Last night, after writing the post Spirit of the Wind I drove to Tempe to see “Once”, the Irish musical. A movie well done. Simple, elegant story telling. An art all but lost in American film. I then drove to Arizona on the Rocks at 90th and Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd to climb. When I left the gym an hour later at six in the evening I looked to the North and was thrilled to witness the entrance of the powerful companion to the wind, the feared and cherished desert rain.
Its face was two, maybe three thousand feet tall, cloaked by an omnious hood reaching out and over a mile of its intended path. The leading edge was a translucent mixture of white, blue, falling to gray. The solid mass that fell from the back of the hood to the desert floor was an impenetrable black, momentarily illuminated by strokes of lightning within. The mountains north of Cave Creek and Carefree were completely masked and invisible.
I jumped on the freeway and then off again at Pima just a few exits later. One mile from Carefree highway, the water touched my windshield as counted drops. By the time I turned East on Carefree, the rain drove sideways and the road was overtaken at all but the most subtle crossings, native topsoil mixed with gravel moved as liquid, white and yellow painted boundaries all but obscured.
The rain did not just fall, It came down with bold intent. The aroma of wet creosote entered my car through the vents. There is no smell that touches me like that of the desert in rain. The outside temperature dropped from 103 to 85 in less than ten minutes, and then into the seventies.
At the “Y”, I went to the left and north toward Seven Springs. The temperature continued to drop. Seventy five. Seventy one. Sixty eight. Sixty five. The sun was setting. And the spirit of the wind had handed its torch to the spirit of the rain.
While I continued along the mixed paved and gravel road to Seven Springs, the wall of water moved south. But it never made it past Camelback Mountain nor the McDowells nor even much beyond Pinnacle Peak, from what I could discern the next morning through my exploration by vehicle and by foot. My brother confirmed that not a drop fell in the heart of Phoenix less than thirty miles south of where I Carefree was overwhelmed, the concrete and blacktop and pool decks once again the victor in the battle for supremacy in this drying, dying place.
At the Seven Springs camp ground I moved to the passenger side of my car, dropping the seat back and the windows open to allow a few drops to fall on my arms and face. I fell to sleep quickly and slept well, the sound of the rain upon the metal roof of my mobile shelter slowing to a mist well after midnight.
This morning I awoke as the sun rose to the green that only a recently wetted desert can paint. Not forest green nor apple green, but a florescent green that appears to glow from inside of the creosote, prickly pear, sage, and grasses.
I entered the gravel road on the far side of the park and headed north and east for a little over twenty miles, reminded of how much incredible beauty exists just outside the reach of the Phoenix wasteland. High desert plateaus and deep, heavily wooded canyons bounded by distant, purple peaks that rise and fall. Four Peaks to the immediate south. Weaver’s Needle beyond that.
With the choice of east to I-17 or west to the Verde river, I returned to Seven Springs, Cave Creek, and then Bartlett Reservoir to swim before driving into the only remaining portion of the desert north of the McDowells not converted to a “desert lifestyle” by Troon or Del Webb.
I recalled Pinnacle Peak as it was when I was in college, where I often slept for a few hours atop spires of decomposing granite between long, intense days in the studio of my Industrial Design program at ASU. I recall one night clearly where I lay on my stomach and peered over the edge of one such rock to observe a half dozen coyotes feasting on the night’s kill. Their barking was intoxicating, the excitement of the feast echoing across the then, mostly unaltered desert floor.
I reached the saddle of the McDowells by foot just as the sun broke through the final remnants of the previous night’s storm and the temperature rose from the low nineties to the low hundreds. Back down the rolling double track to Jomax and Dynamite roads, across the reservation, to the 202, and Tempe where I now sip an iced tea, wishing I was again being tested by the spirit of the rain.