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Travel & Discovery

First Time In The Desert: Arizona

In early June of 2015 I set out for a trip nearly across the country on a solo trip to the deserts of Arizona. I had made an attempt to find a travel companion but due to time constraints and work limitations I was unable to find anyone. Many of my friends and family members tried to talk me out of going alone, but I figured if I didn’t go now then when would I go? There are many reasons why someone might be wary of traveling alone, but I simply refused to let those fears hold me back.

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The view from my camp site on Lake Powell

Being that I was a college student with a horrible part-time minimum wage job, it took me years to save up the money to make this journey. I opted to camp out of the SUV I was borrowing from my grandparents instead of staying at an expensive hotel. So I only paid $5 per night to stay there where as a hotel would have cost me near $100 per night. The campground had everything I needed, even a laundry station and bathrooms with outlets so I really was not lacking in luxuries. (This is a point I will probably talk more about in a separate post about traveling solo.)

Unfortunately, it rained every day that I was in Arizona and the temperatures did not get nearly as high as I had expected for the month of June. I joked with my family back home that it would be my luck that I go to the desert for hot weather and a tan yet I get grey skies and rain.

I did not expect to really enjoy myself too much since I was alone and I also didn’t think that I would like the desert since I am so used to the busy city life. However, the more time I spent exploring that dry land the more I fell in love. The closest city to me was Page, Arizona which was a very small town with just the necessities.

Most of my plans for my trip were destroyed once I learned that you actually have to pay to gain access to National Parks. You may scoff at me and laugh, but in Ohio you do not have to pay to enter our National Parks. It is impossible to actually patrol all of the possible entrances to the park so there is no way to make people pay. Within our National Park people have set up small towns and homes that have been there for centuries, I did not realize this was not the case everywhere else within the U.S.. After having learned that I not only needed to pay an extra $20 just to get to my camp site for the week, but that I would have to pay a total of $80 just to do the things I planned on doing I was quite irritated especially since I did not have the funds to pay for the access. So, even though I chose my camp site to sit me closer to points of interested like the Antelope Caves and “The Wave”, I had to pass up seeing them because I just couldn’t afford it.

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Horseshoe Bend, Arizona

The one attraction near me I was able to see was the Horseshoe Bend. This is a rather popular spot for photographers and tourists alike and it is free to see. Since it is in the middle of . . .well, nowhere. . .I didn’t expect to see as many people there as I did. In fact, getting a clear shot was quite difficult. Standing on the ledge of this canyon was rather intimidating. Like most people, I do have a mild fear of falling but it hasn’t really stopped me from doing dangerous things in my life, but standing on the edge of this canyon with so many people rushing around me actually made me uneasy. I can only image how much more beautiful and awe inspiring it would have been if the sun had been out.

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Photographers at the Horseshoe Bend

I sat on the cliff edge for a while hoping that things would die down a bit and I would have more freedom to shoot, but that never seemed to be the case. I had debated returning later but decided against it for the sake of time. Instead I took macro style abstract photographs of the striations on the rocks as well as some of the flora then went back towards my camp site.

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Near the Horseshoe Bend

All in all my first day in Arizona was not too exciting but I was happy to be there none the less. I had spoken on the phone with several people from back home and they all kept urging me to go see the Grand Canyon. I must admit, I was not very interested in seeing the Grand Canyon in the traditional tourist fashion. If I was to go to the Grand Canyon I wanted to take a hike through the canyon and explore it from the inside; something I did not want to do alone. But after much convincing I finally agreed to make a trip to the Grand Canyon. I did not know that seeing the canyon from the Southern ridge was better than from the Northern ridge, but I just went to the North since it was closer to me and (as I said) I didn’t have too much interest in seeing it.

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Near the Vermilion Cliffs

On my way to the Grand Canyon I passed a lot of seemingly abandoned Navajo trading posts. I had (I suppose I still have) mixed feelings about seeing these sites. The photographer in me however, couldn’t resist stopping to take photographs though. Part of my favorite thing about traveling is being able to talk to the local people, something that seems quite difficult to do in the empty deserts of Arizona.

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Broken barrier

Another very disappointing thing about Arizona was how much of the land was surrounded in barriers. I later told a friend that it felt like being in a prison with the illusion of freedom. This made it very difficult for me to get good picture of areas that were interesting or to even explore very far beyond what I could see from the streets.

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Grand Canyon National Park exploration

I was a little surprised to see just how lush the Northern Grand Canyon National Park was. I played tag with the rain all day there. I did not get to explore too much of the park because it seems Arizona is against having gas stations available every couple miles. Between the two hours it took me to get from my camp site to the Grand Canyon itself I only passed two gas stations; one attached to my camp site and the other at the Grand Canyon park and nothing in between. Ohio to Arizona I realized that Kansas and Arizona are two states you do not want to be in without intimate knowledge of where every gas station is.

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Northern rim of the Grand Canyon

Upon reaching the rim of the Grand Canyon I was even more disappointed to see that it was basically a resort. Narrow walkways were difficult to navigate as clusters of tourists pushed to pass each other for the best view of the canyon. Meanwhile, wealthy customers of the hotel and cabins were sitting on viewing decks with alcohol in their hands and blankets on their laps.

Between trying to dodge non-English speaking tourists with selfie sticks and moving out of the way of running children being observed by helicopter parents I struggled to find a decent spot to shoot from. I had initially grabbed my tripod so that I could get a proper photo of the canyon, but after having several groups of people plow into me and try to push their way into my photos I gave up and put it in the car. I took the above picture as quickly as I could after waiting in a queue of people just to get to the edge of the decks. I didn’t realized until I left Arizona that I had completely shot most of my photos using the wrong F-stop. But that’s what disappointment and frustration will do to you if you’re not careful.

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Vermilion Cliffs. Cliff dwellings

I happened upon these cliff dwellings on my way back to my camp site and decided to stay for a couple hours trying to explore as much as possible. As an Anthropology major I tried to document as much as I could. My goal was to challenge myself to look around and learn, then do research to compare the truth to what I observed. My time there was continuously broken by other tourists who stumbled upon this site. They never stayed too long because their children and teenagers all complained about how boring it was.

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Graffiti on the walls of Native American homes.

I would just like to take a moment to say that if you are the type of person who thinks it’s okay to deface sites like this, then you are scum. I found graffiti and carvings at every site I visited while in Arizona. Frankly, it’s disgusting and heartbreaking that people do not teach their children respect for what is not theirs.

My time in Arizona was cut short and I was called home earlier than I had planned. I did not get to do nearly half of the things I had wanted, but I am still happy for the time I was there. I would like to go back someday, though next time I would like to head further South into the state.

3 Comments

  • Teresa

    I have been to Arizona a few times and absolutely love the place and will be moving there within 5 years. I have never gone alone though. I have friends who moved there 13 years ago, who are now living in Wittmann, about an hour slightly northwest of Phoenix. I have been to Sedona and the Grand Canyon, and Scottsdale, and cannot wait to move there to explore it in more. I did love your photos and post.

    • Bella Vie

      I would love to move to Arizona! I have been recently looking into doing it and where exactly I would like to go. That’s fantastic that you’ve already got a plan!

  • Teresa

    I have been wanting to move to Arizona for 44 years of my life. I have been trying to set it in motion for the past 14 years but I just keep getting sidelined for one reason or another. I have had the for sale sign out and brought back in 4 times in the past 3 years with bogus offers on my trailer, hand and knee operations in between, and an elderly father that I just cannot leave. Because of that, I just turned down a girl who was even going to pay my asking price! I am doing this all alone and it is overwhelming, to say the least. I will get there and it will be within the next 3-4 years at most. Much love!

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