Roundup: April 12 2023




Roundup Synopsis

The Los Angeles Westerners gave a warm Southern California welcome to author and 4th-generation Arizonian Tom Zoellner dur­ing our April Roundup. Zoellner discussed the history of Arizona and his travels within it, which is the topic of his recently-published memoir, From Rim to River.
This book is Zoellner’s personal love let­ter to his home state of Arizona, with which he has a complicated relationship. The mem­oir revolves around his 2019 790-mile journey along the Arizona Trail traversing the entire north-south length of the state of Arizona from the Utah state line near Red Rock Country to the Mexican border. As Zoellner traveled down this historically scenic route he was inspired to compose essays for his memoir on Arizona copper mining, border crossing paths, dirty politics, Apache culture, drinking water, local cuisine, violence, and the Grand Canyon.
The origin of Arizona’s name is disput­ed, but Zoeller believes it likely means “the Good Oak Tree” in Basque, the language spoken by its first European settlers from Spain’s Pyrenean frontier. Arizona history has highs and lows, which were metaphori­cally tied to the geographic landscape trav­eled by Zoellner north-to-south down the Arizona Trail. The highest point in Arizona is a domant volcano named Humphreys Peak, and its lowest point, at only 72 feet above sea level, is a sad, dried-up portion of the Colorado River near the Mexican Border. Nearby is a historic border crossing named Camino Del Diablo, Spanish for “the Devil’s Road,” which was originally used by Spanish friars in the 18th century. Today this dirt road is used as a border crossing. Border pa­trol agents drag tires behind their vehicles to regularly smooth this road, so that crossing migrants leave more obvious footprints that can be tracked.
As Zoellner reached the end of the Arizona Trail, he discussed the state’s pres­ent controversies and contradictions. One is the epidemic of sprawling master-planned communities growing throughout Arizona like mushrooms. These are decorated by faux-Tuscan aqueducts and water-guzzling palm trees. While ugly and wasteful of land and water, these suburbs nevertheless pro­vide affordable housing for working-class families. While he was on the subject of wa­ter Zoellner mentioned the La Paz County aquifer theft which resembled the plot of the classic movie Chinatown (1974) dramatizing Los Angeles’ alleged pillaging of the Owens Valley’s water resources. Outside of wa­ter, the most important natural resource in Arizona is copper, which is mined through­out the state, and also lies in the lands of the Apache tribe in a place called Oak Flat. Yet despite producing two-thirds of the copper in the nation, Arizona’s state capitol building inexplicably bought the copper for its dome from Pennsylvania. It is these foibles that make Arizona so perplexing and endearing.
Many thanks to Tom Zoellner for his en­tertaining and fascinating talk, and please give his memoir From Rim to River a well de­served read.
— Darran Davis


Photos from the Roundup