A lone rider soaks in the beautiful terrain of Monument Valley in Arizona.

Lifting Your Spirits Amongst Arizona's

Deserts & Rocks

Special to the Journal

Arizona is about mountains, rocks and desert. A certain amount of peacefulness exists in such places as the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelly. Phoenix covers up much of this tranquil landscape with a maze of roadways, 200+golf courses and glitzy resorts. Saguaro (sa-war-oe) cacti stand like soldiers and jut out of sandy, brush landscape much like the many shopping malls in The Valley of the Sun. If you are golfed and resorted out, check out some of Phoenix's other attractions, then head north to the rocks.

Phoenix's Desert Botanical Garden feels more like a place to meditate than a walk in the park. Seldom crowded, the cacti and other Sonoran desert plant scene oozes with solitude and serenity.

Like the rocks in Monument Valley, Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West in Scottsdale grows out of the arid landscape. When Wright came to Arizona in 1937, he wanted to merge his architectural skills with the desert and use materials from the environment. A more commercial example of this idea is the Arizona Biltmore. Though designed by his student, Albert Chase McArthur, the grand dame of Phoenix hotels reflects Wright's principals. The low buildings and numerous gardens are a perfect fit with the environment.

The "Biltmore Blocks" are one of the most unique features. They were crafted from natural materials, many etched with a geometric palm tree.

Old landscape is underscored at Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park. One feels a kind of spirituality when walking the deserted, 1/3-mile trail of ruins, mounds and ball court. Until it faded in the 15th century, it was the home of the Hohokam. They were the guys who built the largest canal system in the New World and made Phoenix a viable place to live.

Native cultures are the focus at the Heard Museum, a Phoenix gem. Part of the colorful, indigenous evolution Art Fence is made out of glass. Some of it looks like it could have been inspired by Dale Chihuly. From soil to sky and from dark to bright colors to deep blue, the posts represent the landscape. The focus of the Heard is native peoples ‹Hopis, Pueblo, Navajo. Spending time here gives one a better understanding of them and how they survived in the desert.

The rocks, desert and mountains in northern Arizona have their own story to tell. Most are Indian lands. The Grand Canyon was the home to ancient cultures like extinct Desert Culture and Cohonina Indians. They lived among the shale, granite, schists, limestone and sandstone that have coquettishly masked the enormous turbulence of climatic changes, volcanic activity, erosions plus tremendous heat and pressure from the earth's core that sculpted the huge chasm.

When John Wesley Powell explored the river in the late 19th century, others followed. Today, tourists flock to the edges of this deep ocean of rocks or hover over it in a helicopter to catch a better glimpse of this huge hole in the earth. The newest way to see it is on the Grand Canyon Skywalk. The structure stretches 65 feet out and 4,000 feet above the canyon floor. This canyon is photographed more than Paris Hilton.

The Colorado, which snakes through the bottom of the giant chasm, was harnessed by the Hoover and Glen Canyon Dams. The deep blue water of Lake Powell, a by-product of Glen Canyon Dam, is a stunning contrast the red-rocked cliffs that surround it. Many people rent houseboats and spend days exploring its coves and canyons.

There are more rock stars at Canyon de Chelly (pronounced Shay). Windblown sand and desert dust give the colorful rocks a smooth, shiny surface. It is as if these formations are wearing make-up. It is really desert varnish. Stony reds are accessorized by emerald-leafed cottonwood trees.

Ancient peoples have adorned the rock faces with petroglyphs and pictographs. Handprints, circles (13 to signify the universe), animals and even swastikas ‹ Indian symbols of the wheel of life and the four winds ‹ are easily visible. The Navajos built lofty living pads on the faces of the canyon. Still visible are hand and foot holds that lead to these early condos.

Canyon de Chelly's Navajo Fortress Rock is revered by the Navajo. Like Masada in Israel, it was a hideout from the enemy. In 1540, the Spanish came to enslave them and in 1863, Kit Carson was to resettle them in Fort Sumner. The Treaty of 1868 gave the canyon back to the Navajo.

"Respect the ruins. They are like your mother. Desert varnish is the tears," says Navajo guide David Bia.

Reverence is a given at Monument Valley. Window Rock, the 200-foot-tall sandstone formation with the huge hole at the top, is the capital of the Navajo Nation. But you don't have to be a Navajo to be in awe of it. Erupting from the ground into lofty pinnacles, towering buttes and rippling sand dunes, Monument Valley is a profusion of golds, burnt oranges and reds. Some buttes look like a twirling dancer's skirt.

Places in the valley like Eagle Mesa, Castle Butte and John Ford Point are easily recognizable. These famous rocks have been featured in so many movies ń "Stagecoach", "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon", "My Darling Clementine", "Thelma and Louise", and "Mission Impossible"‹ to name a few. One can drive through the valley or view it in an open tourist truck. The tourist truck leaves you dusty, but who cares about a little grit when the view knocks your socks off? In fact, most of Arizona's mountains, rocks and desert will do that plus give you a new respect for Mother Nature's creations.


Arizona Office of Tourism, tel: (602) 364-3697; website:

One of the best ways to explore Northern Arizona is either with a private of group guided tour with Detours, tel: (866) 438-6877; website:

Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau, tel: (877) 225 5749 or (602) 254-6500; website:

Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, tel: (800) 782-1117; website: