The Cacti + The Family: Arizona, Sans Grand Canyon

IMG_0682According to my dad, I’ve been to the Grand Canyon, camped overnight and spent a day exploring it with him, my brother, and my mom when I was five. I have no memory of our Canyon excursion. Until this past April, when I flew to Phoenix to spend a few days hanging out with my dad, stepmom, and sister Abby during their vacation, I thought I’d never been to Arizona at all. When someone mentions the Grand Canyon I always think of that scene from Thelma & Louise, when they’re driving through the desert on the run from the cops and Louise suddenly realizes what’s ahead and says to Thelma, “It’s the goddamn Grand Canyon!”

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Turns out the scene was actually filmed in Utah, but that’s beside the point. It was an at-the-edge-of-death moment undoubtedly more dramatic (and clearly more memorable) than my own Canyon experience, in part because of the intense bond between these two women, but also because the scene was preceded by those ones featuring Brad Pitt as J.D., the hitchhiker who showed Thelma/Geena Davis how to rob a bank . . . among other things. I think I was about 12 when I first saw the film. Afterward I swore to myself I would watch every Brad Pitt movie that came out from then onward in the theatre (instead of just on VHS). It’s a commitment I haven’t kept up but one I still think was worth trying for. My pre-teen movie star crush. He deserved the big screen.

So in my mind, Arizona was a first for me this spring. We stayed an hour outside Phoenix, at my aunt Nita’s house, a two-bedroom bungalow in a gated community landscaped with palm trees and cacti. Mornings were spent poolside, drinking coffee with my stepmom Colleen while my dad puttered around the property and my sister—thrilled to be out of the Saskatchewan winter for a week (because April in Saskatchewan is still winter)—worked on her tan.

We also wore muumuus.

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I felt a little like Helen Roper (sans Stanley) in a good way. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you are clearly either much younger than I am or didn’t feel the need to watch Three’s Company reruns every evening of your early childhood.

We didn’t go to the Grand Canyon this trip (not enough time to do it justice). But we did head into the city for a baseball game—my first MLB game ever—on a Sunday afternoon, where we sat in the sun sipping beer out of ridiculously oversized cups and watched the Arizona Diamondbacks lose 2-0 to the Philadelphia Phillies.

The next day, we drove to Sedona, a town a couple hours north of Phoenix known for its galleries, crystals and vortexes

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and then hiked for a couple hours in Red Rock State Park.

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The Park views were Canyon-esque. On a much smaller scale, of course.

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The thing about Arizona is that the landscape is so dramatic—the red rock, the cacti looming every few metres along the highway like lone soldiers guarding the horizon, the massive sky—but it’s also so dry.

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Don’t get me wrong, I love experiencing terrain that’s vastly different from what I grew up in (and I’m a huge fan of cactus plants) but on this hike it struck me how much the lush vegetation of the Pacific Northwest has shaped my sense of beauty. It’s why I like jungles, why I always stop to touch the moss carpeting the sides of trees. I felt dazzled by the natural environment in Arizona—it’s stunning. But while walking this trail I kept finding myself thinking, ‘the scenery is so cool, but I don’t think I could live here.’ It was a such a strong sense of feeling separate from my surroundings, as if I didn’t totally align with the landscape.

Have you ever felt that way in a place you’ve visited? It fascinates me what creates the connection between a person and place. When I look back, the parts of the world I’ve always been happiest living in are near forests and the ocean. But I wonder if I would feel that way if I hadn’t grown up on Vancouver Island, if that draw to coastal elements would be less prevalent.

Arizona’s purple cacti was particularly amazing, and new to my eyes. And how about that yellow flower, bursting out the side?

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That’s my dad, Curtis. Not sure why I was hiking in a sundress, other than we didn’t really plan to walk a long trail, it just kind of happened. It’s my dad’s birthday tomorrow. He probably wouldn’t want me throwing numbers around here on the blog, but let me just say this guy does not let age, the fact that he’s had a hip replacement, or the blazing Arizona sun slow him down. He has instilled his love of travel in me since I was a kid, and I can’t thank him enough for it. Happy Birthday, Dad!

I’ve been strongly urging him and my stepmom to take a trip to Indonesia ever since Joe and I went two years ago, and this July, they’re flying to Bali for a month. They’ve got their first two nights of accommodation booked, and then they’re going to ‘wing it’ as my dad would say. I’ve really talked the place up, so I’m hoping they love it as much as we did. If I know my dad, he’ll be daydreaming about buying land and starting a business there within the first couple days.

Well that’s it, friends, my April Arizona Adventure. I leave you here, with way too much alliteration and a little more cacti…

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Those spikes are nuts.

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Highway scenery, en route to Sedona.

I have a feeling I’ll be back to this part of the country one day, maybe with a kid in tow, showing them the Grand Canyon and hoping they’ll remember it.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone.

xx~C.

3 responses

  1. I’m glad that you had such a great time in Arizona Court, with your other half of the family! Love Mom XOXO

  2. I think my favourite part of this is how you were transformed into Mrs. Roper, oh, and how an entire landscape could conjure up a teenage crush on Brad Pitt.
    Also, I LOVED the last close-up shot of that Opuntia Cactus!
    Brilliant tale my friend!

    • Thanks so much, Stu! Yes, it’s always so interesting what comes up when I start each post here–I had no idea I would end up writing about Brad Pitt, but there it was. xo

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