For anyone who has never been to Arizona or the Southwest, let me take you on one of our trips from the Valley of the Sun north to our home state of South Dakota. For those old enough to remember, it will be a sort of Travelogue like the ones that used to precede movies in the long ago days of the Forties and Fifties.
Neither Rosalie nor I can yet get over the beauty and diversity of Arizona. The drive up the hill to Flagstaff is a mini-tour of what the state has to offer—heat and desert of the Valley floor, then up and up to the summit before Verde Valley and then the lush vista of the valley as you sweep back down, then up again and around and around until you crest at the upper plateau with that huge view from the overlook, and miles of plateau farm and ranch land before entering the pine forests before Flagstaff with Whitney’s Peak towering over you, then east on Hwy 40 over toward the meteor strike with the Painted Desert to the north, and then the black lava beds just before leaving the state. Awesome.
Western New Mexico has a bleakness about it that I find depressing. Maybe it’s the evidence of extreme reservation Indian poverty or maybe it’s simply the absence of much animal or human existence. The one bit of beauty is the multicolored layers of cliff faces and the wind hollowed sandstone hills along the highway. Albuquerque spreads greenly before you as you cross the last slope before going down into the valley. Northern New Mexico, ah, there’s the real beauty of the state. You start climbing as you head north to Santa Fe and then east to Las Vegas, about 6500 feet above sea level. The air is delightfully cool after the temperatures near 110º in The Valley.
The high country from Las Vegas to Raton is simply beautiful—lush green pastureland with the Rockies in the western distance. You climb again into Raton and then beyond you climb some more until you hit the Colorado border where the land levels out into sweeping fields of grass to the right and the ever-encroaching Rockies to the left. We spotted Pike’s Peak about twenty miles from Colorado Springs. Only specks of snow on it, unlike several years ago when we returned by way of Wyoming and the Peak was entirely snow-capped.
Then east away from the Rockies and into the flatlands of Kansas and Nebraska where one can go for miles and miles without encountering more than an occasional car or rusty pickup. Then north on Hwy 83 to North Platte, Nebraska, where the North and South Platte Rivers converge, across Hwy 80 and into the Sand Hills of Nebraska. If I suggested that the highways through the nation’s belly were scarcely traveled, the stretch through the Sand Hills made them look ant-hill busy. The road was nearly empty of cars, just sand hills, increasing yucca plants, and lots of sky. Then Valentine, Nebraska, and into South Dakota. About two miles this side of the SD state line we passed the Rosebud Casino. How depressing. Reservation Indians milking the occasional traveler into testing their slots.
Finally into South Dakota, land of pheasants and meadowlarks, sand pipers and crows. And along the ditches were the state fatality signs. I’d forgotten about them. The state ever since I can remember would put up staked signs with a red X on a white background bordered in black with a large THINK! under the X. One sign for each fatality, some accidents forever marked with a cluster of five or six signs, sort of a metal bouquet for the dead.
But the South Dakota countryside looked really good, verdant green with cows everywhere. And acres and acres of cumulous-clouded skies. As we continued north toward our destination, Mobridge, we engaged in our usual home-again car activity, counting pheasants to estimate how this year’s crop would be. Ah, Auntie Em, there’s no place like home.