Northeastern Arizona is a wonderful place to experience rural living. If you’ve never considered life outside a major suburb, consider this:
Imagine going to a place with four seasons but little snow. A location flat and open, where the wind gently moves across a landscape of green scrub trees, gray sagebrush, and a thousand shades of brown and red in the ground. This is a place where you can see for miles in any direction, and the sky is as big and blue as you’ll find anywhere on Earth.
This is as rural as rural gets. No phone, no power gird, no water company. If you are lucky you may just catch a single bar cell signal on a clear day. Lack of modern comfort, however, does not mean lack of soul. Most days are spent out in the Arizona landscape where an adventurous spirit can uncover a way of life so many who are stuck in a cubicle can only dream of. A day in rural Arizona is a day of pure freedom of the storied American variety.
Imagine waking up early on a summer day in July. It’s in the low 60s and you have parked your RV in the center of your property. This parcel is 39 acres of independence; yours and yours alone. Your nearest neighbor is almost a mile away and you sit outside your home on wheels while enjoying a cup of coffee. A dawn chorus of Rock Wren calls softly from somewhere behind you.
What to do today? You have a great number of options. It’s been a couple days since you’ve driven the quick half hour trip into the town of Snowflake. Most of the people who live there are descended from the pioneers who carved the town out of the Arizona shrubland after crossing the Great Basin Desert. They are as tough and hardy as their ancestors but are surprisingly friendly. This is a town where everyone knows everyone and you are sure to be welcomed back if you decide you need a couple days’ worth of extra food or gas.
You could also decide to jump on your RV, pick a direction, and hit the accelerator. Anything could be out there and you are dying to see it all. Some of your fondest memories include the hours you’ve spent rock hounding around the Petrified Natural Forrest, and you are curious about the geology around your homestead. There are also a few critters that have wandered across your path, and you’ve had the opportunity to sell some of the pictures you’ve taken of the iconic Arizona wildlife to local publications.
As you continue to think about the possibilities, you consider how close you are to a number of tremendous hiking destinations. The Grand Canyon, Coconio National Forest, Tonto National Forest, Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, Gila National Forest, and Petrified Forest National Park are all between 1 and 3 hours away by car. You could drive out, hike for three or four hours, and be home with plenty of time before dinner. The fresh air in these national parks is invigorating and you can feel your spirits lift with excitement as you consider the wonderful sights you’d see.
As you start to decide which park you are going to visit today you stop and change your mind. There is something else quite different but just as amazing close by. And you are going to see it tonight.
You hop in your car and head north, passing through Snowflake and Holbrook. Soon you find yourself on I 40 and moving east past Sun Valley and toward New Mexico. An hour later you turn north, running parallel to the New Mexico border and keep going until you reach your destination. You are deep into the Navajo Nation Reservation and have arrived at their capital, Window Rock.
This is a small town of only 2700 people, but this is a weekday leading up to the 4th of July and there are tens of thousands of visitors here, all milling about in the low 90 degree weather. Many are on their way to experience the various 4th of July celebrations that will be ongoing soon. Everything from carnivals to road races to the PRCA Pro Rodeo is being organized, and the proud Navajo people are putting the finishing touches on the plans for a Pow Wow a few days from now.
You stop and talk to some of them as you walk through the town. They are happy to answer your questions and are proud to tell you of their heritage. These individuals point you in the direction of the rock formation the town is named after, and help you pronounce it in their native tongue: Tségháhoodzání.
As you arrive to the viewing area it is a little past noon and your stomach is rumbling. You buy a small bowl of Mutton and Sumac Berries Soup with some Frybread from a vendor. It’s hardy and leaves you feeling refreshed, much like the Navajo people themselves. As you gaze at the Window Rock, you see that Mother Nature is as great an artist as the world has ever known. The rock frames the sky like an enormous painting, and the contrast of browns and reds in the rock face with the great blue sky is an absolute wonder to behold.
You head back to your car and get ready to drive home. This was the warm up for the real event coming later this evening.
About halfway back to your homestead you stop at the Painted Desert Indian Center on I 40. You noticed on the drive to Window Rock that they were having a sale on authentic blankets and you need one for your evening’s activity. You chat with the girls behind the counter. They excitedly tell you they are planning to enter the Miss Navajo pageant and you wish them luck as they practice their skills.
You get home just as a bold sunset eases down across the western horizon. It is as beautiful as the land itself. You take a few minutes to brew yourself another coffee and prepare dinner. This last sight will be the highlight of your day.
After an hour inside your RV you spread your new Navajo blanket across the ground and lay back. Above you are millions and millions of stars all across the Milky Way. Arizona is home to some of the best night sky viewing on Earth and here you are, 50 miles away from any serious light pollution, with the whole sky to yourself. The wonder of Arizona rural living draws a huge smile to your face and you stay there long into the night, gazing upon the stars.