It seems the best way to really understand Arizona is to push through the artificial marvel that is phoenix and find the heart of this desert. What this is leading to of course is an excuse for me to become... a cowboy!!
It started on a brief road trip to the mountains with my flying partner, (or buddy as they're known) Charlie. We headed about 200 miles north to the mountians to a place called Mormon Lake. The Lake is now dry but that takes nothing away from its beauty. Its like a mini prairie in the mountians. It even has Buffalo grazing on it. Finally, i get to feel like Kevin Costner!
Our reason for visiting Mormon Lake is that our instructor, Eric, and his wife, Nan, were spending a weekend up there camping and they invited us a long. Of course Charlie and i would not be camping. Pretty much anything that lives in this state has the capability to kill you, very quickly (including humans - 70% of arizonans (i think thats how you call them) carry guns). So we opted for the reasonably priced Mormon Lake lodge.
Being trainee pilots, and flying partners at that, any journey undertaken becomes a sort of extension of the flight training. Charlie doesn't have a licence, so i drove the musclely Dodge Charger and Charlie navigated. It was getting late, and very quickly became very dark. Roads became dirt tracks then paved again. I drove fast as i wasn't sure about arrangements at the other end. It wasn't long before we were lost. However, Charlie and i were cool under pressure and with an uncanny sense of direction Charlie put us back in the right direction. Incidently if any airline human resource people are reading this, it really was an amazing piece of navigation, situational awareness and crew resource management.
When we got to Mormon lake village, another problem arose. We were presented with a western film set style street. It worked on me. However, there was no sign of life. No one answered the telephone or any knocks on doors. Granted, it was about midnight, but i kind of thought someone might have stayed up. I mean it was actually cold here (its about 6000 ft up) and neither of us wanted to spend a night with eachother in the charger.
Then we found two enevoples with our names on stuck to a door. Our room keys!! But with no directions to find them! We wandered through the village trying to find our lodge, wondering what people would be thinking and if we've get shot for trespassing as there didn't seem to be clear territorial boundaries. Of course, we eventually found a our rooms and again it was a remarkable piece of survival team work. All those "you're on your own on a deserted island with a paper clip, piece of string, and some gucci sunglasses" exercises in oxford had paid off. We closed the doors to our rooms (which were more tarantino motel than mountain lodge) and went to sleep.
In the morning, we went straight to the stables to meet Eric and Nan to go horseriding. While we were waiting I met a guy waiting in his pick up for someone. He asked me where i'm from and I said Britain (I hate saying UK, makes it sound like a tax code or something). I can't say England because...you just... can't when you're welsh. Dwayne was very friendly. He'd served a US paratrooper. He done over 5000 jumps, had scars on his face and just said he'd seen a lot of action. He was in Grenada when he was 18 and i'm presuming he served in the first Gulf War too.
Dwayne seemed bitter about what was happening to America now. But not in the way you might think. He'd obviously given a lot to his country, said many friends of his had given much more. He recented unemployed people taking his taxes and being given medical care when he had to work in walmart so he could afford to pay for his own. He said he wasn't badly off and did it for something but if he did it, why couldn't others? I tried to change the subject as i could see the conversation going the same way as a previous one with a car salesman (thats for another posting).
We talked about aircraft and the C-130 Hercules, an aircraft he was familiar with. During Hurricane Katrina, Dwayne and some others from the area drove some refrigerated vehicles (there was a local food company in the area who owned many) from the village to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The Federal emergency services had put out a request for such vehicles and they were in desperate need of them, to put the dead in to stop their corpses from rotting. Dwayne said the airfield was like a wartime air base.
We spoke more about being a soldier and he was showing me his revolver which was resting on his passenger seat when eric pulled up in his truck. I introduced Dwayne to everyone but i think he felt slightly uncomfortable about the crowd round his truck so he said how nice it was to meet us and drove off.
With that, we headed to the stables.