We drove for five long days and finally arrived in Arizona. However, the adventure did not end there.
Phoenix had always been the ultimate goal. Our decision to go on a road trip sprang from that choice. My wife and younger son wanted no part of the drive and flew to Phoenix instead. There they settled into a rental home we found on Airbnb and waited for me and the older son to arrive by car. We finally got there and still had a bunch of days in Arizona ahead of us.
Water in the Desert
The whole reason behind our destination tied to my wife’s desire to run a specific race. She chose a rental home near the upcoming race in the Phoenix suburb of Goodyear. The housing development clustered on two man-made bodies of water called North and South Lakes (map), rather unimaginatively. It all seemed fine on the mild January days we visited. It even rained a little bit, helping to replenish the lakes. I enjoyed gazing upon them and strolling around them too. Still, I wondered what happened in summer. How much of this precious water in the desert evaporated for such a meaningless decorative purpose? How much longer can something like this last?
We also experienced a bit of irony. My wife hurt her foot shortly before we left home and she couldn’t run. We no longer had a reason to go to Phoenix. However, by that point I’d already planned my route and I had no intentions of backing out. I had counties to count.
Arizona Commemorative Air Force
I’d visited six zoos on the long drive with my older son. Now it only seemed fair to spend some time with my younger son. He loves vintage aircraft and enjoys visiting airplane museums. That led us to the Arizona Commemorative Air Force in the nearby city of Mesa. The main facility held a wide range of combat aircraft covering the history flight, with a particular focus on the Second World War. An adjoining hanger included restorations in progress as well as fully-functioning aircraft that could roll onto the runways of Falcon Field Airport (map) and reach the skies.
Even better, the museum offered flights on its antique warbirds. They weren’t cheap although I’d just taken one kid across the country. So the other one got a ride in a World War II Douglas C-47 Skytrain as night fell over Phoenix. Plus I could rationalize it as a Christmas present. We got to see the twinkling lights of the Valley of the Sun from a much lower altitude than a commercial jetliner. We were so close we could even see Christmas decorations on people’s lawns. The valley was remarkably flat and the roads aligned in a practically perfect grid.
Hole in the Rock
I didn’t have to traipse far from town to experience the rugged terrain of the Sonoran Desert. I simply headed towards Papago Park, right within the heart of Phoenix itself. Imagine 1,500 acres of wilderness completely surrounded by suburban sprawl and that pretty much described the park. It included a major zoo, a botanical garden filled with desert plants, miles of hiking trails, and fascinating geological features.
Hole-in-the-Rock (map) dominated the landscape, rising a couple of hundred feet above surrounding flatness. The natural sandstone formation eroded naturally over a few million years. Wind and water worked in concert to carve chambers in its surface, including one that cut entirely through the outcrop from one side to the other. A sign at the trailhead explained that the ancient Hohokam culture considered this a sacred sight and tracked the position of the sun shining through the hole to mark planting seasons. Hole-in-the-Rock served as something of a geological Stonehenge for these people.
An easy trail led to the window on the backside of the outcrop. Most people stopped there and ventured no further. The views of Phoenix were pretty amazing from that point. However, feeling adventurous and probably acting younger than I should have, I had to continue up towards the summit. I got there just fine. Climbing back down was more challenging and a bit scarier. Even so I managed and — since I’m able to write this — obviously I didn’t fall or injure myself.
Phoenix offered a nice counterpoint to our many days on the road.
Articles in the Cross-Country Series:
- The Plot Thickens
- Weatherford Art Thou?
- County Counting
- Zoos & Brews
- The Eastern Half
- The Western Half
- A Week in Phoenix
See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr