Earth Notes - Godfrey Sykes

Flagstaff, AZ – Godfrey Sykes was a Renaissance man and one of the Southwest's little-known literary heroes. Unlike many writers, he truly lived the adventures he described.

Born in England in 1860, Sykes studied engineering before coming to the United States at age nineteen. Six years as a cowboy, freighter, and wild horse wrangler around Abilene, Texas, ripened the greenhorn. He then set sail on a tramp steamer to the South Pacific. In 1895, Sykes rode the rails to northern Arizona, which he called home for a number of years.

With his brother Stanley, he had a cow camp at Turkey Tanks near Flagstaff. In town, they set up their Makers & Menders bicycle shop at the foot of Mars Hill and Lowell Observatory. They could fix most anything, and helped build the unique ponderosa pine dome that still houses the observatory's Clark Telescope.

Sykes called his new backyard a most enjoyable playground. His 1944 autobiography, A Westerly Trend, stands as a classic of Southwest literature. Northern Arizona, he wrote, struck us as being very satisfactory, as it appeared to afford scope for working off a good deal of our exploring fervour. His explorations included a challenging boat trip down the undammed lower Colorado River to the Gulf of California.

Never one to resist a blank spot on any map, Sykes headed south again later in life, moving to the edge of the Sonoran Desert in Tucson. From there he looked back on a long life full of what he called frontiers and unoccupied spaces.

-Rose Hauk