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Arizona: A Land of Extremes

Science, nature and the environment, with regard to human impact, are subjects to which Chris applies his passions for research and writing.

Sanfrancisco Peaks Near Flagstaff, Arizona


My recent move to Arizona for a contract job has revealed to me a state made up of many varieties. Elevation changes, cultures, and climate differences are just a few.

Elevation changes are extreme in this state. Standing on the north rim of the Grand Canyon, You are at about 8,300 feet. The floor of the canyon is 2,400 feet. Drive a few miles south to Flagstaff, and you are sitting at 6,900 feet. HIke to the top of Mount Humphreys and experience life at 12,633 feet, the highest natural elevation in the state. Farther south is Sedona, 4,350 feet and Phoenix at 1,100 feet.

The Grand Canyon From the North Rim


I experienced a subtle difference in lifestyle while I was exploring some of the lakes south of Flagstaff. I grabbed my fishing and camping gear and headed to the Mormon Lake area. I had chosen to visit Marshall Lake. After driving several miles on a gravel road, I began to wonder where the lake was. Well, I was driving alongside the dried up lake bed. I kept going and came upon a stretch where dozens of campsites lined the dry lake bed. Every one of those campsites was filled with people out for a weekend at the lake.

I proceeded on to my second choice which was Ashurst Lake. I found a big, beautiful blue lake surrounded by volcanic boulders. I drove the perimeter and came to a paid campground where a native American man waved from his campsite as I drove by. I returned the wave and continued along the gravel road. When I looped back around, the same man waved again, but this time it was a wave that invited me to come to his campsite.

Panoramic View of Marshall Lake, Arizona


I parked the Jeep and let my dog, Darby, out of the back. The man whose face and arms showed years of exposure to the sun walked up and extended his hand. His name was Francis. He had a large, cabin tent pitched beside a picnic table and a fire ring. Flames leaped from the iron enclosure, but I stayed away. It was already plenty hot for me.

Francis liked to tell stories and laugh at his own jokes. He told me of his ranching days, of riding broncs and mustangs. He pointed to the back of his neck where he apparently had a bit of chronic pain. Those mustangs like to jump, he told me. I suppose that was the origin of the pain in his neck.

Stand of Aspens on Mount Humphreys, Arizona


The old gentleman rose from the bench we were both seated on and opened a cooler. He pulled out the biggest steak I think I have ever seen. He pointed to a two-pronged fork on the table and instructed me to put the steak on the metal grill over the fire. I had been invited to dinner. I turned the steak several times, added some slices of hot peppers and tortillas. Soon we were tearing the steak apart with our fingers, tossing the bones to Darby, and talking about the life of the Navajo.

According to Francis’s story, the Navajo don’t have a lot of material possessions or comforts in their homes, not even running water. The Hopi, he claimed, had everything, but not the Navajo. His wife works with beads to create items to sell. Francis draws sketches of rock art. I had a hard time understanding how those weather-beaten hands could create delicate art.

Grand Canyon From the North Rim (Video)

Francis’s hands, arms, and face were discolored and swollen. His eyesight was poor. He said it was a result of the mine he worked in all his life. Surface mining, he called it. All the water around the mine was contaminated. He said they drank it and bathed in it anyway. His own diagnosis was that the mine had caused his ailments. I couldn’t argue the point.

Francis asked me if I had a family. He had a wife, six daughters and one son. I told him about my two sons and that my wife had passed away ten years ago from cancer. He shared how his own mother also died of cancer. He talked about how difficult it is to move on after losing a loved one. Then he stood up from the picnic table, leaned over the top and placed both hands on my head. I was wearing a hat at the time. Francis closed his eyes and spoke in his Navajo language. When he was finished, he told me not to take my hat off until I got home. It was a surreal experience. I don’t know what he said or prayed.

I said goodbye to Francis, put Darby back in the Jeep and drove away. Francis waved, and I waved back. I’m glad the Navajo man flagged me down. I’m happy I accepted the invitation.

This is Arizona, so different from anywhere I’ve ever been. The land and the native people are products of little water and much sun. I will enjoy exploring the heights, depths, and breadth of this land which offers so many opportunities for adventure.

© 2018 Chris Mills

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