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Arizona: Recap

Observations Specific to Arizona:

1. If you visit Arizona, you best have a palate for spicy foods. Expect to eat lots of chilies and tamales. Yummy.

2. In the Arizonian desert you can see far. Like really far. Think 50+ miles far. In fact, the air is so clear that the only obstacle obstructing a 100+ mile view is the gargantuan, 10,000+ foot mountains sprawled across the horizon.

3. Gauging from the many towns I encountered named “Fort (_______)” (e.g. Fort Thomas, Fort McDowell), it isn’t too hard to imagine that Arizona once epitomized the Wild, Wild West. In fact, one individual, in describing a suburb outside of Phoenix, told me “cowboys live out there.” If cowboy hats are any indication of cowboys, I couldn’t agree more. Giddy up!

4. Indian reservations. Hmm. So much to say, but I’ll keep it short. The upside to reservation living is that residents receive financial benefits from the US government. But the downsides appear quite steep. In fact, some of the poorest communities through which I rode in the South sported nicer homes than many of those found on the Indian reservations.

5. Judging from the ubiquity of historical markers, you might think that every significant event in the American Founding, American Revolution, and Civil War transpired in Arizona. In reality, however, Arizona’s historical markers memorialize generally one of the following: (1) white man kills Mexican man (i.e. Spanish-American War events); (2) white man kills native man (i.e. military engagements versus the Native Americans); or (3) geological marvels (hey! something non-military).

6. My Phoenix Warm Shower hosts graciously let me stay an extra day in order to permit me to sightsee around the city. I told my host family that I sought to spend the day gaining a flavor for the Arizonian culture. Surprisingly, the host family did not suggest that I venture into the city. Rather they encouraged me to venture into the desert, stating, “If you want to understand Arizona, you must first understand the Arizonian desert.” After riding through Arizona, I couldn’t agree with this statement more.

7. Drawing from my experiences to describe the Arizonian desert, I think the word “allure” is most fitting. Whether it be an 1800’s miner seeking to strike it rich in a desert gold mine, a 1970’s Hollywood film crew looking to produce the next blockbuster western classic, or a contemporary individual searching for a fresh start, it seems that the desert possesses this mysticism which draws people from all walks of life.

8. To find great case studies concerning trickledown economics, look no further than Arizona. Whole towns, including many outlying downs, are often supported by one business or industry—usually mining. These mines indirectly fuel unrelated businesses, such as restaurants and hotels. One of my Warm Showers hosts was a hotel owner who indicated that her entire cash flow is predicated on the business generated from mining contractors. When local mines expand, she cashes fat checks, as out-of-town miners need a place to stay. But when the local mines scale back operations, her business runs in the red, as there is insufficient demand from tourists to maintain profitability. She stated that during the peak copper years of 2010-2012, hotels within a 1.5 hour radius of the local ran at maximum capacity week after week. Many out-of-town mine workers simply couldn’t find a place to stay.

9. Another of my Warm Shower hosts managed a hardware store. He indicated that during the outset of the 2008 housing crisis, his hardware store’s sales barely slumped because copper prices remained high. High copper prices meant mine expansion and mine expansion meant home construction for the mines’ workforce. Say what you will about corporate America, but many of these small Arizona towns simply wouldn’t exist without the likes of FreePort-McMoRan.

10. Economic booms inevitably invite the busts. Some towns have yet to recover from the implosion of their local industry—namely, those towns reliant upon the railroad industry. As a result, ghost towns pepper the desert land.

11. One 40 mile stretch in Arizona sported an RV park literally every 2-3 miles. And these RV parks were not small—they accommodated 100+ RVs. It’s amazing how Snowbird flight can transform barren dessert land into a profitably parking lot.

12. Speaking of Snowbirds, I had no idea that many Canadians are Snowbirds. My Phoenix Warm Shower host family lived inside a resort and indicated that 40% of the 1,800 residents were Canadian. I thought all Canadians were born half Eskimo and could withstand brutal winters. No? Ok—I suppose that explains the Canadian flight to Arizona.

13. Last comment on Snowbirds (hey, half of Arizona are Snowbirds): my neighbor at an RV park indicated that seeking winter refuge in Arizona is better than seeking winter refuge in New Mexico. Why? Because Arizona enjoys a lower elevation than New Mexico. Not only is lower elevation more conducive to warmer temperatures, but folks with respiratory problems often have difficulty living in the higher altitudes of New Mexico.

14. Let’s talk about Phoenix. Phoenix = URBAN SPRAWL. It took more than a full riding day to cross from the east side of Phoenix to the west side. (For those following my map: it only took one day to cross Phoenix but I rode at night, totaling 10 riding hours). Phoenix is like 10 cities in one, as many Phoenix suburbs are large enough to serve as a standalone city.

15. Because Phoenix is quite expansive, Phoenix maintains a diverse array of land uses. For instance, within Phoenix (including the suburbs), I passed an operational mine, a landfill, and the South Mountain Park, the largest urban park in the world measuring 25.5 square miles in size.

General Observations:

1. I consumed more soda in the past two months than I have in the past two years. Hey, I need calories, and if those calories come by virtue of simple carbohydrates, then I’ll take those, too.

2. Apparently, it is trendy for small Arizona towns to write the first letter of their town’s name in a rock formation on an overlooking cliff face. On one hand, it looks pretty cool. On the other hand, many of the towns could serve themselves better by allocating that money to clean up many of their derelict buildings.

3. I love me some Christmas decorations. I mean, who doesn’t? But there’s something wrong with Christmas decorations in the desert. I don’t care how cool your decorations looks: Santa Claus doesn’t ride his sleigh on sand. And Frosty the Snowman melts under the desert sun! Stick to Christmas lights and Christmas wreaths, Arizona, not those gaudy lawn decorations. Leave those obnoxious inflatable lawn decorations to us Yankees. After all, inflatable snow globes look better in places where it actually snows.

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