I had requested, prior to my arrival, a visit to the ruins of a cliffside dwelling in the desert outside of town know as "Montezuma's Castle." As in many newer U.S. cities it takes quite a while to get "out of town", but after a time I found myself looking at a desert landscape of odd, austere beauty. We climbed out of the valley where Phoenix is located, the rain had turned the mountains surrounding the city were more verdant than I had ever seen them, into a land of mesquite, the broad leafs of prickly pears and saguaro cactus with their branched arms raised upward resembling an attitude of prayer.
We passed small creeks and rivers, on their banks thin lines of trees took advantage of these rare water sources in the otherwise dry enviorment. As we began to reach the mountains peaks I was treated to a breathtaking vista. The mountains dove down to the valley floor below. On the far side of the valley cliffs bearing bands of red, white and pale yellow revealed themselves. Further in the distance snowcapped mountaintops were visible, standing majestic and tall above the straited cliffs. The sky was a brilliant cloudless blue.
Reaching our destination and stepping out of the car we were greeted by air that was refreshing, pleasantly cool and pure.We paid our fee and entered the site. A minor disappointment was that we were not in the line manned by the adorable, red haired, bearded park ranger but in the line of the older, more grizzled one. Over the years, however, I have come to not dwell on opportunities missed and we moved on. The cliff dwelling is one of the best preserved of such sites in the Southwest. Accessed from the valley floor in ancient times by ladders, it stands several stories tall. An equally impressive structure once stood on the floor of the valley to one side of the cliff dwelling. It has long since deteriorated and only the outline of the buildings foundation remains. Holes in the rock wall where posts were secured to hold up the structures several levels suggest it's impressive original size. The plants in the area are marked with signs containing information about them and what the ancient people living here used them for such as making twine or medicines. Information on how they were prepared as food sources is also displayed. Some fruits and berries were made into delicacies. The desert of the era. The sap of one tree was used as a form of adhesive. We wondered as we read the signs how the people discovered how these plants could be used in what were often ingenious ways. A surprisingly large river in this desert setting provided an abundant water source for both drinking and irrigating crops.The surviving examples of the cloth woven by these people is beautiful bearing intricate patterns.
We returned to the car and headed to Sedona. Although it is a location I have never felt particularly compelled to visit, this, it being in the area, seemed and opportune time to take a look at what I have heard so many people rave about. It is as I imagined it to be, a place of stunning natural beauty marred by the excesses of tourism. The red rock formations are towering, impressive examples of the sculpting capabilities of weather and time. We drove to a high point overlooking the valley. I marveled at the russet pinnacles and the hues the elements have exposed in the sides of the rock walls. The flawless blue sky against the rock spires and walls created a crisp, vivid kaleidoscope of colors.
We continued on to Jerome. Perched high on a mountainside, romantically named Cleopatra Hill, it was once know as the "wickedest town in the west". A copper mining town, at it's height in the 1920's it boasted a population of 15,000. By the early 1950's the population had dwindled to between 50 and 100 people. These remaining residents began to promote the Jerome as a historic ghost town. In 1967 it was designated a National Historic District. Today it has a population of about 450. After suffering fires in the late 1800's, it's streets are now lined with the reconstruction from that era as well as buildings dating from the early portion of the 20th century. The buildings have been turned into shops, bars and restaurants. There are also a handful of historic hotels and bed and breakfasts. The town affords the visitor incredible views across the valley to the multihued cliffs beyond. We lunched at the "Mile High Grill", so named because it stands 1 mile above sea level. We wandered the streets, stepping into the lobby of a silent move house built during the towns heyday, and delighted at the look and feel of the venerable structures which climb up the hillside.
Passing through the desert returning to Phoenix the saguaro stood like sentinels overlooking and guarding the harsh terrain as hawks floated overhead surveying the arid, forbidding landscape in search of their next meal.