A Southern Girl Takes A Southwestern Turn

It happened this year. Yes, that recently. It seems very odd to me now that it took so long and that I thought it would never transpire. I fell in love with this:

And this:

Okay, and maybe this:

Maybe it was the beautiful turquoise jewelry or the Native American ruins or the saguaro cacti or the eventual mystical draw of the Grand Canyon. But it happened. This southern girl sank roots into the harsh clay soil of Arizona. Now, I fear, it will be difficult to uproot me. It follows therefore that I will be uprooted. But when?

Understand me, though, my heart still swells to the tune of Dixieland, and I still ache a bit for Tennessee where I grew up. But I married a New Mexico man, and truth is, I've always had some tendrils tenaciously clinging to Western soil, because my nearest relatives on both sides were all in the western United States.

So...Tennessee? The Elysian Fields of my youth, the setting of the stories I tell to my children. You can't go home again.

You make a new home, as I have done. Okay, sure, I thought once upon a time that home would be in Texas. That's where Matthew and I met, after all, in the vibrant city of San Antonio. My sister Annie's there, too, and my parents are settled there at least temporarily. I got attached to the hill country in the middle of that state, and I love the small German town of Fredricksburg where Matthew and I honeymooned. Still...

Well, the spell is broken. This year the ties were snapped. No longer does the smell of Mexican food make me reminisce or the sight of a swaying palm in a parking lot make me wistful. I don't ache for the Alamo. Heck, I don't even remember it. And I no longer pine for a stroll on the River Walk. In short, I'm good - good where I am.

In Arizona.

I have new lifestyle goals because of my adopted habitat. For instance, I now believe there could be nothing better than to live in a house with a saguaro in the front yard. I yearn to travel to every major Native American ruin in the region. In fact, I no longer feel the strong itch to travel overseas; there's so much to see in my own backyard, all these National Parks here. And it's possible that I may start rereading every Zane Grey and Tony Hillerman novel ever written while wearing a dusty cowboy hat and worn jeans tucked into boots, sitting out on the stoop while I feed my loyal mare Wind-in-her-mane sugar cubes.

Yeah, that's not really my horse...

Okay, no? Too much? Well, perhaps. But I already have the hat. Matthew bought it for me on our honeymoon:
But that is my hat....howdy..uh, cowgirl!

Lately I've accomplished part of my goal by visiting some major Native American ruins, Casa Grande and Tonto Basin's lower cliff dwelling. Being as I am a generous person, I'm going to share my photos with you. If you think history and ruins of ancient civilizations is interesting, you're going to love this! If not, you'll be bored to tears.

The Casa Grande is a ruin just south of Phoenix. The Hohokam who occupied it built extensive canals and irrigation ditches across the arid Salt River Valley, more than 250 miles, in fact, and dug by hand. They were "Master Farmers" in this extremely harsh environment, and scientists believe they came from Mexico to this area around 300 B.C. Except for structures like this, few clues remain about their culture. Amazingly, some of our modern-day canals follow the path and grade of those constructed by these prehistoric engineers who had only primitive instruments at their disposal.

Unfortunately because of the work of vandals who have carved their names and other graffiti into the masonry of this ancient structure, no one is allowed to climb inside. So, if you are like me, you plaster yourself to the fence and gaze up and wonder.

The Tonto Basin cliff dwellings of the Salado people were a thrill...that is, after Matthew and I herded our kids nervously up the paved, but veeerrry steep walking path, half afraid one of them might go tumbling down the cliff into the multiple prickly cacti and pretty colored stones waiting for the yielding flesh of human beings. Wish I had taken a picture of that trail, so you would actually believe me. Also wish I had taken a picture of the cliff dwellings from the park services parking lot. That would have been beautiful...oh, well! Too bad for you. You'll just have to come to Arizona or settle for these images:

A window into the past, with a Park Ranger keeping guard.
Down a darkened hallway (with ancient roof still intact)
The black from ancient fires burning...
We actually were permitted to wander around the lower cliff dwelling. Certain rooms we could not enter in the name of preservation, but we were able to gaze closely at the blackened walls (while avoiding touching them, of course) and the ancient tools such as the mano and metate that were used for grinding corn. I craned my neck to view the surviving timber of their roofs and the notch in the cliff where they rested their ladder once upon a time, the only entrance to the community back then and an easily defensible one.

You know, these pictures do it no justice. I cannot communicate the thrill of being near these places, of setting my feet on steps weathered by the passage of hundreds of years since their construction. Nor can I explain the mystery of how or why I fell in love with Arizona. But at last the great American Southwest is in my blood, and I hear the echo of ancient voices...


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