Sunset sounds for a big-sky state of mind


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This month’s travel feature is all about Arizona — but getting there, of course, is half the fun. And tripping along Arizona highways is even better with a soundtrack to complement rugged desert landscapes, big sky sunsets, and miles of scenic backroads. Musicians and writers have long found their muse among canyons, rattlesnakes, and saguaro cactus. Here are a few inspirations to help get your road trip in a “Copper State” of mind.

Leaving Las Vegas: When the KNPR signal weakens to garbled syllables and static, find that lonely AM button and rediscover the golden age of radio in Golden Valley. Even if you hate twangy country music, the 24-hour classic country station AM 1170 KYET delivers a honkytonk soundtrack tailor-made for dusty stretches of desert highway.

Entering new territory: Along Arizona’s Interstate 40, “The Voice of the Navajo Nation” (FM 101.5 KTNN) delivers community dispatches in English and Navajo, as well as music to match, with contemporary and traditional Native American music along with a mix of country standards.

For the long haul: Trek across those long stretches of highway with episodes from the LeVar Burton Reads podcast. (You might know Burton as Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge from Star Trek: The Next Generation.) Burton’s readings of “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian ExperienceTM” by Rebecca Roanhorse and “Jackalope Wives” by Ursula Vernon are two good choices to match the wild scenery out your window.

Built for speed: Pick up the tempo with some high-octane desert drive time. Phoenix-based Meat Puppets fit this need. While, ahem, not a choice for every taste, the band’s mix of prickly, hard-driving, toe-tapping genre-bending country punk packs plenty of energy to help you power through to the next stop for road snacks.

Roll your own: For a dash of authentic Southwest spirit, infuse your favorite road trip playlist with a few tracks from this desert-inspired list, featuring artists from Arizona or songs about it.

“Get Back,” The Beatles
“Route 66,” Nat King Cole / King Cole Trio
“Big Iron,” Marty Robbins
“Chunder,” Friends of Dean Martinez
“Summer Wine,” Lee Hazlewood & Nancy Sinatra
“By the Time I get to Phoenix,” Glen Campbell
“Jack Straw,” Grateful Dead
“Take it Easy,” Eagles
“Willin,” Linda Ronstadt
“Carefree Highway,” Gordon Lightfoot
“Hey Willie,” Waylon Jennings
“Forty Miles of Bad Road,” Duane Eddy
“Cowboy Boots,” Howe Gelb (The Listener LP version)
“Peaceful Easy Feeling,” Eagles
“The Painted Desert,” 10,000 Maniacs
“Midnight Rider,” Waylon Jennings
“Arizona Skies,” Los Lobos

Pro tip: Don’t have time to make a playlist? Download Retrograde by Friends of Dean Martinez. The album is an ethereal instrumental soundscape perfect for a sundown run on any beautiful, lonely, Arizona desert backroad.

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