Here’s a trivia question for you: what do the US states of Hawaii and Arizona have in common that no other US State shares? I’ll throw in a clue. Queensland shares this trait as well as Hawaii and Arizona. I know the answer because over the recent Christmas break my wife and I went to Arizona via Hawaii. It was a once-every-three-years family get-together with all my wife’s family, who live in Toronto. I have no idea why they picked Arizona and truth be told my expectations were low.
Boy did I get that wrong. Arizona was fantastic. The weeklong get-together was at a dude ranch just outside Tucson. (Again, don’t ask me why a dude ranch.) Now the political junkies among you will know that Arizona was the only western state that President Trump won in the 2016 election. So that’s a plus in my books. And you certainly ran into a few refugees from the People’s Republic of Taxistan, aka California, who had transplanted themselves to Arizona. Not so many people realise that outside the wealthy enclaves in and around San Francisco, plus the usual Hollywood oases in LA and Palm Springs, California is not doing all that well. Its education scores are plummeting. It’s losing business to less lefty loony jurisdictions. Its Big Government married to Big Business uber regulation and tax is starting to bite it in the bum big time. If that sounds not terribly dissimilar to Australia, well I couldn’t possibly comment.
Where was I? Ah yes, at a dude ranch near Tucson in Arizona. The surrounding countryside was magnificent. National parks abounded with great walks through unreal scenery, not least a panoply of cacti, including the world’s largest. Rattle snakes? Tick. Hot during the day and below freezing at night? Tick. One of the best airplane museums in the world just 25 minutes drive away in nearby Tucson? Tick. And the food was perhaps most surprising of all. It was terrific. And I don’t just mean the big thick steaks, though they too were excellent.
After the dude ranch our daughter had to fly back to the UK and exams, but we had four more nights with our London-living-and-working son. So we got in the rental car and drove firstly to the top north-eastern bit of Arizona, the home of hunting, fishing and magnificent hikes or walks. We did two of the latter, one to over 11,000 feet in altitude. And we discovered a diner in the middle of nowhere, an old-fashioned authentic US diner that for over 60 years had been there in this sleepy town of some 200 year-round inhabitants. (Apparently the town’s population in the summer months jumps up to over 3,000 because of the many lakes, rivers and cooler weather, but in the dead of winter you can take it from me, it is sleepy.) This diner is a gem. It’s worth a five-hour drive not just because the food was great but because it felt as though you’d hopped into your Delorean sports car, hit 88 miles per hour, and travelled back to the 1950s.
Anyway, we were two nights there before getting up at the crack of dawn and driving straight to the Grand Canyon at Flagstaff, on its southern rim. We went for our son who’d been there when he was four but remembers nothing. When you hear about the Grand Canyon you naturally think it can’t be as superb as people say. But it is. Get as close to the edge as your genetic inheritance will allow and then look down six or seven thousand feet at a canyon formed over tens of millions of years by the rush of water and the weather generally. It will make you feel like an insignificant insect, so any readers who are paid up Liberal Party members in NSW or Victoria will feel right at home.
After lunch at the Grand Canyon we took the back road to Sedona through Oak Creek Canyon on one of those eye-popping roads that gets listed as ‘One of the Five Best Scenic Drives in the US’. Take it and you’ll see why that sort of puffery is more than plausible. And what of Sedona itself? Well, it’s a smallish and very wealthy little enclave about two hours north of Phoenix. (And hands up all those who knew that the greater Phoenix area is now the sixth largest place in the US, population-wise?) We splurged and took a helicopter ride through all the canyons. This is where more movie westerns have been filmed than anywhere else. Throw in a quaint boutique hotel and yet more top-class dining and you can see why Arizona gets the grade of ‘great’. Or, as it’s a Trump-voting state, let’s make that ‘bigly great’. Or ‘the greatest ever’.
Then we had a few nights in Maui on the way back and that was that. Which takes me back to my original pub-quiz question. Want one more clue? Take a look at your watch. You see, neither Arizona nor Hawaii have daylight savings. Those are the only two US states to forego the twice-yearly clock changing routine. They join Canada’s province of Saskatchewan, my home state of Queensland, and Western Australia – which gives us so much of its GST monies that even the centralising gurus in Canberra would be embarrassed to steal an hour of its time once a year.