Q&A with Ken Lamberton

In 1980, Ken Lamberton graduated from the UA with a bachelor's degree in biology and soon joined the creative writing workshop of poet and author Richard Shelton. In January 2000, Mercury House published Lamberton's first book, "Wilderness and Razor Wire." The book won the 2002 John Burroughs Medal for outstanding nature writing. The University of Arizona Press published "Chiricahua Mountains: Bridging the Borders of Wildness" in October 2003, then published his third book, "Beyond Desert Walls," in March 2005.  Lamberton's fourth book, "Time of Grace: Thoughts on Nature, Family, and the Politics of Crime and Punishment" (University of Arizona Press, October 2007), won a Soros Justice Fellowship in 2007 and was nominated for a National Book Award. "Dry River: Stories of Life, Death, and Redemption on the Santa Cruz" is his fifth book.

Q Why this adventure tale? When I first heard about it I was happy to share a book about the Arizona we all love and know, not the Maricopa County version of it. Was that on your mind?

ADefinitely yes! One of the reasons I wrote "Chasing Arizona" was to give people something to feel good about the place they live. This is a promise I make. Read it, and you will feel better about Arizona. The "Maricopa County version" of Arizona (very funny, Mari!) is what we all hear about, and it gets way too much attention. I remember a recent visit—my first—to North Dakota, and how when people there learned where I was from all they could ask me about were the "headless bodies in the desert." This is not the Arizona I grew up in, and it isn't the one I know now. During all my travels across the state, I met the most amazing people—people who truly love this place, like the Reynosos in Globe whose family goes back four generations to four sisters who came here from Mexico and started opening restaurants. Today, there are more than a dozen Reynoso restaurants spread across southern Arizona (and in my mind they have the best green chile chimichanga!). I met people like the Reynosos who ARE Arizona. As my friend the poet Alberto Rios says, our borders are where we are joined, not separated.

Q Is there a favorite tale, place or character in this book that you came across in your adventures?

A Asking for one favorite tale is like asking which of my three children is my favorite. There is so much to like about Arizona.  Hanging my legs into the Grand Canyon and watching a solar eclipse rates pretty high. Freezing my eyeballs in an open-air hotel called the "sky room" one November night near Peach Springs is high on my list as well, as memorable experiences go.  So many come to mind-the "firsts" especially, like hearing wolves on a mist-shrouded morning near Hawley Lake.  (And finding wolf tracks near my campsite on the Black River.)  Maybe meeting the owner of Desert Diamond Distillery in Kingman, the state's first Rum producer, and tasting his latest award-winning batch. Or my close encounter with a California condor on Navajo Bridge, or meeting an 80-year-old Dutchman Hunter at the Superstition Mountain Museum, or serendipitously finding a ridge-nosed rattlesnake (our state reptile) in the middle of the road after spending 36 hours over four weekends looking for it. But definitely one of my favorite moments was meeting Benny Yazzie near Tuba City and hearing his Navajo tales of "Big Lizard Tracks" and the monsters that battled with the Twin Heroes as he took me on a tour of "the real Jurassic Park."

QHow did you plan this book and the travel? Then sitting down and writing each adventure?

A I've lived in Arizona for almost 50 years. In the beginning, I made a list of places I wanted to revisit, some childhood haunts like Oak Creek Canyon and Ruby, other places I often brought my three daughters, like Kohl's Ranch and the Black River. But I also decided to include places I'd never visited—London Bridge, Grand Canyon Caverns, and Meteor Crater. Most of all, I wanted to meet people, to hear their stories (I already knew the history, but what about the stories people would tell me about the place they lived?) I decided to talk to people, beginning with the question: What's the best thing about living here?" So, I had a plan. But I also wanted to allow for surprises, for serendipity to work. For discovery! So, in 2012, I drove 21,600 miles, 52 destinations in 52 weeks (which really turned out to be 200 destinations). I filled twojournals with notes. Then, in 2013 and part of 2014 I wrote the first drafts from those notes, illustrating the pages with pencil drawings I made based on photographs I had taken. In the end, I discovered that more than anything Arizona was chasing me. I had learned that this wild landscape didn't belong to me, and if I gave it the chance, if I just stopped clutching at it, it would show me something astounding.

Q How do you see this book? A travel guide with a poetic turn?

APeople might use it as a travel guide if they choose to, and some already have told they have. But my intention was that the book be an exploration of what is great about Arizona, in terms of its people, places, and treasures (no politics!). I didn't want to tell people where to go or what to eat or do. I wanted to take them with me in the passenger seat or on the trail. I wanted to give them an experience that would move them emotionally. "Chasing Arizona," is a love letter to the reader, a lyrical, engaging, often humorous take from someone who cares deeply about this place of cactus and pine.

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