“Easterners conditioned to view Arizona as a land of desert, cactus, sunset-colored mesas, and deep canyons are astonished at the loftiness of its peaks and the extent of its high-altitude spruce and pine forests.”
I jotted down this note this from an archaeology textbook that I no longer remember the name of. Though even through the wall of my sloppy journalism this quote reigned true:
Before entering into the mountains of Arizona, I, too, though this state was a land of deserts, sun, 110 degree heat, and cacti. I thought that I was traveling into a beautiful barren land of desert pavement, bare naked cliffs and bluffs, and a sun that exercised its might all day long.
Arizona is all of the above, but it is also a land that has peaks that sore into the sky and half of the land area is at an altitude that nothing east of the Mississippi can touch.
I entered into the Tonto Forest seven weeks ago, and was struck in the face by what I saw: Arizona is a mountainous region. I once laughed at the thought of forests in the American Southwest:
“What, so they think a forest is a few cacti and a shrub or two?” I joked. I am from a land in the Taiga Belt, I know forests. But there are forests in Arizona, too. And mountains, and peaks that rise into the sky, and true alpine areas.
Half of Arizona is in the sky.
In the East we brag of our mountains: the Appalachians. We hike in the forests and say that we are going “mountain climbing.”
But the city of Flagstaff is at an elevation that is more than 300 feet higher than the highest mountain peak in the East.
The rocky and scree laden summit of Mount Mitchell in North Carolina is at 6,684 feet.
The city streets and shopping districts of Flagstaff, Arizona is at 7,000 feet.
And from the streets of Flagstaff high mountains loom over the city that rise up over 13,000 feet in elevation.
The mountain town of Asheville, NC is at 1,985 feet of elevation, a height that can hardly even register when compared to anyplace in Arizona. The desert city of Tucson, which measures in at 2,390 feet, is scarcely even though of as being a bump on a physical map of the Southwest.
Arizona is high.
It is interesting to put places in geographic relativity to other places. It sort of allows you to see the world as more of a continuous whole. I can remember scaling the mountain heights of Whiteface in the Adirondacks of New York State. It is humbling to realize that the top of this mountain peak is lower than just about anywhere in the highlands of Arizona.
Physical Map of Arizona
Elevation Map of Arizona
Vagabond Journey series on Arizona
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