Thursday, January 22, 2009

Beatlick Travel #7-8: Along the San Pedro

Beatlick Travel Report #7
A Slash in Mother Earth

I want to say something about the Lavender Pit in Bisbee to balance some of my glowing remarks about the town. It was great, but the reason for the town isn’t, or wasn’t. Mining operations are shut down now but Phelps-Dodge can start the copper mine up again at any minute if the price is right.

As one enters Bisbee east you can’t miss the awful yawl of the enormous pit, now fenced off and offered up as a “Scenic Overlook.” Deep, deep down at the bottom of this pit lies a liquid a color I find hard to describe beyond the word “bloody.” It is a slash so deep into Mother Earth, a color of blood so emphatic, that marks the last scrape of the blade in that mine. And if you ever had any doubts about what we do to the earth and how we rob it of its bounties with no regard to renewal, just look at the fresh leeching wound called Lavender Pit in Bisbee.

We pulled out of that town and headed for a string of ghost towns Beatlick Joe has been researching for years. We drove about forty miles over to Sierra Vista to stock up at Wal-Mart and then headed to the old Charleston Highway. There we set up for a few days of rustic camping along the San Pedro River.

Most locals told us “there’s nothing left there now” when we inquired about Charleston, the old ghost town. We headed north on foot up the San Pedro River about a mile past the bridge looking for the site. A fellow hiker had suggested we look for trees downed by beavers and a huge cottonwood tree in the middle of a big dry wash and climb to a ridge above the river.

We followed as he mentioned but found an even more spectacular entrance to the old town. After we passed evidence of chucked backpacks by Mexicans crossing the border illegally we walked just a bit farther and both Joe and I spied some stairs along the riverbank. They were so old and indistinguishable at first but those straight lines suggested something man made. So it was there we found the true entrance to old Charleston.

Next day we walked to the south of the river. It’s a beautiful walk here but it was so cold at night. I can only imagine the poor souls who are trekking through this river and up these trails trying to get to America. Mexico is approximately twenty miles downriver from where we camped. The backpack we saw had a toothbrush, toothpaste, and Ace bandages in it.

And we are encountering plenty of Border Patrol. I had wondered about this aspect of our journey, would we be encountering surly agents of Homeland Security all along our path as we head to San Diego?

But all the guards we have met were fresh faced young men, kind, friendly, and to tell the truth I guess a little bit bored as the make their patrol. The young man we encountered in Old Hachita, that vast windy emptiness, drives around 12 hours a day in his truck. I told him it looked like a lonely job. He shrugged good naturedly and said he listened to football games on the radio.

Later in the month when we asked the border patrol if we were nearing Keller Road and the Presidio Terrenate by the San Pedro River, an old fort from the 1770s, he didn’t know a thing about it. As it turned out we were within a quarter of a mile of the place and this young guard didn’t even have a clue it was out there.

So they all seem fresh-faced, earnest, and to tell the truth a little fresh on the job. It’s obvious plenty of money has been thrown at these guys as evidenced by their pristinely new and expensive equipment by way of trucks and all terrain vehicles.

Beatlick Travel Report #8

So we followed the San Pedro River exploring one old mining town after another. The days have been beautiful but the nights were cold. You don’t feel much like you’re living a dream when you are cold at night. We are sleeping under two down comforters and have a battery of appliances for heat. Sometimes I just make a little fireplace with a bunch of fat candles at night, then I have a Coleman stadium heater, a little heater that runs off of a canister. We aren’t sleeping uptop yet, there’s another bed up there, we use the fold out bed below. Then I take a blanket and tuck it in along the ceiling and our bed is like a little couchette on a European train. I get all that heated up and we go to bed really warm and cozy. It’s when we have to get up to pee about four or five in the morning that it gets tough.

After that I usually can’t go back to sleep so I just wait. I keep the stove by the bed so I can just turn it on to start the coffee and not get out of the warm covers. We drink the coffee and watch our breath freeze in the morning air as we wait for the hot Arizona sun. Once it does come over the mountain tops it will warm the van within thirty minutes.

We keep our crank radio in the bed and really enjoy listening to it at night. I heard so many weather reports about Tucson being in the forties at night that I finally insisted we go there. Joe didn’t really want to hit any big cities but now that we are here we love it. And we are warm all night!

Happy Trails

Beatlick Pamela

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