Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Day 141: Bowie
Olga to Cochise/Graham County line. 19.4 miles/2698.3 total
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
As I write this blog post, I am sitting in the motor home looking out the front window, watching the sun set over the Dos Cabezas Mountains, aware that I am among the most fortunate of men to be here at this moment, on this journey. Denizens of the area--ranchers, petty merchants, hardscrabble farmers, some wealthy and others barely scraping by--live their entire lives surrounded by this beauty. Their individual histories as dispossessed Indians, misplaced Mexicans, or Anglos with a sense of entitlement color their view of the landscape just as surely as the pink and purple clouds color the southwestern horizon I am viewing. As I move westward, leaving nothing behind me but a few tracks and a little garbage, I am not the least bit tempted to improve or damage what I pass through, or to lay claim to it for myself, my descendants, or my ancestors. That is the key to my good fortune.
9:25 a.m. I set out from Olga Road, near mile 370, heading through Bowie and up U.S. 191 to near the Cochise/Graham County line, a distance of 19.4 miles.
Today is cloudless and a bit warmer than yesterday, due in large part to the fact that the wind is not blowing. It feels as if it’s in the low 40s, and I expect it to get into the low 50s.
It’s very quiet on this road except for the sound of the I-10 traffic. I’m dressed for yesterday’s weather, a little more warmly than I need to be. It reminds me of a story my mother used to tell me at bed time, about a dimwitted kid who always prepared for things that had happened the day before. One day he went to his grandmother’s and she gave him some butter to take home, and he put it under his hat and it melted all over his head. His mother scolded him and told him the next time to wrap the butter up and walk along the stream and dip the butter in the water to keep it cool. So the next day his grandmother gave him a puppy, which he dutifully dipped into the stream as he walked along, until the poor thing drowned. (Those old stories didn’t mess around, boy.) His mother scolded him and told him the next time to tie a rope around the puppy’s neck and lead it along. So the next day his grandmother gave him a ham, which he dragged along behind him on a rope. And so on.
At about 2.5 miles into the walk I come upon a work crew from a jail or prison, shoveling hot asphalt into potholes on the road. They’re wearing orange jumpsuits that say ADC, which I assume stands for Arizona Department of Corrections. And they’re working for ADOT, the Arizona Department of Transportation. And a friendlier bunch of guys you couldn’t ask for. They all wave and smile and say hello to me as I go past, pleased at the diversion and happy to be outdoors, I expect. The only ones not smiling are their tenders, keeping their faces stony. But as for the prisoners, Zip-a-de-do-dah. They are doing a rather mediocre job of filling in the potholes, I must say.
At 3 miles I arrive at a Shell convenience store where I stop, not so much because I need anything but because it’s there. I stocked up earlier at the Chevron a few miles back when I got gas. But hell, a store’s a rarity out here, so I go in and buy a hot chocolate, which hits the spot. This station has a sign offering “Jerky, Olives, Honey, and Nuts.” Sounds like the four major food groups to me.
I’m walking along Business I-10 now, headed for the town of Bowie, coming up in two miles. Bowie is an unincorporated community of about 700, but looks a little more busy and prosperous than San Simon. The internet says Bowie is the birthplace of the fictional character John Rambo, the guy Sylvester Stallone played in the First Blood movies. There’s a biography of Rambo in the Wikipedia article, including his birth date (July 6, 1947) and the fact that he’s Navajo on his father’s side and either Italian or German on his mother’s side. Down here he should be Apache or O'odham, but what the hell.
Bowie was no doubt named for Jim Bowie, the famous knife guy and one of the heroes and casualties of the Battle of the Alamo. That’s where he and William Travis and Davy Crockett and John Wayne and God knows who else all died to preserve slavery in Texas. So here's to Jim Bowie, hero of slave owners everywhere.
There’s a Fort Bowie National Historic Site some 15 miles distant, near a place called Apache Pass. It may well be that Fort Bowie predated the village of Bowie. The fort was constructed in 1862 to do battle with the Chiricahua Apaches, of which Cochise was a leader at the time. Just before that Cochise had been falsely accused of having raided a ranch owned by a man named John Ward, and was arrested then escaped. It turned out that different Apaches were responsible for the raid. In 1862 Apaches ambushed Union troops on their way to fight the Confederates in New Mexico, at the Battle of Apache Pass, prompting the army to build Fort Bowie to protect the pass and its water source.
Over the next several decades the army battled the Apaches from Fort Bowie, culminating in the surrender of Geronimo, another great Chiricahua Apache military leader, in 1886. At that point a bunch of the Chiricahuas, including Geronimo, were sent to Florida and Alabama, then later to Oklahoma. Although he was officially a prisoner of war at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Geronimo managed to get around a bit, appearing at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, where he sold souvenirs of himself, and riding in Theodore Roosevelt’s inaugural parade in 1905. He died in 1909 and was buried in the Apache Prisoner of War Cemetery in Fort Sill. But according to legend, he continued to get around even in death. It seems that Prescott Bush (father of George H.W. and grandfather of W.) and five other members of the Yale Skull & Bones Society were stationed at Fort Sill during World War I. They allegedly dug up Geronimo’s skull and some of his bones and sent them to the Tomb of their club, back in New Haven. Got to keep those skulls and bones coming in, I guess.
As I walk toward Bowie I go past a huge grove of pecan trees, many acres of them. It goes on for almost a mile along Business 10, and south for at least a half mile, to the expressway.
I enter Bowie at about 5 miles. This is another town of ramshackle buildings, abandoned gas stations, and other emporia. Outside a tiny place calling itself a Mini-Mart an equally tiny young cat emerges and walks up to me. She looks like a domestic version of the ring-tailed cat, with a tan body and a black and white ringed tail. She follows me past the Bowie Market and the post office and a building that looks like a tepee. I cross the street and still she follows, meowing incessantly and rubbing my leg. I have a little talk with her and tell her that if she can keep up with me for another 15 miles I’ll adopt her. Although I recognize this possibility as remote, I begin making plans to use my dishpan as a cat litter box and to feed her potted meat and milk until I can get to the store for cat food. All this happens within the space of about ten minutes. Finally, at the abandoned Dairy Burger restaurant at the west edge of town, the cat gets tired and can’t keep up. With regret but no surprise I turn and bid her goodbye.
As I’m photographing a burnt-out Texaco gas station a man stops his truck to ask me why I’m taking pictures. I ask him if he’s the owner of the gas station. He hesitates in such a way that I know he isn’t, but he says finally, “well, partially, yes.” I say that I’m just a tourist walking through and taking pictures of interesting things. He seems satisfied with that, and I wave to him as he drives off.
At the west end of town the pecan groves begin again. I’m back out in the country, getting ready to go up onto I-10 for a few miles until I get to Exit 355, which will take me north to U.S. 191.
I get my third ride offer in Arizona, from another friendly guy. I know this isn’t anywhere near Winslow, Arizona, but I’m waiting to see "a girl, my Lord, in a flat bed Ford, slowin’ down to take a look at me." In truth, other than Diana the Apache woman in New Mexico, the only unaccompanied females who’ve offered me rides have looked like they could probably kick my ass. Which makes sense, come to think of it.
With about a mile to go before the exit I climb a barbed wire fence and get onto another side road. I pause to rest on a bridge over a dry river bed. Then I head up to the road that will take me north away from I-10. This little spur goes on for about three miles and at 17.4 miles it merges with U.S. 191 itself. I’ll be on this road for another day and a half, heading north, until I reach Safford.
The sun is behind me on my left side as I arrive at a spot just south of the Graham County line. The motor home is parked about a hundred yards short of where they’re doing major road construction, widening this highway into a divided four-lane.