I moved to Arizona about 5 months ago and have been settling into a new house, new work opportunities, and learning how to survive 115 degree days in the summer. It helps to keep a spare t-shirt to throw over the steering wheel when you get into a car that is hot enough to bake cookies on your dashboard. The people here are really friendly, everything is about 25% less expensive than in other cities I have lived in, and the highway system is actually staying ahead of the property developers by building many wide highways in all directions around the Phoenix Valley.
The thing that surprised me was that within a 90 minute drive, you leave the sweltering heat behind and all of a sudden you are transplanted to beautiful quaint historic towns, winding switchbacks through dense wooded areas, beautiful rivers, soaring red sandstone mountains, and cool inviting lakes. Locals who have lived in Phoenix all their lives have only been there once or twice and some say they have never even visited these areas. The towns of Prescott, Jerome, Cottonwood and Sedona are among the most unique cities I have seen, with each one known for something unique and special.
Prescott is like stepping back in Americana; a small town with a beautiful courthouse square, big enough to hold all the people that come every weekend to listen to music, eat great food, sit with their friends, and let the little kids dance in the streets which are closed off to keep everyone safe. Sedona is known for the vortexes that attract millions of visitors a year, the shops, restaurants, and the sheer, breathtaking sandstone mountains whose red, salmon, blue, and gray colors weave together for a stunning backdrop next to the beautiful turquoise sky that always defines Arizona. Cottonwood is a lovely town located in the Sedona Verde Valley and is known for its unique shops, B&B’s, local wineries, and great restaurants.
Jerome is my favorite of all of them, and reminds me of the small towns found in Italy and around the Mediterranean. This town was carved into the Cleopatra Hill, started out as a mining town and after millions of dollars of copper, silver and gold were stripped from the hills around, it slowly died into a ghost town in the 1950’s. It slowly attracted artists from around the world due to the astonishing views of Sedona Valley to the north. Now home to 500 full-time residents, it welcomes visitors from far away places and is full of artist co-op shops, coffee houses, wine and cheese shops, restaurants and breathtaking views unlike anything you’ve every seen.
I had the unique experience to see their 4th of July parade this morning complete with a ukelele marching band, the Mayberry squad car from the Andy Griffith show from the 1960’s, a children’s group weaving down the street with a Chinese Dragon costume, vintage cars filled with vintage crazy characters, an old and new firetruck, a wolf/husky/malamute dog dressed up for the parade, and my favorite, Docs Bonanza, an 18 year old horse that was truly one of the most beautiful horses I have ever seen. After stroking his face and walking along him in the parade, I realized that it was time to overcome my fear of horses and go horseback riding with friends in the weeks to come.
Somehow we go through life, planning vacations in far away places, and forget to go exploring in our own backyards. There are beautiful places tucked away all over America, filled with friendly people, homemade goodies, inexpensive jewelry made right here in the good old USA, Mom and Pop restaurants with amazing food and other small businesses just trying to make a living and stay alive. These places need our help to survive in a world of Walmart’s and McDonalds. It’s hard to believe that I didn’t see one “For Rent” sign in any of these quaint towns I have visited the past few weeks. How refreshing to see that small town America is surviving while the mall stores and chain restaurants are closing up in some parts of our country.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could somehow return to the times when everyone knew each other in small towns, kids could play in the street during times of celebrations and holidays, people would eat in the locally owned restaurants, and small town businesses actually thrived? I believe that this is already happening, as our nation hungers for the happier, simple times of our parent’s generation. We baby boomers craved the exciting times of bigger, better, faster, brighter places to live, high-paying but demanding jobs and worldly experiences when we were “growing up”. Now we like the simple things in life, especially those that are right in our own backyards.
Next weekend, go discover a place you’ve never been to that is less than a few hours away, book a room and see what it’s like to get out of the city for a step back in time. It’s so refreshing that you might just want to stay a few extra days so you can meet new friends, explore rich historical places and learn about something new.