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Statues of the Southwest

My Scholarship entry - A local encounter that changed my life

WORLDWIDE | Wednesday, 28 March 2012 | Views [149] | Scholarship Entry

At the start of the Apache Trail in central Arizona, scenery rolls past that is familiar to anyone who has been in the area for an hour. Crystalline blue skies, the dusty Sonoran Desert and distant buttes and mesas lumped onto the landscape like crumbling, halfhearted castles in a child’s sandbox had become our unending backdrop. We arrived at the trail head, a snaking state route carved into the Superstition Mountains, and started to drive.
Apache Junction, the last bastion of civilization before the trail, faded behind us as I snapped lazy pictures of still-distant rock formations. Suddenly, the ground to the driver’s side of the car vanished as well. Instead of desert sands sprawling for endless miles, we were driving on the edge of a canyon. Sheer cliffs, orange rock faces ignited by the afternoon sun and towering facades covered in yellow lichens stood watch over a wide, wandering canyon.

Toward the end of the drive, we stopped the car at the bottom of the canyon and hobbled out, sighing and stretching after hours of occasionally tense driving, and eyed the mostly dry riverbed accessible by a quick climb down a rocky slope. We skidded through the fine gravel and dust and stood at last in the bottom of the canyon. Here, it was silent. As the sun set and cast stark shadows on the cliff walls around us, the absence of all sounds made for a grave scene. Another day ended for this canyon where rock—not man, beast or water—ruled. Those canyon walls have a distinctly nonhuman personality. They are eternal and still, and if you stop moving long enough to feel them, they loom over, watching you with the eyes of ancient statues, and they make you feel small.

The Apache Trail adventure was bright and sunny, a largely uneventful but beautiful desert drive. While the scenery was incredible, I remember a feeling more than the sights. It was that moment when we were alone in the rocks, ephemeral blurs through the cathedral of the canyon, and I caught a glimpse of majesty.

Tags: Travel Writing Scholarship 2012

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