First-time visitors to Arizona's Grand Canyon or Petrified Forest will leave the area appreciating nature's handiwork in its most dramatic forms. The state's sweeping red landscapes have made it an important destination for, tourists, settlers and passers … see full wiki
Pros: Offers some spectacular things for the "natural beauty" buff
Cons: Route 66 in complete disrepair, desperate poverty, time-warp issues
Actual Arizonans should probably stop reading now. Or, at least, when you hit "not recommended," have the fortitude to leave a comment about just why Arizona is all that and a bag of chips. This also applies mostly to small-town issues, so Phonecians might keep reading; I don't know.
On my last drive through Arizona I started writing a really great essay on rural poverty, which I liked so much I figured I might try to polish it off and publish it eventually.
That is not the sort of thing first-world travel is supposed to inspire.
Yes, the poverty was appalling. I went through several pseudo-towns with the "garden shed built by a drunk person and made with materials stolen from a demolition site" school of home architecture. The "industry" in these places is sort of chilling: the sense of having simply given up pervades, and suddenly, the "Wal-Marting" of America seems like a good thing. Granted, snotty me is partially irked at these areas for ruining my ideals of genuinely rural life, but I am mostly just left feeling cold and wretched that such extreme poverty exists. (Not that Arizona has that area sewn up; New Mexico boasts a conspiracy theorist's wet dream of a billboard, announcing "NEW MEXICO: NUMBER ONE IN POVERTY, NUMBER ONE IN NUCLEAR WEAPONS. COINCIDENCE???")
The other main objection is that the tourist traps stink. Major parts of the should-be-brilliant Route 66 are in disgusting disrepair: the legendary motels are now boarded-up condemned buildings, and the only things that suggest anything of the legend that is 66 are the scrappy little stores selling tacky "I got my kicks on Route 66!" souvenirs.
For the record, I found something worse: I managed to get a mug reading "Kingman, Arizona; 30 Miles From Water; 2 Feet From Hell; Howdy From the Middle of Nowhere." Kingman is a depressing city, having a strangely high number of strangely visible penal institutions and a main attraction of an old-style Dairy Queen. We loved the DQ: huge, not a single staff member who looked to be over 18, fake wood panelling, booths, bustling on a Friday night, full of kids in pyjamas. Yes, that is damning with faint praise. We were also irked by the lack of places to stay that weren't either chain motels or two-years-away-from-being-boarded-up once-lovely slums; Kingman is not a happy part of the Route 66 experience.
We had a marginally better time in Flagstaff. Marginally.
The most disturbing aspect of my Arizona experiences have been the people, who seem curiously unaware that they might be surrounded by other states, let alone an entire country. Meals are regularly interrupted by some of the rudest people we've ever encountered; I came back to California actually pleased with its utterly absurd no-smoking laws. Small-town Arizonans have, thankfully, not affected the tacky overblown Los Angeles look (for example), but they seem to shop at the LA Goodwill stores: every bad 80s fashion -- think what "Dynasty" characters might have worn in a poorer and more casual show -- is going strong. We ended up looking freakish and obviously "foreign," what with our non-skin-tight pants and normal shoes. This is cruel, yes, but if you go through entire cities that seem to be stuck in the same time warp, you will come out with a similarly warped view.
Rather foolishly, I tried to slog through a lot of the local papers. There is an "Arizona Republic" columnist whose sheer existence says terrible things about Arizona. Sane AZ residents probably already know who I'm talking about. My favourite of his columns that I ran across went drivelling on about how a rap group (Cypress Hill?) was going to play in his city, and, stars above, these so-called musicians had been heard to approve of marijuana use.
Of all the terrible sins!
This was a rather weird thing to be so excited about. He went on, unfortunately. His point: he was absolutely incensed that the band's "advocacy" (he was sure that they would "partake" of marijuana before, after, and probably even during! the performance) did not mean that the police were automatically allowed to search them and seize their belongings. I am not making that up: the "Arizona Republic" newspaper's idea of the much-beloved American freedom is the right to be searched if you express disagreement with a law.
It got worse.
I actually lost sleep over the rest of the column, because he managed to segue that bizarre point into an argument about how it was unfair that police could not pull over people who appeared to be Mexican and happened to be driving near the US-Mexico border to check if they were illegal immigrants. They want to stop illegal immigrants, right? Illegal immigrants come from Mexico, right? They must look like Mexicans, and no doubt they hover around the border in cars!
It was sort of like what you'd expect a five-year-old who had KKK members for parents to write. Yes, I realize this is supposed to be about Arizona and not its remarkably subliterate papers, but the literature was far too telling. My out-and-out favourite was a classified ad (I think in the "Kingman Miner") offering an ancient pick-up truck as a "lawn decoration."
I have toyed with the idea of a serious weekend trip to Sedona. I've looked into it, and dismissed it in a hurry: it is not much to look at, and the tourist-trap aspects are heinous, and the fake "new age" schtick is some of the worst quackery going.
There is a cruel bias here in that "natural beauty" bores me about seventy-five per cent of the time, and I can think of few more sleep-inducing sights than the Grand Canyon. I understand that this is not a popular viewpoint, but Arizona's major selling point seems to be its Scenic Spots and Beautiful Natural Whatevers, and people who find large chunks of rocks tedious are going to find most Arizona tourism tedious, period.
I also, by accident and design, haven't been to Phoenix or Tuscon. These might indeed be fine places to live in or visit, but I see too many similarities to Santa Fe and Albuquerque, to the point where I am left with a feeling that Phoenix and Tuscon would provoke some very tiring déja vu.
Stand on the corner in Winslow for a picture, and keep driving.