I went to Clifton, Arizona, to visit a saint for my birthday See previous blog post: https://emilievardaman.com/2020/09/25/a-visit-with-a-saint/
Heading north, I took Highway 191. Previously, it was named Highway 666, but in 2003, states ceded to pressure to rename it. “The stigma of being the mark of the beast” was the reason given for the change. Some travelers refused to drive the highway fearing it was controlled by the devil.
Many of us shook our heads and adjusted to the new name, though many long-time residents around here still call it Old 666.
Driving through the Sulphur Springs Valley, I took in the differences from my last trip in the spring (see Pursuing Poppies). In early April, the ocotillo had not yet leafed out. Now summer’s leaves were turning gold, and amber sprinkles began to litter the ground beneath the cacti-like plants.
In early April, bright green corn stood a few feet tall. This trip, field corn was dried, ready for harvest as cattle feed, with ears to be left behind for winter’s visiting Sandhill Cranes to eat.
Last April, cotton had only been in the ground a month or so but it, too, was ready for harvest. Hay was baled and ready for winter.
Pecans trees, which need up to 200 gallons of water daily over a seven-month season, were also ready for harvest.
Especially after this summer’s near-record drought, many county residents are speaking out against raising the water-thirsty trees here in the desert.
I continued up through Willcox to Safford. As I passed Mount Graham on the way to Safford, I recalled the sparkling blue skies and big puffy clouds of a year ago when I drove this route to Colorado. I mourned the fires throughout the West that have left smoke hanging even here, many hundreds of miles from burning forests, burning subdivisions.
East at Sanford and then north again. West the last ten or so miles to Clifton, population about 3400.
I drove through town a bit and tried to stop in the Visitor’s Center, but it was closed due to Covid. Then I headed to Park Avenue to find the Clifton Hotel, my home for the next two nights (blog post about the hotel soon).
And what a greeting I got on Park Avenue!!
I found my hotel and unloaded. I’d planned to head straight to the cemetery to visit the saint and then have dinner. I’d brought a meal from Bisbee’s Cafe Roka and planned to eat by the San Francisco River. Amazingly, it was still running even with the drought.
But since I’d had only a light breakfast, I tucked into my grilled tuna and salad (delicious as always) before heading off the the cemetery. The two dogs at the hotel volunteered to help me with the tuna, but they didn’t get a nibble.
Katie stared sadly from a distance after being turned down.
After visiting Santa Teresa’s grave, I spent a leisurely evening reading in my room.
On Sunday, I visited the cemetery again and then roamed the area a bit.
I found Clifton to be a lot like Bisbee—no surprise since they’re both mining towns built into mountain hillsides.
But Clifton has more and better sheer rock cliffs than Bisbee. And it’s much, much quieter. The silence at night was a delight.
I wandered downtown and didn’t see a soul. Clifton seems to be closed up tight on Sundays. But I did see a few great old cars.
Parts of downtown are in serious need of restoration.
I even went to Morenci, about four miles up the road, to look at the open pit copper mine there, the largest in the US.
But I became dispirited after seeing hillside after hillside of mining damage and turned around without visiting the main overlook.
That evening, I visited Rio San Francisco. Such a delight! The temperature dropped significantly by the water under big cottonwoods. I waded upstream a bit then simply sat awhile, listening to the music of running water.
Later as I again settled into my room, I realized that if I were (far) younger, I’d consider moving to Clifton, buying and fixing up an old building. Perhaps open a small coffeehouse. That’s how comfortable I felt, and that comfort had much to do with the handful of people I’d met.
The few people I’d encountered were very friendly and welcoming. Some I talked to admitted to many differences among residents and their opinions, but all said the townspeople as a whole cared for and supported one another.
On Monday, I had a quick breakfast and said my goodbyes to Clifton Hotel co-owner Karen.
I headed out on Park Avenue and found my welcoming committee had gathered on a cliff to see me off.
I took the back road out of town, which conveniently passed the cemetery, so I was able to stop in again for a last visit with the saint.
Then back south, down Old 666 and home.
Chloe was glad to see me.