2.14.2012

ARIZONA - CELEBRATING 100 YEARS OF STATEHOOD


My grandparents came to Arizona over 75 years ago.  They came to work on the dams which would generate power, distribute water and breathe life into the sparsely populated valley.   As hard-working North Dakota farmers, they auctioned off their farm and headed west, thankful to find work.  They adapted well to the heat of summer days and the chill of the desert nights, and settled down to raise three children on a small ranch situated on the northwest fringe of the Valley.


As a young boy my father had come to know the woods, lakes, rivers and streams of Arizona.  My mother, who arrived here twenty years later from St. Louis, also loved these places and so many of our weekends were spent camping in the quiet woods.  The smell and pattering of summer rain, the sun streaming through brilliant blue skies, the whisper of the wind passing through the pines, the chirp of birds and the flutter of their wings, the skittish scampering of a newly born fawn, the smell of a campfire beneath a zillion stars – all these sights, sounds, and smells of Arizona have remained with me.  They sustain me and are the reasons why, when the population began to boom in the eighties, I moved into the smaller towns north of the Valley.   As a result, I have lived in five of Arizona’s fifteen counties.
Three hundred and ten miles wide and four hundred miles long, Arizona still intrigues me.  The remarkable differences in its terrain and temperature give me a sense of pride - as if being native to this State gives me some sort of ownership.  Perhaps that is how the lure first began:  Coronado and his Conquistadores searching for the Seven Cities of Cibola, Father Kino with his Spanish missionaries, the Mexican revolt against Spain, the United States war with Mexico, the United States War Between the States, and eventually the railroad opening up this frontier.  In summarizing, one can’t help but see how each of these events were  perpetuated by the white people who believed they could own something the Natives believed could never be possessed : Land.
What brought the white people to this region which had first been inhabited around 10,000 BC was a variety of things.  In the valley, ranchers and farmers who had learned irrigation from the  Hohokams found the land fertile and realized they could grow crops year-round.   In the forests of  Arizona the lumbermen and sheep ranchers claimed their homesteads, and while seeking their fortunes in  the various mines around the  territory, others came in droves making camp and creating new town sites.
Although it must have been treacherous transporting wagons across the mountainous terrains or the harsh valley floor, these men and women were willing to leave behind the city comforts and make the territory their home.

One hundred years has passed since Arizona entered the Union as the 48th state, and yet there is still the misunderstanding by people outside of its borders who imagine it as some treeless desert.  I personally encountered those on the eastern coast some thirty years ago who actually had no idea where Phoenix was located.  “It’s somewhere near California, right?” more than one person had asked.  Or, “Are you from Texas?  You sound like you’re from Texas.”  No.  I’ve been to Texas and we don’t drawl like a Texan.  We are unique, complex and versatile like our landscape.   An hour’s drive in nearly any direction of the state will take you from one environment to another, yet each offers its own distinct beauty and character.  Whether it’s your first visit or you’re a lifetime resident, the desert full of wildflowers in the spring, the snow covered peaks and pines, the Red Rocks, Petrified Forest, Painted Desert, the majestic Grand Canyon, the journey throughout Arizona offers some of the most breath-taking and memorable views.  Native to its beauty and protective of its image, today I celebrate Arizona’s statehood, happy to be present as its history continues to unfold.

Thanks for sharing my love of Arizona, and thanks -and Happy Birthday - to my dad who shared with me his love of this land.




Note: Photos appear from the personal collection of P. Davidson-Peters.  Shown from top to bottom: Bartlett Lake, 1969; Woody Mountain, 1990; Me and my brother camping, 1964; Northern AZ, 1970; Grand Canyon, 1993.  ©All Rights Reserved.

Additional Links of Interest:

“The Verde River: Bartlett and Horsehoe Dams” – a book by Gerard Giordano, who worked with me to interview my grandmother, and devoted nearly all of chapter seven to her recollections of living at the dams.

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