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 that much about Northern Arizona. I’d given countless tours down the roads I was taking west. Thus, writing a narration of Sedona and Flagstaff is no real thrill to me right now.
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? Do 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, and why would you not want to have your senses opened up by that beauty?
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 so is real or not. Many consider it one of the most beautiful places they’ve ever 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 Flag. Here have been made countless comments by guests on my tours 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.
So, let me get nerdy and technical for a second. I won’t do this that often in this book. However, there are certain, basic concepts you should know so that mountains make more sense.
See, high country, like plateaus and mountains, orograhpically lift air masses into colder elevations within the sky where the moisture in those air masses more easily condenses into clouds and rain. Got that? An air mass at sea level with X volume of moisture will not produce rain. However, if that same air mass is orographically lifted to higher and colder elevations as it flows up slopes of mountains and plateaus, the air becomes denser, and can’t retain that X volume of moisture, as it could at sea level. The air must shed that moisture. Thus, clouds and rain form more easily at those higher and colder elevations within the sky.
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 at the bottom of the steep-walled Oak Creek Canyon. Northern Arizona is a different land compared to Southern Arizona precisely because of its much higher elevation.
Then you get to the top of the Colorado Plateau. Then you get to Flagstaff. It’s all ponderosa pines there. In fact, it’s continuous ponderosas for 300 miles from Flagstaff southeastward to Silver City, New Mexico. The size of such a forest also surprises people, but, thank orographic lift.