Thursday, March 24, 2011

Towns of the Southwest

The road from Albuquerque to Sedona was the most incredible drive yet. I got 40 miles off the freeway, driving through the mountains in the desert. It tacked several hours onto the drive, but it became a day of driving where the time and the distance was irrelevant- it would take as long as it took, and the scenery, changing over the hours, narrated the change in climate. From the endless, dusty, craggy mountains of the desert, down into flat, dry expanses with looming buttes, onward into pine forests in northern Arizona. At sunset I was bombing down 70 miles of straight, empty, two-lane highway over rolling hills listening to Balkan funk and Ennio Morricone's classic western scores, but nothing felt wrong on the stereo.

I hit the road into Sedona after dark. The highway leveled off, then curved straight down the side of a mountain full of switchback turns. In town, I met up with Jeremy, my Couchsurfing host for the visit. This guy was incredible- he'd been working in hotels since he was a kid, and clearly had hosting in his blood. Downtown Sedona had nothing for us, with its trinket shops, ice cream joints and crystal readings. But the landscape around the city was just as epic as we'd expected and we hiked one of the mountains in town, musing on geological history and laughing about the energy vortexes.

This town was the most new-agey place I'd ever been, and you couldn't go anywhere without folks talking about the energy vortexes around the town. Out of skeptical curiosity, we decided to look into seeing one of the dozens of psychics in town. We stopped in at the visitor's center and asked about the town's psychic reading scene. The man behind the counter was a crinkled, slouching volunteer from Illinois. He just looked blankly at us and slowly shook his head no.
"So... you don't recommend seeing a psychic?"
"Well, you seem like a couple reasonable people. It's just one way for folks to make a living, I suppose."
The universe had spoken to us- we skipped the psychics and grabbed a beer.


Two hours down the road was Phoenix, the flattest, most sprawling city I'd ever scene. But also remarkably pleasant, probably the most relaxing place I'd been yet. I met up with an old friend from high school who's in a similar place, just having quit her job and facing the uncertain future with excitement and trepidation. After a week of isolation and time with strangers, it was a blessing to have someone familiar to spend time with.
I spent a few days tagging along as she made her final rounds with the friends who had supported her since she started college. In the eight years since we'd lived in the same state, she took to yoga in a serious way and many of her friends started as acquaintances from the classes she'd been taking. The sheer glow of health in this town couldn't have been more unfamiliar from the run-down stoicism of Detroit. In the March sunshine, we took part in the daily ritual of hiking a rocky mountain in the center of town along with hundreds of other people. And after nearly a week and a half of party cities and lingering sickness, this place zapped my system back into step.

It's curious how a place can beguile you in unexpected ways. I don't long for the endless sprawling drives in Phoenix, nor does a police force that's leading the national push for aggressive immigration crackdown appeal to me. But the spirit that Phoenix's spotless weather seems to inject into its citizens was comforting.
I'm glad I was there in March. I don't think I'd fair well in May.

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