For someone who enjoys seeing new places, I’m not very well-traveled. I’ve only ever been west of the Mississippi twice; once on a quick full family visit to Texas, and once eleven years ago on a week-long trip to San Francisco with Shani. On both trips, most of my time was spent with family or ensconced in cities, so I didn’t really get to experience drastically divergent landscapes from what I had seen in the past.
Arizona would be different.
When the color green saturates your surroundings every day, its absence is jarring. In Lancaster County green is omnipresent. Grass is everywhere, leafy trees are abundant, and at a certain point in the summer, the back roads literally envelope you in walls of corn. I now know I took that verdancy for granted.
This summer we had a week-long family vacation to Arizona planned. After flying into Phoenix we drove north toward our eventual destination, Sedona. When we cleared the Phoenix suburbs, I couldn’t help but notice that the land, the buildings, and darn near just about everything was bathed in earth tones. What Arizona lacks in green, it makes up for with its own color palette.
I had seen the southwest on screens a million times, but it still didn’t prepare me for witnessing it in person. Long stretches of desert or prairie land were occasionally dotted with a light green cactus here or there, but the prevailing color scheme was one shade or another of brown. The desert landscape was stunning, although at times it struck me as forlorn and desolate. It did feel uniquely American in its own way, but perhaps that was a lifetime of indoctrination into rugged individualism and movie westerns manifesting itself in my brain.
When I was actually standing in front of the desert horizons, they felt truly alien to me despite their on-screen familiarity.
As we neared Sedona, the hues of the geography started to gradually shift. When the saguaro cacti gave way to their prickly pear brethren, the landscape started to rise from the desert. Our surroundings began to reveal their color. Late day sun was the perfect instrument to showcase the other-worldly warm tones of the Red Rocks.
As we rounded a bend in the highway one of the formations came into full view. I literally had to pull the car over to catch my breath and take it all in. I’m pretty sure that moment was punctuated by a few “Whoas!” coming from the teenagers in the vehicle. As other seasoned parents can attest, this is an increasingly difficult reaction to elicit as they get older.
For the next week we hiked below, on top of, and in between a fair amount of the Red Rocks. I never quite got used to, or tired of, seeing them. They were quite literally awe-inspiring. I would pause on one of our long walks to wipe the sweat from my brow and take a swig from my water bottle and there were the rocks, towering over me, providing much needed course correction to my inner-monologue. They inspired thoughts on my own importance in the grand scheme of things and thoughts on how I treat the world around me. The kind of thoughts I’m not inspired to indulge in during my monthly drive to Costco. Grand spectacles of nature tend to do that.
I’ll be the first to admit, the photos I took during our week in Sedona don’t do the Red Rocks justice. Their scale, beauty, and reassuring omnipresence are somehow diminished by my attempts to box them into my camera. Much better photographers have put in the hard work of planning out their days, getting up at ungodly hours, and using their hard-earned talents to capture their beauty more effectively. Despite my Sedona photos’ shortcomings, when I look at them in the future I hope I’ll appreciate their underlying personal meaning.
They’ll alway remind me that while I should always value the greens in front of me, I shouldn’t forget the infinite amount of colors still out there, waiting to be captured.