When I was a kid my dad would lift me out of bed at around 2 a.m. and place me in the backseat of our station wagon. My parents had put down blankets and a pillow for me, no worries about seatbelts. They’d also loaded in luggage, food in coolers, up to four poodles, two cats and a rabbit. The animals were never restrained and roamed freely throughout the vehicle.
The reason for our early departure time was the summer heat. We lived in the deserts of California and would be traveling across Southern Arizona. The high temperatures could fry an egg on the sidewalk .
Typically my dad would travel separately in his pickup truck and he’d usually leave ahead of us to get our cabin in the White Mountains of Arizona ready for our arrival. The drive from our home was about eight hours but always felt like forty. Mainly because most of the trip looked like this:
Here are some of the highlights of our annual excursion:
Looking for pieces of the remnants of the Old Plank Road sticking out of the sand dunes. It was built in 1916 as an East-West route over the Algodones Sand Dunes, linking Southern Arizona to San Diego through the Imperial Valley.
The Yuma Territorial Prison. Situated high on a hill near the Colorado River, it was opened in 1875. It remained open for 35 years and housed prisoners from murderers to polygamists. When tuberculosis raced through the prison, infected inmates were put in cells in a special wing. If they died, a nail was placed on a wood board over the door to keep track. I used to stare at hundreds of nails above each cell. Guards would chain prisoners in a round room with a hole in the ceiling and drop in rattlesnakes for fun. The main guard tower housed a Gatling Gun.
Gila Bend. Founded in 1872, we spent a memorable weekend there when my dad’s truck blew a gasket.
I always wanted to stay at the Space Lodge, a futuristic looking establishment.
Where we got stuck looked more like this:
I survived on comic books that were fortunately available at the local market.
Stuckeys! That pitched blue roof was the sign of a roadside oasis and emporium for weary travelers. Gas up the car, browse for souvenirs, have cold drinks, hot snacks and pecan roll candy. Now the closest one is in Texas.
Picnics: In the days before political correctness, we would stop at a picnic area near Bloody Tanks wash outside of Miami, Arizona. There was a large billboard showing a uniformed soldier battling an Indian who held a knife. It has been gone for many years now, but it commemorated a particularly vicious battle where Captain Woolsey opened fire on Apache warriors, women and children. At the time he was viewed as a hero and committed to “extermination” of Indians. Fortunately, I was too young to understand this when I’d eat my ham salad sandwich in the shadow of that billboard. Now, even the rest stop is gone.
Salt River Canyon. This beautiful canyon had winding, two lane roads with no guard rails. I would look out the window at rusted car carcasses resting down the steep slopes. This is also where the poodles chose to get in a fight right under my mom’s feet while she was driving! Panicked, I began grabbing fur and pitching dogs into the back of the car before we wound up down a cliff. It’s traumatic enough to travel on that road even now with widened lanes and solid guard rails.
Finally, our destination was our cabin in the White Mountains.
Time for homemade pie, fishing, hiking and trying to keep thoughts of the return trip from my mind.