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American Southwest: Final Conversations

A daily encounter with the extreme—this seemed to be the rule during the final weeks of CWU’s American Southwest tour. I climbed to over 8,000 feet and later descended to 250 feet below sea level. Pedaling 60+ miles through unpopulated high desert while getting hissed at by roadside rattlesnakes would be followed by rubbing shoulders with photo-snapping tourists. One night I camped under a lonely full moon along the rim of the Grand Canyon, a dozen miles from the nearest human being. A few days later I pushed my unwieldy touring bike around merry gamblers and between flashing slot machines to my room in the Excalibur casino in Las Vegas. The day after that-the entire day-I fought the most relentless headwind I have ever faced, encountering desert snow at a 5,500 foot pass, with nowhere to rest until I staggered into my next stopping point well after dark, almost too tired to eat dinner.

I wouldn't have had it any other way. Except maybe that wind part.

I met Jan Manuel and Angie James in a small café in the small town of Dilkon, AZ. Jan is Hopi Indian and Angie is half Hopi, half Navajo. Here, you’ll hear Jan mention some of the rituals that precede a Hopi’s ascension to a leadership position, and the responsibilities that come along with that position.

Roy Williams and I discussed some of the issues facing folks on the Navajo reservation surrounding Tuba City, AZ. I asked Roy to describe some of the cultural differences he sees between Navajo and what he calls Anglo culture. One thing he contrasted was the way in which the two cultures address the care of their aging family members. He said that while Anglo families generally find rest homes for their elderly parents, the Navajos do things differently.

When I first saw Buck Williams in Williams, AZ he was wearing a cowboy hat and holding a leather whip, with which he promptly obliterated a plastic straw behind his back and then cracked beside my ear. Buck is fed up with what he sees as America’s shift away from an ethic of personal responsibility and hard work.

Ever heard of Historic Route 66? You can thank Angel Delgadillo of Seligman, AZ.

Philbert Watahomie, Jr. and I met on the Hualapai Indian Reservation in Peach Springs, AZ. I asked him whether the young folks in his tribe are losing interest in learning the Hualapai language; here is part of his response.

Contemplating the vastness of the universe and how little we know about it made for one of the most chilling Halloweens I’ve ever spent. Chris Patrick of the Kingman, AZ High Desert Astronomy Club agreed, adding an even spookier element to the mix: alien life!

Nancy Kidwell and her late husband built a casino/airport/small community, literally, out of the barren desert in Cal-Nev-Ari, NV; they even made up the name. At 78, Nancy is still running the entire facility from her office just a few paces from the bar. Self-sufficiency is a quality she learned early, describing a lifestyle that today seems a world away.

The best job in the world? Maybe not, but I certainly was jealous listening to Izzy Collett describe how she earns a living as the owner of a kayak touring and outdoor adventure outfit in Boulder City, NV. Years of working on and with the Colorado River has given Izzy unique insight into one of the most daunting challenges facing the Southwest today.

My tour ended with me wearing my fleece vest in the (officially) hottest place on Earth: Death Valley, CA. I figured few people would know the area as well as the Furnace Creek Campground hosts who call the place home for months on end, and was grateful that Tom and Patty Evans took the time to speak with me. Here, Tom shares one of the things he hears most often from the many foreign tourists he meets, and how he feels about it.

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