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I have lived in Arizona for 45 years, but lately, when I see it through the eyes of others, both those who live here and those who don’t, I am saddened and ashamed.  The political landscape and climate have changed the perspective of how AZ is viewed and perceived by people.  Now the picture is full of anger, divisiveness, fear, hatred, stupidity, destructiveness, meanness, racism.  AZ has  become a tattered, shredded image of its former self under its political leadership for the last few years.  The qualities that have always made AZ special, unique and drawn people to it, the beauty and the diversity, have become faded in the scenery.  Where is the AZ that I love?  Do people not see it, or not know it? How do we restore the image of AZ?  Maybe, if we could open our eyes, we could change things.

Having lived here so long, if I could describe AZ through my eyes, perhaps, I could change some viewpoints.  I see beauty, I see diversity.

The sycamore trees have burst their spring leaves along the Verde River, one of the largest perennial rivers within the state in the Verde Valley where I live.  This is what I see.  It flows all through Cottonwood, where I live.

In 1984 the United States Congress designated approximately 65 mi (100 km) of the Verde as Wild and Scenic through the National Wild and Scenic River program.  In 1987, a six mile (10 km) stretch of the river was identified by the state of Arizona as a critical natural resource that needed protection and management. This reach of the Verde River, located between the town of Clarkdale (near the Tuzigoot National Monument) and the Bridgeport State Route 89A Bridge, became part of the Arizona State Parks system. The park, which encompasses some 700 acres (2.8 km2), is known today as the Verde River Greenway State Natural Area.
I live right in between that six mile area defined as needing protection.  I went to the Verde River every day and saw great blue herons, beaver, foxes, owls, bald eagles, gray hawks, and so many more birds.  It was a short walk from my house at the time.  Now that it is protected, I still go there, but have to drive to get to it.  In Arizona, riparian habitats comprise only one percent of the land area.  They need protection.

I’m going to Sycamore Canyon tomorrow, 15 miles away, the first designated wilderness area in 1964 in AZ, where my husband, Skip’s ashes lie.  I go there to remember and honor the man who taught me to love and appreciate the beauty of AZ.  A canopy of old sycamore, cottonwood, mesquite and black walnut trees shade Sycamore Creek in a narrow, deep canyon that winds north for over 25 miles and ends near Parks, AZ.   Sycamore Creek and a natural spring flow along beds of verdant grasses and give life to myriad birds flitting and singing, wildflowers and lilies raising their red, white, and yellow cups to the sun, and green and blue dragonflies that race up and down the waters, as huge as birds.  There are shaded pools that look like they belong in a fairy tale and water falls that tumble tales of time, change and rejuvenation.  I always feel at peace in Sycamore, far from the worries and cares of modern civilization.  Beware of rattlesnakes.  I have seen many there.  At Sycamore Canyon there are no roads, you must hike into it, but its wildness, remoteness and beauty will astound and humble you.

I have lived all over Arizona from Bisbee on the southeast border to the Navajo Reservation in the northeast corner, less than fifty miles from Shiprock.  I now live in the middle.  I have found natural beauty everywhere. When I close my eyes, I can see clearly all the places I have have been time and again.    

Mt. Lemmon, a cool retreat from the heat of summer in Tucson, where I grew up.  Sabino Canyon, near Tucson, with its tall waterfalls and surrounded by some of the most beautiful Sonoran desert landscapes.  I've visited and seen the Grand Canyon many times, you can’t help but feel insignificant by its lesson of geologic time and its immensity.  It gives you a proper perspective of your place in nature if you listen to it.  Our lives are but a moment in time.  Monument Valley, with it’s majestic sandstone sentinels swearing testament to the power of wind, sand and erosion.The Petrified Forest, a museum of fossils 225 million years old, life gone and preserved in stone so many millions of years before we even made an appearance on the planet.   Lee’s Ferry where I go to put my feet in the Colorado River, the mother and sustainer of all our lives in the desert.   The Mogollon Rim, with spectacular views on either side and where Zane Grey, from 1923 to 1930, spent a few weeks a year at his cabin.  The White Mountains, covered in wildflowers in alpine meadows where eagles soar. The San Francisco Peaks, sacred and of religious significance to thirteen local American Indian tribes (including the Havasupai, Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni.), home of Humphreys Peak, the highest point in the state of Arizona at 12,633 feet (3,851 m) in elevation.  Sedona, 15 miles up the road from me, with Oak Creek flowing through it’s carved sandstone walls and sculptures, that I always thought should have been a national park.  The North Rim, less visited with its own spectacular views and abundant wildlife, and where my husband and son, who worked there many years and now works at the South Rim, found three pristine arrowheads within a mile outside our cabin door, reminders of those who walked and hunted the area hundreds of years before. Canyon de Chelly, long a home to the Navajo people who still live there today, and compared by some to the beauty of the Grand Canyon.  

If you want to see the most magnificent saguaros in AZ go to Saguaro National Park. Saguaros are the trees of the desert which can grow to be over 50 feet tall and live longer than humans.  It can take 75 years to grow one side arm.  Think about that when you see one.  

The Chiricahuas, refuge and sacred to the Chiricahua Apaches, home to ocelots, jaguars, where I heard my first mountain lion scream, and is very close to the earliest evidence of human's in the vicinity, Clovis archeological sites such as Double Adobe Site.  Archaeologists' most precise determinations at present suggest that this radiocarbon age is equal to roughly 13,500 to 13,000 calendar years ago.

I have been to all these places, not just once, but many times.  I have tried to see as much of AZ as I could and can.  There are still so many places I have not got to yet.  I never got to Havasupai, I always wanted to go and never made it.  My body won’t let me now, go while you can. This is one I will not be able to cross off my bucket list.   My daughter and friends who went described it to me.  An artist friend, Claude Shawbell, who has been painting scenes and images of AZ all his life and created one of the most incredible paintings of the Grand Canyon that I have ever seen, did a painting of Havasu Falls that was so beautiful you felt like you could jump into it.  Claude worked on river raft trips in the Grand Canyon for many years and got to know it intimately. Edward Abbey wrote one of my favorite stories of his on Havasupai, he called it Havasu, about how after rolling a tire over the edge he decided to go down.

What I heard made me think that I should see Havasu immediately, before something went wrong somewhere. My friends said they would wait. So, I went down into Havasu --- 14 miles by trail --- and looked things over. When I returned five weeks later, I discovered that the others had gone on to Los Angeles without me.
To see one of Claude's Grand Canyon paintings, Lipton Point

You can get lost in the beauty of AZ and the desert, as Abbey found out. The beauty he had seen made him fight for environmental causes for the rest of his life, although his views were often controversial, even among other environmentalists.  I still love many of his books.  Edward Abbey died on March 14, 1989, at the age of 62, in his home in Tucson, Arizona.

And, all the water in Arizona, I have sought and seek.  I love the desert.  I love water in the desert.  Water is rare and precious in the desert, without it you would not be here.  The Gila, The Salt, The Verde, Oak Creek, Sycamore Creek, Clear Creek, Beaver Creek, Fossil Creek, The Colorado River, Lake Roosevelt, Lake Havasu, Apache Lake, Lake Powell.  Oasis's in the desert, refreshment for the mind, body and soul.  

When I lived down south I used to like to visit the Patagonia Sonoita bird life sanctuary, a riparian area found along Sonoita Creek that contains some of the richest habitat remaining in Southern Arizona. More than 300 species migrate, nest, and live in this important sanctuary.  Isn’t that what water is in the desert, a sanctuary, a refuge for wildlife and humans alike, but also more than that, a necessary, critical, lifeline without which none of us could live in the desert.  Appreciate it, treasure it, take care of it, use it wisely.

I have visited the ruins from which the native peoples sprang that are scattered throughout the state and all over the Verde Valley, to remind us who came first.  Tuzigoot, less than three miles from me, Homolovi, Montezuma’s Well, the largest natural artesian well in AZ surrounded by ruins used to be my backyard, one of my favorite places and one of the least well known in AZ.  Casa Grande Ruins National Monument  Montezuma Castle National Monument. Walnut Canyon National Monument, Wupatki National Monument,-Keet Seeland Betatakin, and many more that will remain a secret to a few who know, to preserve and protect them.   There are reminders of ancient beginnings everywhere in AZ, people who came and lived here hundreds and thousands of years before us.

I have also found beauty in the people and their cultures that have been part of my life for the 45 years I have lived in Arizona.  The people who lived here long before the first white settlers have a lot to teach us about learning to live in the desert.  The Hispanic friends and coworkers I have known, who have shared the great joy of their families, love of music and laughter with me. I always thought AZ should have adopted the Siesta.  It makes sense to not go outside during the hottest part of the day in the desert.  I try never to if I can help it. I lived on the border for over ten years.  I have made many Hispanic friends.  Did people who moved here not realize we have always shared a border with Mexico?  Why build walls?  Wasn’t it Reagan who said, “Tear down these walls.”  Why not build friendships.

 TheNavajo, the Dine, taught me the value of culture and tradition and excited and thrilled my spirit with their dancing and the beauty of their weaving and jewelry making.  I could relate to their desire for space and solitude when I lived among them.  They have a great sense of humor and made me laugh all the time.

The Tohono O'odham, masters of living in the desert with their ancient knowledge and wisdom of desert plants, who taught me, and can teach all of us, to learn to live in your environment and take care of it. They know the use of every desert cactus and plant and how to make the most of it.  The Yavapai Apachewhose reservations are in the Verde Valley, I can still feel the power and beat of the drums at the Pow Wows they gave that I danced at.  

The Hopi, who I visited on Second Mesa, welcomed me into their homes and showed me their Kachinas carved from cottonwood and their smiles.  Many desert gardeners have adopted their farming techniques for growing in arid land with little water.  I also visited Oraibi on the Hopi Reservation, founded sometime before the year 1100 AD, making it one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements within the United States.  If belonging in AZ means anything, the Hopi have certainly established their claim, they’ve been living in the same place hundreds of years even before the Mayflower landed.

I feel gratefulness for all the people, and the other tribes among the 21 of AZ that I haven’t mentioned, who share and live in Arizona with me, and who have taught me so much, gave me so much laughter, and opened my mind and heart and made me a better person.  They taught me diversity is richness.  There is great diversity in Arizona.  That is why I love it so much.

This is but a short list of the places I have seen and the people I have met in AZ.  This is Arizona to me.  What do you see?  If you don’t see what I see, maybe you need to take another look.  Take a copy of Marshall Trimble's, AZ's state historian, Arizona's Roadside History with you as a guide, so you don't miss anything.  Get out and about the state of AZ and open your eyes, hearts and minds.

Skip took me to all these places in AZ and showed them to me through his eyes.  I have tried to pass on what he taught me to you through mine.  Every part of Arizona I have seen, shows me beauty and shows me diversity.  You can never run out of or get tired of all the beautiful places or people to see in Arizona.  Beauty and diversity abound everywhere.  Embrace it, open up to it, learn from it.

Originally posted to notdarkyet on Sat Apr 07, 2012 at 11:14 AM PDT.

Also republished by Baja Arizona Kossacks, National Parks and Wildlife Refuges, Personal Storytellers, and Community Spotlight.

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