New Mexico may be distinctly weird, but Arizona has its own distinct "flavor" as a place with a sly sense of humor. Freshly escaped from New Mexico, I was aiming for a stopover at Paolo Santeri's Arcosanti, followed by the Joshua Tree National Park in California. I cover Arcosanti in another posting; this one's for Arizona herself. Thinking about it later, I find myself wondering if it was the saguaro cacti (cactuses? cactoi? cactusi? ;) which inspired that apparently desert-dry sense of humor. They're scattered all over the place: fields and mountain-flanks all covered with a sprinkling of unremitting exclamation points occasionally decorated with an upward pointing arm here, a squiggle of dusty-green protrusions there. It's not until you've been driving for a while that you start to get that funny feeling. That saguaro on the horizon that you've been heading towards — wasn't that arm protruding from the left when you first noticed it? The thick one over there — is that a bulbous cartoon nose on its head? Glancing in the rear view mirror as you roar past, you wonder if they get together and snigger about fooling the passersby, then laugh and stick out another arm when no one is looking.

That peculiar sense of humor extends to the people as well, as far as I can tell. They've simply refused to use Daylight Savings Time along with most of the rest of the country, so it was a small pleasure to realize I was finally matched up with my home's Pacific Standard. Also, I noticed that face to face Arizonans are just as courteous and polite to tourists as anywhere else, of course. But their signage betrays that deep inner giggle, I think. For example, their highway signs are very straightforward: two green rectangles with the exit number on the top one, and the town name on the bottom one. Very sensible, very pragmatic, yes? They lull you into a sense of complacency — until you notice the one that says on top "Exit 11" and on the bottom sign says simply… "Surprise."

That's it! No explanation, no further notice or signage of what I suppose must be the town of Surprise. It made me grin bemusedly.

Then, later on, I noticed a broad field off to my right. It was a very wide expanse that was clearly going to be a new mall or housing development or something — I saw a big sign or two announcing that, in fact — but at this point the field had just been flattened and cleared. The occasional bulldozer or other heavy machinery was still parked there, as well. The sign consisting only of a life-sized picture of a tractor, stapled to a big post to hold it up, consequently wouldn't have been that out of place… except for the even larger sign of a burbling baby next to it, giggling and reaching for the (toy-sized in comparison) tractor! It was cute, but also vaguely alarming to see a baby that huge. ;)

Heading towards the Arizona border, I was a bit surprised to notice a sign which announced the "Arizona Canal [something I missed] Project," posted next to a wide canal full of water. The highway went over it, and on my left and right the canal curved forward towards the horizon, in the same direction I was going. I blinked at the idea of an open canal in the sun-baked desert, but then thought, 'Well, why not? Surely it's a good way to get water from wherever it is to wherever it's needed, right?' I couldn't help but wonder a bit where it was headed, though, since by then Phoenix was behind me.

That question was answered several miles later, when I saw an identical sign next to an identical canal — except this one was curving backwards relative to my heading. Clearly it must join with the previous big arc I'd seen, forming a huge circle or something to get the water to a large number of townships. Well, cool! Good for the Arizonans, I thought.

Then, several miles further… yet another identical sign, another identical segment of canal — except this time again, the canal arc is pointing forward, in the direction I'm heading. Goodness! The Arizonans must need a lot of water, and have several distinct canals. Well, no matter; they're clearly doing what needs doing, and I'll doubtless pass the second, backward-facing arc in a few more miles. Except… I didn't. There never was another backward facing curve of the canal.

Wait, what?!

So it would seem that somewhere in Arizona there's a huge canal circle… and another section that is full of water but apparently doesn't go anywhere! Is this a relic of flat earth syndrome, or are the Arizonans just messing with the rest of us?

So yeah… Arizona is a slightly silly place. ;)

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