And The Road Goes On: The Sierra Vista Round
Saturday, March 17th-Sunday, March 18th, 2018
By Bud Stratford
Friday, March 16th, 2018, 11:38 pm
I never sleep well the night before a big road trip adventure, and tonight is no different. I’m laying in my brand new memory-foam mattress, quite comfortably curled up beneath my blankets… yet I’m still tossing and turning restlessly, impatiently waiting for the midnight hour to strike. I’ve been in bed since 8:30, and I am becoming increasingly frustrated with myself for not being able to fall asleep… which, ironically enough, is making my task of falling asleep that much harder. My calves are cramping up because I’m not eating enough bananas these days in my ripe old age, so I angrily hop out of bed, throw on some shorts, grab one of my trusty longboards, and kick down to the store for some quick provisions, hoping to tire myself out a little bit so I can at least squeak in a quick, four-hour power nap before my 4:30 wake-up alarm goes off. This is heaven and hell, happening simultaneously. These, my frenemies, are the life and times of a rapidly aging, yet still all-too-enthusiastic-at-heart, touring skateboarder.
Saturday, March 17th, 2018, 7:02 am
It’s about 7:02 am, and I just passed through the fertile valley of Oro Valley. It’s been a pretty uneventful trip so far; I’ve kept the speedometer pegged at exactly sixty miles per hour the whole time due to speed restrictions on the trailer that aren’t normally adhered to, but are being respected today in a futile effort to save a few hard-earned pennies on gasoline. I’m on a tight budget, as always, and every dime counts. I stopped to take a snappy picture of a hot air balloon on the north side of town as it was coming over the mountains, nearly causing a wreck and getting my ass rear-ended in the process. But the photo came out excellently, so it was definitely well worth the risk and the effort.
Left and right: Hot air balloon coming up over the mountains, Oro Valley, Arizona. Illustration by the author.
Saturday, March 17th, 2018, 7:49 am
South of Tucson, at mile marker 280 or so, we’re back to vast, wide-open scrub rangeland with sawtooth mountains in the distance; their short, cropped peaks and highly defined ridgelines are casting sharp shadows in the bright morning sun. A few miles later, the landscape slyly morphs again, becoming a series of gently rolling hills with long bridges that span deep canyons- a markedly different sort of terrain from the flat, wide-open, tediously boring desert nothingness that has dominated my morning drive thus far. The car shifts down, and spools up the RPMs in a valiant effort to traverse this newly variable, hilly terrain.
Saturday, March 17th, 2018, 8:08 am
“A raptor dinosaur with a ravenous appetite is poised on a rock outside McDonald’s along I-10. It’s not particularly huge, but offers family photo ops, especially if you can work in the electronic sign messages…”
– from Roadside America (www.roadsideamerica.com)
Businesses will do damn near anything to rope in unsuspecting tourists, and go about systematically emptying their wayward wallets. Dinosaurs, for whatever reason, are one of the go-to tourist-grabbing themes in and around Arizona. Many businesses will employ a humble Stegasuarus or a ferocious T-Rex in their expert efforts to rustle in road-weary travelers for a brief, sometimes funny, respite from the never-ending rolling of the asphalt ribbon. The McDonald’s off of I-10 exit 302 in Benson is no different, and of course I fell for it even before I left the house. Even as I was drawing up the itinerary, I was thinking that this might make a pretty convenient breakfast break. Score one for the rogue marketers of Americana…! I’m a sucker, just like anyone else…!
I stopped in, stretched my tired old legs, shot a few photos, marveled at the ravenous smile and the broken fingertips on the dino, and then went on inside to grab a bite of breakfast. It was only then that I realized just how effective these sorts of pandering props can be; half of Benson also happened to be alighting at this particular McDonald’s, grabbing breakfast bites of their own. The line was pretty lengthy, and showed painfully few signs of moving particularly quickly. I made my way back to the roadway, where I could restore my (increasingly hungry and uncomfortable) solace.
Clockwise from left: T-Rex guarding the entrance to a McDonald’s; Amtrak station, vintage signage, and artwork, Bisbee, Arizona.
Saturday, March 17th, 2018, 8:49 am
Benson is an old railroad town that is currently a bit of an RV haven. Naturally, there’s a lot of agriculture and rail history there; I stopped in at the old train station (the current visitors’ center) to check it all out. Luckily, there was an Amtrak passenger express parked on the ramp; that presented a photo-op that was far too good to pass up. The lady inside marveled at my postcard purchasing power. When it comes to scooping up piles of postcards, I always aim to impress.
The Benson skatepark was pretty fun. Not quite the quality level of the elaborate concrete oases that have spoiled me in and around Phoenix… but for such a small railroad town, it was pretty solid. It was made up of simple skateboard obstacles on a smooth concrete slab; you know, your typical prefab park. But as far as prefab skateparks go, this one was pretty fun times.
The spine alone made my stop well worth the exploration effort. Within a few minutes of parking the car, I had done maybe 20 to 30 rapid-fire tricks on it, and was huffing and puffing my tar-crusted lungs out. As I stood there frantically trying to catch my escaping breath, I started to wonder how long it’s been since I’ve transferred a spine? Ruffling through the fogginess of my distant memory banks, I realized that I was unable to recall when that “last time” might have been. I also decided that there’s no better time then the present to give those a whirl. So, I scooted off to do another 20-30 rapid-fire spine transfers, just to re-acquaint myself with the long lost concept.
It didn’t take too long to get all sweaty and stinky from my hurried skating efforts. I thought that was a damn pretty spiffy way to start a weekend skating adventure.
Saturday, March 17th, 2018, 9:40 am
St. David is a quick, scenic, peaceful drive south from Benson. After all that quick-hit skateboarding, I deftly decided that I could just as easily use a quick-hit breather break.
Pulling into the driveway of the monastery, I was suddenly awash in darkly beautiful, real-life movie scenes that might have fit well into a religiously inclined Tim Burton movie. Spooky, leafless trees with bent and broken limbs pointed the way to the monastery book store, and the giant cross that towers above the scenescape next door.
As I got out of my car and stood in the shadow of the cross to frame up a few photos, I suddenly heard a herd of screeching, loud “caw-caaaaaawwww!” squeals emanating from the trees surrounding me. I looked high and low all around, but saw nothing that i would consider particularly unusual, or too terribly out of place. Whatever it was that was making its presence loudly heard and physically felt, it was elusively insuring that it could not, or would not, be easily seen.
The bookstore was a trip. Many strange and unusual things for sale, representing dozens of patron saints. I bought a couple of souvenirs that featured prayers from the Patron Saint of Traveling, and the Patron Saint of Rheumatoid Arthritis. That was pretty funny; the Patron Saint of Predicting the Near Future must have told these people that a rapidly aging skater was going to be stopping by to pay them a visit. The postcards were a dollar apiece, though. That’s tantamount to highway robbery in the postcard-purchasing world, where most can be grabbed for four or five for a dollar. The Patron Saint of Cheap Tightwads must have been either running late, or wasn’t welcomed on the premises.
It was only after I went back outside, and hopped the small wall surrounding the giant cross to shoot a few more photos that I finally ran headlong into the culprit of my loud, caw-cawwing mystery: a large, aloof, and remarkably tame and unaffected peacock. A peacock! Yes! You read that correctly. Why in the world a peacock would be wandering the grounds of a monastery in southern Arizona remains a baffling mystery to me- a mystery that I made no effort whatsoever to resolve in the haze of the moment. I was far too busy being stunned and surprised to worry too much about solving such obscure mysteries.
The peacock turned around, stared at me impatiently in a “Hey, chump, follow me for a minute” sort of manner, and made its way… with curious me in tow… over to the meditation garden. There, hidden in plain sight among the tall trees and the reflecting pool, were more peacocks. Lots and lots of peacocks. A small army of them. None of them seemed too surprised at my presence; if anything, they seemed rather surprised that I was actually surprised by their presence. They seemed to note that I had a camera… again, nothing too terribly surprising to them… and made great pains to prance around, looking photogenic, as if they were posing for my benefit. So, I shot a few dozen photos. I certainly didn’t want to leave them disappointed.
Left to right: The entrance to monastery spookville; 70-foot-high Celtic Cross; one of the many peacocks wandering the monastery grounds. St. David, Arizona.
Saturday, March 17th, 2018, 11:49 am
The strange stories never seem to end. I stopped in to the Cochese County Museum for a quick look around before I had lunch across the street at The Railroad Dining Car. The museum was small, but immensely informative and educational. There was a lot to absorb, with a clear factoid-focus on the native Indian tribes, and the atrocities that our Caucasian ancestry collectively committed against them.
Hidden in a tiny cove in the center of the museum was a mysterious exhibit about a Martin PBM Mariner that emergency-landed on the dry lake bed south of Willcox at the height of World War II. “PBM takes off from desert”, the headline boasted, relaying the story of the unfortunate flying boat that was forced down due to a broken oil line that resulted in an engine failure. Named “The Mirage of Willcox Lake”, the PBM was stripped of all military equipment, repaired, lifted onto wheeled beaching gear, and flown off the lake bed, a takeoff that “is believed to be the first of its kind on aviation history”.
Clockwise from left: The Cochese County Museum; Martin PBM, illustration by the author; “The Mirage of Willcox Lake”, preparing to take off; the headline in the museum display. Willcox, Arizona.
The dry lake bed where it all happened. Welcome to the literal middle nowhere. Willcox, Arizona.
Clockwise from left: “The Railroad Dining Car”, aka, Big Tex BBQ; inside the rail car; this was well worth starving all morning for; deep-fried cream corn (yes, I’m totally serious), and boy, it was f’n yummy; the historic train depot. Willcox, Arizona.
Murals. Willcox, Arizona.
As I was buying more postcards for my growing collection, the caretaker and I engaged in some small talk. She asked me where I was from, what in the world I was doing in Willcox? You know, the usual queries. When I replied that I was on a solo skateboarding tour, she looked at me forlornly.
“Man, I wish we had a skatepark in Willcox! Give the kids sumthin’ to do…!”
“Ummmm… well… you actually do have one. Right here, in Willcox. That’s why I’m here. To check out your skatepark, and to document it.”
She suddenly looked, like, so incredibly disgusted. “Awww, that little thang? That ain’t nuttin’!”
Turns out, she was right.
Saturday, March 17th, 2018, 1:20 pm
It’s 1:20 Saturday afternoon, and I just found the coolest f’n thing ever. It’s a little ditch that I damn near dove right by as I was making my way back to the interstate. It starts really mellow, gradually gets a lot steeper, and features a grindable lip on one side. The grindable lip… get this shit… is already broken in! We’ve got some really cool kids in this town, somewhere. The line that I had to take to get to that grindable wall is a little bit weird… you have to dodge a bunch of reflector poles to get to it… but it was still the find of the day. Way better than that next-to-useless Willcox skatepark, that’s for damned sure.
Left: the find of the day; Right: RV park advertisement, illustration by the author. Willcox, Arizona.
Saturday, March 17th, 2018, 2:51 pm
As I drove south, I sauntered past the abandoned airfields at Elfrida and McNeal. Arizona is littered with abandoned auxiliary [emergency] airfields, the leftovers of the sprawling WWII war effort. Many of these airfields were simply written off, and left to bake away in the harsh desert sun; over the years, the tar has literally melted out of the asphalt, leaving behind the raw aggregate and indefinitely-defined triangles of the former runways. A keen and educated eye in the head of a certifiable geek can spot these from a mile away. As a result, I spent a lot of time spotting old runways on my way to Douglas.
The modern-day, fancy-sounding Bisbee-Douglas International Airport is the former Douglas AAF base, where WWII-era B-25 pilots got their flight training during the war before heading off to bomb and strafe the living daylights out of Hitler, Mussolini, or Tojo. Today, a large part of the airport is leased by the Arizona Department of Corrections to house high-risk prisoners. That led to my immediate doubts about getting onto the old base. Security had to be pretty high around those parts, I thought to myself. But I am an airplane geek through and through, so I figured it was worth a shot in the dark anyway.
Turns out, you can drive straight onto the property, no problem at all. Yes, it is an “international airport” by name, but not so much by appearances. There were a few single-engined private airplanes on the flight line, including an out-of-place crop duster, and a few that looked like they should belong to enterprising drug cartels. Off in the distance, the US Army had a few temporary hangars guarding something that didn’t feel like getting shot or detained over, so I steered pretty clear of them. Everything seemed eerily surreal and creepy. And then, it got even better.
Douglas AAF is one of the few air bases where towering remnants of the war effort still stand. Namely, a massive array of old foundations… concrete slabs that once supported barracks, administrative offices, mess halls, and lavatories… while off at the north end of the complex, along the old runways, four huge hangars dominated the horizon, standing strong, just waiting for the ghost of a returning Mitchell to come home to roost. The wind has blown away bits of the sheet-metal sheathing over the decades, leaving the wooden framework exposed to the elements. These hulking hangars have been standing at their lonely guard, after all, for a long, long time.
Clockwise from top: hangars that used to house B-25s stand their silent ground (that’s a prison, off to the right); vintage Apache Air Lines logo found on one of the old hangars, illustration by the author; the camper out on the range; another lonely ghost of the war effort. Douglas AAF, Douglas, Arizona.
Saturday, March 17th, 2018, 3:32 pm
Douglas, Arizona is, technically speaking, a border town. As such, I expected something that resembled Little Mexico- just like many border towns do. It completely surprised me when I pulled into the city limits, and found a small metropolis that looked much more like a Midwestern farm-field main street, complete with tree-lined boulevards and a small-town theater hosting a squad of Porsche Speedster enthusiasts out on a Saturday club excursion. It felt totally foreign, but in an altogether unanticipated way. This wasn’t little Mexico at all; this was much more akin to something that resembled, and felt like… well, home.
Clockwise from top left: The former Douglas International Airport; F-16 on a pedestal at 8th Street Park, Porsche 356 Speedster, illustration by the author. Douglas, Arizona.
Saturday, March 17th, 2018, 3:52 pm
Okay, I’m here at the Douglas skatepark. Here’s a few quick-hit notes for Jeff Concrete Disciples: it’s right next to the police station. It is lit. There are bathrooms, and they are open. But the park looks much, much better from the satellite than it does once you’re standing here on the ground. It’s a cross between a midrange-to-badly-executed Skatewave steel prefab park, and a horrendously executed, built-by-rank-amateurs, concrete craphole. Clearly, the concrete portion was not designed, nor built, by professionals, or anybody that had any idea what in the hell they were doing. It is very bad, with lots of kinks, lots of transitions that are not quite round, and not quite elliptical, but sort of… well, sucky. I would say they are “DIY-jersey-barrier-kinky”, which is a great quality for DIY jersey barriers to have, but not so much for skateparks. The coping sits on top of the ledges, not embedded in them, but some of the concrete ramps have obvious lumps embedded in those that are best avoided. I’m not sure who’s responsible for this shit-show disaster… but somebody, somewhere, wasted a whole buncha money on this thing.
Saturday, March 17th, 2018, 5:00 pm
Bisbee’s skatepark wasn’t really a whole lot better than Douglas’ was. It’s basically a very street setup with some quarterpipes at one end that are kinky as hell. The street stuff looked pretty legit, though; a kid with block and ledge skills would probably love this place. I did manage to finally meet a local skater here in Bisbee, though, after skating all day long, all by my lonesome. He was friendly as hell, too; he jumped right out of his car and practically ran me down to compliment me on the Dogtown Bulldog model I was carrying back to my car after I was done skating and shooting a few photos. It’s always nice to be complimented for having great taste in shred sleds.
Saturday, March 17th, 2018, 5:30 pm
“Visiting Erie Street is like walking into a 1950s post-apocalyptic landscape. From all that is immediately apparent, it could have been abandoned in a hurry and forgotten for half a century. Rusting cars, trucks, and an old Greyhound bus sit deserted along the street as if their passengers had suddenly vanished (or worse).
Erie Street is most of what is left of Lowell, Arizona, a mining town incorporated into Bisbee in the early 1900s. Much of the town’s residential area was demolished to widen an open pit copper mine. Losing most of its residents caused the commercial district to struggle, and many businesses failed as a result. Today, the street’s special curiosities include a Harley Davidson repair shop with a now-defunct gas pump and Sprouse Reitz Co., a department store that is nearly empty except for a few appliances and a whole pile of manikin parts.
Despite appearing untouched since its decline, further investigation reveals that Erie Street is continually restored by a vibrant and passionate community of residents and volunteers who want to remember a different America. So although you can no longer see a show at Lowell’s movie theater or pay $0.22 for gasoline, the Lowell Americana Project has made it possible to experience the street as a living snapshot of another time. And not everything on Erie Street is purely decorative—visit the Bisbee Breakfast Club for an excellent Huevos Rancheros.”
– from Roadside America (www.roadsideamerica.com)
I pulled into Lowell just as the sun was starting to set behind the mountains to the immediate west. It was a ghostly place, completely abandoned, minus the few tourists that were slowly milling about, taking it all in, and quietly snapping photos. Yet the remnants were all still there, freshly tidied and organized, as if the whole town had been happily inhabited the day before. Clean, classic cars lined the street on both sides, while showroom windows touted the brand new, ’58 Harley Davidson collection. There was a young model sitting on the hood of one of the cars, being energetically photographed by some chap that looked like he may have been her manager or her handler, helping her to get her first big break so that she can blow outta Dodge and find fame and fortune out on the dusty horizon somewhere. Lowell’s main drag might have been a mere quarter mile long, but it is stacked full of retro eye-candy treasures that had almost no business at all being there.
Some tourists are real dumbfucks. As we were all strolling around, respectfully staying out of each other’s way (and out of each other’s camera view finders), some certifiable shit-for-brains decided to roll down the street in his brand-new GMC Tahoe at .005 mph with his whole stupid family, gawking at everything up and down the street from the creature comforts of his moron-sized sport utility tank. Most people park up in the parking lot at the head of the street, and walk down the main drag, so as to not spoil everybody’s photo ops with late-model luxury that would appear in everybody’s photographs, and look horrendously out of place. But not this dumbwitted chap. He was far too lazy, and way too clueless to care much about anybody else but himself. It took him a whole half an hour of precious sunset to get his stupid ass out of the way of everybody else’s enjoyment. Fuckos like this should really be banned from tourist attractions. All they ever do is wreck life for everybody else.
Clockwise from top left: ’58 Harley in an Erie Street showroom window; the Lavender Pit, an open-pit remnant of Bisbee’s mining history (that’s the town of Lowell way off in the distance); Erie Street in Lowell; 1953 Ford F-100, illustration by the author; an errant Continental Divide marker; The Fuzz serves and protects a restored gas station on Erie Street. Bisbee, Arizona.
Saturday, March 17th, 2018, 6:20 pm
“There is a Continental Divide marker in the small town of Bisbee. Its high and lonely spot along Old Divide Road seems like it should be the top of Arizona, but its placement doesn’t tell the whole story of Mule Pass.
When the road over Mule Pass was built in 1913 and 1914, it was done by prison labor. The stubby concrete obelisk that marks the pass was placed here partly to proclaim that fact, as well as memorialize the triumph of pavement over nature. But for some reason the marker added another claim: that Mule Pass was right on top of the Continental Divide, the invisible line separating the watersheds of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
That line, however, lies about 120 miles to the east, along a low rise in New Mexico. Whether they flow west into the San Pedro River or east into Whitewater Draw, the rains that fall on Mule Pass both eventually empty out into the Sea of Cortez, and onto the Pacific Ocean.
Bisbee, Arizona, is a former boom-town that nearly went bust, just down the road from the more famous Tombstone. This small mining community once pulled millions of dollars out of the ground, and until the Mule Pass Tunnel (which runs through the mountain down underneath the marker) was completed in the 1950s, the ride up and over the winding switchbacks of the Mule Mountains was the only way into town from Tucson or Tombstone.
History hasn’t preserved how or why the erroneous Continental Divide claim came to be memorialized at Mule Pass, but the roadside pull-off is still worth a stop—whether you are looking to the east at Bisbee’s Tombstone Canyon, gazing west out over the San Pedro Valley toward the Huachuca Mountains, or simply contemplating geography errors.”
– from Roadside America (www.roadsideamerica.com)
Clockwise from top left: The Shady dell’s front office; the business end of a recently acquired vintage Cadillac; the living manikin that scared the shit straight outta me (I thought he was fake, at first glance; apparently that’s a common assumption that he just loves taking full advantage of); 1935 Chevrolet Master Deluxe on Erie Street, illustration by the author; a beautifully restored (and completely functional) Valentine Diner at The Shady Dell. Everything that is cool and retro, lives here. Bisbee, Arizona.
Saturday, March 17th, 2018, 7:15 pm
I was one hell of a starvin’ Marvin. All I really wanted was a sandwich. Just a simple sandwich. What I got was a waitress with billowing mammaries falling out of her tightly-clinched corset. All of a sudden, I completely forgot what in the world I came in here for.
Tombstone is a western costume town. Everybody’s job is to look like the 1800’s all day, every day, and stage mock gunfights for the benefit of the play prostitutes, and the real-life nuclear families and modern-day motorcycle outlaws that serve as their loyal customer base. After work, everybody stays put in their costumes and in their characters, and heads over to Big Nose Kate’s Saloon or The Crystal Palace for a pint of their favorite spirits, and some raucously loud entertainment. Big Nose Kate’s was way too loud and far too crowded for my solitary tastes, so I opted for the slightly less hectic atmosphere of The Crystal Palace. All I really wanted was a simple sandwich, and some peace and ever-lovin’ quiet. I found neither of the above in Tombstone.
Sluts in the 1800’s, though… holy wow. Hookers back then had some high style and class. They had to; they ran shit like the bosses they were back then. The character ladies of modern-day Tombstone kept the fire of fashionable sensuality alive and well. My waitress at The Crystal Palace was a total knockout. She may well have been the single most vivid memory of my entire trip.
I ended up getting a burger. They didn’t have sandwiches there.
Saturday, March 17th, 2018, 8:45 pm
In November of 1846, the so-called Mormon Battalion encountered wild cattle along the banks of the San Pedro River. Aroused by the invaders, several bulls charged the column, tipping over wagons and killing two mules and injuring two soldiers. Stunned by the aggressive nature of the beasts, the soldiers loaded their rifles and charged the chargers, killing between 10 and 15 of the wild cattle. The soldiers sarcastically named the encounter the “Battle of the Bulls.”
This is where I was supposed to sleep on Saturday night: in the lush, green valley that had once been the scene of a violent cattle rebellion. Problem was, my tired mind was totally mistaken on where the road to my campsite should have been, verses where the road really was. It was only after I had already pulled out of Tombstone, dodged a couple of Border Patrol checkpoints, made my way into the blackness of the open desert, and drove a solid twenty to thirty miles that I realized that I was hopelessly and stupidly lost.
I had options, of course. I could shell out my left arm and cough up the duckets for a legitimate campsite in an overcrowded RV Park. I could park out in the boonies, and run the risk of getting busted by the Border Patrol. Or, I could do what I ended up doing: driving back to Tombstone, and alighting in the parking lot behind a Dollar General.
It wasn’t the prettiest of campsites, to be sure. But it did the job, and did it pretty darned well.
Sunday, March 18th, 2018, 7:23 am
“There are only a few wooden headstones, and only a handful of these have clever sayings. ‘Here lies Lester Moore, Four slugs from a .44, No Les, No more’ is the most quoteworthy. The Boot Hill gift shop sells miniatures of it as a ceramic bank.
Burials here were quick. A shallow grave was scratched into the cement-like soil, a wood casket was set into the depression, and rocks were overlaid to keep out the coyotes.
Boot Hill was pretty much shut down after 1884, restored in the 1930s, and hasn’t changed much since. It’s a crumbly, crunchy, dun-colored, sun-bleached, southern Arizona slope with slippery footing, lots of body-length piles of rocks, and some prickly pear and agave to hold the dead in place.
It’s a graveyard that every tourist in America should visit, but you’ll enjoy your visit more if you remember that it was designed for corpses, and that colorful Boot Hill characters such as Bronco Charley, Stinging Lizard, and 3-Fingered Jack Dunlap really weren’t poisoned, hanged, shot, stabbed, blown up, run over by wagons, or ambushed by Indians for your entertainment…”
– from Roadside America (www.roadsideamerica.com)
It’s far too early for such bright sunshine. I woke up at 7 am sharp… just a little too sharp for my liking… kicked open the rear door of the camper to take my morning pee, and was immediately engulfed in 150-spf bright sunlight. Holy shit, it made my eyes blind, my feeble brain bleed, and my poor, tired old head pound. I had to claw at the doorway to find my slippers, and at my trousers to find my wee little willy. It may have been the most brutal wake-up alarm I’ve ever experienced in my entire life.
Thirty minutes later, after running the gauntlet of a few dozen motorcyclists to grab some gas and a Big Gulp of caffeine at the Circle K, I was standing reasonably solidly at the entrance to the Boot Hill Graveyard on the outskirts of Tombstone. It’s a creepy way to begin the day, wandering around the tombstones, having a laugh at the victim’s unfortunate demises, and the witty, understated simplicity of the headstone summaries. Everybody died with their boots on, thus the graveyard name. The “accidentally hung” headstones were my personal favorites. Hanging is a pretty elaborate process; you’d think that there would be more than ample time to get stuff nailed down just right before we start stringing up necks, but apparently not so much in Old Western Arizona. Maybe people just didn’t think quick enough in old Tombstone. Or maybe, like, me, they were suffering from miserable, bright-sunlight-induced migraines, and just couldn’t muster the mojo to sort things all the way out. I was already living that struggle, so I knew just how real it could be.
Clockwise from top left: Welcome to The Creeper Zone; buy your deathly souvenir here; horse-drawn buggy in Benson, Arizona, illustration by the author; the famous Birdcage Theater; here lies Les Moore; beware all intruders (and tourists with fat wallets); Boothill Graveyard overview; The Miner Shak at Old Tombstone, illustration by the author. Tombstone, Arizona.
Left: the art deco facade of the Cochese County Courthouse; “Not very large, but we’d marked this for investigation because of the distorted body and the plaque dedicating it to ‘those virile men,’ the copper miners. A local artist was paid $180 in 1935 to make the copper-covered, bare-chested figure”; Roadside America’s users describe an unusually erotic manument. Bisbee, Arizona.
Sunday, March 18th, 2018, 10:20 am
This is the best story of the whole trip, right here. Guaranteed.
I was driving through Palominas this morning, making my way from Bisbee up to Sierra Vista along AZ 92, just a few miles north of The Border, when I made a quick diversion over to an old abandoned auxiliary airfield up in Hereford. Hereford was an emergency landing strip for those B-25s that were stationed over at Douglas AAF, and it was only two miles away from the main highway, so I figured that a quick leg-stretching exploration might be just what The Doctor and The Airplane Geek in me ordered. I barged right in to the housing development… Hereford has been recycled into some sort of suburban-style ranch community… drove straight up the former airstrip (it’s now a road through the development), and parked on the old tarmac while I shot a few photos of the last remaining hangar on the site. It only took a few minutes out of my hectic schedule, but it totally satisfied the nerd that lives, and lives quite well, inside of me.
As I was making my hurried way back to the main drag to continue my skate-day, I drove over a long bridge and immediately spotted something concrete-colored down in the craggy wash underneath. “What in the world is that…?!”, I loudly wondered over my breath to myself, and immediately started standing all over the brakes to whoa ol’ nelly down. I parked the car-and-camper combo as far off to the side of the road as I could safely manage, hurriedly grabbed my board, and pushed my big ‘ol butt right back to the overpass to investigate.
I simply could not believe what I was seeing. Down in the wash was one of the most elaborate ditch complexes I’ve ever laid my eyeballs upon. It was a solid six feet deep, with a massive rollout deck on the top of one side, hips all over the place, and… get this! Totally skateable pyramids at either end of the rollout deck. It was entirely possible to do a trick up and off the pyramids, and roll down into the ditch; you’d almost swear to God that this place was purpose-engineered for skateboarding. There were wheel tracks all over the place, too; clearly, the few kids in this town (that skate) know what’s up, and have this place at the top of their go-to lists. I can see why. It immediately made my go-to list as well. This was the most fun I’ve had all weekend. Hell, maybe the most fun I’ve had all year.
And it’s all because that nerd that lives, and lives remarkably well in me wanted to check out an old abandoned airfield. Score a big one for the skater squares of the world…!
Clockwise from upper left: crumbling hangars at Hereford Auxiliary Airfield (now an upscale ranch housing development), Palominas, Arizona; Shrine of Our Lady of the Sierras, near Miracle Valley, Arizona; Asa A. Allen’s abandoned legacy, Miracle Valley, Arizona; propane tank art at Sonoita Propane Company, Sonoita, Arizona; another one bites the dust, Sierra Vista, Arizona; Sonoita Propane Company propane tank cowboy, illustration by the author.
Sunday, March 18th, 2018, 12:03 pm
It’s 12:03, and I’m at Sierra Vista skatepark. It’s concrete, it is lit, and I do see bathrooms here. Tony’s Board Shop used to be right next door to the park, serving up fresh decks, snacks, and sugary soft drinks; the mural on the wall says that it was painted in 2015, but Tony’s appears to be long, long gone. It looks like there might have been another shop that was in there called “Sk8 48” at some point, probably Tony’s similarly failed successor. There was only one kid at the skatepark. Once again, I practically had the whole place to myself.
Two views of the Sierra Vista Skatepark
As I left the skatepark and started making my way back to Highway 90, lightning managed to strike thrice. For the third time this weekend, some concrete-colored contraption caught my peripheral eye as I was driving down the road, and I squealed the camper-combo to a screeching halt in order to hop out and investigate. And yes, once again, a huge ditch complex of immense proportions greeted me warmly, as if it too had been waiting on some skater, somewhere, to stumble upon its shredding potential. My good fortune really bowls me over sometimes. This weekend is as good as it’s ever been, no doubt about it.
Wistful daydreaming. The Sierra Vista ditch, right up the street from the skatepark, illustration by yours truly.
Sunday, March 18th, 2018, 12:25 pm
Huachuca City is just a few miles up the road from Sierra Vista. Surprisingly, they also have a skatepark within the city limits. I’m not sure why they felt like they needed one, because Sierra Vista is so close… but, hey, I’m not one to complain about having too much stuff to skate, and neither should you. To call Huachuca City a “city”, however, is a horrendous overstatement; the whole town might be a mile long, at the very most, and is really no more than a collection of houses and gas stations at a prominent crossroads in the middle of nowheresville. Believe it or not, the mellow-transitioned steel mini ramp was actually a lot of fun. Hot as hell to the point of scorching your skin off when you fell on it… but as long as you could manage to stay on your feet, it really wasn’t too damned shabs.
Huachuca City Skatepark
Sunday, March 18th, 2018, 2:03 pm
Sadly, I’m at the very last skate stop of my weekend-warrior tour in Nogales, Arizona. Nogales is almost exactly what I imagined Douglas would be like (but wasn’t); a typical border town that looked much more like Mexico than anything you would expect to find in America.
The Nogales skatepark was surprisingly solid. The mini-ramp was damn near perfect; if my knee wasn’t swelling up so damn bad from the weekend-long festival of frantic overexertion, I might have stayed and skated it a lot longer, maybe even moved there permanently. Alas, my old age demands short skate sessions, or it will make me suffer by paying me back in spades for the next week and a half.
The rest of the park had some strange peculiarities. Transitions that didn’t quite blend well with the flatbottom, narrow walkway ramps with handrails on both sides, manny pads littered with obstructions; by the looks of the BMXer that was casually cruising around, it looked fairly bike-friendly… but, skate-friendly? Not quite as much.
But that mini-ramp, man, whew. That thing was to die for.