember not the angry, violent, fearful place we know today. How my heart calls out for the old Arizona, that is my lament for the state whose motto is God enriches.
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