If this is your first visit, welcome to Musings. If you have been here before, welcome back. Over time we are going to talk about many things: the past, the present, perhaps the future, travel, art, society and more. Wherever my musing takes me. I hope you will come along with me.
The Lure of Gold
In the mid 90’s I had moved back to Phoenix, Arizona. Being a westerner I enjoyed the desert and the open spaces and was glad to get back to it. I didn’t enjoy Phoenix that much though. It had become too big for my liking. Whenever I could I would get out-of-town, if only for a day trip.
One Saturday my wife and I were bored and decided to do just that . . . get out-of-town. I said, “You have never been to Yarnell. Lets do that. I’ll show you the Shrine of St. Joseph. That’s kind of neat.”
Now Yarnell, a town of about 700 people, is about 80 miles north-west of Phoenix in the high desert mountains. The vegetation is scruffy and the terrain is strewn with large granite boulders. Tucked away in the hills is the Shrine of St Joseph a religious site that was built by lay people in the 1930’s. Whether or not one is religious it is worth seeing.
The town itself is tranquil, supporting mostly mining and ranching interests and retirees
. It dates back to 1865 when gold was discovered there and is named for Harrison Yarnell a prospector who discovered in 1873 what is known now as the Yarnell mine.
You may not have known it, but mining was very important to the development of Arizona. The area abounds with ghost towns, places like Weaver, Big Bug, Bumble Bee, Cordes, Congress Junction and Octave. Yarnell was one of the survivors.
The view is extraordinary. The road hugs the edge of the mountain and rises 2500 feet in five miles.
When I was a kid the road was two lanes, winding and very steep. Down the side of the mountain were remains of old cars that had gone over the edge. There was a story in Readers Digest in the 50’s about a Greyhound bus that lost its brakes going down the hill. To keep it on the road, at each curve, all the passengers would throw themselves to the side of the bus next to the mountain.
So my wife and I headed out. As a kid I used to take this trip, by Greyhound, going to visit my grandparents in Prescott. I was intrigued by Congress Junction. Why? Because there was nothing there except one building, one store with a wood porch and shed roof. It was in the middle of nowhere at the side of the road. I never saw anyone there. I wondered about it. I wanted to stop, but of course you can’t do that on a bus.
But this time was different. As we approached Congress Junction I saw up ahead the building. And I decided to stop.
As I got out of the car I realized there were three guys sitting on the porch. Couldn’t tell exactly what they were doing, but they were busy at something.
As I got to them I saw one was siting on a barrel whittling with a knife. The second was laid back on a coach. He had two bandoliers of cartridges crisscrossing his chest and two cross draw pistols in holsters. The third fellow, heavy-set with a big white beard, was hunched over cleaning a Thompson Submachine gun. An interesting group.
We struck up a conversation. I told them how I had wanted to check out this store for years. We asked if there was anything of interest left in Congress Junction. They told us about some pioneer graves. That sort of stuff. We went into the store which contained a collection of antiques from the mining communities and then we left, heading on toYarnell.
The guns were worrisome. In Arizona you can carry a gun. At that time no permit was required. I do not know if that is still the same today. The only requirement was that the gun must be visible. No concealed weapons without a permit. But still it was not common to see people with handguns and certainly not sub-machine guns! I sort of gnawed on that as we went our way.
At the end of the day we reversed our tracks and as we came through Congress Junction I saw a fellow who could have been the twin of the guy with the sub-machine gun. Heavy set guy, big white beard. He was sitting on the tail gate of a chuck wagon, eating. The chuck wagon looked exactly like something out of a 1950’s western with Gabby Hayes, exactly like it except it had pneumatic tires.
And, suddenly it came to me. The lure of gold. Those guys were prospectors! All around the area were failed mines and abandoned towns. The guns were real and present because these guys went out in the mountains and hills alone and were vulnerable.
And that is within 60 or 70 miles of a metropolitan area of more than 4 million people.
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