The drive up was surreal. In Phoenix, the Sonoran desert looks the way you remember it. Saguaros and rocky mountains sprawling around the downtown skyline and the knowledge that the ASU kids were buying Coronas all around you. The drive east starts to offer changes in the landscape and the flora. Arizona stops looking the way you expect it to.
You reach Globe, a city that looks like the edge of the world. It’s a mining town. Or it used to be, hard to say. It’s a lot of gas stations and mechanic shops. The businesses look like they have closed. The bars in town look like the sort of places you can be killed in for saying the wrong thing. It would seem that if the copper runs out in this mine, the streets would riot. Maybe not, it is an apathetic place. I try to picture how lonely a night in Globe might be. If the zombies were to overrun a town, Globe would have to be high on their list.
The Salt River Canyon seems to come out of nowhere and the best way to describe it is as a little Grand Canyon, although little is an auspicious word for this place. On a foggy day, this place would look like Pandora with floating mountains everywhere. The road winds like Decker Canyon around sheer cliffs and giant rocky peaks. A river cuts through the center and it smells like desert rain, something I never really paid attention to until my fiancee explains it.
After coming out of the canyon, the countryside loses it’s cacti and begins to fill up with junipers. We pull off the road to eat some lunch at a campsite where it honestly begins snowing. Flurries cutting through green trees and the sense that the weather has had enough of the desert.
We rode through Show Low, a town named after the poker game it was won during. Deuce of Clubs Blvd. The air was freakishly crisp, but the snow had stopped. We pressed on to Pine Top and went in a country mart to buy some food for the ranch. This store featured among many things, applewood smoked pork products, steaks that had seen better days and a vast amount of homemade preserves with cloth tops. Things like prickly pear cactus preserve and marinated asparagus bullets. Things like five separate varieties of homemade habanero salsa.
We then traveled threw miles of snowy fields and pine forests until the snow seemed to vanish as we passed a few hills. Just before Springerville, we took a curving dirt road off the highway 3.2 miles into a green canyon surrounded by mesas, home of the X Diamond Ranch.
The next few days were a blur of experiences. There was a six mile run where I was the only human being for miles in any direction. The harrowing power of 30 mph headwind making skin sting and nose run. I experienced the strangest thoughts running full bore into mountain gusts. It felt as if the wind literally was blowing the cobwebs out of my head. There was this strange clarity of how small I was in the world and how extraneous so many attachments I have made were. The city can trick you into feeling lonely, feeling like you need more than you do. It seemed as if there was enough inside of me to last a while.
There was horseriding. We climbed steep hills with loose, rocky footing. We rode the horses for miles until we reached a vista point atop the ridge looking out at all of Eastern, Arizona. Long John, my brown horse with a black mane, would begin to trot after a light tap to the ribs and I looked out across ancient fields as we hustled along. I felt strong in my legs. I tried to find a way to connect with the animal, leaning back on the steep downhill sections while cutting my reigns slack so he could see where he was stepping. I felt the weakness of foot when I got out of the saddle back at the ranch. It’d been a new experience for me, just to ride for miles on such a powerful animal through complicated pines where the wind whistled through the treetops and made the noise of an ocean of air pouring through pin needles. I was strangely quite the whole time admiring the forest canopy and it’s own brand of shielded sunlight.
There was the windswept field where my future father-in-law and I shot guns together. Wearing noise reducing headphones in a field so loud with wind it became surreal. We fired upon targets attached to a wood crate we leaned against the mounded dirt side of a reservoir. Early on, I let one sail from my .40 and saw it ricochet off the top of the crate, through the dirt and across the water like a rocket-fueled skipping stone. My hands shook a little with the understanding of the situation. I became more familiar with the weapon and soon began putting holes in an old, rusty oil filter we found. I was a better shot than I remembered. My future father-in-law barely missed with his .45. I found satisfaction in being a student to his tutelage. There was a tangible sense that I was being taught and I realized we could have been doing anything. It’s a good feeling to pass knowledge. It’s a better feeling to receive it.
The nights were dark and silent after the pleasure of a glass of whiskey and a cigar on the front porch of the cabin watching the sun tuck itself behind the ridge line. The snow clouds robbed me of seeing the stars for the most part, which I had been told were unlike anywhere else. I could imagine. The sky was vast, wide and daunting here in the high country. As the trip came closer to an end, there was a tangible feeling that I had made a deal with myself. I’d done a lot of quiet thinking in a quiet place.
I felt a silent energy I planned to use this summer back in my city. I would look down the canyons of buildings and remember what I found out there where no one could find me. I look forward to the changes coming to me. Soon enough.