Southeastern #Arizona: Borderlands and not-so-Badlands
When I think about ‘God’s Country’ I generally think of Oregon, or New Zealand, or southern Chile, or Mongolia, i.e. wide-open spaces, with water… and mountains, generally more god-like to me than beaches, beaches too easy too sexy too many excuses to take your clothes off, while mountains are not only higher, so closer to God, theoretically, but also cooler, so more heavenly by that very fact…
Heaven, by definition, is ‘up there.’ Hell is ‘down there’ somewhere. So is Arizona, but that doesn’t mean it’s Hellish. Arizona is in fact one of the nation’s more mountainous states. But upper Arizona is not limited to Flagstaff, and southern Arizona can be as nice, if not nicer, for views and hues, at least in the southeast corner up near the Continental Divide. This area is not desert BTW, though certainly not a rainforest; but it’s green. I think ‘God’s Country’ is supposed to be green…
Cross the state line from New Mexico into Arizona and things change immediately, some good some bad. Arizona politics can be bitter, and that plays out into the lives of people, and society in general. Arizona is also a very urban state—maybe you didn’t know that—and so that factors into both the personality and the landscape. There are a lot of wide open spaces, with fewer small towns and villages. There is one huge mega-city in Phoenix, mostly generic sprawl, and an urban edginess there that waits for no one, i.e. cross-town traffic. New Mexico is more rural, and friendlier IMHO.
But it’s those wide open spaces that I like about Arizona. Douglas has an interesting history, what with its inclusion in the Gadsden Purchase, for which the historic Gadsden Hotel is named. That was a big deal back in the day, which also included what is now Tucson, all to build a railroad. Today Douglas is better known for the tunnels drug smugglers constructed under the international border for purposes of smuggling not so long ago. The border itself is little touristed, except by me. I’ll post that later.
Bisbee is nicer for tourism purposes, less than an hour away, an old mining town, then hippie town, now tourist town. Funny that tourism there doesn’t seem to include the border itself, nor the opportunities for Mexican excursions on the other side, it largely orphaned from the American consciousness with recent political and social events. Naco is no more than an hour away, but largely ignored by Americans and tourists, except me; too bad.
But Bisbee must have been quite the fancy place back in its Victorian heyday, the queen of copper and other minerals—including ‘Bisbee Blue’ turquoise—dragged up in the process. More recent open-pit mining has left scars that will never heal, though. I fail to see the beauty in any of that. And if the town fairly buzzes during the weekend, it gets pretty ghostly quiet during the week. Many places—bars, mostly—just close down, it seems. There is an inordinate number of bars, including brew pubs, for such a small town—five thou population, give or take.
Naco on the border may be little more than a ghost town, but Sierra Vista is the burgeoning regional metropolis, a developer’s tabula rasa pipe dream, the Phoenix-like transplant with more Chili’s, Jiffy-Lube’s and K-Mart’s than you’d ever need, pre-fab suburbs purpose-built for this semi-planned community in the countryside, consumer culture gone viral, sprawling and spreading through unsuspecting automobile vectors.
But you can go to Nogales on a back route along the border if you don’t mind gravel roads through rough mountainous terrain. Otherwise you’ll have to go the long way around, but that’ll take you through the cute little town of Patagonia, a little piece of priceless Americana in the far reaches of Arizona. You’re at some altitude here, so it’s pretty nice, weather-wise. If you’re lucky, you might even see some hikers stopping in, from the Arizona Trail.
Nogales, Arizona, is not bad, like El Paso/Juarez a city with an international boundary running through it, and a border post which has existed for less than 100 years BTW (Countries used to WANT immigrants; can you believe it? Even and including raiding just for that purpose…). This is the biggest border crossing between Mexicali and El Paso, and the main crossing for much of the farm produce originating in Mexico and destined for the US marketplace. It’s busy. Unfortunately, it’s also Arizona, and there’s a pervasive feel that they’d rather be on a border with Canada, and people ‘who share our values’. Oh, well…