Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Few Reasons Why I Love Arizona

Ten years ago, in a rare entrepreneurial state of mind, I plunked down close to a thousand bucks as down payment for a 1.4-acre undeveloped lot in Kingman, Arizona. It sounded like a great investment idea at the time. I always have had a fascination with this state, even though when I made that land purchase, I had seen very little parts of the state in person. I made the purchase during one of those free tours to Laughlin, Nevada and its gambling casinos that unknown to us would be tied up with a real estate selling jaunt.

The tour organizer sweetened the deal, even providing us with $100 each to play in Laughlin's casinos. A one-night motel accommodation in Bullhead City, AZ, just across the mighty Colorado River, and free dinners were also thrown in. With those freebies given beforehand, who would have the temerity to refuse an offer to invest in a piece of undeveloped real estate in nearby Kingman? I was one of the many who took the tour organizers on their offer.

Ten years later, I am glad that I had made that fortuitous decision. We've had several offers from Arizona-based land developers to buy our parcel, which has appreciated a modest amount in value, and we have been holding off selling. The reason is that we may move to Kingman and build there after we retired. But first, I needed to get acquainted with the state. Last July, my family made that Arizona vacation a reality. After more than twenty years of residing in California, we finally embarked on a vacation in that state's most popular destination, the Grand Canyon.

In November 2006, I photographed a wedding of a Filipino-American couple in Prescott, Arizona, and on our way back to California, we decided to drive a couple of hours up to Sedona to see its fabled Red Rocks, then on up to Flagstaff, a scenic little city that reminded me with its pine tree-lined streets of a cleaner, larger and swankier version of Baguio City. We did not stop at Flagstaff even though I wanted to photograph it extensively. It was still a long haul from home in Los Angeles, a trip that I estimated would take another five to seven hours. So we continued our mad dash on State 40, passing scenic Williams, the jump-off point to the Grand Canyon, and noting the Grand Canyon Train Station as we drove by. I knew right then that we would return to Williams and make it our starting point to Grand Canyon, fifty miles to the north.

We finally realized that dream in July 2007, and as planned, we stayed in a motel in Williams. This rustic, little town is located along the famous Route 66, and its ambiance seems to have stopped in the 50s era, right down to the diners, souvenir shops, and most of all, the music. Our first stop after we had checked in was the Grand Canyon Train Station, just a five-minute hop from the main drag. There's a train depot cum museum where tourists bought tickets to the twice-a-day 2-hour round-trip runs to the Grand Canyon and back to Williams. We did not buy tickets, but we planned to take the ride in a future trip. We instead drove up the fifty plus miles to Grand Canyon early the next morning, and arrived at the south rim in a little over an hour, around past 8 a.m., and the sun was way up, and the view of the canyons was washed down by the sun's haze.

We stayed for three days around Williams, even making a 30-minute dash to Flagstaff because we had a sudden craving for a Chinese food dinner, and Williams did not have a single Chinese restaurant. We sighted several Chinese diners after making a much-needed side trip to an ice cream parlor to cool us down. Although Flagstaff was a more cosmopolitan town than Williams, the sight of a Filipino family that was nonchalantly taking the sights in their town managed to raise the curiosity levels of some of the locals. But it was not as bad as in tiny, rustic Williams. The Chinese food we had for dinner was not up to snuff, either. So all in all, that side trip to Flagstaff-- although it was a very picturesque destination-- did not leave any fond memories.

There are still a number of cities and towns in this conservative state, including my future hometown, Kingman, that are suspended in the 60s era, as far as racial tolerance is concerned. But during our drive up to Sedona, we encountered friendly old folks who pointed us to the right direction when we got lost a couple of times. I hope that if I decide to live in Arizona a few years from now, these quaint little towns would have learned to embrace diversity in their communities.

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