Sunday, January 9, 2011

Day 156: Signs

Salome Road, mile 27, to Sorefinger Road. 20.1 miles/3001 total

Saturday, January 8, 2011

10:00 a.m. I’ve just locked up the car and am heading west all day today on Salome road, from near mile 27 to just past Sorefinger Road, a distance of 20.1 miles.

It’s a cloudless day. The rain predicted for yesterday didn’t materialize. Instead there occurred what often seems to be the closest thing to rain in Arizona, the accumulation of a few fluffy clouds. Today it’s in the high 50s and will probably get up to around 70.

The shoulder of Salome Road is hard packed dirt, relatively devoid of large stones and quite comfortable to walk on. It’s essentially flat around here, which is to say that the overall terrain is flat; the road itself undulates regularly, dipping every half mile or so to accommodate the many little washes and stream beds that carry water on the rare occasions when it falls here in the desert.

Off to the south I can still see Interstate 10 a couple of miles away, although I am vectoring away from the highway to the west northwest. To my right is the Big Horn Mountains Wilderness, with the faceted Matterhorn-like peak of Big Horn Mountain itself rising above it all.

As I mentioned last time, this is open range cattle country, or so they would have you believe. The county is at pains to make that fact known at regular intervals with yellow signs bearing silhouette images of stout cattle and smaller signs under those warning about them crossing, and of course those WATCH FOR CATTLE signs in durable white letters on the pavement, revealing themselves to the motorists like that scrolling drivel at the beginning of the Star Wars movies.

By now you’ve gathered that I think this signage a bit excessive. It would probably more than suffice to put a sign every mile or so bearing only the image of a cow, sans verbiage, and let it go at that. Yet I know that some people out there are convinced that if all these signs save even one life, human or bovine, they’ve done their job. I applaud such impulses, but still think Maricopa County could put its money to better use.

Today’s walk will see me pass two milestones. The first is that I will finally leave Maricopa County, which I first entered about three weeks ago, a chunk of land containing over four million people (though you’d hardly know it here) and over 9,200 square miles, which makes it just a tad smaller than the entire state of New Hampshire.

Also, by the end of today I will have walked over 3,000 miles since beginning this journey in September 2009. I may very well look back at this attainment in a few years and think it modest, but for now it seems like a hell of a long way. In fact, it’s longer by three hundred miles than the distance from Bangor, Maine to Los Angeles, had I walked it in a more or less straight line, and I’m still three hundred miles from the ocean. So what’s going on here?

I should mention that after Thursday’s walk I drove the car back to Walmart in Buckeye to pick up a few things, and while there I noticed they carry Dr. Scholl’s shoes, an inexpensive brand I’ve had pretty good results with in the past. In fact, I think I wore out two pairs of them between Michigan and New Orleans. So I bought a pair—just basic running shoes with nylon mesh on top—and so far they feel far better than the ones I was wearing earlier in the week.

As if all the yellow road signs and the letters on the pavement weren’t enough, at about 3.5 miles I come to an amateurishly hand-painted sign--black spray painted letters on white painted plywood—that reads “Caution Cows On Road.” Just in case people missed the other fifty signs put up at taxpayer expense. Maybe this one was made by the cows themselves.

No sooner are these words out of my mouth and into the recorder than I spot my first roadkill of the day, which is none other than a cow lying on the dry dusty south side of the road. It’s really just the bones of the back end of the cow and most of its brown and white hide, the rest having been carried off by animals. One of the back legs is badly broken, which suggest to me that it was indeed hit by a vehicle. I can just hear the county road commission types clucking at me and saying, “See, we told you.”

At 7.3 miles I leave Maricopa County and enter La Paz County. Besides the change in the color of the pavement, which frequently happens at county lines, I immediately notice a great decrease in the near-hysterical warnings about cattle on the road. Less money in La Paz County, I’m thinking.

It turns out that's exactly it. La Paz County was created in 1983, when it was split off from Yuma County, making it the only county created in Arizona since it became a state in 1912. And its population of 19,000 or so has had a hard time coming up with enough tax money to run the county. So the cows can roam this county more or less at will, with few signs to warn passersby. Except that I haven't seen a single cow save the back half of a dead one.

I can tell they’re pinching pennies here in La Paz County, because the very occasional warnings on the pavement now read WATCH FOR COWS rather than WATCH FOR CATTLE. And who knows how much money they’ve saved by using two fewer letters? You know, the little things do add up.

While I think of it, and apropos of nothing here on Salome Road, I want to mention that I received an email from a woman in Australia who said she was researching her ancestry and somehow found my blog entry where I mentioned that I was sitting across from the tombstone of someone named Filomena Madaffari in Queen of Heaven Cemetery on the other side of Phoenix. It seems that Ms. Madaffari was her mother’s great aunt. So I’d like to welcome Rita to the blog, as well as a couple more newcomers—Howard and Surviving Racism 101. And thanks to all the regulars for hanging in there.

I see a sign on the barbed wire fence that says “4 Sale” with a phone number, and then “Keep Out Thank You.” Then a few feet down from that another sign that says “Welcome to the Claytons.” The silliness of that reminds me of yet another sign I saw a few days ago by the nuclear plant that said “Moving Sale Every Day.”

On into the afternoon I walk and still the road hasn’t changed except to rise up a tiny bit as I approach the foothills of the Harquahala Mountains to the north and the Little Harquahala Mountains to the south. Saguaro cactuses begin to dot the desert as the elevation increases.

At 19.9 miles, almost at the end of the walk, I come to Sorefinger Road. Wonder what that’s all about? Like a character from a takeoff of a James Bond movie. For the first time today the road goes up over a little hill and around a bend, and as soon as I reach the rise I see the motor home about a half mile distant.

It’s been a very comfortable walk and the new shoes are working out well. Uneventful and painless.


Anonymous said...

I just realized that with "only" 300 miles to go, you have 15 days of walking left and then you're done. So the adventure is ending soon. Do you remember "Le Reading" when we were kids ? I'm going to miss this daily reading.

Billie Bob said...

What? You're not going to walk back?

Peter Teeuwissen said...

Stay tuned, Buckaroos. More walks. More worlds to conquer. This has become a habit.

Anonymous said...

Good! Before you are out of the desert, here are a few names of desert flowers and plants that I found in a great book Voyage dans l'Ouest Américain: ocotillo, teddybear cholla, brittlebush, beaver tail, claret cup, trichocereus, rubber rabbitbrush, yucca elata, creosotebush, Nevada ephedra, desert holly, juniper and pinyon pine... The author Alain Thomas has a great website.