Slower Pace or Bust: A Southwest Road Trip
We left Los Angeles in the afternoon and drove south, breathing a sigh of relief as we hit the long stretch of highway to Arizona, watching the city fade away in the rear view of our van. The feeling of the American Southwest always hits us right in the soul, maybe it's the pastel colors stretching as far as the eye can see or the way the horizon melts into the sky at dusk. We were happy to be back on the road. The Three Amigos, our little ragtag fam on yet another adventure. Two traveling photographer cousins and Adrian, the skilled chef and knife maker — we make a good team.
Montezuma Castle and Navajo Land
We found our way to our first stop: South Yavapai County, across Navajo land, down the winding dusty roads of the Verde Valley to the bluff that looks over Beaver Creek river basin where Montezuma Castle lies. Someone was playing a native flute in the distance as we wandered down the quiet trail, making us feel transported to a time long ago. We looked up at the well-preserved homestead carved high into the cliff for a while — a relic from the once-thriving hunter-gatherer Sinaguan People. No one knows why the Sinaguan left, but many believe it was due to overpopulation and the depletion of resources. Just as we lifted our cameras to take another photo, a herd of selfie-taking tourists arrived, signaling us that it was time to head out.
Devil's Bridge Hike
The rest of the day was spent exploring Sedona and we saved our hike to Devil's Bridge for last. It's only 4.2 miles roundtrip, and we had our fingers crossed for a good sunset. We pulled up to the trailhead in the van, grabbed our packs and hit the dirt. We were in awe of the stunning beauty in every direction, stopping every few minutes to shoot photos and videos. Time seemed to stand still in the evening glow but a big, dark cloud grew in the horizon and we realized we were cutting it close to not only sunset but a potential storm approaching.
We picked up the pace on the now empty trail. Little drops of rain started to hit our faces as the sun dipped beneath the mountains. We considered turning back but we pressed on, a little high off a good challenge. When we finally reached the bridge, we were out of breath from the hustle up and tried to protect our cameras from the sudden onslaught of pouring rain. Despite all this, to be the only souls at such an iconic location was a treasure. With the solitude enhancing the striking scene, we sat in silence and then let out wolf howls at the top of our lungs. We had earned the moment and let ourselves have it.
Soon we were reluctantly pulled away by good sense. It was nearly dark by then, and we were already cold and wet. Carefully, we maneuvered the slick rocks and started a jog back. It was pitch black when we made it back to the van and we were relieved to put on dry clothes. Over a round of beers and questionable dive bar grub, we celebrated our small victory and made fun of ourselves for cutting it so close. Another favorite memory for us to share together, a future old story. Our fathers raised us with wild tales of their adventures together. Maybe that is why we didn't turn back.
It was biting cold when we reached our next stop after a solid night’s sleep in the van, the Petrified Forest National Park. Wind was howling across the high desert prairie as we found ourselves in a strange and mystical land called the Crystal Forest; a stark landscape dotted with thousands of technicolor petrified logs that once held amethyst and quartz crystals, surrounded by deep blue badlands. We tried to imagine the many centuries of people who have also marveled at this strange place — pioneer homesteaders, Navajo and Apache alike. We traced our fingers along the smooth, ancient fossilized trees and ran around the dreamlike landscape of the Blue Mesa like wild animals until we were kicked out by park rangers at closing time.
Wupatki National Monument
Our last day was one for the books. The Wukoki Pueblo caught our eye in the distance as we rolled into Wupatki National Monument. The Pueblo is reminiscent of castle ruins, built on top of elevated sandstone, towering above vast prairie land. We wandered in and explored the roofless dwelling, ducking through the short doorways that led to a room with tall walls and a small window. We laid our backs on the cool, dirt floor and looked up towards the moon that was now visible against the blue sky. In the quiet of that moment, we could hear birds singing and wind whipping through the little window as rain clouds moved towards us in the distance. Maybe that electric feeling was just as it had been long ago - connecting us to the past, but everything else had changed.
Each sacred place we visited reminded us to slow down and remember to have reverence for this earth and life itself.
Perhaps the room used to be someone's bedroom and they looked out that same window, saw the same unchanging prairie with the same sensation of wind on their face and a growing storm in the air. Now there were three strangers in their home, taking pictures for a shoe company and a magazine. Photos destined for social media and hashtags. Life is strange. We weren't sure how to feel. We took our time appreciating the pueblo and wondered about the lives of the people of Wukoki. When the rain finally reached us again, we headed back to the van in thoughtful silence. We ended the trip the best way we know how — with an extra large pizza box on our laps, blaring Zeppelin as we headed back to the city, this time with a few more stories to tell.
Creating balance in our modern world will only happen with intention.
Life is in constant flux. It ebbs and it flows but one thing for sure is that preservation is a practice. Without it, we wouldn't have protected landscapes to renew our connection to these reminders of life in the past. Reminders that reveal a delicate balance of the fragility and resilience of life. Today, society is built on convenience no matter the cost. We consume, we pollute, we lose touch with nature, humanity, and the lessons we can learn from those before us. Throughout the trip we found ourselves leaving our phones in the van, wanting to disconnect from modern day life. Each sacred place we visited reminded us to slow down and remember to have reverence for this earth and life itself.
Our return to L.A. was met with traffic, smog and the usual chaotic energy of the city. Our renewed perspectives and peaceful moods were quickly challenged, reminding us that creating balance in our modern world will only happen with intention and a collective awareness.