On the road again…we took the scenic route on our way to Prescott by starting in Wickenburg and driving Route 89 up through a series of sharp switchbacks and hills. Our small SUV lurched forward with a bit of struggle, but persevered. I regretted gulping down that extra-large coffee as my stomach swerved along with the car. The land rose along our sides so quickly that we could barely snap a photo. The sting of the sun created a whiteout on our screens, and the sweeping view had to live on in my mind alone.
Prescott was genuine small-town America. It was covered in trees wrapped in Christmas lights surrounding a few central downtown monuments, and saloon-like bars and restaurants lined the streets. We found a tiny wine bar down an alleyway with flights of local wine and live country music. It was a true hybrid of a Nashville honky-tonk and a NY wine bar, and I was here for it. Every cocktail table had a copy of Trivial Pursuit on top of it. After sampling a copious amount of wine, we dug into two oversized steaks and beers at The Palace, an 1800’s era saloon that was once a brothel. The smell and creak of old wood was like a lullaby. After a few more (than we needed) beers at “the haunted place” next door, we stumbled home and slept while looking over our shoulders for ghosts.
The drive from Prescott took us along more of Route 89, and I was more prepared for the switchbacks today. The road would snake through a mild and sunny stretch of pavement and then into the shade for just a moment, where snow was still stuck firmly on the ground. We paused for the day in the town of Jerome – a partial ghost town with a funky and artsy feel, including shops, tiny restaurants, and a bangin’ BBQ joint (Bobby D’s). It’s perched at the very top of a steep hill and you can gaze out into the infinite valleys below from almost any point in town.
We had an assignment while in Jerome. Years ago, we’d stopped here with my family and my mom met a woman named Erica who lived there. She performed a (spookily accurate) Tarot card reading for each of us and gifted us a card from a small shop she ran in town. My mom kept in touch with her over the years – two people living in completely different worlds. They’d talk about traveling, and my mom would share her photos. Before we left for Arizona, my mom shoved a homemade calendar into my bag and informed me that I needed to “hand deliver” it to Erica when we passed through Jerome. It contained her latest photos. How would I find Erica without an address, you might ask? Erica gave my mom these instructions: “find the catholic church on the hill and stand along the back side of it. Yell my name. I’ll hear you if the boiler isn’t clanking too loud”. Being a fairly secure person, I did exactly this. I stood on a quiet, rutted back street behind the old church and yelled her name into the hills. Katie pretended not to know me. 30 seconds later, she emerged. We chatted for a while about how our lives had been since the pandemic started, made the exchange, and she sent us home with homemade bracelets containing protection stones. I wore mine for the rest of the trip. I thought about her often after we left that town behind – sitting in her brightly colored house on top of a hill, in a little town so far from everything we knew. For some reason, with the closure of the world these past two years, these “differences” are more fascinating. How different are we all really, when the world can close us all in, just the same?
After a quick stop at the Tumbleweed Winery (it was one of our favorites from the tasting we did in Prescott), we were on to Sedona. The drive into Sedona felt like being surrounded by everything and nothing at all. The red rocks ahead of us were on fire – the sun flooding them with purple and orange. The mountains in the rearview were a sweet, bright blue. I could breathe these hills in forever.