Anyone who came to visit us was taken to Kitt Peak, once the largest, most advanced astronomical observatory in the world. It is still wondrous, though larger, more modern telescopes have since been placed further from lights and cities.
I’ve never driven there, and it bears so little resemblance to childhood memories. In snow and wind it was quite honestly terrifying.
But the skies, oh the skies were wondrous.
Once arrived, we found they had cancelled the next tour because of high winds. The highest winds I have ever experienced I think. We wandered about a little, the solar telescope is the one I remember best so we went there. Doors all closed, therefore locked. I crept towards the edge to see the incredible view but didn’t even get close.
I’ve never driven there, and it bears so little resemblance to childhood memories. In snow and wind it was quite honestly terrifying. Once arrived, we found they had cancelled the next tour because of high winds. The highest winds I have ever experienced I think. We wandered about a little, the solar telescope is the one I remember best so we went there. Doors all closed, therefore locked. I crept towards the edge to see the incredible view but didn’t even get close.
We must go back and see it again properly.
We drove back down along Ajo, down the roller coaster of Kinny and along through the Tucson Mountains to hike Brown Mountain Trail. I ran up here once to sit on this hill and watch a wall of rain across the valley. The trail is beuatiful, though perhaps a little too close to the road, which is far too busy for my liking. But we came up the hill and stared back across to Baboquivari and Kitt Peak, sun beams streaming down to light them up. Sacred mountains.
Jerome is one of my favourite mining towns, I came here with mum on the great road trip of ought eleven, which also included Wupatki, Montezuma’s Castle, and Tuzigoot. We missed them all this trip but Jerome was lovely. From 2011:
We went this time to Crown King Mine, which was once Haynes Arizona. It is full of mining equipment, old house fittings, a monument to the Evil Dead in the form of a shed filled with every kind of chain saw, wondrous old cars including an old electric model, dentist chairs and mangles and school desks. All of it is collected from this ruined town and others, from the shacks that grew up everywhere around these holes in the ground filled with copper, silver, zinc, molybdenum.
So much abandoned and left, either when the minerals and the jobs ran out, or when people grew too old to stay there. I keep thinking about extraction, the way it demands that people come and then it expects them to go. Very few people ever get rich and they generally were rich already, lived elsewhere, dabbled in claims that others had prospected and staked. Most of those doing the mining itself eke out a living at great risk to life and health, but there is something about it that most of them love even as their labour is extracted from them just like copper or gold. Until there is nothing left.
Somehow in the midst of that they come to come to love, grow to feel a connection with a place. I was thinking about the fight to keep towns like this alive, how it comes from the lives built here, the memories, labour, laughter, friends, family. Things worth fighting for.
I was thinking also though, that maybe it’s best to leave as easily as you came so many years ago, let the land return to what it was before machines ripped the heart from it or return to the wild with it.
Impossible to say which way I fall, but then, it is not for me to decide for others.
I love what remains standing.
I mourn what stands no longer, like the Mexican community of Daisy Town just outside of Jerome, where nothing remains but foundations. As the sign says: ‘Small ethnic communities were common around the mining developments of the West,’ it doesn’t mention of course this was usually for their own protection, though in some cases I expect they might well have been there first.
There is of course, also a long history of labour organizing here too — La Liga Protectora Latina (not much about that), and the IWW (some awesomeness about that).
The train runs from Arizona’s first company town, Clarksdale, through slag heaps and on up the most beautiful canyon to the remains of Perkinsville. Bald eagles, deer, not sure quite how much harmony exists but this was most lovely…
Sandwiched between two protected sanctuaries, the Coconino National Forest and the Prescott National Forest, the Railroad runs a rare ribbon where dramatic high desert meets a precious riparian area. Such scenery comprises only 2% of the Arizona landscape.
Since 1912 the train has existed in harmony with the wilderness and its native inhabitants…
From one sublime to another, we stopped here early in the morning the day after the Grand Canyon. It was 8 degrees, frozen wind, they unlocked the door for us, the first visitors. We had it to ourselves to recapture our youth.
It’s been sold, and the day before we arrived they had begun moving the figures. Small surprise they started with Betty Rubble, Wilma, the giant Pebbles.
From Kingman we had a quick drive down to Santa Claus…once a colorful old-school developer’s dream, a cashing-in-on-Christmas-to-sell-Real-Estate that didn’t work at all, though it proved immensely popular while it was maintained — Jane Russell maybe threw a party here. Arizona Highways provides a short history here. Robert Heinlein wrote a story in which it featured (‘Cliff and the Calories‘), which is rather hilarious.
The sign read Santa Claus, Arizona. I blinked at it, thinking I was at last seeing a mirage. There was a gas station, all right, but that wasn’t all.
You know what most desert gas stations look like – put together out of odds and ends. Here was a beautiful fairytale cottage with wavy candy stripes in the shingles. It had a broad brick chimney – and Santa Claus was about to climb down the chimney!
Maureen, I said, you’ve overdone this starvation business; now you are out of your head.
Between the station and the cottage were two incredible little dolls’ houses. One was marked Cinderella’s House and Mistress Mary Quite Contrary was making the garden grow. The other one needed no sign; the Three Little Pigs, and Big Bad Wolf was stuck in its chimney.
“Kid stuff!” says Junior, and added, “Hey, Pop, do we eat here? Huh?”
“We just gas up,” answered Daddy. “Find a pebble to chew on. Your mother has declared a hunger strike.”
Mother did not answer and headed toward the cottage. We went inside, a bell bonged, and a sweet contralto voice boomed, “Come in! Dinner is ready!”
The inside was twice as big as the outside and was the prettiest dining room imaginable, fresh, new, and clean. Heavenly odors drifted out of the kitchen. The owner of the voice came out and smiled at us.
We knew who she was because her kitchen apron had “Mrs. Santa Claus” embroidered across it. She made me feel slender, but for her it was perfectly right.
Can you imagine Mrs. Santa Claus being skinny?
“How many are there?” she asked.
“Four,” said Mother, “but – ” Mrs. Santa Claus disappeared into the kitchen.
Mother sat down at a table and picked up a menu. I did likewise and started to drool – here is why:
Minted Fruit Cup Rouge Pot – au – feu a la Creole Chicken Velvet Soup Roast Veal with Fine Herbs Ham Soufflй Yankee Pot Roast Lamb Hawaii Potatoes Lyonnaise Riced Potatoes Sweet Potatoes Maryland Glazed Onions Asparagus Tips with Green Peas Chicory Salad with Roquefort Dressing Artichoke Hearts with Avocado Beets in Aspic Cheese Straws Miniature Cinnamon Rolls Hot Biscuits Sherry Almond Ice Cream Rum Pie Pкches Flambйes Royales Peppermint Cloud Cake Devil’s Food Cake Angel Berry Pie Coffee Tea Milk (Our water is trucked fifteen miles; please help us save it.)
Thank you. Mrs. Santa Claus
It made me dizzy, so I looked out the window. We were still in the middle of the grimmest desert in the world.
Now that almost everything has been stolen, it’s all grim apart from the desert. This trip had several of these moments where it felt like we were just in time.
From there we drove down Route 66. I wish we’d had time to stop in Oatman, in Hackberry, in Valentine — nothing more frustrating than a road trip on a time table, I can’t wait until we are retired. Anyway, we followed the train tracks across the landscape.
Passed Peach Tree Springs
Back down to the main highway to speed towards the Grand Canyon. There were great dark clouds with beams of light pouring down across the valley.
The Grand Canyon — words can’t describe it. It was Mark’s first time, Last I was here, we drove up to the rim, parked, hiked down the Bright Angel Trail. Despite the government shut down everything was open, but the parking lot was massive and full to overflowing and you have to take a shuttle and…
I felt old, wished for the good old days, wished for half the people and none of the cars. But still. It was wondrous in the snow and with the sun setting through the clouds.
A long drive from Tucson but a rather beautiful one, we came up via Gila Bend to bypass Phoenix and they finished the new divided highway — though I wish I had looked for the old road, the beautiful old bridge where you can almost always see pelicans along the river. This is from 2014.
Ah well, next time. We did stop at the space age lodge for lunch, where I always stop, because it’s got a home made flying saucer and you can’t do better than that.
Wickenberg did not disappoint with its jail tree, its strange figures, it’s old-town feel.
We drove up through the forest of Joshua trees that I never even knew were there, they were stunning and I wish we had had some time to stop. Past Nothing, AZ. Finally landed in Kingman, which I loved.
We stayed at El Trovatore, which was fabulous, not least because of the owners dispensing stories (and route 66 pins!) about the town — the tunnels constructed underneath so that the Chinese population could move about unhindered by curfews and racism (came in handy during prohibition, I was gutted they are not open to see), the marriage of Carole Lombard and Clark Gable (church pictured below), the speeding ticket given to Jean-Claude Van Dam and his two weeks of community service there, the DUI given to Pamela Anderson followed by the indecent exposure charge after her playboy shoot near the local church. D’z Diner, the way a diner should be (though service was agonizingly slow). The hotel itself is marvelous, the first to be built with en suite bathrooms so it’s had its share of famous folk. The fixtures were original, and I can’t believe I didn’t get pics of the incredible showers (black and white tiles, arched entrance into the shower room, with the taps on one wall and shower head on the other!) And of course Andy Devine grew up here in the Beale St Hotel — we watched The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence in his honor. He’s the reason we were here, to see the room dedicated to him in the local museum.
I enjoyed Gary Nabhan’s Food From the Radical Center greatly, it is full of stories of the different ways in which communities have come together to preserve and restore habitats and species. It is a bringing together of many old and a few new ways to better live on and eat from the land. In all of this it is inspirational.
My favourite story.
Valer Clark brought in canteros from Guanajuato to build tens of thousands of check damns or trincheras in the West Turkey Creek watershed along the border — over 40,000 of them. Amazing. Over a relatively short period of time they captured 630 tons of moisture-holding soil and created a vibrant riparian habitat bursting with wildlife, including coatimundis which are my favourites. But that still isn’t quite the best part. Nabhan writes:
The only true gripe I’ve ever heard about the restoration work was not from her neighbors but from the US border Patrol. Its administrators pouted for a while about how much water Valer’s crew had brought back into the streams crossing the US-Mexico border. The steady flows were making it harder for their trucks to ford certain watercourses without getting stuck in the mud. The Border Patrol apparently liked it better when they could navigate dry, barren riverbeds that had not been restored! (51)
You can see why it might be my favourite story.
Nabhan, Gary Paul (2018) Food From the Radical Center: Healing Our Land and Communities. Washington D.C.: Island Press.
Mark, Julie and I had our first great walk of Christmas holiday ought eighteen up in the Catalina foothills (directions here), with flowers blooming everywhere in such a wet winter. It was beautiful. We went off trail a bit and I had forgotten how much I loved that, but we did pay for it in blood and Mark’s new typology of stabby things, hooked stabby things and barbed stabby things. Also, sore muscles.
A far-away from the centre and mountain town, university town, town built around the manufacturing of wool. Its picturesque buildings tumble down hills along narrow twisting streets, offer incredible views across valleys filled with the ruins of old factories. It has built public elevators and funiculars. It is storied with ancient castle walls, labour organizing, and now woolfest, which has brought the town some of my favourite street art. It seems safer to love these incredible works without reservation here unlike Lisbon, where gentrification and the financialisation of real estate through luxury flats and air bnb creeps across that amazing city. Once an art of rebellion, grafitti has become marketable in many places, but perhaps not here. It can just be loved.
Just communities, just cities, Just connections between country and city. Also, the weird and wonderful.