An Illustrated Map of Arizona

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It is said that Sedona has four vortexes of spiritual energy. They interact with a person’s inner self and can facilitate dramatic transformation. I visited Sedona twice. Both times, I felt a strange kind of vertigo. A squeamish bliss. Like that feeling you get when you have that one drink which pushes you beyond pleasantly buzzed and into the realm of drunkenness. As I drove away, the feeling transformed into intense nausea and a vicious migraine. It took me an entire day in bed to recover.

Arizona is a monumental territory in the cartography of my existence.

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I took shelter for the night in Flagstaff during cross-country trips from California to Michigan and back. The Petrified Forest welcomed two different versions of myself – one broken in spirit, the other reborn. The massive Meteor Crater and wacky Tombstone were to be the last places my brother Billy and I would have the chance to bond. An aficionado of tourist attractions, a fun fact inevitably emerged from the intricate recesses of his mind. We became the silly kids that we used to be.

My husband and I, spontaneous newlyweds, stopped by the Grand Canyon on our way back from Las Vegas to my place in Mesa, Arizona. At the lookout points, we held hands and shivered in the bitter winter wind. Monsieur and Madame. What the hell have we done? At the Chief Yellowhorse shop on Highway 64, he bought me ring of polished petrified wood set in silver. We kept our union a secret for years.

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I was physically present in Arizona for eight months. Most of this time was spent waiting for permission to join my husband in New Caledonia. I signed on with a temp agency. I made no effort to make friends. On the weekends, I would drive away from the perpetual brown haze of the Phoenix area. Arizona became my companion. The map was my guide. Turn here. Hairpin turns up ahead. The road turns to dirt here. Those are the Superstition Mountains. This is the Salt River Canyon. The two roads that run through the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument intersect at a town named Why.

Whenever I passed by the town of Superior, my chest would constrict. A sinister hum, a rattlesnake vibration, invaded my cells. Years later, it would come as no surprise to learn that the nightmarish film U Turn was set there. Those who stop are doomed to stay forever.

The loops widened with each passing week. Two hours became six or more. The road stilled my turbulent thoughts. Frustration with the visa process. Anxiety about my hasty decision. Mental preparation to leave my country behind. Forever.

On Highway 260 to Show Low, a cop pulled me over. I had been going slightly over the speed limit. He walked a slow lap around my pickup truck. He made me turn on my blinkers and open my ashtray. Finding nothing out of order, he demanded to know what I was doing way up there. Where I was going. Why.
I’m just out for a Sunday drive. He narrowed his eyes. You drove up here for fun? I nodded. He curled his upper lip. Well, just watch your speed. He crept along behind me for miles.

These three low quality photos are all that I have of Arizona. I believe that they were taken with a disposable camera. My brief time in Arizona was before the digital revolution. Back when photography entailed more money and effort. When the average person perceived rather than documented. We had, at most, thirty-six shots on a roll of film. Nowadays, we need one hundred photos to prove that we were someplace. But how present were we really? Will my memories of more recent voyages be as spellbinding as those of Arizona?

My biggest regret: not visiting the enigmatic Hopi. No photos, recordings, or videos are allowed. If you are fortunate enough to witness a ceremony, you must never discuss it. Imagine the power of this: knowing that it is the only time you will experience it through the eyes of the person you are now. Like landscapes and seasons, we change. Your perception will stay locked in your mind. Only and forever yours. Β Memory is the coolest retro filter of all.

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109 thoughts on “An Illustrated Map of Arizona

  1. What a beautiful piece of writing. Have you read the novel ‘American Gods’ by Neil Gaiman? This post reminds me of it in a way. An adventure through a lonely and slightly supernatural America.

    • Thank you kindly. I take that as a huge compliment. I’ve only read one novel by Gaiman. The name escapes me, but I remember being mesmerized.

  2. It’s Sedona where I had my first sort of conversation with ravens. I found myself really relating to a lot of what you wrote in this post … I would guess because I’ve also been there and shared a similar sort of unlocking experience, and also because your writing really made it possible for me to be pulled into your own experience, right down to the difference between being present in the moment, and just being there with a camera. Thank you for this!

  3. Beautiful landscape and writing! It’s on my to visit list. Such a fascinating area! Thank you for sharing. I enjoyed the virtual tour. Have a lovely day!

    • Thank you, Lucy. Whenever someone asks me for recommendations on where to visit in the USA, Arizona is the first word to come out of my mouth. You won’t find Disneyland or Hollywood or the Statue of Liberty there, but you will find magic.

      • My pleasure! I would never choose Hollywood over such a beautiful place. My dream is to get there by car, and spend a few days in the wilderness. I’m sure I’d enjoy it a lot!

  4. I miss the days when we “perceived rather than documented”. Being the designated family historian, I felt like I was missing out on living in the moment. Now, phone in hand, we all are.

    Arizona, the mystical and magical; I was so close in Utah, but never went. Now, many retirees I know have chosen it over Florida; seems a visit is in order.

    Thanks for sharing your many connections here, Julie. Lovely post. ☺ Van

    • Hi Van – I’ve begun to make a conscious effort to reduce the time I spend taking photos. I don’t have a smart phone and never got into the whole selfie craze or the incessant need to share the minutiae of our lives on social media. However, I love my fabulous little camera a little bit too much.

      I’ve only driven through Utah, but I would love to have visited Arches National Park and the area.

  5. Sadly, I’ve spent less than 12 hours in Arizona. Flying from Chicago to Sydney, I deliberately scheduled a quick stop in Las Vegas, so I could do a day trip to the Ground Canyon. I’d love to go back there one day, and for sure, I’ll be careful about the speed limit and making U-turns. It sounds to me you could get lost there, and not be seen again.

    And I agree about the effect of digital on photography. I have a roll of film from the Grand Canyon, but the memories are as vivid as other places I’ve been to where I’ve taken more photos.

    • I commend you for making the effort to get to the Grand Canyon during your stopover. Hopefully you can make it back there and stay a while longer. There’s so much to see in Arizona.

  6. Great writing as ever, just makes you want to go there although maybe not Superior now I have watched the U Turn trailer πŸ˜‰ Are those cops always like that or had that one seen too many movies? Did he forget to kick a tyre? πŸ™‚

    • The trailer is actually a lot more lighthearted than the movie itself. Really. Regarding the cops in America: in my personal experience, many of them relish making people feel intimidated. This one was clearly looking for a cat to kick. I looked him straight in the eye and kept my cool, as I do with all bullies. Sunday drives may be a strange hobby for my generation, but, as of now, it’s not illegal.

  7. One family trip led us through Arizona for the Grand Canyon…You hear a lot about the Grand Canyon, but they don’t tell you that the whole state is beautiful. Flagstaff has to be my favorite stop.

    • So true that you rarely hear about the rest of the state, except for maybe Sedona. And yet there are still so many undiscovered corners, or at least there were back when I lived there in the late 1990s. I always meant to check out Flagstaff, but I was always too tired to venture beyond my motel room. Thanks for stopping by!

  8. “Memory is the coolest retro filter of all.” Yes. While I have visited the Grand Canyon, I haven’t seen much else of Arizona. Your memories of spending time there bring it alive.

    • Thank you. Hopefully you can make it back one day, if that’s your wish. I’m not sure how the memories would have evolved had I stayed there longer. I knew, almost as soon as I had arrived, that my time would be short, so I soaked up as much as I could.

  9. Wonderful read and love the fact you only posted 3 photos. Nowadays people who are on holidays seem to post in “real time” through photos posted constantly onto social media and it’s sad sometimes.

    • Thanks, Pamela. I know what you mean about photo overload. More than a few WP travel blogs have too many photos with each post. It dilutes the post, in my opinion. If you’ve got to scroll and scroll and scroll just to see different angles of the same things, it gets tiresome. I know it’s a cliche, but less is more.

  10. Reading your text makes me a fellow traveller πŸ™‚
    And you’re right: the most important photos are memories of nonrecurring precious moments.
    Have a good time!
    Greetings,
    Ulli

  11. ahah funny episode with the cop Julie…I’m asking myself what he thought of you πŸ˜€
    To me, Arizona is a magic place, so beautiful landsscape, i love deserts. I stopped in Sedona just for one day, but I still remember the trip in that area really well.

    • Hi Cris- I’m happy to hear that you have visited Arizona and that it made such a good impression on you. 🌡 As for the cop…some people have no imagination.

  12. I have heard that Arizona is a spectacular place to explore. I have never been, but I understand that there is a great deal of sunshine and energy. Your photos give that feeling of yesteryear.

  13. I was missing you, not seeing your posts for quite some time, when I casually opened my spam section today to find a string of your posts stuck there. Just retrieved all of it for a one by one read. Your Az adventure is out of this world, travelling, through chilly winters and your splitting migraines, exploring mystical mountains and vortexes. I just enjoyed a great trip, julie, through your evocative descriptions and pics.

  14. Dear deer friend
    Julie , I understand completely Arizona becoming your companion …your writing so gorgeous . Your memories cause for me supernatural emotions the way your words enter the flow of a wandering soul …the Hopi , so spiritual .
    I’m so thankful to be back into your pathways …love and hugs , megxxx

  15. I have made several trips, just like yours here, on which we hardly took any pictures and the memories are only in our hearts and can’t be pubblished online! I think the very special story of your marriage, dear Julie, absolutely suits you.It was a great pleasure to read your post about Arizona.:)

    • Hopefully during one of your trips you can take a day and do some exploring near your work. There are lots of interesting places close to the cities.

  16. I had a life changing experience in Arizona. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who feels that way about Arizona. People usually think I’m crazy because I’m from California and they don’t see the beauty of Arizona. I’ve been to Sedona twice it’s lovely and a very freeing place. I feel at ease whenever I’m in Arizona. I love your writing. Thank you for post!

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I lived in Southern California for seven years. Although it does have some interesting corners, it has not stayed with me like Arizona has. We all have places that speak to us, or not. Happy voyages.

  17. As someone who lives in Phoenix, for an incredible nearly 40 years of my life[!], I can attest to what you wrote of, Julie. I haven’t been able to travel about my adopted state in awhile, but I have rediscovered photos I had taken of that huge hole in the ground named the Grand Canyon. I had hiked the South Rim on that same vacation. AZ has, indeed, a lovely landscape, as well as a wide variety of climates.

    • Hi there – sometimes we forget about what’s in our own back yards. We don’t always need to travel far to be spellbound. Hopefully you can begin to rediscover your adopted state. Cheers!

    • Thank you for adding your thoughts. The bomb, indeed. Sedona is like a mirage that doesn’t dissipate when you enter it. Too beautiful for words. I can’t imagine anyone feeling unimpressed with it. Even so, there are other parts of Arizona that have that same magic.

  18. It sounds like you love to travel, and you obviously have a talent for writing about it too. Wonderful pictures, with interesting information about Arizona!

  19. I enjoyed reading this. I’ve lived in Arizona for seven years (I reside in Mesa) and spend a great deal of my free time traveling the state and taking photographs. I’ve been all over the state and still manage to find amazing things that take my breath away. Thanks for sharing your memories in such an inspiring way.

    • Thank you so much for reading. Most people only visit the Grand Canyon and/or Sedona, but for those who make the effort, there are real treasures to be found. As you well know. Happy explorations.

  20. So poetic. Beautiful writing. The inner journey reflected in the landscape. The piece seems pared down to its essentials. Each part being necessary to the whole. Very well crafted. One day years ago, I rode with a friend form Tucson to Mexico, where we crossed the border for 10 minutes, then up to Flagstaff. The various, changing landforms and diversity surprised me. Arcosanti was a strange detour. I want to go back when the desert is blooming, see the flowering saguaros.

    • Thank you so much. I’d never heard of Arcosanti, so I just looked it up. Interesting. Kind of reminds me of Biosphere 2 which is down by Tucson. The desert in the spring is magnificent. Hopefully you can witness the flowers one day.

  21. “Memory is the coolest retro filter of all.” This is amazing. I’m from Australia and I really want to visit this amazing place. I’d never really thought about it before but now it will stay in my mind, and one day I hope to make it. Thank you (:

    • I imagine that you are familiar with the desert, being from Australia. But all deserts are unique. Hopefully you can wander over to Arizona one day. Cheers!

    • That’s for sure. I didn’t realize, until I started writing this post, that I’m just as guilty as anyone. I’ve decided to make a conscious effort to be more particular about what I photograph.

  22. Except for the first 6 months of my life, I’ve lived in Arizona forever.
    Couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.
    It’s greatest asset are the people. So down to earth.
    No one yet has mentioned the stars. Oh, those beautiful starlit nights, where you can see forever.
    Only 2 places have given me a sense of infinity: The Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls. How awesome is God’s creation and I can’t forget to mention His painters brush at sunset.
    Thanks for rekindling in me the beauty of my state.

    • Thank you for your lovely comment. Arizonans are indeed very down to earth. Even though I was a transplant, I felt welcome. As for the stars – unfortunately, the only night sky I witnessed was obscured by that brown cloud that hangs over Phoenix. But then there are the dramatic monsoon storms in the summer to make up for it.

  23. Your writing is fascinating in its ability to kindle both memories and insights in your readers. I loved your last paragraph. Those thoughts will be with me in my future travels. I am sorry you missed the stars. I remember being spellbound by the night sky outside of Tucson. Thanks.

    • Thank you for the thoughtful compliments, Anne. I’m sorry I missed the stars, too. Even so, I still don’t feel cheated by my experience there. Happy Gallivanting. 🌟

  24. I was born and raised in Arizona and still haven’t been to the Grand Canyon but I’ve been to Why countless times on my way to Mexico. This makes me want to take a road trip and explore the amazing beauty right under my feet. And maybe eat some prickly pear jelly with cream cheese on a tortilla. πŸ˜‰

    • Hi Karen – you know, I kind of prefered the offbeat little places in AZ to the Grand Canyon. Driving alone through Why, it’s impossible not to ponder that infinite question as stoic organ pipe cacti stand guard alongside the road. Happy wanderings. 🌡

  25. Thank you for sharing your memories !!! Arizona is wonderful place!!
    Sedona is a very powerful place if you are sensitive to vibrations!! I hope that you will return one day!!

  26. In the midst of deciding whether to move to the hot, dry weather filled with cactus and caves as of this morning! How small the world is when someone else is thinking of the same towns that I now considering becoming a resident of. I have never been on a blog to top it off.. LOL. However, the one thing that holds me back is the desire to go more tropical such as Florida.. I never lived near either of these states (NH and NC) presently, nor even visited Arizona… Just a deep feeling I have to flee the 4 seasons now that children are grown grown. BUT, my question to you is… Are the locals friendly and open to “Yankees”? Since being in NC, the very few people who do live here, seem to think that I., yes, I… won the civil war! I must be pretty amazing to have accomplished that, especially since I was not yet born! Summed up, We need friends who are sincere and don’t mind showing off their state which I have always dreamed of??? Anyone?

    • Hi there – I lived there 17 years ago. The locals were very cool then, but I can’t say how it is now. It probably depends on where you go – the cities or small towns. I’ve heard that Sedona can be clique-y. There are a lot of transplants from everywhere in Phoenix and Tucson. I suggest that you check around some forums or internet groups about Arizona. Facebook probably has some. Good luck!

    • Lost in Limbo
      I’m sure you’ll love it here.
      Lots of “snowbirds” (as Arizonans call those fleeing the winter months in Arizona).
      Then they decide to stay permanently.
      Dip your toes in the Arizona waters and then decide if you want to stay.

  27. What a beautiful concept that really resonated with me. I once went on a hike and decided I would take no photos and it was actually a really satisfying experience. I think it’s important to think about how we experience life and if it’s always through a lens.

    • Thank you, Josie. With digital, there’s such a temptation to take photos of every little thing. Because we can. It’s worth it to resist, sometimes.

  28. I enjoyed reading about your brief stay in Arizona.I lived near Sedona for 9 years. The HEAT was unforgiving & endless. (I escaped a year ago.) As for the cops out there, they take themselves too seriously.{Barnie Fife syndrome; ie Andy Griffiths shows’ useless sheriff.)

    • Hi Leezand
      I guess it depends on your experience with an officer.
      I was once stopped for speeding. Some other speeders had passed me and then I passed them.
      I wondered about that, until I was stopped.
      “Did you notice that you were passing all those cars?” the officer asked.
      “I did”, I replied “and wondered about that. I guess they saw you and I didn’t”
      He gave a small smile and just gave me a warning.

  29. Reblogged this on Business Concepts Applied and commented:
    A place that will always be in our memories. We still call this home even though we lived there for a short eight years πŸ™‚
    The raw beauty of Arizona can only be appreciated after experiencing it. So for all those who have never been to Arizona, put it on your bucket list and explore beyond Grand Canyon!

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