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.