A love of sunrises keeps me grounded. Waking up without the help of an alarm clock has never been an issue. Somehow I’m naturally tuned in to rising at the first sign of morning light. In winter, when the skies are darker longer in the northeast, I still rise and patiently putter around my kitchen until I hear the hens start clucking—they too know when the sun is about to make its grand entrance and bathe the gardens with a gorgeous peaceful light. My early morning waking routine affords many opportunities to see wonders without the distractions of traffic, conversation, media, and other noises of my busy world.
Nothing prepared me, however, for the breathtaking sunrises in the Arizona desert. It is as if the sun has a different, more intensely painted palette it uses to wake up the southwest corner of the United States. At first, the light is the rich gold and red of molten lava seeking to stand side by side the heavenly deep purple skies. In slow motion, the sun creeps up and its rays begin to blend with the iris blue hues and the tango pink stripes of the skies. Rock formations and desert flora emerge, and within minutes, the landscape transforms.
The days begin earlier in this part of the country, a must when temperatures go from nighttime lows in the 80’s to the 100’s a few hours later. Book an early morning horseback ride and cowboy breakfast in the Valley of the Sun. Nap mid day when the sun’s angry energy heats up the earth to unbearable temperatures. Afternoon is the perfect time to move from town to town in an air conditioned car. Scottsdale is under an hour’s drive from Phoenix and worth the distance to spend a few hours at Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture school famous for creating harmony in art, culture, and the environment. A scenic two hour drive from Phoenix delivers a chance to see Sedona’s Bell and Cathedral hundreds of millions years old red rock formations. Any trip to Sedona should include a hike—the five mile hike Bell Rock Pathway may be crowded, but has the advantage of being relatively flat while delivering kid pleasing rock formations with names like “Spaceship Rock” and “Rabbit Ears”. The Chapel of the Holy Cross emanates peaceful spirituality and a must stop detour from outdoor adventures.
Traveling to the Navajo Indian Reservation proved the greatest surprise during our Arizona journey. We visited a reservation and walked through the hogans and listened to the explanation of how and why these typical wood, mud, and tree bark dwellings were constructed. All doors face east as to receive the morning sun and the earth’s blessings. Nonetheless, when a person dies in the hogan, it is considered haunted and soon after abandoned. Our guide explained how desert Indians survived on pine nuts during winter months. With a whopping 3,000 calories per pound, pine nuts provided nutrition when other protein sources were scarce. Each Navajo family gathered nearly 1200 pounds of these tiny nuts for seasonal survival. We stopped at the Cameron Trading Post to sample Navajo tacos, a typical southwest taco with a shell of Navajo fry bread and tour the general store filled with artisanal jewelry, pottery, Apache baskets and other Native American artwork.
At sunset, the skies are on fire: venetian red, persimmon orange and goldenrod yellow streak and play hide-and-seek with the clouds. Dusk comes later, after 10 p.m., but oh so worth the wait for the earth to come full circle and the chance to see a sunrise and sunset in the same day.
THELMA & LOUISE