I'm in Tucson for Christmas, and guess what? It's beautiful.
It's all different kinds of beautiful. Today is supposed to be 71F, with skies completely clear and calm. I don't know why I'm always surprised to rediscover how brilliant and vivid the sky is here.... I'm sure there are other places on earth with a sky this amazing, but so far I haven't been to any of them.
Earlier in the month I talked to someone I hadn't seen in a good long while. He mentioned that in the intervening time he'd made his first trip to Arizona, and was shocked to discover that it's really quite beautiful.
"What do you mean, you were shocked?" I asked.
"You know--you think it's just desert. But so much of the landscape is really amazing."
"You mean, it's desert, which is WHY the landscape is really amazing?" I replied.
He grinned sheepishly.
"What did you think it was like?" I asked. "After all, it's just south of Utah, which you already know has some pretty amazing desert landscape. Monument Valley straddles the Arizona-Utah border. And the Grand Canyon, one of the great wonders of the world, is in Arizona. So what did you think was down there?"
He shrugged. "I thought it would be like Nevada...."
I didn't point out that even Nevada has some beautiful spots--Lake Tahoe, for instance, or that parts of Utah, California, New Mexico and Colorado are less beautiful than other bits. Instead, I said, "So, wait a minute. You've been reading my blog for, let's see, over three years now, and when I would blog about how beautiful my home was, you'd just think... what? That I was an idiot? That I was turned on by ugly things? That my geographic aesthetics were really messed up and stupid?"
Another sheepish grin. "I just didn't pay attention," he admitted.
This person lived in Portland for several years and really liked it. "You know," I said, "I went to Oregon recently for the first time. My father has said repeatedly that he hated the weather there, that he was miserable because it was so gray and wet. But he never said it was ugly, or that I shouldn't pay any attention to people who thought it was beautiful. I was not the least bit surprised to discover, I'll have you know, that the Columbia River Gorge is very, very beautiful. I'd even like to go back."
"I'd like to go back to Arizona," he said. I told him he should, since he never got farther south than Phoenix, and it isn't nearly as beautiful as Tucson, which is 1500 feet higher in elevation, has more and taller mountains around it, gets more rain but has less ground water. As a result it was more vigorous indigenous flora, and can't afford to have as much grass and other thirsty species. Tucson looks and is more authentically deserty.
I know there are soulless idiots in the world who are unable to see the beauty of places like Tucson, just like there are soulless idiots who can't see the magic in Spiral Jetty. I don't especially want to be friends with them, but I know they exist. I'm always amazed when educated people who care about landscape and have traveled in the west are amazed to discover that Arizona isn't just a wasteland.
Maybe it's a Utah thing.... Come to think of it, aside from one asshole from Minnesota I got stuck sitting next to on a flight to Minneapollis years ago, the only people to tell me straight-up that Arizona is ugly have been Utah Mormons, either natives or transplants. My brother commented also that he had companions from Utah who would say things about how horrible Arizona must be. I guess the people from the middle state in the intermountain region have never actually looked at the topographical features on a map of the US, and so somehow think the Rockies peter out right around Moab, and that the red rock and clay of the area turns entirely to beige sand at Utah's southern border.
One of the largest photography museums and archives in the world is the Center for Creative Photography, housed at the University of Arizona. It has Ansel Adams' archives, and one reason he agrees to have them housed there is because he so liked photographing Arizona, and the reason he liked photographing Arizona is because it's fucking gorgeous,
I hope that clears things up.