Stetsons and Horseshoes and Longhorns, Oh My! Day 1 in Arizona
Adventure numero dozen or so this year has taken me cross-country today. Today may not have been my best travel day "(being barked at by TSA to throw away my peanut butter, on five hours of sleep - believe it or not - is not my favorite thing…my roommates watch me propose to my hallowed jar of peanut butter every day when I come home from work). However, given my destination this weekend, it was still worth it.
My first thought stepping off the plane at PHX was WOWwww it is hot. Nothing like a toasty 101 degrees to greet a newcomer from the East Coast.
After dropping off my stuff and showering, I surveyed my surroundings with approval: this Airbnb is dope, and actually lives up to its pictures. There are two horses that live on the property, just outside my front porch: Willie and Tiki. They are sweet and always down for a pat when I pass by. Around the corner on the side porch, I have a vast expanse of a view of the plains and mountains - when I open the curtains, I can also enjoy this view from my bed.
Kris, my host, left me great amenities: bottled water in the fridge, coffee grounds and creamer next to the coffee machine, tons of travel guides, even lotions from a local business down the road that sells goat’s milk products, among other things.
A few hours later I headed into town for a Friday night must: a bar with bull riding AND square dancing.
As we speak, I’m seated in the back patio at Buffalo Chip’s Saloon, a honkey tonk type establishment only 9 minutes’ drive down the road. I spent the afternoon petting the horses (we literally “got the horses in the back…” I’m not sorry), napping, practicing sunset photography, and posting content for Exhibit A. Now I’m in the midst of a huge crowd of townies: couples, families, and gaggles of youths clutching pitchers of beer, dudes literally wearing massive cowboy hats, watching folks both hop on and fly off the mechanical bull, and waiting for the actual bull ride show to start around the corner. Waitresses are wearing cutoff shorts, lace garters, and cowboy boots.
After downing a burger, I grabbed my Corona and walked over to the bullpen to watch the first round of bull riding. Having seen this in movies and cartoons my whole life, it’s hard to believe that people actually do this in real life…so naturally, my mouth was on the ground as I watched the first rider come bouncing out the gate on a wildly rowdy bull, and I swear the guy got stepped on (or rather, stomped on), too (after a spill like that how do they get back up??) Riders as young as eight and ten even competed, assigned to younger and seemingly tamer bulls (with less in life to be angry about, I suppose, than a more seasoned, grumpy, cantankerous bull?)
Wanting to be up early the next morning, I left after the first bull ride round, not without stopping on my way out to watch the live cowboy band (clad in jeans, boots, and massive Stetsons) and square dancers inside.
The stuff that I’d only thought wild western movies were made of is very much a thing out here.
Now it’s the next morning, and I woke up right before sunrise, about 5:57 am. I’ve spent all morning sitting outside, watching the sun peek over the mountain line and cacti, behind the horse pen. The sunrise directly faces the front of the house, a porch swing in place for the perfect view.
As the shadows shifted and birds gradually started chirping, other wildlife have started creeping out of their sleeping spots. As I sip my coffee, here’s what I’ve watched flit/scamper/drift/flutter by since arriving:
hummingbirds (up to four of them at once, all squabbling for a spot at the nectar feeder)
desert cottontail rabbits
Gambel’s quail (they run across the ground head first like road runners…or turkeys)
lizards (every size...no Gila monsters yet, though)
exactly one tarantula
Many of these (except the tarantula, so help me God - that guy was at the bar last night) have come right up to the house, sometimes with me seated outside on the porch. I peeked out once to see a chipmunk having half-buried itself in the dirt of a flowerpot, freezing when he saw me, then bolting so fast that a spray of dirt followed him, as though mortified I’d caught him naked during his dirt bath.
One of many misconceptions I’ve had about the desert is that it can barely sustain life. Harsh conditions and ruthless lack of resources (like, say, water?) seem to render it impossible for anything to survive here, let alone thrive.
But I’m seeing now that is simply not the case. Unforgiving as it may seem, there is a tremendous amount of natural activity here. In addition to all the critters calling this their home, plenty of flora and fauna do, too. For instance, cacti, unassuming from a distance, and fiercely prickly up close, actually serve several purposes in their role in the food chain. In fact, they hold a substantial amount of water, house nests for several bird species, and many of them bear both flowers and fruit, feeding surrounding wildlife of all sizes. Saguaros, the mammoth cylindrical guys I see everywhere here, grow very slowly but boast surprising lifespans - they don’t reach “maturity” until about 150 years.
Also these things are e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e here. They’re like Arizona’s dandelions!
To wrap up all the thoughts in a nice little bow, I’m glad I came here. I wanted to shatter some preconceived notions about what I’d think of a place like this, and was humbled right away. This feral novelty of an environment is incredible, new, and opening my eyes in a lot of ways. Beauty really can mean a great number of different things.
As I wrap up this post, I’ve watched my second sunset dip and fade behind the neighboring horses and cactus tips, as a blanket of stars rolls out for me in the desert sky. Tomorrow, I’m off to Sedona with an early start. Stay tuned and thanks for reading!