Saturday, December 18, 2010

America's Toughest

Tempe, Arizona

Friday, December 17, 2010

Today I visit two museums in Tempe. The first is the Tempe History Museum, in what used to be the city library, next to the new one in a large complex of buildings. It’s free, and pretty much worth the price of admission. A bit more, really. It has exhibits describing the "prehistory" and the European history of the area. Before the honkies came it was the domain of the Hohokam people, of course, and later the Apaches.

The Hohokam apparently had a quite sophisticated (by our definition) civilization and government, not to mention their system of canals for irrigation. But what the hell, they had a long time to achieve relatively little. Archaeological evidence suggests they occupied the land from approximately the year 1 A.D. until 1450. How they figured out the beginning date I don’t know. Their area was a large oval covering the center of the bottom two thirds of the present State of Arizona. Today the O’odham people (with a name suspiciously similar to Hohokam, don’t you think?) occupy a smaller reservation area south of Tucson.

Some say the Hohokam retreated from the Phoenix area because of droughts and flooding. I don’t buy it. Think of it--1,450 years in the same place! If you can’t get used to droughts and flooding around here in that span of time, then what have you learned? And then to retreat south, into the Sonoran desert, leaving all that canal infrastructure behind? I think it more likely that others came--the Apaches, maybe--and forced them out by fire and sword and holy terror. Then, because the Apaches were essentially nomadic at that time, they didn't have much use for the whole canal thing. They came, they saw, they kicked ass, they moved on.

I could be completely wrong about that and I admit my knowledge is superficial, but hell, no one else seems to know the answer either, since, of all the things the Hohokam did achieve, figuring how to write things down wasn't one of them. Here’s the really important thing, though. The Hohokam stayed here for a millennium and a half. That's three times longer than the Roman Empire lasted, or for that matter than the European conquest of the southwest has lasted so far. Can anyone in this country imagine us staying around for that long? Admittedly, the pace of change is a bit faster now, but not in the really essential matters--water, roads, housing, food. All those things look more or less like they did two thousand years ago, just maybe made with different materials. Cattle still graze, cotton still grows, buildings must still have walls and roofs, fries must still be wrapped in something to absorb the grease.

It’s puzzling to me how any civilization could last that long in the first place, then disappear without leaving much evidence behind. Puzzling but reassuring, since it means that in all likelihood this thing we have going now will be all but obliterated at some point. Then the people who come after us will say, “Well, there’s evidence that for some time the people who called themselves ‘Americans’ lived here. We don’t know where they went or why. It might have been disease, or not enough air conditioning, or a shortage of Twinkies, or maybe they got back in their space ships and went to their home planet.”

On up Rural Road I go to Apache Blvd., where I turn left, heading toward the ASU campus. I go to the ASU Art Museum. This is an architecturally innovative concrete thing that somewhat resembles a low temple or pyramid. I go in and down some stairs to the entrance, at the lowest level.

The museum has a relatively small collection, given over mostly to the multi-media renderings of artists I assume are locals or students. Some of it works, and some it is too clever by half, but I applaud the museum for its evident commitment to new contemporary art.

By far the most amusing thing is a piece by an artist named Chris Todd, called “America’s Toughest Jukebox.” It’s a video jukebox box about four feet high, called a Scopitone. They were popular in Europe a few decades ago, and I seem to remember seeing one in a North African restaurant in Paris in the 60s, playing precursors to music videos--belly dancers and such--for lonely Arab men. This one is topped with a video screen on which is the black and white head of Maricopa County’s own Joe Arpaio, “America’s toughest sheriff.” His head perches atop a somewhat oversized pair of shoulders dressed in a 70s style leisure suit with a garish wide shirt collar spread over the lapels. He stands behind a lectern. The viewer is invited to push buttons with song titles next to them, whereupon the mouth and head of Sheriff Joe move in synch to the songs. He talks, rather than sings, in a gruff but high voice which I assume is a good imitation of his real voice. The two songs I listened to all the way through were “Shout” and “Every Breath You Take.” I left when he was about halfway through “Margaritaville.” A brilliant work of art.

Elsewhere in the museum there are paintings and sketches by more recognized artists, like Thomas Hart Benton, Georgia O’Keefe, Grant Wood, and George Grosz. There’s a wall filled with portraits, probably about thirty of them, from the 18th century to the present day. A nice presentation.

After the ASU Art Museum I proceed down Mill Street to where all the student shops and restaurants are located and relax with a cup of coffee, watching the kids and the panhandlers and listening to a guy playing the saxophone for donations. His repertoire consisted of a mediocre and somewhat mournful succession of Christmas carols and TV theme songs.

Friday, December 17, 2010


Mesa and Phoenix, Arizona

Thursday, December 16, 2010

I am at leisure today. The motor home is in the parking lot of the Walmart in Mesa at the intersection of Greenfield and U.S. 60. Some of the motor homes in that parking lot are ones I saw when I stayed there last Friday night after walking as far as Apache Junction, and they appear to all intents and purposes to be permanently moored. So it’s an accommodating place for recreational vehicles.

The reason I’m back there now is that I have decided to take the rest of the week off before flying back home for the holidays on Sunday the 19th. Laurine’s cousin in Mesa has graciously agreed to let me park the motor home in front of her house until I return on January 2nd, and meanwhile I’m in the friendly confines of Wally World.

A word or two about Walmarts. I did a count this morning, and after tonight and tomorrow I will have spent a total of 172 nights in Walmart parking lots, in 73 different locations, since I began the journey in September 2009. On several mornings I have awakened to discover that I’m parked under a sign that says “No Overnight Parking” because of a municipal ordinance, but this has made no difference. I have never been harassed, and only once was I asked to move to another part of the parking lot. On another occasion the security guard who patrolled the place stopped simply to welcome me and tell me which spot would be quietest and most conducive to a good night’s sleep.

Whatever else might be said about Walmart as a corporate institution, parking a motor home overnight there seems to be one of the great unwritten and God-given rights in this country, together with the right to be left alone. I’m amazed by my unparalleled good fortune in this respect. Of course it costs Walmart nothing, and earns them goodwill and extra business, but still I can’t help feeling that it’s above and beyond their calling as a purveyor of groceries and cheap merchandise. It puts me in mind of the medieval concept of sanctuary, where a person had the right to go into a church and place himself under the protection of ecclesiastical law and out of the reach of civil authority. That was self-serving on the part of the Church, of course, since there was always a conflict between religious and civilian authority, with the Church claiming the higher jurisdiction. And that’s another story for another time.

Today I’m driving toward Phoenix, down Main Street in Mesa through the spacious center of this city, heading for the Phoenix Art Museum. The downtown of Mesa is modern and alive, the street corners filled with bronze sculptures--life sized replicas of people and animals and other more abstract renderings. The light rail tracks run down the center of Main Street. Perhaps tomorrow or Saturday I’ll spend a little time looking around, but for now I’m headed west.

Main Street becomes Apache Boulevard in Tempe, and then becomes Mill Avenue, carrying me through the commercial heart of the Arizona State University campus, and then to the Tempe Bridge past the town beach and across the lake/river, where I walked on Tuesday. Off to the north are the brown hills and bluffs that form the natural geographic barrier between Tempe and Phoenix. To the southeast I can see the cluster of tall buildings in downtown Phoenix.

The Phoenix Art Museum is located on Central Avenue, just north of McDowell. Parts of it are closed for renovations, including the sections containing European painting and medieval art. This is disappointing, since those are my favorite things. They have moved some paintings out of the section they’re working on, however, and the first gallery I enter has an eclectic gathering of paintings and sculptures from what they call “the long 19th century,” comprising the period from about 1780 to the beginning of World War One. Featured are several American portraits by Rembrandt Peale and Gilbert Stuart, including a familiar one of George Washington. Also some 19th century American and European landscapes and a few French Impressionist paintings.

The museum has a large collection of contemporary American art, including the familiar Lichtensteins and Warhols, as plentiful as Picassos because of the fecundity of the artists. My favorite item is a sculpture by Tony Oursler called “Blob.” It’s a roundish white thing that resembles a giant tooth about four feet square with a mouth and eyes projected onto it from a little box in front. There’s no nose, and the features are scrunched together. The eyes blink and roll around independent of one another and the mouth, perhaps that of the artist, lasciviously babbles all kinds of things, just to make the lips and tongue and teeth move around in different ways. The colors on the projection go from white to green to red to blue and back again, slowly. I sit and groove on it for about ten minutes, and it doesn’t repeat. I wonder how long the projection loop is. Fascinating.

Another fine piece is a large painting by Peter Saul called “Night Watch” from 1974, a modern, brightly colored semi-abstract version of the Rembrandt work of the same name. In the gift shop, at the end, I get to at least see posters of some of the paintings I missed because of the renovation.

It has been a rare rainy day here in Phoenix, and after spending a pleasant afternoon at the museum I emerge to see thin streaks of light in the west as the rain tapers off, and I head down a wet Palm Avenue, eastward toward my sanctuary.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Day 152: Out of Phoenix

Phoenix to Goodyear. 19.7 miles/2921.6 total

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

9:30 a.m. I am setting out from Phoenix, at the corner of 16th Ave. and Adams St., in the shadow of the state office buildings behind the capitol, and heading to Goodyear in the western suburbs, a distance of 19.7 miles.

As I did yesterday I’ll be alternating between Van Buren and McDowell Streets, which run parallel to one another a mile apart on either side of I-10. I’m doing this because in a few miles Van Buren is given over to warehouses and light industry, whereas McDowell remains pretty much residential and a bit more interesting.

One of the first things I walk by this morning is the Arizona Department of Revenue, which brings a tear of nostalgia to my eye. Taxation. In the immortal words of Timothy F. Bannon, former Connecticut Commissioner of Revenue Services, “Taxes are the currency with which we finance the Social Contract.” Can I get an Amen from all you current or former public employees out there--state, federal, or local?

Out on Van Buren Street things quickly become dingy and commercial in a very Latin way. The predominant business, it would appear, is the sale of tires and rims. Mexicans--and I say this without a trace of concern that I might be stereotyping--are crazy about fancy tires and wheels. So there are several places in each block advertising Llantas y Rines, with tires and bright chrome rims stacked and arranged out front.

As a matter of fact in April I myself bought the last pair of used tires I put on my car right here in Phoenix, at one of the many llanteras. I’ve always been a believer in buying used tires, on the theory that even new tires become used tires as soon as you drive away on them, and when you’re in the market for tires you’ve probably been driving on extremely used tires for quite some time. So why fight it? There are so many good inexpensive used tires out there, with ten, twenty, even thirty thousand miles left on them. Give them a home!

Anyway, Van Buren is a profusion of tire shops and low-end motels offering weekly rates and places that pay “TOP DOLLAR FOR GOLD,” and such, luring people in with signs in Spanish.

I neglected to mention this yesterday, but there are a number of bums and street people in Phoenix, though not as many as in some cities. Sheriff Joe and the Phoenix police probably see to that, scooping them up and turning them into Soylent Green or something. Yesterday afternoon as I passed the Historic First Presbyterian Church there was a bum sitting on one of the side stoops polishing off the crumbs and dark blue icing from a the cardboard that had been under a large sheet cake, chuckling happily and talking to himself.

I come to a cemetery, Greenwood Memory Lawn. At one time it probably had a more sensible name like Greenwood Cemetery. I go into a section with some graves from the first half of the 20th century. Here’s a double wide, containing Leander Jackson Cox and Vollie Simpson Cox, both of whom died in their late 60s. It’s a little too early to sit down and rest but I have to take a breather to survey and admire this graveyard. It's a very large place, stretching back for a considerable distance to the north of Van Buren, and I’m happy to have the opportunity to commune with some of the dead of Phoenix.

It’s a bit cooler today than it was yesterday, and mostly cloudy. It’ll probably get into the low 70s. I don’t mean to complain, God knows, but it was almost too warm yesterday.

Running north of Van Buren on the side streets are neighborhoods of tiny lower class houses. Just west of 31st Ave. I begin to see more homeless people, and I think I’ve found where many people stay at night. It’s a large vacant lot on the north side of the road. Now in mid morning people congregate in twos and threes, faces puffy and red from the sun and too much booze, looking whipped and out of it, limping, stooping, squatting. They stay close to the beer and liquor stores, chatting and scrounging. Meanwhile a man sells sweet corn out of the back of his truck and another sets up racks of fancy bras in a tiny parking lot.

By 39th Avenue Van Buren has begun to lose its quaint Hispanic commercial charm and is becoming a succession of office buildings, warehouses, auto repair places, and crappy trailer parks.

At 44th Ave., just past the Lazy Daze Mobile Home Community, I turn north and head up to McDowell. I find a penny in a Circle K parking lot, but I’ve found precious little change in Phoenix, probably because the folks on the street aren’t letting anything slip through their fingers.

At 4.4 miles I’m back on McDowell, and once again I’m in the land of apartment complexes and housing developments with their privacy walls, and mesquites and palo verde trees planted between the walls and the sidewalk. I don’t pretend that I’m doing Phoenix any more justice than I did Houston, New Orleans, or Memphis by the route I’m taking, but I do like to walk through what I think might be the heart of a city and sample as much of what the locals have to offer as possible while I pass through.

There are still lots of people walking on McDowell, which is a sure sign of an urban area. Young and old folks on bicycles pass me in both directions. Mothers and daughters with children in strollers and socially marginal people shuffle along past me. For mile after mile the houses and apartments continue, with gas stations on the corners every mile or two. If you think of cities as lumps of dough, some are high an puffy, like New York or Boston. But in Phoenix it’s as if a great baker has taken a rolling pin and flattened the place out so that it spreads for miles in all directions, with few buildings over two stories tall beyond the downtown section.

There is much to say about the City of Phoenix, and I’ll mention a few things. As with the other places around here, it was once the home of the Hohokam people, whose name means, in the Pima or O’odham language, “those who have vanished.” Kind of like the Fugawi Indians. The Hohokam, as I mentioned before, had this great network of irrigation canals, so this was a city a millennium ago. Modern Phoenix was founded in 1861 and incorporated in 1881, near where the Salt and Gila Rivers come together. The name Phoenix was suggested by one of its founders, Lord Darrell Duppa, to suggest a city built on the ashes of a former civilization. Philip Darrell Duppa was born in England, and when he came over here he styled himself “Lord Duppa,” although he wasn’t really a nobleman. Like Lord Athol Layton, the wrestling announcer in Detroit when we were kids. Jack Swilling, a Civil War veteran, is considered the other major father of Phoenix.

Phoenix is the Maricopa County seat and the capital of Arizona. The invention and perfection of air conditioning was without a doubt the greatest thing that happened to Phoenix, since it is the hottest major city in the country, and summer temperatures can get over 120 degrees (49 centigrade). It is one of the fastest growing cities, currently ranking fifth--with a bullet, as they say.

I finally reach the end of it, though. At 83rd Ave. is the city limit, and I enter Tolleson. As I depart I have a nice conversation with a young man named Marcus, originally from San Bernardino, California, and now living in an apartment about a block from the edge of the city. We meet at an intersection and he comments on my University of Michigan hat, and we walk together for about half a mile. He’s bright and inquisitive. A nice way to spend my last few minutes in Phoenix, talking to someone who, like almost everyone else, isn’t from here originally.

Speaking of my Michigan regalia, earlier today I saw a woman in a bright red Ohio State sweatshirt at another intersection. I sought to engage in a little friendly Big Ten banter, but it became apparent immediately when I spoke to her that she was no co-ed and never had been. It was the puffy but undernourished face on the thin body and the purple acne that matched her purple hair, and the vacant but wary stare that tipped me off to the fact that she’d probably never been closer to Columbus than we were at that moment, and that the only educaton she’d had lately had been in the school of hard knocks. I said to her, jauntily, “So, Ohio State, eh?” She answered dully, “Yeah, I guess,” and hurried to put distance between herself and me. So I gave her a friendly Wolverine tip of the hat and was on my way.

At 91st Ave. I’m walking along an irrigation ditch here on McDowell in Tolleson. McDowell Street was named for Fort McDowell, an army post started near here back in the days of the Indian Wars.

Past the shopping area centered at 99th Ave. McDowell opens up a bit and I begin to see cotton fields. To the northwest are the White Tank Mountains and to the south the Sierra Estrella. I am now in Avondale, the next suburb down. I pass Friendship Park, which has kind of an Asian feel to it.

At 15.4 miles I reach Dysart Road and turn south to go back to Van Buren. This is the commercial center of Avondale, with one of every national chain of stores in America. I pass the entrance to the Walmart where I stayed last night. I don't know much about Avondale except that it has a population of over 87,000.

At about 16.5 miles I’m back on Van Buren heading into Goodyear, the town where I’ll end up today. Lots of cotton fields, for now at least. A decade from now they’ll probably be only a memory, replaced by stuff of all kinds. Interestingly, Goodyear began its existence as a city because of cotton. In 1917, the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company purchased 16,000 acres of cotton farms here for use in making tire treads. It officially became a town in 1946 and a city in 1985, and now has over 47,000 people. Recently the Cleveland Indians moved their spring training facility to Goodyear from Winterhaven, Florida.

At Estrella Parkway I reach the end of my walk for today, in the Safeway Plaza next to Blockbuster Video.

Day 151: Into Phoenix

Mesa to Phoenix. 20.1 miles/2901.9 total

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

9:25 a.m. I depart from the Big Lots parking lot at Baseline Road and Dobson Road in Mesa, heading through Tempe and into downtown Phoenix, ending near Van Buren and 16th Ave., a distance of 20.1 miles.

It’s cloudless and in the mid-60s, expected to get into the high 70s, another unusually warm day here in the Valley of the Sun.

The first part of my walk takes me down Baseline through a mostly residential area, alongside the ubiquitous six-foot privacy walls that surround all the neighborhoods on this busy street. As I walk along I come to some ripe-looking oranges hanging over the wall, and pick one. An unexpected and pleasant way to begin the day, with a little living off the land, as it were, right in the middle of the city. I quarter it with my trusty Winchester pocket knife that has also sliced apples, pieces of sugar cane, pomegranates, and prickly pear fruits I’ve found during my journey. The orange is perfectly ripe.

I look up to discover that I have entered Tempe. I know this because the brown metal street signs that also hold the traffic lights tell me so. Just over the 101 freeway I come to a sign officially welcoming me. It says Tempe was founded in 1871, and is the home of Arizona State University. The sign lists Tempe’s sister cities throughout the world--Skopje, Macedonia; Regensberg, Germany; Hutt City, New Zealand; Zhenjiang, China; Timbuktu, Mali; Beaulieu-sur-Mer, France; Carlow, Ireland. I’m particularly intrigued by the Timbuktu connection. When people my age were growing up, the name Timbuktu was used to evoke the idea of the remotest place on earth, though I’m sure at least one of my cousins has seen Timbuktu in person.

I stop at a Shell station for a cappuccino, and ask the cashier where the bathroom is. He tells me it’s outside in the back. So I walk all around the building and finally find a locked door with a sign on it that says “Sorry, out of order.” Then suddenly it hits me that the bathroom is indeed, literally, outside in the back, and I proceed accordingly.

Tempe was named for a gorge called the Vale of Tempe, in Greece, because of the resemblance (at least in the eyes of a pioneer named Darrell Duppa) between the salt river and a butte in the northern part of the city and that Greek locale. In 1885 the Territorial Normal School was started here, which later became the Arizona State Teachers College and finally Arizona State University. Today Tempe has a population of over 175,000, and ASU is the largest public research university in the United States, with over 70,000 students in four campus locations in the greater Phoenix area.

At 3.1 miles I turn right onto Rural Road to head north into the middle of Tempe. As I cross the U.S. 60 expressway, I notice they have four lanes in each direction plus one of those high occupancy vehicle lanes each way, which are empty. I think HOV lanes are one of those ideas that look good on paper, but aren’t worth a damn. Peoples’ driving and commuting habits are pretty well set, and the existence of a special lane isn’t going to induce most folks to carpool. Furthermore, carpoolers are going to do that whether or not they have their own lanes. If the idea is to relieve traffic congestion, creating a fifth lane open to everyone would reduce the traffic in the other ones by 25%. I’ll bet HOV lanes don’t have that kind of effect. There’s an art to incentivizing, and there must be some serious financial consequences to get people to do something, at least in this country.

If they really want to create a disincentive to drive, they should quit building such good highways everywhere, and quit adding lanes all the time. This country’s highway system is its crowning achievement as far as transportation is concerned, and we like to drive everywhere, mostly with one or two people in the car. Everything in this country invites people to use cars. Why fight it? Everybody’s always saying we should build better public transportation, and that’s all well and good, but the cities with the best public transportation, like New York or Paris or London, had that pretty well set up before the invention of the automobile. Most of the cities in the U.S. away from the eastern seaboard, and especially the ones in the west, were set up after the invention of the car, and they feature wide surface roads made specifically for cars. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that you can’t really turn a car city into a non-car city. And you can’t make people carpool. Our lives, thanks in large part to the automobile, are just too individualized. Having said all that, I must add that Phoenix has an excellent new light rail system, which I’ll be coming into contact with later this morning.

Off to my left the trees in front of the massive Tempe City Library complex, including a museum, are a bright gold. Speaking of trees, I want to thank my friend Michael Roberts for helping me out with the name of these green trees I’ve been seeing--they’re palo verde trees, which happen to be the state tree of Arizona. And since palo verde is Spanish for green pole, or green stick, so that name certainly fits.

I pass Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Roman Catholic Church. The name Mt. Carmel always makes me hungry for caramel candy. Our Lady of Werther’s Original. On one of the walls there’s a sign that says “Mary, Mother of Life, Pray for Us. Our Holy Mother Grieves the Sins Against Human Life.” Then it lists all those sins--murder, abortion, assisted suicide and euthanasia, embryo destruction, genocide, terrorism, capital punishment, and war. In front of this sign is a white marble statue of the Holy Mother grieving, kneeling with her hands on her face. My question is, if the Holy Mother doesn’t like all those things, why the hell doesn’t she do something about it? I mean, she’s the mother of God, for Chrissakes--are we supposed to believe she’s helpless like the mother of some gangbanger in the ‘hood, and that all she can do is weep and wring her hands? And if so, what’s the point of worshipping her, or venerating her, or whatever? Give me a god, or goddess, with some power.

At Apache Boulevard I’m approaching the center of the campus of Arizona State University. I pass a massive six-story building. It’s Barrett, the Honors College. At University I decide to leave Rural Road and follow the light rail tracks to the west. I pass the ASU Wells Fargo Arena and also Sun Devil Stadium. I’m crossing the north side of the ASU campus.

I walk along beside the rails for a bit, until I have to get onto a road when the rails begin to go up over a body of water. I can’t walk on the tracks themselves, though that’s an inviting prospect. The train drivers get nervous; I’ve tried it already. Now I have to find my way onto Mill Avenue, and I set out across the Tempe Town Lake Park. Eventually I come to a fence I can crawl under and I get up on the Tempe Bridge, a rather elegant white concrete span built in 1930-31. This town lake is a bit of an anomaly here in the southwest--they don’t have too many open bodies of water hereabouts. This one looks more like a wide river than a lake.

Emerging on the other side I continue on Mill Street for a mile or so, until I pass by a large complex of buildings called the Salt River Project, an electric and water utility. Also up here, in the buttes and low mountains dividing Tempe from eastern Phoenix, is the city zoo, as well as a park and golf course and the Phoenix Municipal Stadium. This is the spring training home of the Oakland Athletics.

Right around here, at about 10 miles, I pass a sign that says I’m in the City of Phoenix. This street I’m on has turned into Van Buren, which goes all the way through the center of the city and far out to the west of it. But I’m not going to take it all the way in, because I’ve routed myself onto McDowell Street, a mile north of here, for part of the walk.

Sitting off to the south of Van Buren, down a long dirt road, is Tovrea Castle and Carraro Cactus Garden, a city park. The castle, which has a Moorish look to it, was built on a mountain in 1928-1930 by Alessio Carraro. The city has renovated the castle and is working on fixing up the cactus garden, but budget constraints have hampered its efforts. In any event, it’s closed now.

Van Buren looks very much like a street that has been the subject of extensive urban renewal. It’s too old to always have been this devoid of small buildings. But now it features mostly open expanses and large new aluminum and glass corporate headquarters and office parks, very large hotels, and the like. I decide this is a good time to cut up to McDowell, and I turn right on 44th Street.

Along 44th I pass the handsome blue and turquoise Doubletree Hotel. I also come to the COFCO Chinese Cultural Center, a kind of instant Chinatown built in the classic Chinese style, with upturned roofs and gates and all that. It’s basically a mall and office building, featuring Chinese restaurants, grocery stores, and shops selling Chinese knick knacks and furniture. Rather new and quite interesting. I wonder if the Chinese government is behind this.

I’m now heading west on McDowell Street, a wide and somewhat chaotic thoroughfare. Just to the north of McDowell is a dense neighborhood of dowdy lower middle class houses. Many of the buildings here are empty and the ones that are open are an eclectic mixture of restaurants, auto repair and tire places, cocktail lounges, liquor stores, check cashing and title loan places, and trailer parks.

At 16.3 miles I’m at 16th Street. The neighborhood continues to be rather crummy. The stores that aren’t vacant and boarded up cater to Spanish-speaking people pretty exclusively, and in the insouciant Mexican way are often painted bright colors--yellow, baby blue, purple, pink. The graffiti and murals are garish and lively and very cheerful.

At 12th Street I come to Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center, a huge complex. Then I pass Summit High School, on the other side of the street, where the students are just getting out for the day. They are an interesting mélange of ethnicities--mostly Hispanic, but also African American and some African and Asian.

I pass the Richard and Annette Bloch Cancer Survivors Park, a little pocket park with an interesting bronze sculpture depicting worried but hopeful people going through a series of doorways, emerging happy at the other end. Rather moving and well done.

At 17.8 miles I turn left onto Central Avenue and begin to walk down toward the tall buildings of downtown. At this intersection is the Phoenix Art Museum, and also a rather stately CVS pharmacy. The light rail tracks run down the middle of Central Avenue. I go by the huge and ugly Phoenix Public Library.

I pass Channel 12, the NBC affiliate, then the Westward Ho, which used to be a major downtown hotel and is now a residence for disabled people. Then comes the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications of ASU.

At 15 East Monroe is a handsome art deco building about fifteen stories high. It’s empty, and being rehabbed, I guess for eventual occupancy. I get so wrapped up in my enjoyment of downtown that I realize I’ve missed my turn onto Van Buren and I have to go back up a few blocks. At 1st Avenue and Washington is the Maricopa County Courthouse, another striking building from the 1920s or 30s. I head back north, passing the Phoenix City Hall and the Orpheum Theater, built in 1929 with wonderful touches like friezes depicting the masks of comedy and tragedy and niches with statues of Pan.

I pass Historic First Presbyterian Church at the corner of Monroe and 4th Avenue, shining in the late afternoon sun. Now I’m on Van Buren. In Phoenix the numbered streets run east from Central Ave. and the numbered avenues run west. I’m heading west now toward 16th Ave. Van Buren is pretty down at the heels here, but it looks as if they’re trying to gentrify it. Lots of empty houses.

The sun has just about set as I pass a church at the corner of Monroe and 16th Ave., where the motor home is tucked onto a little side street in front of the Arizona State Land Department.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Day 150: Baseline

Apache Junction to Mesa. 20.9 miles/2881.8 total

Monday, December 13, 2010

8:55 a.m. Today I’m leaving from the Valero gas station at Tomahawk Road and U.S. 60 in Apache Junction. First I head south to Baseline Road, which parallels "the 60," as they say here, about a half mile south of the highway, and then west through Mesa and Gilbert to Dobson Road in Mesa, a distance of 20.9 miles.

It’s in the mid-60s now, expected to get into the low 80s. T-shirt weather again, which is nice for the middle of December.

In just a bit over half a mile I turn right onto Baseline Road, which runs straight as an arrow for the rest of the walk. Out here there isn’t much development yet, just a bit of light industry and lots of vacant desert areas just begging to be turned into condominiums and shopping centers. Off to the south is the area landfill, a man-made mesa of covered-over garbage.

The City of Phoenix is the fifth largest city in the U.S., with about 1.5 million people, and the metropolitan area has over 4.5 million. Apache Junction, where I’m walking now, has a mere 37,000 citizens, but is growing rapidly, like the rest of the suburbs. Apache Junction was named for the junction of the Apache Trail and U.S. 60, and doesn’t appear to be very old. Most of it sits at the foot of Superstition Mountain, the most familiar and largest of the Superstition chain.

After a couple of miles the sidewalks begin, intermittently at first, then more regularly. I see a variety of trees used for landscaping along the fronts of the new housing developments, between the six-foot cement walls and the road. One type, which has a green trunk and branches when it’s young, might be a kind of acacia, not native to the area but compatible with the climate. Others are mesquites, and still others are olive trees, also not native but having been introduced into the western U.S. some time ago.

I’m impressed everywhere I go in the urban parts of the southwest at the attention to landscaping. I’m partial to the stuff that looks compatible with and similar to the surroundings--cacti, small bushes, mesquite trees, and the like, planted in brown gravel as opposed to green lawns. Of course with landscaping there’s always the tendency to plant things that are prettier and more colorful than what might be out in the wild, so there's also a profusion of flowering bushes and trees--azalea, oleander, hibiscus, bougainvillea. Some of them fill the air with their perfume.

Besides the bushes and trees there are still lots of old reliable chollas, agaves, yuccas, and saguaros. There are also many palm trees throughout this area, which also are not native to the American southwest. Like the people themselves, though, they’ve been around long enough to belong. Down here you arrive, you find a place to live, you belong. Then you start acting like a native and treating the next people to come along like outsiders. It’s not that the southwest has no history--on the contrary, it has thousands of years of it--Indian, Spanish, Mexican, Anglo. It’s just that it’s always being taken over by new people, for new purposes.

At 3.8 miles I cross Meridian Road, leaving Pinal County and entering Maricopa County. I know this from the map, as there’s no sign to welcome me. I also think I’m in Mesa now. In places Gilbert begins just south of Baseline and in other places it’s Mesa on both sides.

Mesa has a bit of history. The Hohokam people settled this area two thousand years ago and at some point built a system of irrigation canals in order to grow extensive crops, including cotton, tobacco, corn, and agave. The remnants of some of these canals still remain. But the Hohokam seem to have been displaced before the Europeans came. Then in 1877 some Mormons, led by a guy named Daniel Webster Jones, came down from Utah to found a settlement in Arizona. There were two or three competing settlements, one of which was named Mesa City. Eventually it all got incorporated, starting with a one-square-mile town and expanding. Today Mesa is 133 square miles and has a whopping 460,000 people, making it the third largest city in Arizona after Phoenix and Tucson.

As for Maricopa County, it has about four million residents, over half of the state’s population, and is the fourth most populous county in the U.S. Its sheriff is the infamous Joe Arpaio, an Eye-Tie from Springfield, Massachusetts, who is famous for dressing the county's prisoners in pink boxer shorts and housing them in tents. He also has reinstituted chain gangs for both men and women. The good people of Maricopa County have been electing and re-electing him since 1992. Apparently they like his "law and order" stance, which I think is code for "keep the Mexicans in their place."

At this point Baseline Road becomes a boulevard with a median planted with trees and flowering bushes, and every now and then a saguaro cactus, standing like a mute green giant, stubby arms outstretched like a patient hitchhiker. I’m enjoying the trees, whatever they are, with their sinewy green bark, having been teased into convoluted shapes, trunks and branches turning at odd angles. They do the same thing to trees of similar size with dark deeply furrowed bark. I also see willow trees occasionally, and some California live oaks.

Saguaro cacti are protected in Arizona. It is illegal to cut them down without permission. They have a long life span--upwards of 150 years--and take as long as 75years to start growing their arms. Many saguaros are dug up in the desert and transplanted, but some of the ones I’m seeing alongside this road look as if they’ve been here all along. I pass one particularly large saguaro, perhaps twenty-five feet tall and two feet in diameter, with eight or nine arms. It might have been here when the Mormons came.

Behind walls the houses are roofed with terra cotta tiles and parts of their second stories are visible over the tops. Once in awhile I see some citrus trees growing in back yards, their fruit looking pretty ripe.

At 7.8 miles I reach the southern portion of Arizona 202, called the Santan Freeway here. In this area there is still some open farm land, and a few cattle graze on what’s left over from the harvest. Behind me there’s an excellent view of the Superstition Mountains.

Today is my 150th day of walking. That I suppose is an event of sorts. I’ve averaged 19.2 miles per day over the entire journey, including those weeks in the early fall of 2009 before I worked up to 20 or miles per day.

At 13.1 miles I cross Greenfield Road, near the Walmart where I’ve been staying and will stay again tonight in a section of the parking lot filled with motor homes. On the south side of Greenfield is a sign that says "Welcome to Gilbert," so I guess Baseline is the border between Mesa and Gilbert right here, at least. Gilbert is another large suburb, having grown from 5,700 in 1980 to over 220,000 today. It is considered more upscale than Mesa. Gilbert was a small railroad town in the early twentieth century, then in 1912 a number of Mormons came up to Gilbert from Mexico, where they had settled several decades earlier in order to avoid prosecution for polygamy. They were being chased out of Mexico as foreigners by revolutionaries like Pancho Villa.

Beautiful smells are coming my way from El Pollo Loco. I’m entering a long section of strip malls, restaurants, and grocery stores.

Not long after Gilbert Road, at 15.9 miles, I come to Queen of Heaven Mortuary and Cemetery, a large Catholic graveyard. They’re very much in the holiday spirit here at Queen of Heaven. Little artificial Christmas trees, green, white, and silver, all decked out with colorful balls, adorn the graves of the Mexican dead, sometimes with extra festive holiday grave blankets. Very jaunty and, if I may say so, silly. I sit down on the more sedate tombstone of Filomena Madaffari, an Italian woman who died in 2004 at the age of 89, and survey the holiday finery around me.

At 18.8 miles I reach Fiesta Drive, where there’s another Walmart, and I am now only two miles from my destination. It got up to nearly 80, I think, and was a very comfortable and balmy day.

It’s been a rollicking parade of business establishments today, with housing developments in between--Circle K gas stations, Fry’s grocery stores, Albertson’s grocery stores, Bashas' grocery stores, pizza places, strip malls, large malls.

As I close to within a mile of my destination today I feel compelled to say that I’ve been impressed by how few churches there are along Baseline. The worship of mammon, as opposed to God, has been the rule.

I pass Rhodes Junior High School, a large complex of buildings. Beyond that I see the sign for the empty Big Lots store, where the motor home is parked.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Day 149: Superstition

Near Florence Junction to Apache Junction. 19.5 miles/2860.9 total

Friday, December 10, 2010

8:40 a.m. and I am departing from about Mile 216½ of U.S. 60 in Pinal County, heading for Apache Junction at the far eastern edge of the Phoenix suburbs, a distance of 19.5 miles.

It’s about 55 degrees. The temperature should get up to about 70 again today. There are some thin clouds overhead and a nice layer of smog in the west over Phoenix.

Although I start today in the country, by the time I’m finished I’ll be well within the ambit of the metropolitan area, just off the Superstition Freeway.

Today the saguaro cactuses look like tall skinny-headed supplicating Gumbies. At about three miles into the walk I come to Florence Junction, which isn’t much more than an exit off the highway. I predict that in twenty years it will look like Mesa does now, with a succession of shopping centers and planned communities, and that the suburbs will stretch most of the way to Superior.

There isn’t a whole lot to report today. I should hold forth a little about urban versus rural life. It seems to be a truism that people are seldom happy with the circumstances in which they find themselves. Folks raised in the city often wish to live in the country and vice versa. The former condition, which I’ll call the Oliver Wendell Douglas syndrome, arises often in people who have been raised with all the benefits that urban living has to offer, then reject those benefits because of what they perceive to be its drawbacks. However, in even greater numbers people put down the plow and move into the city. Most compromise and choose to live in the much-denigrated suburbs, although they are the happiest of all places for people who recognize the advantages of the city but don’t want to be right in the middle of it all day long.

For some illuminating thoughts on the advantages of city living, I recommend John Snow’s book The Ghost Map, about the London cholera epidemic of the 1850s. Despite the toll this disease took in the city, Snow is at pains to explain that urban living is generally more healthy, productive, and fulfilling than country life is, and that the human tendency to wish to gather in cities is indeed a salutary one. Cities, not the country, are where most advances in science, medicine, education, and the arts are made, and where humans have the best chance of fulfilling their potential beyond mere reproduction. Furthermore, notwithstanding the pollution and consumption of resources that characterize cities, says Snow (with statistics to back him up), on a per capita basis city dwellers use less energy and leave smaller carbon footprints than do their suburban and country cousins. This is because of mass transit, less need to travel for the necessities of life, and economies of scale in connection with the provision of water, energy, and other natural resources. That there is more pollution in cities is mainly because so many more people live there. Cities must have some basic allure, because as of 2008 more than half the world’s population lived in cites, and the number is rising, despite the fact that the birth rate is lower among urban dwellers.

Of course the news media, always eager to notch up the public’s paranoia, ceaselessly advertises the dangers of city living. And that helps fuel our paradoxical longing for a simpler place and time when we all supposedly lived in harmony with nature. We want to get back to the Garden of Eden. But of course we can never go there, only to the place where Adam and Eve went when they were thrown out of the Garden, condemned to till the soil and live by the sweat of their brows and bear children in pain, and all that.

The real country life most people dream of is not that of the ceaseless toiler, but rather of the country squire, well leveraged with servants and slaves, wandering through his estates and giving orders and sitting on the front porch drinking mint juleps. Which brings us back, in the interest of reality, to the suburbs, the acceptable middle ground on the outskirts of the cities themselves, into which I’ll be venturing today.

At about 8 miles I begin to see some signs of development. On the north side of U.S. 60 is a stone sign welcoming newcomers to Entrada del Oro. Behind the gate is mostly desert, but desert that aspires to be something more. Here then is the outer fringe of the eastern cities of the Valley of the Sun.

At 11.5 miles I reach two signs, on the south side of the road, for entrances to a Renaissance Festival, which is held on weekends from February 12 to April 3. It was between these two signs, back from the road about fifty feet, that I spent last night. The sound of the traffic was there but I was hidden from passing motorists by some mesquite bushes and it was dark and conducive to sleeping.

At 12.6 miles I reach Peralta Road. The Superstition Mountains are just to the north of the road, the frontmost line of them looking from here like a sleeping hound dog, its long nose pointing westward. There’s a monument at this intersection claiming this as Jefferson Davis Highway No. 70, erected in 1943 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Arizona. I do what I always do when I see the name of a slavemongering cur like this, drawing forth from within me the largest lugie I can summon in such dry weather, and expectorating it onto the hated name of the president of the C.S.A.

Just past this intersection I see my first planned housing development of the day, a collection of terra cotta roofed one-story houses in various earth tones--brown, grey, beige. Down the side roads the bougainvillea blooms bright red in the sun. Then I come to King Ranch Road, where there's a Best Western hotel, a Walgreen's, a strip mall, banks, a fire station, and some gas stations. This is a place called Gold Canyon, the easternmost fully turned out suburb, a fast-growing place whose population was 6,000 in 2000. And of course no desert community would be complete without golf, that most bourgeois of pastimes, the last refuge of the doddering. Old people are plentiful here, complaining deafly, driving dangerously, golfing poorly. They congregate down here in the desert heat, in training for hell.

I pass a billboard advertising the Superstition Funeral Home. I don’t know about you, but that name strikes me as more than a bit odd for a funeral home. It's not one that evokes the gravitas and tasteful formality we have come to expect from mortuary establishments. Of course I know this is the Superstition Highway and that those are the Superstition Mountains, but still.

Then again, maybe they’re working an angle. “Friends, remember the Superstition Funeral Home, where we cater to all your superstitious needs and those of your loved one. Would you like us to put coins on grandma’s eyes to pay the boatman who ferries her across the River Styx? No problem. Do you believe in the resurrection of the body? We’ll dress grandpa in our exclusive spiffy all-synthetic outfit that’s guaranteed not to decompose before Judgment Day, so he can pop out of the grave in style. Worried that Uncle Clyde might come back as one of the Undead to suck your blood? Leave it to us--we’ll drive a wooden stake through his heart while you watch. At the Superstition Funeral Home our motto is ‘If You Believe It, We Believe It.’”

At 15.6 miles, as I cross Superstition Mountain Drive, things become more built up, but only on the north side of the road. Nothing to speak of on the south side yet. Up there in the Superstition Mountains is where the legend of the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine originated. The Dutchman in question, Jacob Waltz (actually a German) is supposed to have found a fabulous gold mine in the mountains, which thousands of people have looked for in vain since the 1890s. As for your humble narrator, the only treasure this Dutchman (Dutch and German in equal measure and other things besides) is going to find is what I picked up on the road in New Mexico.

At a little past 17 miles the divided highway officially becomes the limited access Superstition Freeway. I’m up on the expressway now, in the vastness of the urban expanse. Up ahead I see, beckoning to me, a star on a sign at the Tomahawk Road Exit.

So my journey for today comes to an end at the Valero gas station that houses a Carl’s Jr. hamburger place and the Bill’s Ghost and Spirits Store and a car wash. The motor home sits on a little side road next to the building.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Day 148: Superior To What?

Top-of-the-World to somewhere in Pinal County. 20.2 miles/2841.4 total

Thurdsay, December 9, 2010

9:28 a.m. I’m leaving from a spot about a mile east of Top-of-the-World on U.S. 60, heading through there and down to the small mining city of Superior. Then I’ll continue on 60 for another ten miles or so, a total distance of 20.2 miles.

It’s another clear day, pretty warm, in the high 50s. It’ll probably get into the 70s when I’m in the lower elevations.

In less than a mile I leave Gila County and enter Pinal County and also the tiny community of Top-of-the-World, which the internet says has a population of 330. It’s at an elevation of 4,600 feet, about halfway between Globe and Superior. There’s not a lot to the place, other than a couple of trailer and RV parks, some scattered ranch houses, and some signs on the highway that allude, somewhat cryptically, to highway expansion plans. The folks up here evidently want the highway to pass them by and leave them alone. Fine by me.

I check to see if the Top-of-the-World Trading Post is open, a place that looks like a combination grocery and junk store, or maybe just a really junky grocery store, but it’s locked up.

This place was once going to be the site of an army encampment called Camp Pinal in the 1870s, but that plan was abandoned after a few months. Top-of-the-World was a dance hall started in the 1920s up here. The name stuck, although apparently it’s also been known as Pinal Ranch.

After less than a mile Top-of-the-World is behind me as I walk downhill. Parts of the first half of today’s walk are going to be a bit treacherous. There are narrow spots where there’s no shoulder and some blind curves. If I make it to Superior the road should become ample again. I pass Apple Valley Road and the Spirit of Truth Baptist Church.

The road winds through some cavernous and spectacular rock formations. All around me on the hills are these brown rounded boulders and outcroppings that look like faces and figures on the green hillsides. Down in the valleys between the bottom of the mountains and the road sycamores grow, and also aspens, their leaves resplendently yellow in the mid-morning sun.

I’m going through an area called Devil’s Canyon, apparently so named by the soldiers who once traveled the area. I get a ride offer. This was a person who went down and found a place to turn around on this narrow road, drove back up to me, and then when I declined the offer, had to find another place to turn around so he could go back the way he was going. This happens often, and speaks to the desire of people to go out of their way to help. I can’t say enough about the kindness of those I encounter. Ride offers in Arizona are running at two a day on average, which is respectable. And that doesn’t count inquiries from the Highway Patrol, of which I’ve had several in Arizona.

Just as I saw cotton module trucks back in the Safford area, here I see a steady progression of ore trucks, with V-shaped open-topped trailers.

I really wish I had better words to describe the grandeur of this rocky scenery I’m walking through. Even my photographs don’t do it justice. To my left is a gorge perhaps fifty feet deep out of which grow aspens and cottonwoods. To the right is a sheer wall of rock at least a hundred feet high, at the top of which are fingers and faces and other forms of sandy brown rock. The seedy little village by that name notwithstanding, I can see how someone who spent a lot of time up here could feel he was on top of the world.

I get another ride offer, this time from an old guy who used to work at the copper mines south of here. We enjoy a chat in one of the many large pullouts for cars and trucks along this road. It takes him a while to grasp the logistics of my walk, and once he does he laughs at what he evidently thinks is the convoluted frivolity of it.

I go through the Queen Creek Tunnel, about a half mile long, and at 8.7 miles I begin crossing the Queen Creek Bridge, the saguaros on the opposite side looking like crosses stuck in the hillside.

At about 9.5 miles I enter Superior. There’s an exit off the highway for the “business district” in the center of town. I drove through there this morning before the walk, and I have to tell you that it’s a trick. There is no business district to speak of over there. There are a few blocks that resemble the aftermath of urban warfare. The real business district of Superior, whether the nostalgia hounds want to admit it or not, is right here on U.S. 60. So I’m staying on the highway, because here’s where the Circle K gas station and a number of other places are. I like a quaint old downtown as much as the next person, but Superior’s is too quaint by half. Off the opposite side of the highway from downtown a collection of shanty-like houses dots the hills, their tin roofs glinting in the sun.

Superior’s population in 2006 was about 3,100. Off in the distance I can see a copper mining operation and a few stripped hills and some heaps of coal-black tailings. But Superior's real claim to fame, as the Wikipedia article tells it, is the fact that several movies have been set or filmed here, including U Turn, How the West Was Won, The Prophecy, and one from 2005 called Alien Invasion Arizona, which went straight to video.

There’s a dollar store and a Dairy Queen and a sign advertising helicopter tours. A kind of western oak tree I think is called the canyon live oak grows between the sidewalks and the road. Superior has at least two gas stations and a rest stop and a few restaurants. One is called the Buck Board City Café, next to which is a place calling itself The World’s Smallest Museum. It is indeed small—about five feet wide and ten or fifteen feet long. It has glass cases on either side of an aisle down the middle and features a collection of memorabilia such as presidential campaign buttons. Its roof is shingled, as it were, with empty beer cans with the paint removed. Michelob and Busch, mostly.

With that I begin to pull out of Superior and head into the country again. Things flatten out a bit and the mountains get pushed back from the road. On the scrubby hillsides saguaros grow in profusion, looking like crazy skinny hands with varying numbers of digits jutting from the ground.

At 13.3 miles I come to a historical marker. Picket Post Mountain is in front of me. It was a landmark and lookout point during the Indian wars. Colonel William Boyce Thompson, a mining magnate, was the founder of the Southwest Arboretum at the foot of the mountain, the largest arboretum in Arizona.

At about 14 miles U.S. 60 widens into a divided highway. I believe this is the beginning of the Superstition Freeway, running along the southern edge of the Superstition Mountains. On through the rolling foothills I walk until I crest a final hill and am looking out at a vast valley, containing the beginnings, at least, of greater Phoenix.

At 18.2 miles I go through Gonzales Pass. Then I see the sign saying I’m leaving the Tonto National Forest, where I’ve been for all of today’s walk.

I come upon a dead fox by the side of the road, the first one of those I’ve seen for several states. The roadkill in Arizona so far has been meager, mostly domestic dogs and skunks.

Just beyond a sign that says I’m 4 miles from Florence Junction and 52 miles from Phoenix, I see the motor home, parked off the road behind some mesquite bushes.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Day 147: An Orderly Lynching

Cutter to near Top-of-the-World. 19.3 miles/2821.2 total

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

8:57 a.m. This morning I set out from the western edge of the San Carlos Apache Reservation, heading west on U.S. 70 until it merges with U.S. 60, through Globe and a string of mining towns and uphill to just east of a town called Top-of-the-World, a distance of 19.3 miles.

It’s a nearly cloudless day, the temperature in the high 50s, probably getting up into the high 60s.

Today’s walk will be one of contrasts. Here at the beginning I’m in the desert and distant mountains of the reservation but very soon will be moving in to a series of small cities with strip mines and bustling commerce. Then for the last third of the walk I’ll be going uphill into the mountains, looking at some scenery and rock formations that are different from anything I’ve seen hitherto.

Because of the earthly delights I will encounter on the way I have deliberately made this walk a little shorter than usual, anticipating that I’ll have to enter a few antique shops and maybe a museum or two. I’m also traveling light because of the easy access to drinks and snacks.

Very shortly after I begin I leave the reservation and enter the outskirts of Globe. It started as a mining town and is the seat of Gila County. I believe the reason they named it Globe is that when they started mining silver here they found a huge nugget of ore shaped like a globe. Silver only lasted for four years, and then copper took over and has been mined here ever since. In fact, the Freeport-McMoRan Gold and Copper company, also present in the Safford area, is one of the big copper mining outfits here.

About two miles into the walk, at the entrance to High Desert Middle School, sidewalks begin. A green and white sign says I’m entering Globe, elevation 3,544 feet, founded 1876.

About a mile into the city, as I continue my descent into the river valley, I stop to get a cappuccino. I stop to pick up a penny (and the Greek behind me disappears), and I see from my notebook that I’ve only found 15 cents in Arizona so far. I guess after the spectacular haul I got on the last day in New Mexico I’m due for a let down, but this is a pretty small take, even for a state that's mostly desert. Before the New Mexico treasure my largest single day for money was in Louisiana, on the Route 10 bridge from Slidell across the eastern end of Lake Ponchartrain, when I picked up about six or seven dollars. That’s a phenomenon I still can’t explain, unless the folks who drive across that bridge use it as a sort of wishing well, in which case I hope all their wishes come true.

Just before the El Rey Motel, which has an old neon sign with flaking paint advertising that it is “refrigerated,” thus consigning it to a different generation of hostelries, there’s a large painting of Geronimo, his sad serious defiant mouth set, and his eyes fiery, staring with reproach at the passing motorists.

U.S. 70 has merged with U.S. 60 and will end shortly. I’ll remain on 60. I pass the Toastmaster Café, a wonderful defunct pink stuccoed building with glass bricks on each side of the door. Then I pass the Rock Shop, a little place I visited yesterday. It’s filled with polished stones, rocks, and jewelry, much of it local, including the peridot of the San Carlos area. A great place except, as happens all too frequently, the guy who owned it was listening to a hideous right-wing radio show. The shit that was spewing out was so obnoxious that I just tried to tune it out. The show was coming from, of all places, Hillsdale College, in Michigan, a traditionally Baptist school that has turned into a serious bastion of fundamentalist ultraconservatism. When I was going to Alma College, Hillsdale was in our athletic conference, the MIAA, and in fact pretty much dominated it, at least for football. Now I think their only varsity sport is Obama baiting.

I wonder if anywhere in this country there’s a little shop owned by a guy who’s as far to the left as these geezers are to the right. But then, what radio show would he be listening to? There is no such thing as left wing talk radio, unless you can pick something out of Havana. Still, it would be fun to come in and hear the guys on the radio ranting about wresting control of the means of production and eliminating private property and lining all the parasitic capitalists and their running dogs against the wall, and all that. That would be refreshing.

After stopping at an antique store I make my way to Broad Street, to walk through downtown Globe. It’s an exceptionally lively place, with the majority of buildings occupied, in spite of being a couple of blocks off the highway. There’s even a first-run movie theater with four screens right downtown. That’s pretty rare.

At the La Luz del Dia bakery and coffee shop I turn south to visit another antique mall that boasts it’s in the tallest three-story building in the world. That’s a pretty serious claim, and I doubt it. I then wend my way back to Broad street to follow it back out to 60. On the way I pass a marble slab with an inscription. It says that near here was the Hanging Tree, a sycamore where L.B. Grime and C.D. Hawley were lynched in 1882 for the holdup murder of two men. It says the culprits had a “fair hearing” before someone on Tuesday evening, and at 2 a.m. Wednesday morning they were taken out and hanged. “Saloons were closed and it was an orderly lynching.” And--get this--the monument is dedicated to the law enforcement officers of Gila County. “Protect and serve.” Behind it stands a young sycamore, perhaps twenty years old, which might be a descendant of the Hanging Tree.

That’s a pretty interesting commentary on local law enforcement. I don't know about you, but I get a little nervous in a place that brags, in the name of the law no less, about an "orderly lynching."

There are any number of little antique places around here and I have to be selective or I could really eat up some time. Dusk comes promptly at 5:00 p.m.

At 5.7 miles I’m back out on the highway, walking past large aspens, their leaves still greenish-yellow in the late autumn, and mostly still on the trees. Hills rise steeply on both sides a few hundred yards from the road.

To the north, as the road follows a dry stream bed, there is a large man-made mountain of stone that looks like coal. This is tailings, which is what’s left after the copper ore has been processed and treated and the copper removed from it. Probably filled with interesting chemicals that leach into the water. Despite that, a few tumbleweeds have managed to take hold in it.

I stop at the Gila County Historical Museum for about 20 minutes. The elderly hostess is bursting with information and eager to tell it all. Finally I must break away, leaving a Dutch couple from Vermont to get the balance of her tour. Like most of these museums, it is filled with “old” things from the early days of the town, but since the town isn’t all that old by eastern standards, much of the stuff looks like what was in my house or that of my grandparents when I was growing up. Still, interesting.

I did learn that the mountain of tailings is from the underground mine that used to be operated here by the Dominion Copper Company. Now all the mining is open pit, which is a less emotionally charged term for strip mining. My feeling is, what are a few less mountains when you’ve got so damn many? Just trim them down neatly and try to do it all in one area. Unless of course you think it’s better to send men underground like in the good old days. Speaking of that, the building in which the Gila County museum is housed used to be a mine rescue station for when they had fires and other disasters.

I pass a restaurant called Hog Heaven and the smell of the barbecue is divine. In the distance the open pit mining presents an interesting picture. The terraces and layers make some of the hills look like ziggurats. And they seem to be different colors—some beige, some white, some greenish from the copper, some rich brown.

At 9.4 miles I pass the Walmart where I’ve been staying for the past two nights and will be staying tonight again, under a light so bright that I wake up in the middle of the night sometimes thinking it’s morning. Don’t get me wrong. I like staying at Walmart. But darkness is more conducive to sleep.

I pass into Claypool, then in less than a mile into Miami. I pass the Divine Grace Presbyterian Church, then go two blocks north to the main drag. Miami has a funky cache, and Sullivan Street is one antique place after another. Finally I have to quit going into them to keep up my walking pace. I should have come here yesterday. There’s a nice arty feel to Miami that Globe didn’t seem to have, and there are a couple of nice looking restaurant/bars, too. If anyone is visiting this area and likes antiques, I recommend Sullivan Street in Miami. Looks like it could become a gay haven if it isn’t already. Who knows? Maybe there’s a whole gay copper miner-Brokeback Mountain thing going on here, with guys in tight blue jeans and hard hats and cowboy hats, like in the Village People. Very butch, these Arizona dudes. I can see it now--late night on Sullivan Street, with the music pounding. Suddenly a high lispy male voice: “Hey girls, let’s have a lynching!”

There’s a plaque in a park in the center of town that tells a little of its history. Prospectors first came here in the 1860s, but it wasn’t until the early 1900s that the big copper mining companies really got set up. Cleve Van Dyke came in 1908 from southwestern Arizona and did something or other. The place was finally incorporated in 1918. Its population has fallen off, I suppose because mining has become less labor intensive. Miami calls itself “The Copper Center of the World.” I'm guessing that's a little bit of municipal hubris, but what the hell.

Now I’m a couple of miles outside Miami and the road is going uphill precipitously, through some interesting and beautiful rock formations. The hills are covered with big beige boulders that are quite rounded, and almost look like the artificial rocks they have at climbing walls and in hokey theater sets. Life imitating art.

At about 15.5 miles I arrive at a cemetery, a memorial garden, here in the quiet mountains. I sit on a bench in front of the grave of Richard O. Martinez, 1939 -1971, and relax. Two men are digging a grave near the entrance. This is a pretty nice place to be buried—a lot more serene than down near the busy highway.

At 17.5 miles I cross Pinto Creek. The road cuts right through the rocks now and creases the hillsides and takes sharp blind turns, making my walking a bit dangerous because there’s no shoulder to speak of. The bridge over Pinto Creek was given an award—the American Institute of Steel Construction “Most Beautiful Steel Bridge, Class II” award, in 1949. I can’t see the bridge because I’m on it, so I’ll have to look later. The dry creek bed lies perhaps a hundred feet down. After I get to the other side I look back to see the structure of the bridge. Not bad. Off to the north are several more strip mines.

The road continues to wind upward as my walk for today comes to an end, where the motor home is parked in a little turnout.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

High Roller

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Took today off to rest and do errands, staying at the Walmart in Claypool. Early this afternoon I drove back to the Apache Gold Casino to try my luck, and came away half an hour later $5.95 to the good. Saw far too many Apaches gambling alongside their white brethren. I took my winnings to Globe, where I blew them in a riotous afternoon at the Wash-N-Fluff laundromat. Also went to an RV dump station and filled up on propane. Wild and crazy day.

Globe is a city of about 7,000, easternmost in a chain of contiguous communities along U.S. 60, including Midland City, Claypool, and Miami. It's as close to urban sprawl as you're going to get here in Gila County, these other places just about doubling Globe's population and creating a market for the all-important Walmart. Globe and its neighbors are mining towns dating from the 1870s. First there was silver, but it soon ran out, and then they discovered copper. Today there's still a copper smelter around here somewhere. Some of the mountains along the highway have been neatly sheared off and terraced as they continue to take ore out of them, and new mountains of ore and slag have been created. Globe has a colorful old west past, including the usual fighting between the Apaches and the townsfolk, gunfights, lynchings, and trials of desperadoes. I'm sure I'll discover more as I walk through these places tomorrow.

I promised to post some maps of my progress, so here are two--one for the trip since I started back and the other for the entire trip.

Day 146: Apache Revenge

Peridot to Cutter. 20.7 miles/2801.9 total

Monday, December 6, 2010

8:50 a.m. I’m walking downhill from near the intersection of U.S. 70 and Indian Route 6, at Mile 276, heading west through the Peridot-San Carlos area to a point about two miles past the Apache Gold Casino in Cutter, a distance of 20.7 miles.

It’s a little warmer this morning than it was yesterday, probably in the mid-50s, with a scattering of high clouds, but mostly clear. Once again I expect it to get into the low 70s.

About a mile into the walk I get a ride offer from a nice white guy and his wife. He wonders, as folks usually do, if my car has broken down. This happens especially early in the day when people see my car and then me a short distance later. He gets out of his car to talk to me, and as he’s going back he says, “Careful walking on this reservation. They’ve got gangs and stuff.”

Whether that's true or not, I realize how the media victimize us all with the use of catch phrases and sound bites, pandering to our fearful imaginations like scoutmasters telling ghost stories around the campfire. Newspapers are very lucky if they get things half right, and TV stations--well forget about it. I tell him, “Thanks anyway, but these are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met.” I did see a few pairs of young guys yesterday, walking or hitchhiking, but gangs? On a piece of land three times the size of Rhode Island with a population of less than 10,000, how much gang activity could we be talking about? And if there really are gangs, they’re more likely to be messing with each other than with some old white dude who looks like he’s trying to find a place to go fishing.

To be sure, I’m not blind to the devastation of the place. I see the hundreds of broken bottles and empty cans at many of the pulloffs, probably better than the motorists do, and I’m sure that on Friday and Saturday nights when the weather’s warm there’s plenty of carousing going on, and that things must get ugly now and then. But at the moment it’s 9:00 a.m. on a Monday. I’ve walked 20 miles on this reservation so far and I just spent a very quiet, starry night on the roadside. I wonder how many miles this guy has walked here?

This morning I get a flurry of ride offers. I get checked on by a San Carlos Ranger and I tell him my deal, and where my car is parked and where the motor home is parked and that I’m walking between them. He looks a little bemused, as people often do. But it’s a good thing, because now the local law knows my vehicles aren’t abandoned and maybe they’ll keep an eye on them. He tells me to have a good walk.

At the bottom of the hill I come to a project of fifty or more pretty decent-looking houses, all sand colored and small. Some are detached one or two bedroom places, some are trios of condo-type dwellings. There are a few of the obligatory wrecked cars and a little bit of garbage, but the neighborhood looks more prosperous by far than Bylas did, though it would be overstating it to say that it’s middle class.

I enter Peridot, a community of about 1,200 named for the mineral peridot, which is found in nine different forms in basalt deposits nearby. The town has a different name in the Apache language, which I won’t try to reproduce here because of all the diacritical marks.

The other town nearby is San Carlos, about two miles to the north, which is the seat of government of the reservation. It has a population of 3,700 or so. According to the internet its median family income of $13,400 makes it one of the poorest Indian communities in the U.S. I don’t know what effect the casino has had on that poverty, but I hope it has alleviated it somewhat.

At Moonbase Road I come to a Texaco station, and head in for some refreshment. Outside a man stops me and says, “Didn’t I see you walking earlier? And yesterday, too?” I tell him yes, and fill him in on my project. He wonders if I need a warm place to stay tonight but I thank him and tell him I have the motor home. He asks if I’m walking for a reason, and this time I say I’m going to write a book about how friendly and kind people are all over the country. He smiles. He tells me he’s lived on the reservation all his life and that people have this idea that Apaches are wild and violent, but they’re not. I tell him that I’ve found the people on the reservation to be uniformly decent and friendly. We shake hands and he says his name is Joe. He tells me to put him in my book, and I promise I will. Then he holds up his beautiful little girl, about two or three, and says, “Her name is Kimberly.”

I go in to the station and a woman who has overheard my conversation with Joe says, “Didn’t I see you sitting on a guardrail yesterday?” I say yes indeed. Guardrails, of course, are my favorite places to sit and rest. Then the cashier starts asking me about the walk. I guess I’m a bit of curiosity.

One thing I notice in the Texaco station, which I’ve seen in a couple of other places on the reservation, is a framed picture of Geronimo—a photo of him on one knee facing the camera and holding a rifle. It was probably taken after his capture in 1886. It’s a rather iconic picture, even though by the time it was taken he was being treated a little like a tamed beast. I suppose here on the reservation the picture of Geronimo is a bit like portraits of Washington or Lincoln would be. He wasn’t a chief, though; he was a very fierce warrior and a powerful man, supposedly being able to walk without leaving tracks and impervious to bullets and possessing other supernatural gifts. He was hit with bullets and buckshot a number of times, but always survived. And he spent the last 23 years of his life as a prisoner of war, not as an American. For those reasons and many more he is revered. Also, he seems the embodiment of the Apache ethnic type—wide round face, high cheek bones, wide mouth, aquiline nose, dark brown skin, black hair.

Here in Peridot I cross the San Carlos River and leave Graham County and enter Gila County.

I stop in at the Apache Cultural Center in Peridot. It’s a small museum dedicated to the history of the Apaches. The director of the museum is a pleasant and cultured Apache man named Herb Stevens, who gives me his card, which says he possesses a Master of Fine Arts degree. The exhibits in the museum put together the picture of the history of the tribe and help me to better understand some things I have been mulling over already.

What I’ve been preaching since shortly after I left my front door on this walk fourteen months ago is the sameness of people everywhere. This despite the fact that well-meaning friends have warned me at every turn to be careful as I walk into each new state, because the people are “not like us.”

The perceived differences between Native Americans and the European conquerors of this continent, and particularly the biases in favor of and against the two groups, begin to evaporate the more one looks at the facts. I absolutely reject the idea that the Indians are qualitatively different from us in their beliefs and lifestyle, as well as the pervasive myth that they occupy some moral high ground with respect to us in terms of their relationship to nature and the land they occupy. Ultimately, both we and they have been motivated and shaped by the same forces, and our histories are not that different, except insofar as the accidents of geography make them so.

Our ancestors and theirs were nomads and warriors. They came, they saw, they conquered. The forebears of the Apaches had the advantage of occupying a mostly empty continent, so they probably were able to avoid other groups for long periods of time. Our immediate predecessors—groups like the Celts, then the Huns, the Goths, the Visigoths, and the Vikings—came into places that were already occupied. But at some point the “indigenous” peoples they displaced—the ancient Britons, the Etruscans, the Basques, and others—had come into an empty land also.

The Apache tongue is in the Athabaskan family of languages, related to those of the Navajos, some Indians of the California coast, the Alaskan natives, and people in Asian Siberia. So what happened is that the people who came down across what is now the Bering Strait eventually spread out and got a little different from one another.

Like all people who have been in one place for many hundreds of years, the Apaches began to believe at some point that they had been on this land forever—that God had placed them there. The Europeans had a long written history to disabuse them of this silly notion, but at some point in history there were surely people in Europe who believed this and maybe there still are in a few out-of-the-way places. Even today the attitude of most national groups, be they Irish, Spanish, French, German, Swiss or whatever, is that they have some God-given right to possess their little pieces of the rock. So again, not much difference between the Apaches and us.

The museum explains how Apaches believe themselves to be the guardians of the land on which their ancestors have died. Tell me how that’s one iota different from the way the English feel? Or the Portuguese? This is merely part of the natural conservatism that comes from living in one place for a long time.

The museum even says, with a straight face, that the Apaches weren’t as warlike as people accuse them of being, because they only made war when food and resources were scarce (in other words, when they needed to), or in order to get revenge for injustices they thought had been done to them by others (in other words, when they were angry or felt insecure). Am I missing something, or aren’t those the same reasons that people make war everywhere on earth? It might also have helped that the Apaches were pretty good at making war—they usually won. Nothing incites people to repeat an action more than knowing they’ll be successful at it. Look at the United States. Wars regularly every twenty or thirty years throughout our history. Why? Because we usually win. Let us get our asses kicked a few times in a row and we’ll start thinking like the Belgians.

So what did finally push the Europeans over into the North American continent, to in turn push the Indians aside and replace them as the owners of this land? What, for that matter, made the Vikings sweep down into western Europe a thousand years ago, or the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes invade the British Isles five hundred years before that?

What makes people do these things is not something essentially different in their natures than that of the indigenous peoples they conquer or displace. It’s usually just overcrowding and a desire for more room and resources. The Indians hadn’t reached that point yet, though they eventually would have. Our ancestors had. The ancestors of the Apaches must have been prompted to move for some urgent reason—famine, warfare, changes in climate. They didn’t just wake up one day and say, “Let’s migrate.” If things are good, people tend to be complacent and pretty happy where they are. If things aren’t so good, they get restless, irritable, and discontented--and feisty, too.

Whether our conservatism causes us to think other people aren’t as good as we are, or our liberalism causes us to think other people are better than we are, both ideas amount to the same thing, namely, the erroneous notion that people are fundamentally different from one another.

I pass the post office and the brand new San Carlos High School, looking very well financed, probably with casino money. Across the street is a place called Apache Burger, a triumph of cultural assimilation.

After traveling uphill for about four miles from Peridot, I begin to descend into another valley. Across the expanse of lowland I see a few houses and other buildings, their roofs glinting silver in the mid-afternoon light.

At 16.7 miles I come to another intersection of U.S. 70 and Indian Route 6. I’m just a mile or so east of the Apache Gold Casino and Resort. I am at the point on the map called Cutter, and beginning to reach the western end of the reservation. Off to the south and southwest are the Mescal and Pinal Mountains.

I’m approaching the Apache Gold Casino now. It’s surrounded with palm trees. This is indeed a goldmine for the Apaches, as casinos are for Indians everywhere. In fact, it’s better than a gold mine, because nothing is being taken out of the land. Instead people from off the reservation bring their gold here and deposit it. People pay money to drive out here in order to go inside and give the Apaches a guaranteed profit of perhaps ten to twenty cents of every dollar spent inside. All the hosts must do is maintain the casino and serve free drinks. The rest takes care of itself. A nice antidote to centuries of privation and spoliation at the hands of the invaders. Now the invaders, particularly the eldest of them, dependent on Social Security and pensions, go to the Apaches and lay treasure at their feet in hopes of winning, against all odds. This amounts to voluntary direct taxation for the benefit of the Indians, an idea which, if you were to put it that way to these white senior citizens, would seem abhorrent.

Ordinarily I would go inside and bet my five dollars, as has been my custom. But since I have only 78 cents in my pocket at the moment I will forgo the exercise. Maybe I’ll come out here tomorrow on my day off. Now I need to get through the walk before dark.

After the casino things get lonely again pretty quickly, and the next 2.5 miles go by uneventfully. At the intersection where the motor home is parked Smokey the Bear on a sign says the forest fire danger today is moderate.