Monday, November 29, 2010

Day 140: Cochise

Arizona state line to Olga. 20.9 miles/2678.9 total

Monday, November 29, 2010

8:33 a.m. I’m setting forth from Exit 390, Cavot Road, at the Arizona line, heading along I-10 and parallel to it through San Simon to Olga, a distance of 20.9 miles.

There are a few scattered clouds, and the mountains ahead are a bit hazy. It is quite chilly, probably in the high 30s right now, headed up only into the mid-40s, with the usual strong wind out of the west. This cold front should pass through by tomorrow morning, but tonight promises to get down to around 20.

I trust all my readers had a pleasant holiday weekend. I did, and am now ready to hit the road again.

I’m in Cochise County, here in the southeast corner of Arizona, whose county seat used to be Tombstone, but since 1929 has been Bisbee. This is a large county, and I won’t be going anywhere near either Bisbee or Tombstone, both of which are miles to the south. In fact, at over 6,000 square miles Cochise County is as large as Rhode Island and Connecticut combined. With all its open and thinly inhabited areas, Arizona has only 15 counties, and this isn’t even the largest of them. Just to put that statement into perspective, Michigan, which is a little more than two-thirds the size of Arizona, has 88 counties.

Tombstone of course is the site of the famous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral featuring Wyatt Earp. In 1880 Wyatt Earp served for a short time as sheriff for the southern part of Pima County, which contained Tombstone. For political reasons he failed to become sheriff of the newly-created Cochise County in 1881. Later that year he and two of his brothers and Doc Holliday were arrayed against various local miscreants in the legendary gunfight, and afterwards in a vendetta and a good bit of legal wrangling. In 1886, Texas John Slaughter, another name from our cowboy TV past, became sheriff of Cochise County. Today Tombstone has fallen from its original glory as a gold and silver mining town of 10,000, and has a population of about 1,500 and an economy based on tourism. Based, in fact, on that one gunfight.

Cochise, after whom the county is named, was a Chiracahua Apache chief who lived in the area and fought the Mexicans and the Americans for most of his life. He had a stronghold in the Dragoon Mountains, southwest of here, where he was buried in a hidden grave. Five years later they named a new county after him. Cochise, like all Indians, fought what was ultimately a losing battle against the European invaders, both Spanish and Anglo, but for putting up a good effort he got his name on a large chunk of land, once he was safely out of the way. At first this doesn't seem like such a good deal, considering that all the land from Texas over to Arizona and a good bit of northern Mexico once was the nomadic home of the Apaches. But hell, without the white man and his written language and his penchant for naming places after humans rather than animals and spirits and laughing waters and all that stuff, who outside the Apache nations would even know the name Cochise today? Fat lot of good it does them, admittedly. But it's the only way we have of conferring immortality. We came, we saw, we conquered, we named it after the vanquished. And we're not giving it back. I think you'll find that pattern repeating itself throughout European and American history. That's how we roll.

There are mountains all around me today—misty blue ones far in front to the west; purple, brown, and gray ones to the south; and with the sun shining full on them, pink and red and green ones to the north. Behind me is another formation, the one I came over last Tuesday.

Prickly pear cactuses grow on the side of the road, turned purple for the winter. The ubiquitous mesquites are joined by some kind of flowering juniper bushes. Behind a bush I discover the first barrel cactus I’ve seen in the wild so far.

I read last night that the ring-tailed cat is the Arizona state mammal. So far the only one I’ve seen was in New Mexico, just over the line. Maybe I’ll see a few more. Then again, maybe not. The New Mexico state mammal was the bear, and I didn’t see any of them. And I haven't seen any of the famous reptiles of the southern states, like alligators and rattlesnakes, all of which is fine with me.

By 6 miles into the walk I’ve passed the rest area where I stayed last night and will again tonight, as well as a truck weigh station. Other than that, there’s nothing much to report, and even if there were, it’s too cold to take my hands out of my pockets for very long to report it. The wind has picked up and I’m just trying to keep my head down and stay as warm as I can.

Past the weigh station, at about 8 miles, I take the exit for San Simon and go off on a parallel side road. In another mile I enter the village of San Simon. It’s a dumpy little place—mostly prefabricated houses and trailers and wrecked vehicles strewn about--but it does have a high school, and a fairly new one at that. There aren’t enough souls here in town to justify a high school, but I imagine that within a twenty mile radius there are. The internet says the population in 2000 was 831, and that number probably goes up quite a bit if you include outlying territory.

I pass a tire repair shop that’s open and a truck repair shop that might be and the post office down a side street. Also a tiny rundown convenience store that was open earlier but is now closed. It probably just does morning business, or maybe they’re taking a siesta. At the western edge of the community there’s something that looks like it might have been a small cotton gin, abandoned and with its windows broken.

The commercial jewel of San Simon (and the only place to buy anything worth buying) is the Chevron truck stop located near the second I-10 exit, about three miles down from the first one. Here I go inside to rest and warm up and purchase a warm drink. There’s a restaurant inside, too, and some tables facing a large-screen TV. Big is on, and I watch a bit of it. I think Tom Hanks did his best work in comedy when he was young, some of it quite good in a junior-league Cary Grant kind of way.

At 12.5 miles I go out onto Olga road, a few dozen yards north of the interstate and about a hundred feet south of the railroad tracks. Fortified now with cappuccino, I’m ready for the last three hours.

With the wind blowing cold into my face I think I need to get out the iPod and start listening to The Jungle, because no matter how uncomfortable I might be, when I listen to the plight of those poor sons of bitches in Chicago I feel comparatively comfortable.

My first Arizona roadkill is a javelina, one of those little wild hairy pigs. Initially I see just the flattened head, unmistakable, and a front leg. Then a few yards down I find the rest of the skin. The meat is long gone. Whether you’re bird or beast, there’s nothing tastier than roadside pork.

At about 19 miles, just for variety, I go onto the packed dirt between the road and the railroad tracks, dodging tumbleweeds and following some truck tracks. Eventually the motor home comes into view. When I get there I hop in and crank up the heat.

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