About two years after I first landed in the U.S. — in New York City’s JFK airport— I found myself on a plane to Phoenix, Arizona. During the time I spent on the East Coast, in New Jersey, I met my husband and, after dating for a few months, we were planning a vacation together.
We started looking at destinations when we found a cheap flight to Phoenix for the timeframe we had. At that point, I don’t think I’d ever even heard of Arizona. If I did, it was in passing, or I just saw it as a place on a map. But that was a plus in my book. Why not explore a place I didn’t know existed? So, we bought the ticket, and bought an Arizona guidebook.
Getting Ready For The Trip
As I started reading about the state, I realized it was in the area once known as the Wild West. I grew up watching cowboy movies (the only thing we could watch on Saturday nights in communist Romania), so I once again felt like I would land in a movie set. I felt this way about New York City when I first landed there since it was another place I’d only seen in movies before.
I was trying to read everything about Arizona, but it was too much information to process in the two weeks before our flight. It proved too overwhelming, so I gave up. The only thing we decided on was to visit Northern Arizona since we learned it would be too hot in the desert in early September.
With that decision, we got on the plane.
Welcome To Phoenix
I’ll never forget my first glimpse of the Phoenix skyline as we landed. Clear and sunny skies, palm trees lined the streets. With the unusually shaped Camelback Mountain in the background, the city looked like paradise. However, the minute I stepped into the street, I felt I was in an oven.
It wasn’t the normal, uncomfortable heat I was used to. The dry heat literally felt like the inside of an oven. To get away from this oppressive heat, we got in our little rental car, turned on the air conditioning, and started driving north, out of the city.
Road Tripping In Northern Arizona
We didn’t get farther than Verde Valley before dark, so that’s where we stopped for the night. Verde Valley was a tiny town, with a few homes, a grocery store, and a small, run-down motel where we got a room. After buying some bread and lunch meat for our dinner, and eating, we walked out to explore. Here, north of Phoenix, it was cool enough after dark to enjoy the outdoors. We walked — bushwhacked, really — up a nearby hill and watched the moon come up over the Arizona landscape.
The next day, we stopped at Montezuma Castle, where I saw my first cliff dwelling and learned about the ancient indigenous people of the area. From there, we continued to Sedona. Once we saw the surrounding red rocks and all the trails we could hike, we stopped at one of the cheaper hotels where we spent two nights in the shadow of the towering red rocks.
In 1992, Sedona wasn’t much more than the main road in the center of town. On its outskirts, we drove to the Chapel of the Holy Cross built into the rock and several other sites, but we spent most of our time hiking, exploring Red Rock State Park. Alone on the trail, we hiked up to the top of Cathedral Rock, enjoying the views.
Flagstaff And The Grand Canyon
We spent three nights in Flagstaff since we also used the city as a gateway to the surrounding national parks, including the Grand Canyon.
In Walnut Canyon, we hiked the Sky Island Trail to the cliff dwellings. When I walked through the lava flow in Sunset Crater, I felt we’d landed on another planet. Visiting the ruins of Wupatki, we realized that cliff dwellings were not the only way ancient people of the area built their homes.
Still, nothing prepared me for my first glimpse of the Grand Canyon.
Like it is for most people, our primary destination in Arizona was the Grand Canyon. Though I’ve seen pictures of it before, and read about it, nothing prepared me for my first glimpse of this enormous gap, its layers of rocks in all shades of reds, whites, and purples, stretching for miles. The lights and shadows playing on the rock formations made it all look surreal, as it stretched as far as I could see.
We felt the need to hike at least a few feet down into it. We tried both the Kaibab Trail and the Bright Angel Trail for a short distance, gaining a different perspective of this wonder of the world.
Before returning to Phoenix and heading back home, we also stopped at Petrified Forest. The colors of the Painted Desert and those of the logs added a touch of magic to the otherwise bleak landscape.
We Fell In Love With Arizona
No matter where we were during our trip, we felt we needed to return. One week was not enough to explore even a part of the state, only to understand what it could offer.
By the time we were on our way back to Phoenix, we knew we wanted to live in Arizona.
Since we had to work, we understood that our home base would need to be Phoenix. Although we didn’t spend enough time in the city to get to know it, we knew it offered a great base for exploring the rest of the state.
Since this was before the internet made things easy, we bought a few local papers to bring back with us so we could look through the classified ads and apply for jobs.
Our Idea Worked
During the following week, we sent out resumes to every place we saw that offered jobs we would be qualified for. Several called back. After a phone interview, one company flew Jeff out for a face-to-face. During the three days he spent here, he got the job offer, accepted it, and found a one-bedroom apartment with access to North Mountain, within walking or biking distance from his new job.
A few months after our first trip to Arizona, we packed up our little car, took our books, a computer, and our two cats, sent the few pieces of furniture we owned on a moving truck the company paid for and drove cross-country to our new home in Phoenix, Arizona.
We Still Call Phoenix Home
It’s been 28 years since our move. During this time, we discovered many unknown places in our state, and all over the Southwest, and we still love what they offer.
Much has changed during this time, especially in Phoenix. It is more built-up, more crowded, as people from all over the U.S. — and the world — have discovered it, as we did so many years ago. This bothers me enough to want to leave the city, but not the state.
We still travel the same way. When an opportunity presents itself to fly to a destination, we take it. This has allowed us to discover unknown places over the years.
We still embark on trips without a planned itinerary, giving us an opportunity to spend as much or as little time in each destination as we feel like when we are there.
As we are getting close to the next phase in our lives, we hope to find a new home for our retirement years in the same way. We might end up visiting a place that will feel like home, or remain in the desert we still love. Staying open to new possibilities brought us here, and it continues to shape our travels and our lives.