I got back from visiting my father and sister in Phoenix Arizona. This trip we headed north to Flagstaff to do some back road driving, caving, and swimming in waterholes. Several years ago a previous trip into northern Arizona to the Mogollon Rim partly inspired Southland. This trip was equally inspiring.
In the eastern United States the flora and fauna is largely determined by how north and south you are. In the western United States it is determined more by the altitude. We started in Phoenix which is roughly a 1,000 feet above sea level, and ended up in Flagstaff which is a little under 7,000 ft. Driving around we got as high as 8,000 feet.
The changes in terrain are dramatic. Phoenix back country looks mostly like a construction yard littered with rocks with Saguaro cactus dotting the landscape. Driving further north you find yourself in a similar region but instead of cactus you see juniper trees. They look more like man high bushes than a tree. Occasionally you will see three of a brighter green that mark stands of cottonwood trees along a stream.
Finally after climbing onto the Colorado Plateau you get into the Coconino National Forest and it extensive forest of Ponderosa pines. There is virtually no underbrush the forest floor is carpeted by grass turned yellow in the midsummer sun and littered with numerous pine cones. Deadfall can be an obstacle in some area. Despite the lack of underbrush the number pine trees break up line of sight and makes it easy to get lost if you are not paying attention to where you are going.
The landscape is broken up by dramatic mountain ranges and places where bare rock is exposed. We went to one place where the indian culture of the area used a vertical rock face not only to carve sacred pictures but also a solar calender that used the shadows cast by protruding rocks. Nearby there was a public swimming hole where the creek passed through an area of exposed rock forming a natural cliff on one side that you can jump off of.
Finally we headed to a cave that was once a lava tube. Most of the mountains in the region were formed by volcanism. This area the lava flow harden on the surface quickly but underneath it flowed out leaving behind a long snake like cave. An interesting feature is that the cave is 32 to 45 degrees all year around.
The cave entrance is a rock filled bowl and when you climb down into you can feel the dramatic changes of temperature, like walking into a refrigerated meat locker. The cave floor is nothing but a rock pile so you have to carefully pick your way through. It would not be an ideal place to fight. There would be a lot of dexterity saving throws trying to have combat in such a place.
I got some ideas for settings and adventures and I hope this inspires you as well.