Saturday, December 4, 2010
Day 144: Geronimo
Pima to Bylas. 21.2 miles/2760.8 total
Saturday, December 4, 2010
9:13 a.m. My car is parked in front of a cotton field in Pima, next to the Glenbar Gin, as I head west on U.S. 70 through the communities of Glenbar and Ft. Thomas and onto the San Carlos Apache Reservation to Bylas, a distance of 21.2 miles.
It’s a clearer day than yesterday, although there are still lots of high streaky clouds. The temperature now hovers in the high 50s, and it should get up into the low 70s. The dust of the recently picked and plowed cotton fields fills my nose and coats my teeth.
I’m going through Glenbar, which is just a small collection of houses, nothing much. I’m out of the urban sprawl of Safford-Thatcher-Pima, such as it was, and into the agricultural hinterland, heading very slowly uphill into the Gila Mountains.
At about 4.5 miles I pass by Eden, which according to the map lies about a quarter of a mile north of 70. To my left is a reddish piece of low hill called Red Knoll. Unlike Glenbar, Eden has its own Wikipedia article, though not much else. It has a population of about 150, and once contained a place called Eden Mansion, until it burned down in 2008. The mansion had a 70 by 270 foot swimming pool, the largest in Graham County (that's a hell of a large swimming pool), and was said to have hosted the Rolling Stones.
If anyone wonders just how I fill my seven to eight hour days of walking when I’m not talking into the recorder or taking photos or jotting things down in my little notebook, it generally goes like this. Those activities don’t take all that long, and in the intervals I have a great deal of time when I’m free to occupy myself, as long as I keep putting one foot in front of the other. Anyone who has spent all day walking knows that the enemies of the process are fatigue and boredom, which can exacerbate the tiniest pain and draw out the seconds and minutes into a seeming eternity. Of course I have the iPod to keep me busy sometimes, listening to tunes or recorded books, but that's something I usually save for the afternoon hours when I know I’ll feel most tired and I need voices in my brain to drive out the ones already there that are asking me, “Why are you doing this, for God’s sake?”
The most powerful weapon in my arsenal of diversions is the knowledge, built up over time, that I will get through every day, no matter how shitty I may feel at the moment. It's best not to think too far into the future, but not to be too short sighted either. Sometimes I imagine that I’m finished with the whole project, out in Los Angeles, basking in the sun on a beach somewhere. But that’s really not productive or conducive to getting on with the day’s work. Too remote, and still in the realm of the undiscovered, where it belongs right now. It’s better to stay, if not in the moment, then at least in the day. My ideal middle distance, mentally, is about one to two hours. I’ll think, "Where will I be in two or three miles?" or maybe "When will it be time to eat my lunch?" and focus on those things.
When I remember to do so, I like to shut up the voices in my head, external and internal, and look around me. Maybe at a hawk sitting on a telephone pole, a piece of dead meat on the roadside, a huge tumbleweed about to get loose, and of course on the ever present mountains and desert. In cities there are diversions galore, and I never get bored, but out here in the country it's often necessary to play little games, because the passage of time and distance can become so attenuated.
Somehow, miraculously, I get up wanting to walk each morning that I plan to walk. How and why that happens isn’t clear to me, but it continues to happen.
At 10.4 miles I enter Fort Thomas, at just about the halfway point of today’s walk. It’s a community of about 450, with a high school and an elementary school that serve the outlying areas, including Bylas on the Apache reservation. The original fort was built in 1864 and named for a Civil War general, George W. Thomas. It eventually consisted of 27 buildings, and was known as the worst fort in the army because of the persistence of malaria. After Geronimo was captured in 1886 the government turned the fort over to the Department of the Interior. The town itself was established in 1876.
There’s a Mormon church, and a store called Keen’s Fort Thomas Store, just past the new-looking high school. I stop in there for a bit of refreshment, then it’s on past the post office and the Fort Thomas Café, advertising karaoke on Fridays and Saturdays.
Next comes a historic marker and a monument to Fort Thomas’s most prominent native son—Melvin Jones, founder of the Lions Clubs International. He was born here in 1879, the son of a cavalry captain, and lived here for eight years. In 1917 he started the Lions Clubs, up in Chicago, where he had become a businessman. He died in 1961. All this is written at the foot of a three-sided spire featuring bas-relief busts of Melvin Jones on two sides. Next to it is a small building that says it’s a Lions Club Memorial. But it’s closed, so I go around to the side and urinate on the wall as my way of signing the guest register, and meaning no disrespect to the Lions.
Here’s to Melvin Jones and the Lions Clubs, doing a good job with the glasses and hearing aids and other things all over the world. Their motto is “We serve,” and Melvin Jones’s personal credo was “You can’t get very far until you start doing something for somebody else.” Hear hear. And see see.
I’m beginning to encounter a type of bushy evergreen tree I can’t identify. From a distance it is pale green, growing very large and rounded, and looks deciduous. But when I get close I see it has fronds of twenty or thirty very thin limp spikes, not sharp on the ends. It looks like it might be a kind of juniper, but I’m not sure. Lots of aspens and cottonwoods appear along the roadside here as well.
I pass through Emery, another tiny settlement. I see a sign for Emery Cemetery, but I look all around and see no graves. If it’s there it’s a good distance back from the road, and I can’t really afford the time to explore. It’s been too long since I’ve sat in a cemetery, though.
Now here’s something I rarely see in Arizona or New Mexico--a flowing body of water. It appears to be coming down from the mountains. I imagine it’s been dug out and routed to be of maximum use to the cotton farmers around here.
At 14 miles I reach another historic marker, this one for Geronimo. It says that here was where the original Camp (later Fort) Thomas was located, established to keep “the rebellious medicine man” and his Chiricahua Apache people on their farmland along the Gila River. Geronimo, by the way, was not what they called him at home. His Chiricahua name was Goyahkla, meaning “one who yawns.” He is supposed to have acquired the name Geronimo when he was fighting some Mexicans so ferociously that they began praying to Saint Jerome (Jeronimo, in Spanish), and the name stuck.
The village of Geronimo, just after the marker, presents an interesting picture. It’s not really a village so much as a tiny latter-day ghost town, although there may be actual dwelling places somewhere off the road. It used to be a station on the railroad, with a post office, but that closed in the 1890s. What’s here now is the skeleton of a turreted old-fashioned filling station and a neighboring building of the same style. Huge tumbleweeds grow in front and a mélange of plywood boards try to cover the doors and windows, as if someone would be interested in getting inside. A couple of superannuated house trailers, 1940s or 50s vintage, sit over on the other side of Geronimo Lane, a dirt side road.
From Geronimo I begin a descent into a valley that marks the beginning of the San Carlos Apache Reservation. A sign says their casino is 45 miles ahead, so I still have two full days until I reach that. It must be at the far western end of the reservation.
At 17.2 miles an arrowhead-shaped sign welcomes me to Bylas, and at 19.2 miles I crest another hill and start to walk into the village itself, spread thinly along a couple of miles of US 70. I’m listening to the iPod now, to a mixture of ZZ Top and Ricky Nelson, brought about by a strange quirk. When I loaded the two CDs onto iTunes, they got combined as one album under the rubric “greatest hits, various artists.” So every other tune is a ZZ Top greatest hit and the alternating ones are those of Ricky Nelson. I grant you it’s an odd juxtaposition, but it sort of works, because of the crisp contrast between the two. I go from the west-coast curled lip style of Ricky to the righteous R&R of the Top. I play air guitar, Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill style, as I walk down the mountain, to the bemused stares of oncoming motorists.
Easing down the highway in a new Cadillac
I had a fine fox in front, I had three more in the back.
They’re sporting short dresses, wearing spike-heeled shoes
They’re smokin’ Lucky Strikes and wearin’ nylons too.
‘Cause we’re bad, we’re nationwide.
The houses around here are mostly squalid and grim-looking trailers and small one-story buildings, not much more than shanties, evincing great poverty despite the existence of the casino. I daresay the income from that enterprise doesn’t go far enough to turn each member of the tribe into a member of the middle class. Actually I have no idea how they divvy it up. Perhaps it has resulted in an annual stipend of some kind. Then again, where’s the incentive for these folks to look and behave in any way like members of white society?
I reach the end of my day’s walk at the general store and gas station that anchors Bylas. I’m parked in front of the Bylas Rest Area, just past the post office.