I never expected to like the desert. It is the opposite of everything I know and love: lakes, green grass, trees, rolling hills, and a summer that is truly paradise. Upon arrival in Arizona I was underwhelmed. I had just driven across the country. Aspen, CO stunned. Moab, UT was otherworldly. And in comparison the Valley of the Sun was pretty brown and underwhelming. Granted, the cacti are cool, but once you get stuck a few too many times while hiking, even that novelty can fade.
But the desert is dynamic. This winter was unseasonably cold and this summer is already setting heat records. The wildflower blooms have come and gone. Springtime smelled of citrus and summer smells of dust. As I drive north, I look ahead of me to see the McDowell Mountains, soft triangles covered in green. To my right are the Superstitions, dramatically rising out of the flat earth orange and gold and slightly martian. To the South, the living desert turns into a dead one, with tumbleweeds galore all the way to Tucson. And then the glorious expanse of Mt. Lemmon and that one road up to Summerhaven. To the North, you go up and up and up and the cacti turn into the most beautiful pines all the way to the Grand Canyon, which is so stunning it seems fake.
Arizona was the last state in the contiguous 48 and the last place I expected to enjoy. Its austerity can be overwhelming at times, but so can its diverse beauty. Every corner of the state has its own very distinct marvels. Even though Arizona won’t be a forever home for me, it is a great home for now.