Tuesday, March 31, 2015


I arrived in Flagstaff to 15 inches of fresh snow. This was taken a few days later.

After periodically searching for jobs in the west over the last few years, I finally landed something good in Flagstaff, Arizona. My job search had included several urban centers around the west and at some point I added Flagstaff to the list. Flagstaff has everything I have been looking for: high altitude, dry air, big mountains, grasslands, and evergreen forests, as well as a vibrant outdoor culture with an abundance of opportunity for outdoor recreation. It’s big enough to have a few jobs, but not so big as to be inconvenient.

The Arizona Trail traverses the entire state, roughly north to south, and runs through Flagstaff.

As soon as I accepted the job, I started preparing for the relocation. Nonetheless, the period of time before I needed to travel flew by and I just couldn’t get everything done in time. Fortunately my parents volunteered to help me with some of the home improvements needed to prepare my house in Georgia for sale. I will never be able to repay them for all the help they have given me. I’m not entirely sure what it was that made me want to take such a huge risk and move so far from my family and friends. Nonetheless, I felt driven to make a major change to my life. I have been jokingly calling it a mid-life crisis, but perhaps it’s no joke.

High desert east of Sedona, about 40 minutes south of Flagstaff. This is the trailhead for the hike up Beaver Creek. They call it "Wet Beaver Creek" because it flows year round and to differentiate it from another nearby "Dry Beaver Creek" that is usually dry. Yes, really.

The drive west was not great, occurring near the end of winter. I left sunshine behind somewhere in central Arkansas and went through a couple hundred miles of freezing drizzle in the Ozarks. Then I enjoyed a gloomy, overcast traversal of the Great Plains through western Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle. There was more freezing rain in eastern New Mexico. The weather cleared from cloudy to only mostly cloudy in New Mexico and I was able to enjoy the splendor of that beautiful state. My last trip into New Mexico did not go well, so I was glad to have a much more positive experience this time.

I have been in Flagstaff now for just about a month. I arrived in a snowstorm, but it seemed that winter ended within about a week and the weather has been great since then. I realize this is not entirely typical for Flagstaff and I won’t be surprised if we get more snow before May, or even during May, but it’s really been like spring so I have been out enjoying it.

On the hike around Courthouse Butte and Bell Rock, just outside Sedona.

The area is amazing, sitting high on the Colorado Plateau in pine forest with a big mountain backdrop, yet only 28 miles from the high desert red rock country of Sedona, and only 70-odd miles to the Grand Canyon. Other points of interest include a volcano field, the Meteor Crater, the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest, and countless other points of interest. It’s about 2 hours down to the low desert of greater Phoenix and the palm trees and saguaro cacti. So far I am really enjoying the region and not likely to get bored anytime soon.

A chaos of red sandstone outside Sedona. This is Boynton Canyon. Although beautiful, helicopters rumbled through here every 15 or 20 minutes on a weekend.

The only thing I worry about is making sure I fit into my new job, accomplish things, and prove myself reliable. I am very alone out here so far from family and friends so it’s very important that I take care of myself. I’m usually very self-reliant anyway but this move has taken things to a new level.

The first requirement for making this move successful is to make sure the job works out. I used to try not to worry about work but I find I can’t do that. It’s worth worrying about. I’ll quit worrying when I have enough money in the bank to not have to keep working. That said everything really has been going fine so far . . . or at least as far as I can tell.

Don't look down . . . a side canyon of Boynton Canyon. This was taken from an exposed ridge of slickrock. I ran Strava and it indicated over 700 feet vertical to this point. My legs were done in after a 13 mile mountain bike ride the previous day.

Anyway, it had been a very long time since I had been to Arizona before I arrived earlier this month. In fact the last time was in the 1970s. I’ve been kind of afraid to admit that to people because I think it would move me up the crazy scale for taking a job somewhere I had not been in at least 36 years. My answer to that judgment is that the decision to take the job was very well researched.

A cliff dwelling in Boynton Canyon. It was extremely difficult to reach. It's probably between 700 and 1000 years old.

I was so young the last time I visited AZ that only a few things have triggered memories: a few of the buttes and mesas in New Mexico, some of the old hotels and restaurants on Route 66 in Flagstaff, some of the high desert on the way to the Grand Canyon. Strangely enough, the Grand Canyon itself looked quite different to me, as if I had never been there, even though I clearly remember arriving and looking out at it, and my sister getting in trouble for going behind a railing. The Canyon itself is familiar, of course, from a million photos and videos I’ve seen over the years, yet it was still as if it was new to me. That wasn’t a bad thing. It allowed me to appreciate it as an adventure. I enjoyed my visit and look forward to many returns.

The Grand Canyon from the South Rim Trail, which is actually a paved path. Most of my photos from the canyon are terrible. Photos are no substitute for going in person.
More boring Grand Canyon.
Sunset in the Grand Canyon. As lovely as the highlights are here, the real scene was vastly more colorful. I recommend catching a sunset at the Grand Canyon.

I have also been out doing some hiking and mountain biking. Upon the recommendation of a coworker, I have attended a couple of hiking trips with the Flagstaff Hiking Club, through meetup.com. This has allowed me to make new acquaintances and explore some places in a safe group setting that I might normally have missed. It also taps me into a social network outside of my employment, which is really important for happiness. I do not have a lot of friends, but have typically kept up with a few good friends. I would like to establish new friendships here and I hope I’m off to a small start with that process. There should be abundant other opportunities as well. Flagstaff is a surprisingly cosmopolitan town and is extremely social – more so than any town of comparable size that I’ve ever been to. My team leader used to live in Boulder, Colorado and says that Flag is a “mini-Boulder.” I’ve never been there but that sounds like a favorable comparison, considering that people try to move to Boulder from all over the world.

I’m sure I’ll stay in Arizona at least a few years, but beyond that, who can guess where I will be? If I get married and put down roots, then I’ll stay, otherwise I may look to move closer to family as I get into old age. Anyway, I’m going to keep kicking it out here until it doesn’t work out anymore, or I finally get homesick and move back closer to my family.