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.