BOBBY MAGILL

Journalist • Photographer

Bobby Magill is a senior science writer for Climate Central in New York and a journalist who has covered fracking and the environment in Colorado and New Mexico since 2001. 

Arizona, where the desert seems to bypass reality

Roosevelt Lake Bridge, Gila County, Arizona. May, 2009. By Bobby Magill Greetings from Payson, Arizona, where the Old West quickly gives way to country club American suburbia on the west end of dusty saloon-smattered Main Street.

Payson's main highway, full of big box stores and the typical fast-food joints, bypasses downtown, giving no clue that a quaint downtown even exists. But take a right turn off the highway and pass through the city center, itself bypassed by the latter-day commercial boom, and all of a sudden you'll find yourself in golf course-green suburbia, complete with water arcing from sprinklers and little lakes on the edge of modern playgrounds. New West juxtaposed cozily with Old West, it's the beneficial use of water rights gone mad.

Of course, what might otherwise seem bizarre is no rarity in the desert Southwest, where Wal-Mart can be found next to old-time saloons, and vast reservoirs tucked between Saguaro-clad mountain ranges sprout little redneck hole-in-the-road trailer park and motorboat communities such as Punkin Center — a giant pumpkin stands sentinel on its main drag — on the edge of Roosevelt Lake, whose stretch of Arizona Highway 188 is cleared for trash by the ever-altruistic volunteers from the Mad As Hell Ranch.

There's just something intensely surreal about the desert Southwest, something more than just the Bermuda grass-hued crassness of manicured lawns abutting desert forests of ocotillo and palo verde. Something more than the irony of people towing yachts into the desert. Something more than the blatant attempts to harness and manhandle the forces of nature, which seem all the more acute in the desert where the wonders of life appear so much more potent than in places where those things are less sparse. The more time I spend in the desert, the surreality of it proves less and less definable, but all the more present.

Go figure.

Anyway, tomorrow, we're hiking up the edge of the Mogollon Rim, and then back to Scottsdale and Tucson. And then home, where my daily 150 minute roundtrip commute seems as surreal as giant bridges flying over the desert...