Photographer Liam Jackson hits the road in search of the big skies and sun-blasted deserts of Southwest America
There’s nothing like driving in the American Southwest. The big cars, the big roads, the big skies. Everything is just on a different scale. The Four Corners region is a particularly good place for driving as it’s the point where Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah all meet, and there’s a stunning loop that you can drive which takes you through all four states.
We started in Arcosanti, a hippie commune in Arizona that was the utopian vision of the late Italian architect, Paolo Soleri. Work started on it in 1970 and the place has a futuristic, Brutalist feel to it. You can stay in an Airbnb there and it’s a great thing to do if you like weird atmospheric architecture that blends into the desert.
Most days we would drive between two and four hours, but we didn’t really plan our route. We’d just rock up at motels and hope for a room. It’s a great way to travel if you love ’50s Americana: the neon signage, the Formica tabletops; the ice buckets for your beers.
From Arcosanti, we drove to the Sedona desert, a place of beautiful open roads with vast numbers of cacti on either side, and then on through Phoenix and Tucson, before we crossed the state border.
Our first stop in New Mexico was the White Sands National Park. It’s a brilliant white desert, awesome in its astonishing emptiness. On the horizon you can just make out the mountain range where the US Army tests all its weaponry. On some days you can see fighter jets and hear their bombs going off. It’s a mad place, and it’s so graphic, the contrast of that expansive glistening white sand desert against that famous big blue American sky.
From there we drove to Albuquerque, New Mexico, which is a great little city, famous for its green chilies, which come with everything you eat and need to be washed down with big jugs of margaritas.
Then we made our way north into Colorado, stopping at Durango and Pagosa Springs with its geothermal hot water springs, and then on into southern Utah, which is one of the most incredible places on Earth. Among the many highlights were Canyonlands National Park, which is spectacular in the hazy gloaming of the golden hour; Monument Valley with its terracotta-coloured rocky outcrops; and Moab with its dinosaur tracks and Native American rock art. That said, for all the geological wonders around us, the real beauty of the trip was the sense of freedom and possibility, the joy of waking up in the morning and hitting the road, the day stretching out before us.
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