Jerome and Sedona - 2 days after the Grand Canyon© 2003
My first sight of the Grand Canyon was a revelation, a matchless mind blowing moment of breathtaking behemoth beauty. Conversely, our trip to Jerome and Sedona two days later was a slow build up to the, to me at least, unknown.
With the Grand Canyon I had a pretty good idea what to expect visually. All I knew about Jerome was that Winston Churchill's Mother was born there. So what? In my mind's eye I visualised a pretty town punctuated with pristine tea parlours and poetry readings. As you know, I am never wrong, but boy was I wrong!
We drove across the arid Arizona desert for what seemed like hours, but was in fact only about 40 minutes. In the distance I could see a range of low hills, misty blue at first, then slowly deepening in hue until I could see they were sand coloured on the top and punctuated with pine trees on their lower slopes. I turned to Chet and said that we had hills of this height, especially in the Cotswolds where I was brought up and the Malverns where I had my antique shop. I guessed they were 1200-1500 feet high. Me wrong? Never! As we neared them they grew ominously higher, but still unspectacular. The gentle climb to the base and beyond was so deceptive that I was caught unawares by the 4000 feet level sign. Yikes! That's high. Well higher than anything we have at home. The views were spectacular, deep gullies and towering slopes alternating with every bend. And there were plenty of bends! My camera was hot with the action of a shot every 5 seconds or so and my finger started to blister with the effort. I may never pass this way again, and dare not miss one instant.
Looking behind us I could see the road, a slender ribbon of pale grey far beneath us and frantically tried to capture that too, but was constantly thwarted by the safety fence and the trees that guarded the precipice edges. So I wrapped the strap round my wrist, VERY firmly grasped the camera, opened the window and stuck it as high as I could facing backwards and shot. It worked! More by luck than judgement but it worked! David Bailey may be looking for another job soon. Sorry, back to the task in hand. The climb seemed to go on for ever, passing the 4500 feet mark then the 5000, 5500 and the 6000. When would it end? Finally at 6200 feet we came to a pull in and guess what? We pulled in!
The view from there was so unexpected I forgot my love affair with the Grand Canyon in an instant. I was swept off my feet by the most incredible sight of towering mountains to the left and right framing what seemed to be an endless plain stretching almost further than the eye could see over a mile below. At the very bottom was the town of Jerome, a 19th century mining town that was once the copper mining centre of Arizona and the fifth biggest town in the state. Jerome was the talk of the Territory, boomtown of its time, darling of promoters and investors. The mines were nourished and exploited by financiers who brought billions of dollars of copper, gold and silver, from its depths. Changing times in the Territory saw pack burros, mule drawn freight wagons, and horses replaced by steam engines, autos and trucks. Fires ravaged the clapboard town again and again. Landslides destroyed whole sections of it. Jerome was always rebuilt. Dependent on the ups and downs of copper prices, labor unrest, depressions and wars, Jerome's mines finally closed in 1953. Its population went from 16000 at its peak in the 30's to 50 by 1953.
From boom to bust, from great to ghost. Now it is attracting tourists, artists, artisans, musicians, historians, and families. They form a peaceful, colorful, thriving community built on a rich foundation of history and lore. (I nicked teeny-weeny bits of that very last bit from the Internet, but hell, what's a computer for?) Pictures were duly taken at the top of Mum, Chet and me (do try to look past me to the valley below!) then we started the steep descent to the town itself. It looked exactly as if it came from a cowboy novel (no I do NOT read them, but am assuming! Honest.) with rustic wooden buildings clinging precariously to the rough-hewn rocks of the mountainside.
Constantly aware at every turn of the overshadowing boulders and the plain far below, we explored the few buildings, shops and ice cream parlours that were left. I then spotted a sign above an erudite green painted building that proclaimed it was the Spirit Room. As I am not averse to a little alternative culture, and intrigued to see how the Americans read palms, probed the Shakras or told fortunes, I persuaded Mum and Chet to enter with me.
We walked into a smoke filled room invaded by loud rock music and faced with a long bar in front, a pool table in the middle, and brightly coloured but well executed murals. One mural extolled the virtues of the 19th century ladies of the night whilst the other consisted of a dozen can-can girls doing what only they can can! Ah well, no fortunes told here, but we had a drink and a game of pool anyway!
By now I was used to the look on peoples' faces as I knocked balls in with one hand so pretended I was an old hand at it. We left Jerome at 5.30 and Chet decided to take me to Sedona. I asked him what was at Sedona and he drawled in his inimitable manner "Just red rocks". As I could get no more from him I decided to be patient. And patience drew its reward!
We dropped even further down the escarpment to a long valley floor that was bounded on two sides by red and brown rock cliffs several thousand feet high and it felt like being INSIDE the Grand Canyon. Eery.
As we neared Sedona, small outcrops of rock became apparent at various locations. Again, the closer we got to them the bigger they got! And the redness was striking. They rose several hundred feet into the pale blue desert sky but appeared more dominant because of the abruptness of their base. Again smoke was rising from both my cameras, as every time we changed direction a new tower of red rock would appear. We then went through Sedona and rose gently when Chet pulled off the beaten track to approach one of the larger apparitions. The feeling of spirituality was strong here, with, I am sure, generations of Native Americans endowing these inert masses with a soul. If they could speak, I am sure it would have been with a very deep, reverberating voice.
We rounded a bend and came across a Roman Catholic Church perched incongruously high above us on a mound of rock, yet blending perfectly with its surroundings. Then homeward bound, by now a 90-minute journey. As we begrudgingly left the area, we could see the stunning scarlet silent sentinels of Sedonas spiritual sanctuary recede slowly in the distance.
Me on the edge of a canyon somewhere between Rimrock and Phoenix!