I love the American West for the same reasons all grown-up boys love it. Because in my mind, I have galloped imaginary horses along these ranges a million times.

The red rocks of Sedona are tall and warm. When you hike them, you can’t help but notice how unusual they are.

Our house in Florida is ten feet below sea level. We do not have rocks except for the ones my cousin’s kids painted to raise money for a church trip to Wilsonville.

My wife and I have been hiking this mountain since morning. It’s almost suppertime. We have another hour left on the trail.

We pass a man who is sitting on a rock. His beard is white, he looks too old for this terrain. He is breathing heavy. His daughter is seated next to him.

“Dad, do you need to check your blood pressure?” she keeps asking.

The old man is trying to catch his breath and cannot answer.

“Dad? Answer me.”

He removes his Gilligan hat and reveals a bald head. He surveys the miles of colored rock and sagebrush. There are tall orange mountains. Long khaki walls. Two-toned skyscrapers of cinnamon and white chocolate.

He starts to laugh at the view.

“Well,” he says. “It sure as hell ain’t Iowa. You definitely don’t see this sorta thing on the farm.”

“Dad,” says his daughter. “There’s no shame in turning back.”

“Good,” he says. “Then YOU turn back. I’ve been hiking for hours. I’m getting to the top if it kills me.”

He’s been a farmer all his life. He’s never gone anywhere or done anything famous, he tells me.

The most notable thing he ever did was grow a contest-winning pumpkin the size of a tractor tire. That, and he married a lovely woman who gave him the best years of his life.

He misses her. She always wanted to see Hawaii, Alaska, Florida, and Arizona, but it never happened. She never left Iowa. She passed several years ago unexpectedly, and he wishes she could see these rocks.

He says to his daughter, “Your mom woulda liked it here.”

This is all he says.

He starts playing with a little chain he wears around his neck. Who knows what the chain is for, or why his hands are shaking.

Could be exertion. Could be emotion. The two aren’t very different.

Finally, he stands. He hobbles the trail upward toward the summit. His daughter pleads with him to turn back. He insists that he’s “as healthy as a pack mule.”

We part ways. My wife and I are hiking downward, and I am following her because she is a natural leader.

I’m thinking about what the man said, and how grateful I am that my wife is with me. Because there will come a time when fate will call my number or hers, and it will be the end of the greatest adventure I’ve ever known. Her.

Our hike is fun. We sing cowboy songs to an audience of smooth rocks. We catch our breath beneath twisted juniper trees. We pause to laugh about our crazy relatives and drink from water bottles.

And I can think of no better person to daydream with.

I love the American West for the same reasons all grown-up boys love it. Because in my mind, I have galloped imaginary horses along these ranges a million times. Because it is dreamlike.

My wife and I stop to take in another view. We are sunburned. Salt has crystalized on our skin from evaporated sweat. We hug. The dust on our bare arms makes a sound like someone dancing the soft shoe. She kisses my cheek.

“You think that old man will be okay?” she says.

“Don’t know.”

“He sure misses his wife.”

“Sure does.”

“Would you miss me like that?”


“Me too.”

“Love you.”

“I love you.”

When we reach our vehicle, we are exhausted. We sit on our bumper, eating sandwiches, guzzling more water, massaging our feet until the sun lowers.

My body’s going to pay for this. I can’t feel my toes. My knees ache. But you should see this sunset.

Then I hear a sound. A few hikers on the trail are applauding. I turn to see a white-bearded Iowan, limping his last few steps on a long path. His daughter is behind him, she’s clapping, too.

He is leaning on his walking stick. Each stride looks painful. His legs have streaks of dried blood on them. A white bandage is on his elbow. And he is all smiles.

He did it.

I stand in line to shake his hand. His grip says nothing but farmer.

“How was the view from the top?” I ask.

He turns to look at the stunning rocks behind him. He clutches his necklace. His lip quivers. Exhaustion and emotion are setting in. He’s thinking of her, I can tell it.

“Well,” he says. “It sure as hell ain’t Iowa.”


  1. oldlibrariansshelf - April 20, 2019 6:56 am

    You sure as hell are a good listener and you can paint a word picture with all the talent with which you illustrate your columns. Art Buchwald and Erma Bombeck are fighting over which one will be your new best friend in Heaven! Thank you, Sean of the South, for giving this old lady something to cheer her whether it is a night when she cannot sleep well or a morning when she thinks she cannot face another day. God is good.

    • Connie - May 21, 2019 8:21 pm

      All the time!

  2. Susan Self - April 20, 2019 7:23 am

    Love, life, and mercy all painted with words. You made me believe I was there. Sean, you help this old lady, at 2:00 in the morning. When I can’t sleep. Thank you.

  3. Estelle - April 20, 2019 9:09 am

    It’s 3:50 am. I can’t always sleep at night. So many nights i’m reading your post. I keep them in file on my phone. So I can always reread some of the stories. You have a gift with words. I could see the rocks in my mind. And I knew what the old man looked like because my dad wore a Gilligan hat and played golf every day for many years walking the course.He had grown up on a farm and he couldn’t just sit still and do nothing. When you’ve’ grown up working from dawn till dark you have to be doing something. He would have loved to have traveled with my mom when they retired but a few months into retirement she found she had lung cancer. Never put off the chance of spending time with your spouse enjoying something you’ve always wanted to do. It can be awfully lonely after one of you is gone.

  4. Cathi - April 20, 2019 10:05 am

    You & Jamie singing cowboy songs to the rocks of Sedona…that’s a beautiful word picture. In addition to your writing career, maybe y’all should start a guided tour business too!

  5. Marilyn Vance - April 20, 2019 10:45 am

    Our adventure ended two years ago today when my husband went on ahead, but I know it will begin again when I go to meet him and our Savior. I miss laughing, singing and ‘cuttin’ the fool with him but I know it’s not over because of the resurrection we celebrate this weekend! Happy Easter to you and Jamie!

  6. Edna B. - April 20, 2019 10:57 am

    Yup, we had some adventures too. And I miss him. But I have memories. Your stories start my day with a smile. You and Jamie have a Blessed Easter my friend, hugs, Edna B.

  7. Meredith Smith - April 20, 2019 11:30 am

    Sean & Jamie, your IG photos and this post really bring back memories. Sedona is a special place, a place where many go to heal and find themselves. I was fortunate to make my first visit to Sedona to a place called The Enchantment Resort. My very good friend was and is associated with the property and helped me with a little getaway. I knew immediately that the sun was shining upon me when they announced my arrival at the front gate. This place is top notch. Inside my private casita I watched the sun rise and set upon the red rock canyons, I was able to walk the private propertys’ canyons each morning and night. Never since have I enjoyed such an incredible experience, the days stresses literally melting away. Now each time I go to visit my parents in Tucson, I make the short 3 hour trek to Sedona to enjoy the red rocks, to visit the town where everyone is welcome, to visit my friend (if he is in town) and to generally decompress.
    Thank you again for writing about Sedona. It really is a special place.

  8. Nancy Hall - April 20, 2019 11:44 am

    Sedona is on the top of my bucket list. Loved reading about y’alls visit.

  9. Joe Patterson - April 20, 2019 11:45 am


  10. Heidi - April 20, 2019 12:28 pm

    I lived, for many years, over the mountain from Sedona. We took our kids to Oak Creek Canyon and Slide Rock before it got fancy. We hiked those hills. Thank you for br8nging back cherished memories of that area. It’s a magical place. So glad two of my favorite people got to experience it too. ❤️

  11. Connie Havard Ryland - April 20, 2019 1:14 pm

    Reading about people loving each other to the end and beyond is a beautiful thing. I’ve been divorced and alone for 8 years and I know I won’t ever have anyone miss me like that, or love me like that, but it fills my heart to know it exists. My kids will be all I have to miss me, but we have made memories they will have forever. I took a cruise with my oldest daughter. Visited my son in Virginia and got to see places full of history. Drove from Alabama to California and up the Pacific coast to Washington with my granddaughter and her (now) husband, and made a 7,500 mile loop across our country. It’s a beautiful place to see. All of it. And I’m blessed. So glad you and Jamie enjoy your adventures. Thank you for sharing them with us. Love and hugs.

  12. Debbie Galleher - April 20, 2019 1:26 pm

    This just has to be my very favorite post♥️ I can feel the warmth of the Sedona sun , and see the beautiful mountains. And I can so relate to the Iowa farmer and how he needed to finish that hike, for her.
    I miss my son every single day ? and your story helped bring all of those feelings together this morning.

  13. Jack Darnell - April 20, 2019 3:06 pm

    I like it. something about this story and more of ‘missed dreams’, Statements like “I wish my wife could see it!” are not going to happen (I hope) we like to see things together as we age. But I do love the story, you done good! Glad you and your love are together.
    Sherry& jack

  14. Sandy - April 20, 2019 3:32 pm

    I was in Sedona a month ago and it was breathtaking. I Had recently lost a loved one and all I could think of was how he would have loved the place. Thanks Sean for an inspirational piece.

  15. Shelton A. - April 20, 2019 4:42 pm

    You treasure your time with Jamie…you didn’t need an Iowa farmer to teach you that. But it was a great reminder! God bless y’all.

  16. Linda Moon - April 20, 2019 4:49 pm

    Sedona – been there and done it three times….with loved ones. So happy to hear that you, your loved one, and the farmer loved Sedona and its Red Rocks! Sedona’s picturesque photo is on my mantel, and I’ll think of your story when I look at it every day.

  17. Jones - April 20, 2019 5:00 pm


  18. Charaleen Wright - April 21, 2019 4:34 am

  19. Carolyn - May 21, 2019 10:40 am

    Love Sedona beautiful and peaseful

  20. Cathy McKeown - May 21, 2019 9:58 pm

    I was raised in Oak Creek canyon so hiked and rode horses in all this beautiful country before the “world” found it. Don’t spend much time there now but still remember those beautiful spots and views!


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