Dispatches from An Afternoon Spent Driving Across Northern Arizona

ARIZONA—Unsurprisingly, driving across northern Arizona means barreling through a scorching desert. When you step out of the car it can be windy with a chill to the air, but sitting inside, cruising along US-160 with the windows rolled up and the air conditioning off feels like you are baking in a dry sauna.



The sun beats down relentlessly.


If you’re in the market for some used tires, rusted car parts, or have an itching to see a relic that one man purports to be Dinosaur tracks, then you’ll find yourself at home here. If you like 32-ounce fountain drinks for only 99¢ (with the purchase of a meal), then this is the place for you. The vibe in Northern Arizona—if you’ve ever watched Breaking Bad and gotten an insight into the underground meth culture…seems to be just that. Yes, I know Breaking Bad took place in New Mexico, but you get the idea.


There seems to be broken glass littering the ground virtually every time you get out of the car, whether it be a gas station, a Subway, or the side of the road to take a photo. Trash abounds. The people seem desperate. There’s a clear distinction between those like me, driving through with out-of-state plates, pansying about to admire the landscape, the millions of years of ecological evolution at work in the desert, in the mountains, and in the sandstone sculptures, and those who live around here. It appears to be a place of desperation where it’s too hot to do anything productive, and there’s not much economic opportunity for people like there is in say, neighboring Colorado, which is experiencing an economic boom.


The lady parked next to me in the gas station is bumping Lil’ Mo’s “Superwoman”, featuring Fabolous. A classic song, but a scene from 2002. There’s not a car in Colorado that doesn’t have a cracked windshield this time of year from the long winter season, but it seems like it’s a similar problem in Arizona as well, and it's not due to the weather.


Cursory observations, yes, and judgmental, perhaps, but the vibe I got from my afternoon drive across Northern Arizona was that it’s not a place I care to spend much time. The people are nice enough, but there doesn’t seem to be much going on at all, and unless you truly dig the searing desert heat and cheap cigarettes, you’ll likely agree.