There's something you should know about my father. He loves Arizona.
Dad is a character, a fifth-generation Arizonan who likes to tell stories (true or otherwise) and tends to alleviate awkward pauses with inappropriate John Wayne jokes but has no patience for fools or lay-abouts. He's always been prone to get "a wild hair" and hit the road at a moment's notice to go see something unusual or beautiful out in the world.
As far as he's concerned, there is nowhere else in the country or the world that can match Arizona for natural wonders, diverse landscapes and interesting people. For a time, he was a long-distance trucker, and he's quick to tell you nothing out there quite measured up to his home state.
I can credit my father with instilling in all of us an appreciation for where we came from and a real love for Arizona. We spent summers with Dad when we were growing up between divorced parents. Those were weeks filled with camping trips in the White Mountains, dune buggy rides on old forest roads, water skiing in any lake that looked wide enough, motorcycle trips wherever the Arizona highways took us. Don't worry - we worked a lot, too.
Even later, when I was living away somewhere in the Midwest or the East Coast or some other western state, visits home meant jumping in or on some vehicle and setting off to see his Arizona. It was a not-so-subtle nudge to come closer to home and return to everything I was missing.
Through Dad, we were introduced to the smell of coffee and bacon on a chilly morning among the ponderosas after a night of growly-voiced ghost stories. I first saw the red rocks at sunset in Sedona from the back of his old Lincoln. We were dazzled by the quaking aspen dappling the sunlight on the trails in the San Francisco Peaks. We saw sand dunes and canyons, rattlesnakes and elk, pioneer homesteads and passenger trains.
A "wild hair" quest to catch up with a historic sheep drive on its way through Northern Arizona one day netted us an interesting chat with a self-proclaimed Basque sheepherder out among the sagebrush. On another day, a neighbor mentioning the water was really running had us all on the road to see remote Grand Falls for the first time.
Dad could sniff out a good steakhouse from 10 miles out and seemed to have radar tuned to every great Mexican food dive in every small town in Arizona. He probably turned us into pie aficionados, too, at places like Trapper's and Bear Wallow cafes.
Because, you know, the taste of Arizona is as much a portrait of the state as the view of a sunset silhouetting saguaro cacti and the smell of monsoon rains rolling in for the afternoon.
Dad is a CPA who also knows hard farm work in the boiling sun. He's moderate in his politics and pragmatic in his religion. He has always been harsher on himself for his own mistakes than he ever was on us kids for ours. He's put himself through some tough times in a long, full life and is straight-forward about it all.
He encourages us to learn from his mistakes, but I hope I've inherited the explorer's spirit and definitely that "wild hair" to hit the road and see what's around the next corner. Dad has given us more than we can fathom over all these years, but one of his greatest gifts is a place called Arizona.