Surprising Greenery of Northern Arizona
While going up Oak Creek Canyon the boss texted me. He thanked me for a job well done recently. The thanks felt good. It also reiterated I was free to feel whatever new thing out in California without having to think about work in the slightest.
Now, I don’t feel like narrating ton about the Sedona area. I’d given countless tours down the roads here.
However, if you’ve never been out this way, and you have no idea what lies from Sedona to Flagstaff to Grand Canyon, well, why don’t you? Which better places have you gone to? Vegas? Cancun? You just like to party when you travel? Man, that’s boring. There’s a whole universe of stunning natural beauty in the American West. Why would you not want to see it?
Seriously, Sedona’s built at the base of red-rock cliffs that rise thousands of feet above. Those cliffs have eroded into an assortment of spires, mesas and mountains that glow shades of red which make you wonder whether what you see is real or not. Many consider it one of the most beautiful places they’ve seen, literally, and even if you don’t, it will still overload your senses.
Oak Creek Canyon’s nice too. That’s north of Sedona on the way to Flagstaff. Here began many comments on tour about how surprisingly green Arizona is. Well, it’s surprising if you’ve never spent hours staring at Google Earth like sane people should. It’s surprising if you don’t know that the higher you go in elevation, the cooler, wetter and greener land becomes. Thank “orographic lift” – one of the many terms you need to know for this narrative.
Seriously, let me explain this term quickly because I use it a lot…
Now, high country – like plateaus and mountains – orograhpically lifts air masses into colder elevations of the sky where the moisture in those air masses more easily condenses into clouds and rain. Got that? High country makes rain and snow. Orographic lift’s why the Rocky Mountains are topped with trees. It’s why Oak Creek flows from a snowmelt-fed aquifer all year round through pines, elms, sycamores, ashes, and, yes, oaks.
Then you get to the top of the plateau. Then you get to Flagstaff. It’s all ponderosa pines there. In fact, it’s continuous ponderosas for 300 miles from Flagstaff to Silver City, New Mexico. This too surprises people. But thank orographic lift. Again, high country makes rain.
Anyways, at Flagstaff I got on Interstate 40 at mile marker (mm) 195, and started going westward. That mm 195 means I was 195 highway miles east of the California border, or east of the Colorado River, which serves as the border after it flows southward after coming out of Hoover Dam. I’d be in Cali in about 2.5 hours.
As a Grand Canyon guide, I’d driven from 195 to 165 hundreds of times. Here it’s all fairly unremarkable ponderosa country, which, nonetheless, is interesting to see for those who formerly thought that Arizona’s nothing but a desert. Here’s where the monotony of guiding could sometimes produce a headache. However, here, I’d blabber on about ol’ Route 66, and why it was built in the 20’s, and why Steinbeck named it the Mother Road in The Grapes of Wrath, and how it was the Highway of American Dreams taking people west to the promised land.
At 165 – at Williams that is – is Arizona state highway (SH) 64 which goes north to the Grand Canyon. That drives kinda’ boring too. However, once you get to the Grand Canyon, God’s artistic prowess makes guiding easy. I’ll not digress much, but, I will say that, of all things I’ve seen out West – and I’ve seen a lot – Grand Canyon’s number one. I rank it above Yosemite, Zion, Brice, Yellowstone and the other otherwordly landscapes begging you to take a roadtrip.
If there’s one thing America’s federal government got right, it’s highways and interstates. Many go through marvelous scenery. I’ll not enumerate the best ones now. However, many hours of my life have been filled with a lusty pleasure for beholding endless purple mountains on US highways.
East of Williams I wasn’t feeling it. West of Williams, however, that Roadtrip-to-California feeling started to come on. Again, I do love it. Lord help me I do. I’d only driven west from Williams once before, on a 2017 trip to Sequoia national park, but that was at night. Today I’d see the full change from cool, ponderosa plateau to scorching Mojave.
At 155 the ponderosas disappear. Here you drop 2000′. The power of orographic lift to foment clouds and rain diminishes, which leaves the hills running along 40 studded only with junipers, or, as those from east of the Rocky Mountains call them, cedars. Here Arizona looks like the Texas Hill Country. However, thousand and two-thousand foot volcanic crags rising here and there make it feel uniquely Arizona. If the rain’s been falling, the ground’s green, and the scenery literally shocks those driving eastward and upward from Cali or Vegas to Flagstaff.
Somewhere along the way “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears came on the radio. It’s got a happy sound I like to hear on road trips. A sweet, coffee buzz was accentuating the pleasure of driving with windows down on a cool morning.
Though, I knew swamp-butt was coming.