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Tour of the Southwest
Phoenix, Tucson, Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, Las Vegas
October 2004

Phoenix 1 Phoenix 2 Tucson Grand Canyon Hoover Dam
Las Vegas 1 Las Vegas 2 Las Vegas 3 Las Vegas 4

Concourse D at the Atlanta airport is being renovated. All the ceiling tiles are gone, but they left the light fixtures, still lit, dangling from wires, along with speakers, A/C ducts and all of the other odds and ends usually hidden by the suspended ceiling. It looks like some kind of art installation, a comment on the age we're living in. It matches well with the desert-camo-wearing soldiers tromping through every few minutes, all in clean, new uniforms about to ship out. I wondered if they'd take offense if I told them "good luck."
On our connection flight in Minneapolis, a girl gets on the plane, cute, maybe 22, looks like the type who's going to settle in for the flight, daydreaming about last weekend's sorority party. But as we sit on the tarmac, delayed because Airforce One is parking along side us, I can't help but overhear her cell phone conversation with her mom detailing the training exercises she's just completed - clearing an airstrip of bombs using robots, running obstacle courses, clearing land mines. Another soldier in the War on Terror, initiated by the man on the plane parked only a few yards away. Ominous omens for what I was hoping would be a serene escape from the daily news.
I shot a bird out the window but I doubt anyone noticed. 

The pilot says it's 101 degrees in Phoenix. It's all brown from the air, save for the irrigated lawns, golf courses and cemeteries. Brown, rocky hills that resemble termite mounds. A North Georgia boy like me finds it stark and ugly. It's 99 degrees when we land. But stepping off the shuttle in the rental car parking lot, I notice the effects of the much-vaunted "dry heat." In the shade it feels like the mid 80's. It doesn't feel hot. It's nice. But step into the sun and suddenly it feels like someone pressing a belt sander to your face. Holy crap, it's positively invasive. Now I know what vampires feel like! On the other hand, they don't overcompensate with A/C indoors, as they do in Atlanta. You don't have to carry a sweater with you to do your grocery shopping in the summer.

A quick drive out of the city to the burbs where our hostess lives gives us views of urban sprawl, a grid of tan buildings stretching off toward the distant hills. All the buildings look the same - tile roofs, tan stucco, squat. I only realized it a few days later when I spotted a tall, blue glass office building and it shocked me. "Wow - color!" In Atlanta such a building gets lost, but in Phoenix anything that's not a shade of khaki positively leaps out at you. We arrive at the apartment complex of our hostess and wind through the maze of brown, all closed garage doors and closed, curtained windows. It feels more like a meandering series of defensive forts than an apartment complex. The view from our hostesses' balcony looks like something sent back from the Martian rover.

Out of curiosity, I wandered out one morning and climbed that hill to get a look at what's on the other side. Check out the 360 degree view. (Note: some versions of IE Explorer may automatically resize the image. Put the cursor over the image and hold it there for a second. An orange box will show up - that's a zoom tool. Click it see the image full size, then scroll across.) On the hike, it became obvious that everything natural out there is designed to hurt soft-shelled creatures like humans. The rocks are all jagged with incredibly sharp edges and slip from underfoot at every opportunity, the plants are all thorned and/or poisonous, the same goes for the animals. And SW wonders why I don't want to live in the desert?

Phoenix 1 Phoenix 2 Tucson Grand Canyon Hoover Dam
Las Vegas 1 Las Vegas 2 Las Vegas 3 Las Vegas 4

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