The Evolving World
Burning Man 2009
 
I woke shortly before dawn. It was funny how I kept doing that. Given to my own devices back home, I would have probably slept in until mid-morning. The air was cool when I stepped outside, with a slight breeze. If the overnight storm dropped any rain my way, I could find no evidence. As I climbed out of the van, a kangaroo rat skittered under a bush. A bunny rabbit greeted me outside the bathrooms. When I came out, a flock of doves flew overhead. The place was just so beautiful! It may have been a desert, but there was life everywhere.
I started to go take a shower, but I couldn't find my shampoo-- what, did I leave it all behind ...again? Wow, I can be dumb. I figured hot water was hot water, so I scrubbed and got as clean as I could without soap. Breakfast was a sandwich, a can of V-8 Juice, and an apple, sitting at the little picnic table. The Sun slowly rose next to Superstition Mountain. As I ate, a big bunny came out of the brush looking for a handout. I threw a piece of apple at him. It bounced off the ground in front of him, landed behind him, and was immediately snatched up by a bird that came out of nowhere and ran away on little matchstick legs.
The Sun was already dazzling in the east as I packed up to go. I pulled out of camp right at 7 AM, hoping to return someday. Down the road, I stopped at Goldfield, which was not the one in Nevada, but nevertheless another mining town, now a restored ghost town tourist attraction. A couple of quail ran under a building when I drove up. Everything was closed when I went by, but it must have been impressive in its day. I went through Apache Junction and got on Highway 60, a 4-lane road. A sign along the divided highway said “divided highway continues,” which I thought was kind of obvious.
 
At Florence Junction the road became 2-lane as I turned south on Highway 79. I kept seeing training areas reserved for the Arizona National Guard. Tan-pointed Humvees were parked off the road. Military vehicles used to all be painted forest green. I wondered what the next color scheme would be. 
 
Ahead, I found the marker for Poston’s Butte, just outside of Florence. I also found another prison, which seemed to be big business in Arizona. Florence was where I turned west on 287, past wide, cultivated fields. The mountains seemed far away. 
There were lots of big farms in that area. Signs along the road marked sections that had been adopted for roadside cleanups. Many of them were “in memory of” local people; some listed dates roughly 18 years apart. I sensed each sign signaled some distant family tragedy. At Coolidge, I turned south on Arizona Boulevard, and there it was: Casa Grande. The section of land all around the ruins were left natural, while all around was cultivated fields. I was stopped at the gate by a pretty park ranger. It seems I was early—the park wouldn’t open for another half hour. So, I turned away from one of the wonders of ancient North American culture and went across the street… to the Wal-Mart. That’s where I got some more shampoo, among other supplies. Somewhere, somebody was getting rich off all the shampoo I was buying on this trip.
 
It cost $5 to enter Casa Grande. Inside, I went through the museum and then went out to walk around the ruins. Unlike Pueblo Grande, they let you walk right up to the structures. You just couldn't go inside. The entrance to the “big house” was protected with a little gate. I could see inside to where visitors had carved their names in the walls back in the 1800’s. It seems that was a big thing to do back then. 
 
A couple of park rangers were reapplying mud to the adobe walls as a preservation activity. It reminded me of Taos Pueblo, which gets revitalized with new mud every year. Thanks to that, the ruins have not suffered any further deterioration. The protective roof, built back in the 1930’s, probably saved the main structure from destruction, but was a little distracting. Nevertheless, the place had a haunting, magical charm. In its heyday, the Hohokam village was the size of a small town. Hundreds of people lived there. Hohokam was an ancient word that, depending on who you asked, meant either “the people who have gone before” or simply “all used up.” That was what the people who lived in this place generations later called the original residents. I was struck at how much these ancient peoples accomplished… and we don’t even know their real name.
I went back out to the van to get my other camera, and just then a half dozen Ford Model T’s rolled into the parking lot. It was the Model T club of Southern California on the first day of their “Desert to Pines” road trip. The vintage cars looked in pristine condition. It seemed so strange to just walk out and see a lot full of Model T cars. “You never know what you’re gonna take a picture of when you’re out on vacation,” one of the drivers’ wives said.

I looked around a little more, and then took off just before 10. I passed by the Ruins Drive-Thru Store going through town. Malcolm X Road was near the Arizona Children's Association, which had a really green lawn. I headed south on the lonely Highway 87. At 10:20 I merged back onto Interstate 10 headed east. There were lots of trucks on the road. I got to Tucson just before 11, but never saw any more of it than what I could see from the interstate. Exit 275 pointed towards Saguaro National Park. The speed limit was 75. There were rich blue mountains to the north. Ahead, I-10 went through some impressive cuts in the Earth. About 11 miles out of Benson I started seeing large houses with big yards. Somewhere along this road Satori clicked over 242,000 miles.  I passed the exit for Picacho Peak.

 Know the Difference:
 
Picacho Peak
 
Picachu
Don't Get Them Mixed Up!
 
I pulled off the highway at Benson, founded in 1880, and just past Nico's Mexican Food stopped to get $20 of gas ($2.49 a gallon). As I was pumping gas, a train engine came down the tracks pulling three cars-- that was all it was pulling, which seemed like a waste of energy to me. It was 23 miles to the  legendary Tombstone, Arizona. I sw lots of small, green farms. Highway 80 curved going through St. David (founded 1877) which had tall trees and several RV parks all in a row. The road was adopted by the Holy Trinity Monestary. The landscape was surprisingly green-- stubborn plants poked out of the rough, rocky soil. I'd forgotten just how beautiful southern Arizona could be.
 
I went through a Border Patrol checkpoint. Coming over some hills I rolled into Tombstone, Arizona, elevation 4,539 feet. You could tell the town had seen better days, but it still took me a long time to find a parking place. The historic main street of Tombstone is only one block off the road that goes through town now, but it's a step back in time. The old wooden and stone buildings are largely still intact. Locals dress up in old west outfits. The effect is enhanced by the fact the road is blocked off for modern vehicles. Horses pull tourists around in a stagecoach.
 
I got to hear a short lecture inside the Bird Cage Theater, a former bar/brothel with authentic hundred-year-old bullet holes in the walls. I'm not sure what Morgan Earp would think about a pizza place named after him, much less a bar named after Johnny Ringo or that evening entertainment on main street includes karaoke. The OK Corral had a penny crushing machine. There were also some art galleries that had some impressive stuff. It was fun. I had visited Deadwood, South Dakota when I was a kid, and Dodge City in 2008, so visiting Tombstone completed my Old West Trifecta.
I drove out of town through some gorgeous landscape. The road took me through some hills. Satori struggled over some steep grades. I came back down the other side towards the town of Bisbee, "Home of the Pioneers," as pretty a little model railroad town as you could see, right up until you get to the inappropriately-named... Lavender Pit, a huge open-pit copper mine. It's kind of a shock when it suddenly appears. They also mine turquoise there, called Bisbee Blue. The pit covers 300 acres and is 900 feet deep, a hole in the Earth big enough to be seen from outer space.
The road going out of Bisbee is maintained by the Cochise County Lesbian and Gay Alliance. That's where I picked up some rain drops, but they didn't stay long. Highway 80 split into a 4-lane road outside of Douglas, where I arrived just after 2 PM. I stopped for a bite to eat in the little city park. There was a sign for a visitor's center, but when I walked inside it turned out to be the police station. Well, that's a dirty trick I thought, until I realized the sign pointed to the visitor center behind the police station. The local lady there was very helpful. I picked up some maps and headed out of town on Pan American Avenue, this time headed north on Highway 80.
It was 46 miles to the state line, and I pretty much had the road all to myself, except for a lone cyclist I passed a half hour out of town. The highway followed an old, abandoned railhead through the Arizona wilderness. Ten miles short of the New Mexico line, I pulled over for a stone pillar erected beside the road. It commemorated the March, 2886 surrender of the great Apache chief Geronimo. He actually surrendered off in the mountains south of the monument, in a place called Skeleton Canyon. Geronimo ended up in Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, where he died in 1909 of phemonia. The site was not regularly maintained. There was a picnic table under a rusty shade structure at the surrender monument; weeds poked up through cracks in the concrete. It's a lonely place. I stood in the middle of the highway and could not see another vehicle anywhere in either direction.
I crossed the New Mexico border and passed a lonely RV park in the town of Rodeo. There was a sign for the Wonderland of Rocks, a hiking trail inside the beautiful Chiricahua National Monument.

It was starting to get late in the day. I figured I had maybe three hours of sunlight left. Fields of yucca plants grew right up to the road. About 80 miles out of Douglas I found myself back on Interstate 10. There was a big rock beside the highway near Exit 15 that someone had painted "Fraggle Rock." I stopped at a big truck stop in Lordsburg for a pit stop, then headed north under the overpass and onto Highway 90. The Gila Cliff Dwellings were close by, but I didn't have time to stop.

Satori strained on the long, slow climb into the Gila National Forest. Trees sprung up all around me. Just after 5 PM, I got to the top of the ridge and found myself crossing the Continental Divide (6,355 feet). A mountain of rubble loomed on the left side of the road. It was the trailings from the Phelps-Dodge open pit copper mine near Tyrone. The road turned 4-lane again as I rolled into Silver City, passing Harrison Schmitt Elementary School. That was where I turned east on Highway 180. Thw Whiskey Creek Airport was on my right. Coming up on Santa Clara, there was another mountain of rubble from the Santa Rita open pit copper mine. Southwestern New Mexico is a beautiful place... if you don't count all the freakin' open pit copper mines.
 

Passing through Bayard, the forest gives way to wide, grassy plains. My original plan was to visit City of Rocks State Park, then head south through Deming and spend the night at Pancho Villa State Park on the Mexican border at Columbus. I had even brought my passport so that I could cross the border. I pretty much gave up that idea because I'd been driving since sunrise and I was exhausted. It looked like I'd be camping at City of Rocks.
 
The Sun was right on the horizon as I turned off 180 onto Highway 61 for the three-mile drive to the City of Rocks State Park. I had never been there before, but I heard it was pretty neat. I figured, well heck, if it really sucked, I could always head down to Deming, where there were bound to be RV parks. The wind blew over the rolling hills unobstructed by mountains or trees. Again, I was the only vehicle on the road. Two miles in, I turned down another lonely 2-lane road. I came over a ridge... and off in the fading light stood hundreds of upright stones.
Defiant and thrilling, completely inconsistent with the surrounding countryside, it was like Stonehenge multipled dozens of times over! It was indeed a City of Rocks. The wind picked up as I dropped off my $10 camping fee at the closed ranger station. Recreational vehicles were lined up at a camping section, so I pulled into the last campsite. The Sun had already set and clouds were moving in when I set up my propane stove at the picnic table. That was when the campfire lighter I'd used during the whole trip died on me. Fortunately, I still had the little butane lighter from my Ranger kit. There remained a can of ravioli in my stores, so I cooked that up for my supper.
It was September 9th, 2009: 9/9/09. It was also pub night back home! I sent my friend Chester a text to say hi to everybody for me. The monoliths all around me took my breath away. Night had fallen, so I curled up in the back of the van and fell asleep. I woke a couple of hours later to total silence. The only lights in the park were up near the ranger station, so it was completely dark,  except for the handful of stars that shimmered through the swirling clouds above. The stars themselves seemed to swirl and dance. It was a magical place, an easy gathering place for astronomers, wizards and shamans. A cold, pelting rain woke me at 2 AM, and I had to bundle up against the chill...
 
  
 
LINKS
Tombstone, Arizona 
Casa Grande Ruins National Monument 
Picacho Peak State Park 
Geronimo 
Goldfield Ghost Town 
The Lavender Pit 
City of Rocks State Park 
All original content copyright 2009 by Tim Frayser. If your image appears on this site, and you'd rather it didn't, drop me a line and I'll remove it. Pictures appearing on this website are for personal use and are not for sale. 
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Introduction  Day 1  Day 2  Day 3 
Monday  Tuesday  Wednesday  Thursday  Friday  Saturday  Sunday 
Day 11  Day 12  Day 13  Day 14  Day 15  Epilogue