Finding open space, and solitude in the modern Phoenix area
I collect old photos of Phoenix, and one of the most common things that I see people say is how nice it must have been back then when there was so much open space, and solitude. And when I tell them that there's still a lot of it, right nearby, they don't even hear me. I suppose they think that I have quite an imagination.
But it doesn't take any wild imagination to see open spaces and solitude in the modern Phoenix area. You don't need a time machine, and you don't have to travel for hundreds of miles. Just exit the freeway to Saddle Mountain, which is south of the 1-10, near Tonopah (which is near Buckeye).
I went there with a friend of mine last year and when we got out of the truck to eat lunch, the silence was amazing. The freeway was still in sight, but we were standing in a place that has that special kind of desert quiet. If you've never heard it, I feel sorry for you. Once you have, it becomes an addiction to hear it again. Or to not hear it, if you see what I mean.
I've sought out places like this all of my life, beginning in Los Angeles. I didn't have the budget, or the time, to travel a long way, so I found them right nearby. And it's always been the same - when I tell people about them, they just roll their eyes. They know that I couldn't have possibly been to these places, as they had to be hundreds of miles away, or have been gone for a long time.
If you know these places, you know what I mean. If not, I understand. Most of the people I know keep themselves continually busy with work, and errands, and live in a world that couldn't possibly be one of open space, and solitude. Open space and solitude is just an annoying time and space that needs to be crossed as quickly as possible. When people always ask me how long it took for me to drive from Los Angeles to Phoenix, and when I tell them that my best record was four days, they just think I'm crazy. Maybe I am. I wish it could have been five days, but I got in a hurry towards the end.
The most important thing to know about open spaces and solitude is that there's nothing to see there. So if you're looking for a gift shop, or a sign that points out "scenic view", you'll be frustrated. You may see places where the ground shows signs of people hiking, or maybe indications that horses have been there. And that means that you just need to keep moving.
As I stood on the foothills of Saddle Mountain, I time-traveled back to a time when standing on the foothills of Camelback Mountain looked the same - wide open spaces and solitude. And I imagined that someone would be tugging at my sleeve and asking if we could go somewhere, as they could see the little city of Phoenix way out there in the distance. It always happens, and I know that it's time for me to return to freeways, doughnut shops, and cell phone coverage.
Image at the top of this post: Saddle Mountain in 1939, and in 2016.
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Posted by Brad Hall