Three hours into the Arizona desert and a spray of bullet holes greet me like so many empty eye sockets

William Thomas takes a walk on the wild side

Most of the road signs had bullet holes in them. Behind me, in the toy-box town of Carefree, the United States stopped pretending to be something cosy. From here on, the ancient silence of the Wild West dominated.

I had hitched a ride from town and was dropped where the reassuring tarmac turned into desert dirt track. My "ride" dreamily motored back into the mirage of an empty highway. Ahead, among the bullet holes, I read "unsuitable for motor vehicles".

Somewhere out there was a Yorkshireman. In a cabin by a creek in the Arizona desert lives the writer and eco-warrior Geoffrey Platts. Although his precise address is a secret, I had persuaded him to give me the details and was on my way to see him.

The map in Geoffrey's letter had been intricate, and after three hours' walk, I slipped down the rocky bank of the creek and there was the cabin. It was on the other side of the stream, nestling between leafy sycamores, cottonwoods and evergreens. How come there were so many trees down here? Just minutes before, I had baked in searing blueness amid rocks and giant cacti.

"This kind of habitat is called riparian," Geoffrey explained. "It's very precious. The water rises from a spring a mile upstream and dries up two miles downstream. In between is an oasis packed with wildlife." Little did I know how right he was. That night my tent was surrounded by a munching herd of wild pigs, which peered haughtily into the torchlight I shone from behind the screen netting. "They're not aggressors, but they'll rip a dog apart if it attacks them," Geoffrey remarked.

He regards his cabin as a fortress from which he wages war on those he calls "dollar-crazed developers". Carefree town smells of money: the last housing development I had passed on my way to the desert had an 18-hole golf course on one side and a private airstrip, complete with private hangars, on the other.

The real-estate developers know who Geoffrey Platts is. It is as well they probably do not know exactly where he is. Geoffrey campaigns against any nature-crunching project he hears of, and is a thorn in the flesh of wealthy "landscrapers". All this in a state where it is legal to carry a gun and where capriciously sprayed bullet holes attest to people's impatience to use such weapons.

"I tend to think more and more like an Apache," said Geoffrey, as we strode out the next morning into uncharted terrain for a four-day survival hike. "This area is only classified as desert because it gets less than 10 inches of rainfall a year, but when those rains come in the spring the whole place explodes with wild flowers."

The Sonoran Desert in that region of Arizona is indeed spectacular. Mountains and flat-topped mesas rise out of a vast, bushy desert floor. Reaching gaping tall into flawlessly blue skies that really stretch the eyes, they flaunt the individal shapes and identities that gave them their names, such as Skull Mesa and Camelback Mountain. Stands of giant saguaro cacti stake their ancient claims, like petrified armies, on the south-facing mountain slopes. Many are 200 years old and as tall as a house. Racoons, rattlesnakes and lizards, rare mountain lions and birds of prey grace the uncanny silence.

Now and again, Geoffrey would indicate evidence of a more alarming species, the Weekend Warrior. "They're a strange breed of hunter: city people who get so frustrated by their frantic existence that they drive out to the desert at the weekend, armed to the teeth. They shoot at anything: deer, birds, telegraph poles, each other. They rarely succeed in hitting anything and never stray more than 10 paces from their four- wheel drives. What gets me is that they disturb the tranquillity of the desert and always leave a trail of beer cans behind them."

Geoffrey told me of a time when a drunk Weekend Warrior opened up with a sub-machine-gun at a giant saguaro cactus. The 150-year-old monster was rotten, however, and fell on top of him, impaling him on the spot. The Yorkshireman's wink said it all. For him, this desert is alive.

When to go

High summer can be extremely hot in Arizona, with severe thunderstorms. Any other time of year should be all right, though storms can occur in March.

How to get there

No airline flies direct from the UK but connecting flights go to Phoenix. USAirtours (0181-559 2020) has pounds 511 on TWA from Gatwick via St Louis. Carefree is 20 miles north of Phoenix; rent a car from Sky Harbor.

Who to ask

Arizona Office of Tourism, 1100 West Washington Street, Phoenix, AZ 85007 (001 602 542 8687).

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want it for the fitness tech, or for the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Bid / Tender Writing Executive

    £24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executives / Marketing Communications Consultants

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a number of Marketi...

    Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

    £20000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well established business ...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own