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Monday, January 11, 2021

We Are All Going in the Same Direction

Where did we go on Saturday? Read on and find out.

It is remarkable how much there is to see in a single American county. If you spend enough time looking into nooks and corners, as well as at the grander vistas, rather than speeding through on expressways, every region has its natural beauties and remnants of the past. This is certainly true of Leelanau County, Michigan, which the Artist and I have been exploring for decades, and it’s true as well of Cochise County, Arizona, where we have now spent part or all of six (I think it’s six) winters.


For example, the road into the trailhead to Cochise Stronghead is reached via a large modern development called Sunsites, but the post office for the development goes by the name of Pearce. The original Pearce, largely a ghost town today, is not far south of Sunsites and lies within close view of brutally gouged buttes, the town having come into existence by virtue of a late nineteenth-century mining boom kicked off by the discovery of gold in 1895. 

Although we have driven through old Pearce before and stopped once or twice so I could photograph buildings (the largest, most impressive one presently for sale), we had never taken the road west, the direction intriguingly marked (to my mind) with a sign pointing to a historic cemetery. Saturday, at last, we took that less-traveled road (not worrying much about rattlesnakes along the way in January).

I found the cemetery enchanting. The “non-perpetual care” idea is feasible here in the arid West, where no forest is going to retake the land and obliterate the lovingly marked and personally tended graves.

There are miners buried here, and farmers, and at least one blacksmith.


Information near the entrance gives statistics on causes of death in the mining period, the numbers broken down into Hispanic and non-Hispanic “communities” (as the explanation read). Tuberculosis and other lung diseases were common in both groups, what with rock dust underground and coal- and wood-fired stoves, unpaved roads, and trains filling air above ground with a variety of particulates. Stillbirths and infant deaths were more common among Hispanics, childbirth deaths for non-Hispanics, but there were a lot of baby graves in the cemetery for both groups. 

Interestingly, the same statistics tell us that non-Hispanics were more likely than Hispanics to be shot or otherwise murdered, as well as to die of alcoholism, while accidents rank sixth in both lists (“all mining-related” in the Hispanic list).

As is true of the pioneer cemetery in Dos Cabezas (our own winter ghost town home), some graves are beautifully elaborate, while others, equally touching, could not be simpler. There are wrought iron or adobe enclosures and statues of saints in the same vicinity as crossed pipes and rows of natural stones outlining graves. People have left small tokens on and near many graves.

The newest resting places are farthest from the entrance, some still decorated for Christmas, for the cemetery is still very much in use today. There are gravestones with 2018 and 2019 dates and a few plots of fresh earth not yet marked with tombstones. ‘Tombstone’ – there’s a word not often used any more. We usually say ‘headstone’ or just ‘stones’ when we speak of grave markers. To de-emphasize thoughts of death?

There is something terribly moving to me in old cemeteries. The simplicity of it all. Names and dates, marriages and military service, “beloved mother” and other brief notations. The wind was whipping across the Sulphur Springs Valley on Saturday, raising a white cloud from the playa as we crossed from Dos Cabezas to Pearce. “Dust in the wind,” the Artist commented, referring to an old Moody Blues song. [Correction: The recording group was Kansas. The Artist had said Moody Blues, and I love the name of that group, and immediately I found a YouTube video giving credit to the wrong group. Sigh! Loved the visual there, too....] It seemed an appropriate song and thought for a day to visit a cemetery. Cemeteries remind us that none of us is here forever, even those who make the biggest names for themselves while alive. Benefactors to humanity, perpetrators of crime and war, ordinary working people providing for families -- we are all going in the same direction, with our common end, that of us all, no more than metaphorical dust in the wind. The time given us to live and love and work and become worthy of being remembered is hauntingly brief, for the longest-lived human being as well as for those whose lives are cut short in relative youth.


Aside from general associations and feelings I find in all old cemeteries, this particular spot on earth outside an old ghost town is especially moving to me because its backdrop on the western horizon is the Dragoon Mountains, a range that always, for me, has its heart in Cochise Stronghold. I cannot look toward the Dragoon Mountains without my eye going to the Stronghold, and I cannot gaze upon the Stronghold without giving thanks each time for the fact that Cochise himself did not die on a reservation but there in his mountain home, in historic Apacheria.

We are here now, the Artist and I. That is, we are alive and together on this so-precious earth, in the presently troubled United States of America, and, for now, here in winter in Cochise County, Arizona. With all that’s going on in the country at large, we continue to look for moments of peace and hours of contentment, not to waste all the time remaining to us in storms of the soul. And we have not yet exhausted the possibilities for exploration of nature and history in this corner of the American West. 


The road from Pearce to the cemetery, for instance, continues west through Middlemarch Pass to Tombstone. I have noted on other occasions the Tombstone end of the road and now need to ask someone about the road through the pass. How mountainous is it? Is it frequently traveled? What is the highest point? Is it like the high, narrow, twisting road over Onion Saddle in the Chiricahuas, or more like Stockton Pass through the PinaleƱos? Perhaps we will find out this winter. Certainly, we will continue our Arizona adventures while we can, before we too become dust in the wind.



BB-Idaho said...

Lot of big sky country down that way. Graveyards are a type of history, like those scattered along the Oregon Trail, or neatly
arranged at Arlington National. Of course I had to go and visit
google maps and wonder how far Pearce is from your cabin?
that area is shown
in a topo map, which is easily moved in and out, or in different directions. It looks that the climb is along Middlemarch Creek, then
flat through a gorge across the pass. In the Army, we could estimate
by counting how many elevation lines (I think maybe each 100ft) you
cross as you proceed. Army-wise is Fort Huachuca where we spent a couple days on a courier run, which is SW of Tombstone. That was in
1966, and from the topo map, I have no idea of how we got there from
Las Vegas..or proceed on to San Francisco. After a few minutes of playing with the topo map, I ended up like the old comedian Jackie
Vernon and his "Gotta Get A Guide" routine!

P. J. Grath said...

Distances can be deceiving, in that we cannot drive as the crow flies. There is only I-10 north of the playa and Birch Road south of it to get across our part of the Sulphur Springs Valley, Pearce and Dos Cabezas both lying within the same valley. Crossing the Dragoon Mountains to the west takes you to the San Pedro Valley.

A week or so ago, for some reason I started looking at Dos Cabezas on a satellite map, and before I knew it I was "traveling" over to the Chiricahuas and down Turkey Creek Road. Zooming out was particularly interesting, because what is lost in detail is gained in earth colors. And now one of my neighbors recommends Hwy 80 from just into New Mexico off I-10 down to Douglas. She tells me it was originally the main highway connecting San Diego, CA, to Tybee Island, GA.

And so we travel, eh? Short day trips in our immediate vicinity, longer trips in imagination and memory.

Cheri Walton said...

I'm not sure if this is where I leave a comment, but I'll give it a try. Your posts about the southwest always remind me of my old boyfriend from the 60's. We still correspond, believe it or not, after all these years. We used to visit once in awhile after both of us got a divorce many years ago. He still lives in Albuquerque and our correspondence now is limited to Christmas cards and a phone call once in a great while. I visited him there three or four times over the years and got a chance to see and tour that part of the country. His uncle and cousins lived in Arizona, and we always visited them. I remember well the place we stayed in Bisbee Arizona.....a town so hilly that the parallel roads were like the rungs on a ladder, the sidewalk on one would be just above the roofs of the street below. The mine that was the life blood of the town in the early days and was still working when I visited was like a gigantic red hole with entrances to the underneath tunnels where workers rode on trains to and from the surface. Mining wasn't still the life blood of the town, and I guess tourism became the main attraction after an abandoned hippy commune took it over in the 60's. It is mainly a tourist attraction now, or was last I saw it.

There was a gigantic hotel there where you expected to see cowboys at the gorgeous huge wooden bar. I doubt if I would be able to climb the steps to the door now since they started on one road and ended straight up to the road above where the entrance to the hotel loomed. On one trip I went to a rodeo where mothers actually tied two-year-olds to the saddles of barrel racing horses and stood outside the ring yelling "hit him, hit him!" The kids beat the rumps of the horses with sticks and the crowd yelled and applauded. The well-trained horses knew what to do and the crowd roared. Being a horse lover, I was appalled, and as a mother even more appalled.

I learned to like New Mexico after a few early visits, but the lasting effect on me was absolute amazement at how different life could be in other parts of the unlike the east the west could be. After living for a month among pick-up trucks with rifles and dogs in the back, men wearing cowboy hats, guns on their hips. At the time recycling was a big issue, but I could see why the people there were so against it. It was hard even for me to imagine what harm it could be to throw a gum wrapper on the ground in the middle of the desert where earth and sky looked endless. I remember we could drive all day and never see another car, the mountain at the horizon never seeming to get any closer. I was left with a vague understanding why there was rarely a shared way of looking at the world in the United States. New Mexico was as strange to me as the moon.

P. J. Grath said...

Cheri, you describe Bisbee very well. It is nothing like little old Pearce, or perhaps I should say that little old Pearce is nothing like bid, bad Bisbee, either in terms of mining, population, tourism, or anything else, although both places lie within Cochise County, Arizona. Here are a couple posts I did in previous years on Bisbee, though I don’t see the Copper Queen Hotel among them:

I agree with you also about the striking differences between Midwest (which I know) and West — and as I type those words suddenly I recall my six-month residence in northern New Jersey and how utterly foreign it felt to me. I had trouble understanding people’s speech (and felt very intimidated by the sound of it) and was unhappy at the lack of empty, undeveloped land. I decided then that I was a Midwesterner for life. Then we had an opportunity to rent this little cabin in the high desert. High desert! Magic phrase to my ears! Then more magic phrases: ghost town, open range! The look of the land is completely unlike Michigan, with all its lakes and streams, but I love the mountains and the open spaces. Oddly, my feelings about a gum wrapper don’t match yours at all. I am baffled (as I was in Scotland) that anyone can litter here. (I certainly can’t!) On the other hand, it seems pointless to pick up after a dog, as their natural leavings desiccate so quickly in the thin, dry air.

As elsewhere in the world, a lot has changed in southern Arizona since the 1960s. Agriculture has gone big-time and is depleting the aquifer. The people who run the place where I went for a trail ride in December had to move from their former location when a pistachio plantation went in and all three of their (the horse people’s) wells went dry. Water rights seem to affect a far greater population than are affected by the nearness of the Mexican border.

Here is a trivial example of difference between Michigan and Arizona: Arizona drivers are much, much better at using turn signals, whether to leave the roadway or change lanes, but Michigan drivers get higher marks from me for turning on their headlights at dusk.

It’s really good to hear from you, Cheri, and your comment adds a lot to this post, so thanks!

dave fox said...

Dust in the Wind...voted my high school class of '78 senior song. Are 18 year olds still Nihilists these days?

P. J. Grath said...

Dave, you'd have to ask an 18-year-old, but there are probably many different perspectives even in that age group. I am not a nihilist at all. Life matters. What we say and do matters. Perhaps reminding ourselves of the brevity of life reminds us also to live well while the gift is ours.