I wonder sometimes how I would see small town Arizona if I had never left. I wonder how I would see it if I hadn’t been raised here, and to be honest, I wonder quite how I see it now coming home once a year or so to explore a little more.
The desert and places like the Chiricahuas hold my heart and fill it deep.
The rest though … it sometimes strikes me the boom and bust of mining towns set human footholds all over the place that ranching and other kinds of work can barely fill, and all this space has left a lot of room for batshit crazy.
Much of which I love, don’t get me wrong.
The Singing Winds bookstore exemplifies the awesome — North from Benson and the I-10 on Ocotillo, we wondered if we were going to the wrong middle of nowhere until we came to Singing Wind Road, and then we passed this:
We still got it a little wrong, but finally came to the amazing store itself in this old ranch house:
As it says, it has an amazing selection of Southwestern books, and Winn’s tour showed us section by section, shelf by shelf just what was to be found. We bought W.E.B. Du Bois’ tome on Reconstruction, the collected short fiction of Charles Chesnutt, Borders from Pat Mora, Lalo Guerrero’s autobiography, a beautifully illustrated pamphlet on the history of Pearce, and another in Spanish containing a study of the differences in practices for Dia de los Muertos on either side of the border in Nogales.
We staggered out under the weight of them all, and drove back down to Benson. Here’s the bullet riddled post box key to the directions, yet still we missed it on the way in.
Off to find food much needed food in an old cafe of the kind I also love most dearly:
The inside is filled with paintings by Vern Park, including this celebrations of the Butterfield Stage (originally found I can’t remember where and its plaster removed to find a home here).
This was pretty amazing too. There is definitely a lot of room for paintings of all kinds out here.
I had had some early pretensions of following along the old stage route from San Simon at the New Mexico border this trip, but the sheer number of miles changed my mind by the time we hit Dragoon. So instead we just headed out towards Bowie, unlike Benson, small town Arizona that seems to be barely clinging to life:
The next day we left the Chiricahuas and headed back west towards home. We stopped to eat at Sunizona, less of a town and more of a strange strip of RV parks and stores where the 181 meets the 191.
Friendly, they sure were friendly. Everyone knew everyone, most folks were older if not elderly, even the hunters in updated camouflage — three men and a woman. Open carry laws in evidence, a sign with crossed pistols saying no one would be calling 911 in that restaurant. A ease with violence that tied in too closely to Fort Bowie, to the whole history of this place. I confess we were glad to leave that place.
While towns like Bowie seemed to be in the process of dying away, the ghost town of Gleeson seems in the process of reviving. A bit. They’ve paved the damn road to Tombstone, that I don’t understand either. But it was cool to stop at the restored prison, eavesdrop a bit on the guy who has collected everything here and whose family roots go deep in that town.
A fascinating set of old pictures and articles and unanswered questions that line the walls inside, Italian families alongside Mexican — made me wonder if perhaps the history here was a bit different than the segregation of Clifton or Morenci:
Climbing the little knoll above it you get views across what is left of this old town, and the mines that first brought it to life in the side of the hill:
to the ruins of the old school:
And looking out to the Northwest:
The cemetery was newly mowed and cleared, very different from when I was last here six years ago. We didn’t stop again, I still get chills remembering the last visit.
Instead we continued on to Tombstone. It feels completely different now there is no longer a dirt road, this is what the old approach felt like, and a fine dirt road it was — but even paved it’s still a good way to get a better sense of Tombstone and how it sits in its surroundings.
It was getting late, so we drove home without stopping — I’ve no pictures of Tombstone or Sonoita, nor the ICE checkpoints and radar and the agents who looked only at our skin colour and just waved us on.
Truth is, batshit crazy isn’t so comfortable when it comes with forts built to hold and kill Apache tribes now almost entirely erased from the area, old men wearing semi-automatics on their hips, tales of mining town greed and violence based on the destruction of the land, and the heavily armed border patrol with their drones and radar in a landscape full of people dying as they attempt to escape poverty and violence in their own country. I hate how militarised everything feels and the fear and anti-immigrant sentiment it’s all based on. Hate it.
The next day we were back in Benson for lunch on our way to Kartchner Caverns — delicious Mexican food in a tiny restaurant I loved.
I love this conflicted place after all.
It seems my dad briefly had thoughts of moving us all to Greaterville, so I was a hairsbreadth from knowing all too well what it’s like to grow up in a ghost town. A turning point in my life I didn’t even know about.
They don’t have a library in Greaterville.
I might not have been writing this at all.