Sunday, January 04, 2009

Contrasts

Paul and I started our journey through Sedona and places close to it a couple of days ago. We're calling it our "Discovery" tour because things so far have not been what we expected them to be.

We started by going to Flagstaff, a town Paul had a good feeling about on our way out here. Funny thing is I didn't feel great about it but I didn't have a "bad" feeling either. So we went.

Flagstaff has a university with a fairly progressive vibe, a space observatory, an arboretum, and a very historic Old West downtown. It's the closest major city to the Grand Canyon and has a major connecting point for Amtrak running through it. We thought we'd love it.

We showed up on an Art Walk night and thought we might enjoy checking out some of the galleries. Well, surprise, surprise, we didn't. At least not that much. It was like Santa Cruz in the mountains with lots of not well-cleared away dirty city snow. I didn't mind that -- it reminded me of my childhood growing up in New England just south of Boston. What bothered us was the Santa Cruz-like city part.

Whoa! We didn't expect that. We've gotten so acclimated to country life that returning to an urban environment was a bit of a shock. Paul's mom and stepdad live on 46 acres of undeveloped land surrounded by other 40 and 50 acre parcels of undeveloped land. It is absolutely silent, spacious and peaceful. Flagstaff is a typical college/tourist town -- full of fun and people and cars. It was noisy, relatively speaking, and -- for us-- a bit claustrophobic. Theoretically, it would be a great place to visit for shopping, nightlife, etc. but we think, right now at least, that we'd rather live a little further out of town.

The weather was threatening to dump a lot more snow so we cut our Flagstaff adventure short and headed down to Sedona yesterday. We took Route 89A through Oak Creek Canyon and there was met by another set of surprises.

First of all, the canyon is awesome! One of the most stunning places I have ever seen. Towering rock walls leading down to a tree-lined creek. Switchback curves led to one amazing view after another. Paul said it felt intimidating for him to drive it because the energy of the whole thing was so intense.

It starts out at the top completely undeveloped and undevelopable. Wild wilderness for several winding miles. Halfway down little bits of civilization appear. Campgrounds, national park land. Near the bottom there are more hotels and bed and breakfasts, a few tourist gift shops and general stores, very similar to what one would find in Big Sur. I liked it. It felt inviting and if this was a different kind of trip and the weather was more picture perfect we would have stopped to hike and look around. Still, we KNOW we'll be coming back so we just continued down the road.

The rock walls turned bright red and the views continued to be awesome. We were feeling really amazed by the whole thing and suddenly the road drops us into uptown Sedona. Shock and awe but not in a good way.

After having our hearts opened up by the most amazing natural scenery a person could imagine we arrive in what the locals here call the "Rubber Tomahawk" district, one of the most intense tourist buy, buy, buy zones I've ever seen. Normally I like a little art and craft touristy gift shopping but, as I said, the contrast was so intense we felt bombarded by the experience of it all.

And it was crowded! That must be because this was the end of Christmas/New Year's holiday season. If there's a major recession going on, at least to our inexperienced eyes, on this weekend in this region it was hard to see.

The towering awe-inspiring red rock monuments surround the town in almost every direction. Pretty views of what would otherwise be considered gorgeous mountain and desert scenery show in between. That is if you look up and out. Right in front of you when you're driving through Sedona are hotels and tourist shops, one after the other. The scenic backdrop fighting with tourist attracting action is enough to drive the most careful driver to distraction. Add a lot of road construction and a large traffic roundabout (rotary) without traffic lights in the center of town, just to make the feeling of chaos complete, and you might get the gist of how we arrived at our reaction.

We decided to go directly to our friend "Terri's" house. We're housesitting for her a bit while she's out of town.

Terri lives in what might otherwise be considered an upscale suburbia.... except it's in red rock country. This is the view from her front yard.


The next picture is the view from her backyard, as seen from the vacant lot next door.

There are houses just to the left and right of what I took a picture of and behind the larger trees. Suburban ranch houses and small adobe mansions. 1/4 acre lots. But, wow, that backdrop!

At one point I asked Paul what he thought about the idea of living in what ought to be a national park. He didn't answer for a very long time and I think we're both still trying to process it all.

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