Arizona Traveler


Anne Smith is lovely, spirited, seventy, and English. She’s the proprietor of the Star Motel, off the main drag in Sedona, Arizona. The one-story fifteen unit Star, constructed in 1959, is painted peach with sage trim. There is a bench outside every room and a sign boasting, “Kitchenettes Available.” The Motel office is glass encased. Sliding glass doors off the office give entry to Ann’s residence. A spacious living room and stone fireplace are visible; an assortment of antique brass bells adorns the mantle. I resisted asking how long she had been in the States, thought it disrespectful to pry.

Once registered, she produced a map and yellow marker, “You’re here for Vortex Points, I gather.”

“No, but I’ve heard of them.”

“These magnetic energy points have become a ‘must see’ event,” her voice was non-critical. I asked if she’d felt the energy forces herself. She smiled and shook her head. “Haven’t felt one thing,” she confided eyebrows raised high, “but they are lovely to gaze upon.” I asked if she had a favorite. With the marker firmly in hand she circled a location on the map, “Bell Rock, but then I’ve always been partial to bells.”

Yellow marked map in hand, I motor past numerous signs hawking, “Vortex Info Here.” The beauty of Oak Creek Canyon’s red rock is unparalleled, topographies usually reserved for imaginations and clouds, ever-changing in shape and tone at the pleasure of the sun’s daily journey. The rusty crimson backdrop enhances the green tones of cedars, mesquite and sage with a 3-D effect. Bell Rock appears around a curve, a squat school bell shape, handle pointing skyward. I pull over and climb about a third of the way up the flared red sandstone base. I felt no significant magnetic pull or force, but the view of the valley was splendid magic.

The next day a woman selling t-shirts, dyed with red dirt from the canyon, told me six million people visit little Sedona annually. Too many people, I thought. I wanted it to be 1960, simple and quiet stayin’ at the brand new Star Motel, the red canyon all to myself. “Must have been nice in 1960,” I offer. She smiled and nodded, her eyes saying it all.

Over the mountain, beyond Jerome, I’m sippin’ a double espresso in Cafe St. Michael at the corner of Gurley and Montezuma in Prescott, Arizona. You can get espresso anywhere these days. It’s spelled Prescott, but pronounced Preskit. The Yavapai County Courthouse is visible on the square outside the window. High school buddy Gary Hardersen and I ate breakfast in a coffee shop down Montezuma Street back in July of 1966. We were teenagers, travelers and adventurers just passing through. Town was smaller then, six or seven thousand; past thirty-two thousand now and growing. Arizona’s first State Capitol, Prescott is the home of the “World’s Oldest Rodeo.” Fourth of July week, it’s cowboy heaven here.

The section of Montezuma that borders the courthouse square is referred to as Whiskey Row, once abundant with watering holes. In the middle of the block is The Palace, an old tin ceiling saloon. The proprietor calls himself Luke Short, but I doubt that’s was his real name. He’s dressed in genuine cowboy gear, right down to a pair of old six guns slung on his hips in a well worn rig. I nodded, “Howdy.” Eyeballin’ my broken down John B. Stetson he drawled, “Great hat, Mister.”

The bar at The Palace is a jewel. Exquisitely carved in New York City out of black walnut in the 1870's, the bar, back bar, beveled mirror and custom-built eight-foot icebox were loaded onto a square rigger, sailed around the Horn of South America and up the Pacific Coastline to San Francisco. The precious cargo was loaded onto wagons and hauled overland to the mile high, gold mining town of Prescott, Arizona. There it was installed as the prime fixture of The Palace Saloon.

One night, around the turn of the century, a mess of cowboys were drinkin’ in The Palace. A fella ran in yelling that Whiskey Row was on fire. The bar emptied. Checking the wind direction, it was decided that the whole block would go down to fire. The cowboys swung into action. They charged into The Palace, pulled out the bar, back bar, the tapered columns, the eight-foot icebox and beveled mirror and carried it all across the street to the safety of the Courthouse Square lawn. Just ahead of the flames, they ran back and snatched up all the booze. Reclining on the Courthouse lawn, they consumed their whiskey and watched as flames devoured Whiskey Row.

It took three years to reconstruct The Palace Saloon and Whiskey Row. Thanks to the daring and quick thinking of those whiskey drinkin’ cowboys, that black walnut bar was bolted back into The Palace and stands there today, a monument to simple hand crafted character and beauty.

Thanks Luke for your story and I liked your hat, too. We’ll talk next time From The Road.

Note: I recently received a note from a fellow named Dave at MIT. His note read, "Anne Sophia Smith passed away June 13, 2002. She was only 75 years old." Thought you might like to know, too.

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