Gary Gardner (grgardner) wrote,
Gary Gardner

Signs Of The Old Road

I could tell I was close to the Mexican border this morning.  It was the first time there was salsa in the Holiday Inn Express breakfast bar!  Nogales is an old town, and it sits astride the border – literally.  You can see that as the town grew it didn’t pay attention to the border – but now, there is a huge scar down the city that is reminiscent of the Berlin Wall. 
From the hill overlooking the town it’s very evident – that by a mere chance of fate, being born on one side or the other of an imaginary line pretty much determines the chances one will have in life.  It’s a very sobering thought. 

There are more Border Patrol agents than I’ve seen in my life.  It’s like being in the midst of an army camp.  And there are billboards all over Arizona advertising that the Border Patrol is hiring too.  I’ll be honest, these people scare me.  They set up roadblocks on the freeway and search cars – with no probable cause or reason. They demand proof of citizenship, just like the Nazis did (Papers please?).  Its really aggravating sitting on a motorcycle in the heat idling away in the line at a checkpoint set up 25 miles in from the border.  All in the name of “security”.  Funny, I don’t feel very secure around them.

I started at the border crossing on “Grand Avenue” which according to my old maps, is where US-89 started.  Now it’s an un-numbered road that winds through downtown Nogales, and eventually ends up as a ramp to I-19.  I could have hopped on and off of I-19 but chose not to, until I got to Tumacacori.  I jumped off the freeway here as it started a long stretch of old US-89 and goes past a wonderful old Spanish mission that dates from the late 1700s. 
It’s a peaceful and tranquil setting, and at 830am, it was cool as the sun had yet to turn itself on “high”.  I enjoyed strolling around the grounds and the old church for 45 minutes before heading back up what is now called “Old Nogales Highway”.  I like that name – at least it has some meaning, and tells me I’m on the right road.  It wound through miles of Pecan groves before transitioning into South Tucson.

When looking for the old road there are clues and signs that generally tell you that you are on it.  Chief among them are old small motels with very dated neon signs.  The only place you find them is on what was the main road into town – just like now you find the “Quality Inn” or “Super 8” on the freeway offramps of the “new” road into town. 
I had the notion back in College to travel at night and take pictures of these great old signs for a coffee table book.  I even did manage to take a few pictures back then – but the book idea died, and now there are even fewer of these signs left to document.

I stopped for gas just a bit north of Tucson.  After filling up I ran inside for an “adult sippy cup” of Gatorade.  I took a moment to chat with the clerk who started it by commenting on me getting through the “child proof” packaging on the bottle.  I told her how these were great for being on the bike as they were “one handed” and didn’t spill – an “adult sippy cup”.  This invited her to comment on how she “didn’t have those when she was a kid – nowadays kids don’t learn not to spill because they have sippy cups.”  I said “don’t get me started – kids today can’t find their way out of a paper bag if the don’t have a GPS.”  By now the other clerk joined in and we all lamented how we didn’t have text messages, GPS, or DVD’s in cars which means kids get lost and don’t know anything about where they are because they never pay attention to where they are going.  I suppose my parents said the same thing about FM radio and automatic transmission.  Such is progress.

By now the old road was out in the country – numbered as AZ-79.  My old maps showed this was once US-89, and it eventually brought me to Florence – home of the Arizona State Pen.  I stopped for some water at a McDonalds that was full of women with kids – and no men.  It took me a minute, but I realized it was Saturday and these were all wives or girlfriends visiting inmates. 

If you look, you still find signs of the old road out here in the desert too -- abandoned gas stations and cafes -- their signs rusting away. (Left below) Just north of Florence, where US-60 comes down from Globe, is “Florence Junction”.  I have a B&W photo I took in a college art class here – with an abandoned gas station and a full moon rising up behind the mountain, and the US-89/US-60 sign. (Right below)
I had captioned it with a line from a novel I’d read “Is there anything more pretty than the sight of an American blacktop road heading nowhere in the moonlight.”  The gas station – which was abandoned 27 years ago, is now completely gone, and I could find no trace of it other than one sign remnant.  The whole area has been done over into a cloverleaf interchange, and there is nothing sadder to an old road rider than a sign saying the old road is closed.
I had to take the divided highway for a few miles but just before it became the “Superstition Freeway” I bailed off for the ride down what I knew from my days here as the old road – joint US-89/US-60/US-70. It was a long HOT HOT HOT ride through Apache Junction, Mesa, Tempe, Phoenix and the other suburb cities, down Apache Trail, Main Street, Mill Avenue, Van Buren Street, and Grand Avenue.  See, I still remember them from those years ago!  I knew I was on the old road -- even though they had taken down the highway signs.  It was a sad trip in many ways – seeing how much had changed, and how much of the old road was gone.  But like coming into Tucson – the signs were there, I just had to look for them.  I was very glad to see that my favorite “Diving Lady” motel sign was still up – I just wished it was at night so I could see if she still was lit.  Judging from the condition, I bet she was.  And I was also glad to see “Mel’s Diner” still there – you may recognize it as the exterior shot of “Mel’s Diner” in the old TV show Alice.
As the endless Phoenix suburbs transitioned into desert, I was able to pick up the speed and as the road climbed it got cooler.  Just north of Wikenburg, I turned off onto AZ-89.  At last, the number was correct.  This road was a delight to ride, as it twisted and turned, climbing up into the mountains around Prescott.  The air almost deliciously cool after the heat of the Phoenix valley.  I had hoped to make it as far as Williams Junction outside of Flagstaff, but the heat took too much out of me and so I stopped in Prescott for the night. 

The first thing I did was hit the shower.  I washed enough dirt and sweat and sun screen off to leave a rather dirty bathroom – but it sure felt good to get clean.  After drying off I noticed I’d been cooked to a nice “medium rare” tone too.  At least from here on out I won’t be enduring the extreme heat I have been.  I have a choice here in Prescott too – which is one of the oldest towns in Arizona.  I can take old US-89 (now AZ-89) or old US-89A (now AZ-69).    AZ-89 takes me up to Williams Junction where old 89 met up with old US-66 (now I-40), while old 89A goes through Sedona – perhaps the prettiest part of the state.  Looking at my old map, both seem “valid” if I’m retracing old 89, both show up on the map.  We’ll see how I feel in the morning.  You know I could have taken I-19 and I-10, and I-17 to get here today – done it in about 4 hours as opposed to the 11 I took.  I would have been a cooler too.  But I wouldn’t have traded it for the world.  After all, I got to see my old friend “Chief Kiva” again.


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