I live for road trips. When my boyfriend was booked to photograph a wedding in Scottsdale and he asked me to be his second shooter, my first reaction was “When?”
Desert drives are something special to us. We do a lot of it. We’ve spent Halloween in the Grand Canyon. We’ve off-roaded in Death Valley. We’ve gone for a joyride on Pismo Beach. We’ve driven up and down Highway 395 countless times. (In fact, our very first date was a week-long road trip, snowboarding and exploring 395 from NorCal all the way down to SoCal… and we didn’t pull each other’s hair out. Or put each other to sleep. That’s when you know it was meant to be!)
The post-wedding plan was flexible. There was no plan, actually. Once our memory cards were full and the last piece of cake eaten, we lounged in our hotel room, searching for fun things to see and do. A friend on Facebook recommended a stop in Prescott. The boyfriend found a few climbing spots on Mountain Project. We had packed our camping and climbing gear in the car, just in case. We discovered something called Arcosanti in between all that. Okay, that all seemed like a good plan.
The drive from Scottsdale to Prescott was incredibly charming. I felt like I was on an episode of American Pickers… I’d see abandoned service stations with vintage signs that I considered stealing and strapping to the roof of our car.
Once we pulled into Prescott, I was beside myself… rows and rows of antique shops, a street full of swinging-door saloons. Since moving into our new house, we’ve become flea market fanatics, and thus any resource for rustic one-of-a-kind finds makes me giddy.
We stayed off the main square in a highly-rated-on-Yelp motel called The Motor Lodge. One of our road trip traditions is to stay in random roadside motels, characterized by vintage and/or neon signs, the quirkier or the more letters missing, the better. We’ve found it adds to the local flavor!
We dropped into the lobby fairly late, no reservations, and it was obvious we’d awakened the owner. Still half-asleep, he handed us two Heinekens and directed us to the cabin across the driveway, keys inside, fill out paperwork tomorrow. So far, so good.
When we entered the room… we knew we’d scored. It was a treasure trove of mid-century modern furniture, kitschy knickknacks, and cheerful patterned linens. A flea market fanatic’s dream. I seriously considered making an offer on the 1960s-era desk inside our room.
On top of that, the hospitality was simply delightful. In the morning, we indulged in freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies and an hour-long conversation with the sweet guy who ran the place. The Motor Lodge deserves every single five-star review it received!
We continued on the road to Granite Dells, a scenic outcropping of rock formations that we’d seen on the cover of a tourist magazine in our room. We were just looking for a nice place to have a picnic lunch. We definitely were not expecting hundreds of granite boulders rising out of the deep blue reservoir of Watson Lake, some stacked on top of each other like Jenga blocks.
We spotted toprope anchors on several highballs, and imagined kayaking into the crag across the lake, doing a boat belay. I foresee a Granite Dells climbing adventure in our future.
Next stop: Jacks Canyon, a sport climbing crag in Coconino National Forest, just south of Sedona. The drive took us through an array of colorful fall foliage, a real treat since it’s something we don’t get to see at home.
We arrived late at the campground, parked in what we hoped was an actual campsite, set up our tent in the dark, and passed out. In the morning, after caffeinating with a cup of Vina Cafe (the finest Vietnamese instant coffee), we set out on foot.
The canyon rim was a short walk away, and nothing short of impressive. Towering walls of limestone-mixed rock bursting with fall foliage, trails leading every which way, over 300 routes bolted in the gorge. You could spend all season climbing Jacks and still discover something new.
In homage to my hometown, we warmed up on the classic “Mickey Goes to Vegas” (5.9) on the Casino Cliffs wall. With quality, grippy rock; fun, straightforward routes; sunny weather in the 60s; hardly anyone else around — it was all the ingredients for a perfect climbing day.
We made one final detour on our last day to Arcosanti, an arcology prototype in the middle of the Arizona high desert. Imagine Burning Man without all the money, without all the people, going on for 40 years… and you’d have Arcosanti.
The concept of arcology — architecture interconnected with ecology — was designed by Italian architect Paolo Soleri, who became disillusioned with the lack of social and environmental sustainability of the modern suburban sprawl. In his alternative solution, urban dwellers would live, work, and socialize in a self-sustaining compact city, while maintaining the open space surrounding it.
Today’s typical city devotes over 60% of its land to roads and driveways. In Arcosanti, the automobile would be eliminated, connecting its inhabitants with their community. If and when Arcosanti is ever completed, it will house 5,000 people in only 25 acres, on a 4,000-acre open land preserve.
For whatever reason, Soleri has never sought commercial funding for his project. All construction has been a volunteer effort to date by students and supporters, and materials have either been donated, or offset by sales of Soleri-designed windbells and sculptures. Much of this experimental city is not yet completed, with only a few apartments, community spaces, and metal and pottery workshops constructed.
We toured a couple of the lofty, industrial apartments. In its construction phase, you could live in Arcosanti for only $400 a month, all utilities included. At any given time around 50 people live and work in Arcosanti, earning minimum wage no matter what their role in the community. Some manage the retail operations of the visitors’ center, while others build and maintain infrastructure.
I love the concept of an arcology. I grew up in the antithesis of such a city. While I’ve moved past the phase of living in highrises, I do like the idea of becoming self-sufficient, sustainable, and more connected with your community.
And Arcosanti is not alone. Currently, a fully sustainable, solar-powered, zero-waste, zero-carbon arcology called Masdar is being built in Abu Dhabi. With all that UAE money going into the project, I’m sure it will finish long before Arcosanti ever does.